"Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them." --A. A. Milne
There is so much to learn about the unwanted plants that grow in our lawns, gardens, and on our farms. Essentially, a weed is any plant that is growing where you do not want it to grow. This can be a plant that has self-seeded and is growing where it is not supposed to grow or a plant that pops up year after year in the same spot and has to be hand pulled. Weeds can be an eye-sore and can end up competing with the plants or the crop that you are growing for water, nutrients, sun, and space. In many cases, the weeds can overtake your crop or plants and take over. Weeds are programmed to cover bare soil to keep it from being exposed and to keep the soil from eroding or blowing away. No matter what you do, there will always be weeds.
Our farm has a mix of perennial and annual weeds. Perennial weeds have a root system that stores energy for the plant and helps it to return year after year. I am battling perennial weeds in the living pathways between flower beds. I hand pull most of these weeds with a weed extraction tool to prevent them from spreading further.
We do not use pesticides or herbicides on the farm, so weed removal is a manual process. Prevention is key, and mulch plays a large role in preventing weed seeds from taking root.
Despite their reputation, many weeds can be beneficial. Some weeds have medicinal properties. There are specific weeds that can be used to make teas, salads, or for dyeing fabric or yarn. Consider the humble dandelion. The roots of the dandelion can be used to make dandelion tea, young leaves make a spicy salad, and the new buds can be fried to make dandelion fritters. Make sure you can safely identify the weed before consuming it, though!
Remember that you can always put a large amount of a single weed to use as a fermented weed tea to naturally fertilize your crops.
Finally, weeds tell a story. The kind of weeds that are popping up in your garden will indicate the health of your soil, including pH, drainage, and compaction levels. Next week, I'm going to investigate the weeds that are growing on our farm and share what they uncover about the health of the soil.