Saturday, 11 June 2016

What to do with weeds

Our internet is down this week -- I'm posting this from a public place -- and The Girl and I will be away all tomorrow at the Waterford County Fair, where her Medieval Camp will be showing off their archery skills, and I will be showing off medieval armour. Anyone wants to reach me, I can respond Monday.

Gardening, more than anything else, involves weeding – long hours of it sometimes, for the particularly weed-infested. All gardeners must constantly uproot their weeds or make peace with them, or they can take over your crops and your life.

In weeds’ defence, though, remember that they are simply the plants we don’t think we can use, and they can tell us a lot about our soil. If our soil is poor, acidic, chalky or has some other quality, we can tell in part by the weeds that come up.

Remember also that they are part of the natural cycle of succession; Nature abhors like a vacuum, and any bare earth exposed in the wild is quickly covered with waves of opportunists that protect the soil from the elements and prepare the way for trees and other permanent residents. We plant our crops on bare soil, and any soil contains dozens of weed seeds waiting for decades for the opportunity you have given them.

These days, of course, many people simply spray poisons on weeds -- poisons that could make their way into your food later on. Instead, try some of these other ways of handling your enthusiastic guests:

1.)    Eat them. Nettles, dandelions, clover, daisies, fat hen, and many other plants are delicious and full of vitamins – and free. In the spring the fields are covered with free food; you could get all your greens this way, for months, until the rest of your crops come up.  Even if you don’t like them, maybe you have chickens or other animals that will. 

2.)    Compost them, but only if they are not going to reproduce in your compost mound. Nothing that has gone to seed, and nothing with roots that can keep growing, and nothing toxic like potato or tomato plants. 

3.)    Soak them. Put all the weeds in a bucket of water, and keep stuffing more in until it is full. After a few weeks the weeds and seeds should have rotted, and the liquid should be a nutritious “tea” that you can use to water the garden. The rotted plants will be pungent, but you can throw them on the compost pile and cover them with earth to cut the smell.

If you keep weeding every day or week, you can line up several buckets according to week, and keep using the latest as fertiliser. 

4.)    Feed them to your animals; anything that we can’t eat, animals might be able to. Our chickens eat most of our weeds and turn them into fertiliser, and trod the rest into the ground. 

5.)    Burn them. If you throw weeds on the compost after they have seeded, the earth you get from that compost will keep on sprouting weeds for years to come. You can eliminate weeds and seeds alike, though, by burning them, and the resulting ash is good for the soil.

Some gardeners eliminate the weeds and sterilise the soil by creating a burn mound, starting with a circle of straw and laying a terra cotta pipe from the middle of the circle, like the hand of a clock. Then they lay pruned branches and other wood in a pile on the straw, and cover those with all the weeds gathered from the gardens. Finally they cover the whole thing with earth, reach inside the terra cotta pipe, and light the straw. This method was supposed to kill off all the weeds and sterilise the soil of weed seeds all in one go, and create potash that could be used to fertilise tomatoes and other hungry plants. 

6.)    Make peace with them. If the weeds are right next to your crops, you can certainly keep them from overrunning your beds. But if they are on your lawn, save yourself some work and pick only the least desirable weeds, leaving the lovely and useful ones to colonise your property. If you have children, for example, pick the nettles but leave the dandelions, which provide them so much entertainment. Pick the thistles but leave the chamomile, whose flowers you can pick for tea. Eventually you will have, not a lawn, but a very useful flower meadow, which looks nicer and is better for the soil. 

Photo: Our garden overrun with wildflower weeds -- chamomile, catmint, poppies, comfrey and daisies. 

1 comment:

DavidT said...

I have one word for you: