No. That was not a typo. After all, a weed is just a plant growing in a position where it is not wanted, and many of the plants we call “weeds” are actually commercially grown and harvested in other countries – you can even buy their seeds from various online suppliers.
A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders the day I learned to love my weeds. Now there are various methods to reduce weed potential in a permaculture garden and while this is easier in a small area, a newly planted food forest on a large property will be more susceptible to weeds in the early years while the forest is becoming established.
My story begins with me ferociously pulling out weed after weed in a never-ending struggle that every gardener can relate to. As I glanced at the root system of one weed and silently cursed it I was taken aback – “Hang on! This weed is a nitrogen fixer! Yep. There are those tell-tale signs of the root nodules that alert me to that fact. THIS one is actually doing my garden a great service and adding nitrogen back into my soil”. So instead of tossing the weed on the compost pile I turned it upside-down and put it back down to let it rot into the soil. I continued with my weeding but this time with a more observant mind (“Observe and Interact” is one of our permaculture principles after all!). I began looking more closely at what I was pulling out and understanding the purpose of each weed. One had an extremely long, thick tap root – it was a dynamic accumulator and drawing nutrients from deep in the subsoil and bringing them up within the reach of my shallow rooted vegetables, it was also breaking up my hard ground to make it loose and penetrable. The roots of another weed seemed to be an absolute magnet for beneficial fungi. One area had lots of nitrogen fixing weeds and told me that the soil in that particular spot may be lacking in nitrogen.
So here I was, spending my valuable time weeding, only to then spend more of my time REPLANTING SPECIES THAT I WANTED TO DO THE EXACT SAME JOB AS THE WEEDS THAT I WAS PULLING OUT! I was DOUBLING my workload! What a revelation!
Now I’m not telling you that the way forward is to allow your garden to become a weed infested jungle. I am simply telling my story and how I now look at my weeds through new (widened) eyes and became more content in the process. I no longer feel like my weeds are my enemies because I appreciate them for the good that they are doing in my garden. I now “manage” my weeds rather than battle them. I will remove flower stems before they go to seed but leave the plant in the ground to continue to do its great work. I will “chop and drop” my weeds – meaning that I will cut them down and spread their leaves on the surface to rot in and improve my soil. The weeds very quickly regrow for me to do this again and again – because, after all, their hardiness and vigour is one of the very reasons why they are referred to as “weeds”, but now I am using this to my advantage.
And then there is one final twist to my weedy adventure. I attended the Bushcare Volunteer Thank You Lunch organised by the Hills Shire Council on Sunday where the guest speaker was the brilliant Diego Bonetto. Diego passes on the wisdom of our ancestors who used common weeds for medicine and for food. I was shocked to learn from Diego just how many of these “weeds” have edible and/or medicinal benefits. And so begins the next leg of my journey into learning to love my weeds. And I can’t wait. If you are interested you will find Diego’s facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WildStories/.
Now run outside and create your oasis!