Weeding is one of the most tedious chores in the garden, especially if you are pulling them by hand, one at a time. It means spending hours kneeling or crouching, bent over your garden, and it leaves you with stiff, sore muscles and an aching back. What if you found out that weeds might actually benefit your garden? It’s true! There are useful weeds that you should leave alone. Don’t break your back pulling out these beneficial plants.
Don’t Eradicate Your Weeds – Manage Them
Many of us learn that weeds are bad when it comes to gardening and that complete eradication is ideal. Some people attempt to achieve a total wipeout using herbicides, while those more organically inclined just get down in the dirt and pull them out. While you certainly don’t want weeds overrunning your garden and choking the life out of your other plants, there is no need to get rid of all of them. Instead of eradicating weeds from your garden, try a plan of management. At a low density, weeds can provide several benefits for your garden.
What Weeds Can Do For You
- Prevent erosion. Soil erosion is a major issue in any location where farming is big. When you remove weeds and plant crops only, the soil has very little left to hold it in place. Any amount of rain causes topsoil to run off of even the slightest slope. With weeds in the ground around crops, the soil is kept in place by the root network, minimizing erosion and soil loss.
- Conserve nutrients. Erosion is not the only issue with uncovered soil. When soil is bare and exposed to the elements, it loses nutrients, especially nitrogen and especially when the soil is light.
- Indicate soil conditions. Weeds are excellent indicators of the condition of your soil. From clues that the weeds give you, you can learn about the compaction, water levels, nutrient levels, and pH of your soil.
- Provide food for birds. Bird populations are in decline in and around farmland. Encourage birds on your homestead by leaving some weeds intact. Doing so can provide them with a valuable food source and can help revive populations.
- Add nutrients. A common reason for getting rid of weeds in the garden is that they compete with your plants for nutrients in the soil. Many weeds, however, actually enhance the nutrient content of your soil. For instance, white clover is a legume, which means that it uses bacteria living symbiotically on its roots to fix, or convert, nitrogen in the soil into a form that plants can use. Other weeds, like dandelions, have very long taproots, which allow them to bring up nutrients from deep down in the soil, enriching the shallower soil in which your vegetables grow. Weed roots also act to break up hard and dense soil, making it more arable for you plants.
- Stretch your plants roots. The roots of some of your vegetable plants will use nearby weeds to travel deeper into the soil than they would be able to do alone. Tomatoes and corn both do this.
- Keep pests away. Having weeds near your valuable crop plants can protect them from pests. Some weeds repel insects with their scent, like any type of allium. Others mask the smell of your plants that are desirable to insects. Ground ivy and wild oregano are examples of plants that can do this. Any weeds that are spiny or spiky can keep small animals away from your crops.
- Fool pests. Weeds can even be used as trap crops for insects. If you have a weed near your vegetables that a pest insect likes to eat, it will eat that and leave your plants alone. Crow garlic and wild mint distract insects from your plants and are known to be successful in deterring Japanese beetles, cabbage worm, tomato hornworm, and squash bugs. Even the extra green color that weeds provide can confuse insect and prevent them from homing in on your vegetables.
- Protect your plants. Weeds can provide shelter from sun and wind for your more delicate plants. Queen Anne’s lace, for instance, shelters smaller plants. As an added bonus, it attracts predatory insects that will eat your pests. Cowpea, for example, attracts ladybugs, which prey on other insects.
- Provide a “living” mulch. Selectively allowing weeds to grow between your crop plants can create a similar effect to having mulch in the garden. The weeds create a cool, humid environment and they act to stabilize the amount of moisture in the soil.
- Enhance the flavor of your vegetables. Nearby weeds are actually known to affect the flavor of your vegetables in a good way. One example is stinging nettle. When grown near herbs, it stimulates the production of oil in the plants, which is what gives herbs their aromas and flavors.
- Create biodiversity. Biodiversity simply means having a wide range of life forms. This includes plants, animals, and microscopic organisms. When you eliminate all weeds from your garden, you destroy the biodiversity. The effects are far reaching. With just your crop plants, you are losing insects and other animals that are native to your area and which create a natural balance.
- Enrich your compost. Many weeds are good sources of nutrients. Yarrow, for instance, can provide a lot of iron as well as calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. Diversify your compost with some of the weeds you thin out from your garden.
You Can Eat Them Too!
If the above reasons are not enough for you to want to keep your weeds around in the garden, consider the fact that many of them are edible, tasty, and nutritious. You have a food source out there that you didn’t even have to work at to get.
- Crow garlic is also known as wild chives. You can eat it just as you would chives that you grow in your garden intentionally.
- Every part of the dandelion is edible. You can eat the flowers, and the young leaves are tasty in salads. The roots can be made into a coffee substitute. And, of course, you can make dandelion wine with the flowers.
- Stinging nettle doesn’t sound very pleasant, but you can eat it as long as you cook it first. It also makes a very nutritious herbal tea.
- Purslane is a very nutritious weed. You can eat the leaves raw or cooked, as you would a green like spinach. The berries of purslane can be used in a similar way to capers.
- The rose hips from wild rose plants make an excellent and zingy herbal tea and are very high in vitamin C.
- Watercress is a fancy salad green that you can pay big bucks for in the grocery store. If you are lucky enough to find some growing wild on your property, harvest it for your salads and sandwiches.
- Clover is a legume, which means it is high in protein. It’s not great for everyday eating, but it can be a lifesaver in survival situations.
- The berries of the horse nettle plant can be eaten after they are cooked.
- The young roots of Queen Anne’s lace are edible.
- Ground ivy, or creeping Charlie, is used in herbal teas and is high in vitamin C. This weed has been used for thousands of years in Europe for medicinal purposes. Supposedly it helps with eye inflammation and tinnitus and also acts as an astringent and diuretic.
- The seeds and leaves of wild mustard are edible and tasty in salads and when cooked.
- The root of the burdock plant can be eaten and is not uncommon in Asian cuisine. The roots are long and thin and have a crispy texture and mild flavor.
- Chickweed is a very common weed in fields. You can eat the leaves in the same way you would any salad green. They add a refreshing crisp and fresh flavor.
- The leaves and young shoots of lamb’s quarter can also be eaten raw.
- Shepherd’s purse produces tasty leaves that can be eaten after sautéing or blanching.
©2012 Off the Grid News