Casaubon's Book

Getting Intimate With My Weeds

I plant weeds sometimes. I just feel I should admit this upfront, and come out with it and accept your outrage. You see, my property isn’t exactly untouched – it was a sod farm at one point (although most of the actual sod harvesting was done across the road on a field that is not mine), which means that for about decade from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, people poured incredibly toxic chemicals on the ground to keep the grass uniform and then dug up the topsoil and sold it rich people who couldn’t wait long enough for grass to grow.

Before that it was a dairy farm, cleared as far as the eye can see – there were a few hedgerows left, but most of the land 50 years ago was empty – I know this because one of my neighbors grew up here, went to the one room schoolhouse that was around the corner, and grew up fishing in the pond across the road. He remember when my 19 acres of woods was 19 acres of pasture and cows.

The decline of Northeastern farming has done my land some good. A few people with horses owned the land, and basically their horses manured my pastures and otherwise left them alone. Much of the land was left to grow up into third and fourth growth forest, and the hardwoods are just starting to succeed into the woods. In a couple of decades, we’ll have a nice little sugar bush, I suspect.

The previous owners were serious lawn people, and boy did the property have a buttload of it. We, on the other hand, are not serious lawn people. My interest in standard grasses ends if they cannot be eaten by something. We mow a few small patches for the kids to play on with a manual push mower, and scythe, ignore or pasture animals on the rest. I look forward to the annual bloom of golden dandelions in my lawn, and can’t imagine why people pull them out. They stand up fine to traffic (my kids run on them all the time), are brightly colored, nutritious, make good rabbit feed, good people feed and give the kids puffballs to blow. What’s not to love?

I like to think that we’ve done our property some good too – that allowing trees to grow up (and planting them) along the margin of the creek is holding back soil that was being lost to erosion in the previous all-lawn policy. We’ve enriched large patches with composted manures and soil amendments for growing, and more of it is daily enriched by our goats and chickens, who roam mostly unfettered, leaving their manures behind. And I see this improvement in a number of ways – among them through the shift in weeds that grow here. As the soils heal and grow, some of those that do best in disturbed and disrupted sites are beginning to fade away.

I’m fond of a surprising number of weeds – some of them I like so much that I actually planted them, when I discovered I didn’t have any. Neither chickweed nor stinging nettle were naturally occurring on my property. I have planted both of them quite intentionally, and I have no regrets. We eat plenty of nettles and cut and compost the rest, so they aren’t a problem for me. The same is true with the chickweed, which besides being good chicken food is fabulous human feed as well. I’ve planted a larger leaved purslane for my CSA salads, and am delighted when it reappears – yum!

Some plants I put in in ignorance of their weedy tendencies. After five years of weeding Matt’s Wild Cherry tomato seedlings out of every corner, I think I’ve finally gotten rid of them, but for years volunteer currant tomato seedlings were one of my biggest pests. Most never got to fruiting in my climate, but boy did they grow fast. German chamomile is another plant I’ll never get rid of – but it is a friendly little thing and I don’t really mind it. Milk thistle is big and spiky, but it is a wanted plant in my garden – although maybe not quite wanted in the numbers that they arrive. Burdock certainly isn’t wanted in the quantities that I inevitably end up with, but the more we enjoy eating it, the less it bothers me. The goats like the leaves too.

Over the years, I’ve planted some weeds, seen others emerge new from the wind or wild creatures. I’ve fought them with various mulches and strategies, ignored them (sometimes this worked, sometimes it was a mistake) but the thing that has worked best for me has been simply to learn about my weeds – the more I understand them – why they grow where they do, how they grow, what they need and want and tell me about my place, the better I am at dealing with them. It doesn’t mean I’ve come to love every thistle, and there are a few I purely hate, but for the most part, I’m learning to work with my weeds – and I think any new gardener may underestimate the need to spend some time learning about your pesty plants.

Moreover, I see that as my soils improve and I make better use of my property, the weeds change. Weeds are, of course first and foremost, pest plants, but they are also educational – weeds can tell you a great deal about how your soil has been used, and what mistakes you are making.

Most of the major pest weeds, for example, are products of human disturbance. They are the things that do well in crappy soil where the topsoil has been ripped off, they are things that don’t mind poor fertility and unbalanced soils. They are the things that disperse well and tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. In this regard, they are of great interest – because those very qualities are potentially useful to us. On a planet where human disturbance is far more the norm than not, these plants have very important characteristics – they work with us.

And yes, that has negative consequences as well – watching garlic mustard take over my forest floor sucks. Yes, we eat it. I’ve even been known to bundle it up and put it in my CSA baskets when I had them. But we can only eat so much garlic mustard ;-). On the other hand, most of the forests that are being invaded are the kind of forest I have – not old growth natural forests, home to complex ecologies, but forests that are themselves in the process of complex succession. As permaculturist Dave Jacke puts it:

If you understand succession ecology, you will understand that there’s no way a plant or animal alone can be responsible for the way it behaves. Invasion is only possible in the context of a certain kind of ecosystem situation. The first cause of succession is the availability of a site or niche. If there’s no site or niche available, no invasion can occur…. If invasion is not succession then what the hell is it? [italics mine]


The main thing is that the paradigm that we’re using to describe invasive species has many faulty aspects. The thinking is being muddled by framing the issues incorrectly. If we don’t see invasion as part of succession ecology then we are on the wrong track, folks. Because most plants that are considered invasive are disturbance adapted species.

Garlic mustard, purple loostrife and other “invasives” aren’t native here, and they do put at risk our woodland plants. But many of them are aggressive natives, rather than delicate colonies of the vulnerable – I have a lot fewer lady’s slippers than I do poison ivy plants. Placing all the responsibility for this kind of succession on the weed itself and its “invasive” properties removes responsibility from human beings – we are simply fighting off mighty invaders. In fact, the history of my woods is one that predisposed them to this “invasion” – it is a history of human mistreatment, less than of cruel invasion.

Whatever the outcome of the debate of how to view weedy species vs. natives, as someone whose primary interest is in making full use of the plants that grow on my property for food, medicine, fiber, animal forage or other purposes, I tend to think the central issue with many weeds is that they are opportunistic plants that *are not fully utilitized* – that is, if we were working as hard to make biodiesel out of kudzu as we are out of corn, there wouldn’t be such a great kudzu problem in the US. The same is true if we were eating or making other full use of our weeds – indeed, species that gain attention for food or medicinal value often rapidly become endangered. While I’d hate to see the very last Japanese Knotweed plant on earth disappear, I think we’re sufficiently far away from that that I can wait my worry on that subject for a bit.

In Robin Wheeler’s excellent book _Food Security for the Faint of Heart_, she writes about the ways that bamboo is kept from being a weedy pest in Northern Thailand:

“Like most people visiting Asia, I have experienced the constant dripping of a rain of epiphanies during my stays. One of these occurred on a trip to Northern Thailand, as I was standing on the edge of a new friend’s yard. I admired the grove of towering bamboo that edged her garden boundary, in a row so straight I could have marked it off with a piece of thread, with not a single trace of bamboo growing out into the road.

‘How do you do that?’ I asked her. ‘How do you keep the bamboo from growing all over the place, outside of your yard?’

‘Well, that’s easy,’ she replied. ‘Everyone knows how good bamboo shoots are in their dinner. The minute one shows its head outside of my garden, someone takes it home.’

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘In Canada we hack down the bamboo and throw it in the bushes and buy bamboo shoots in a can at the store.’

But that is what North America is all about. We have been trained that if it is right in front of our face (e.g. free, accessible) it is somehow inferior, and that the only really good stuff is at the store. The more abundantly and freely something grows, the more reviled it should be.” (Wheeler, 95)

Eating your weeds isn’t a magic bullet, but it does sometimes puzzle me when I see people walking past a large stand of lambs quarters to go and purchase spinach at $3 bunch. There are certainly places that I wouldn’t eat my weeds – places too close to roadsides or in sprayed areas, or where too many household pets use them as a toilet. But the world is so full of a number of weeds in fairly safe areas that I think we could all be, if not as happy as kings, at least rich in highly nutritious greens.

The single biggest pest in my garden beds is ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) – a member of the mint family, it is a royal pain in my ass. It loves my moist conditions, and acts, well, like a mint. It is actually a rather pretty weed, with purple flowers, and it smells good. It is a minor medicinal, and I do dry some of it for tea, but I have it in such wild excess that I spend much of my time tossing it over the fence for the goats or composting it. It is perfectly happy to come up in the middle of mulch, and through any crack, and while it isn’t hard to remove, it comes back near-instantly. On the other hand, pulling up fistfulls of ground ivy won’t kill anyone, and the more I raise up my beds, the less I have to fight them – the dryer soils simply aren’t as hospitable. I keep hoping to discover a really good use for ground ivy, but haven’t yet.

The other major pest in my garden is Bull Thistle, which I really don’t like – if you’ve ever sat on a small one while you weeded you’ll know why. On the other hand, the bull thistles are totally my fault. Once upon a time, I didn’t bother to patrol the weedy areas on the other side of my garden fence – not out of any reason, but because out of sight, out of mind. At some point about 2005, I let some bull thistles go to seed, and have been fighting them ever since. These guys are quite literally a pain in my ass, hands and knees, since I most often spot the small ones when I land on one.

But minor loosening of my soil by broadfork reduces the bull thistles, which don’t like tillage, and if I get them young, they pop right out. Time and attention are doing their jobs – the thistles are becoming manageable. And if I do my job, and don’t let them go to seed near my garden again, they’ll go away.

Wild grapes and oriental bittersweet are pests, but manageable ones – most of the trees they are climbing are trees that will be gone in the natural succession of things in the next decade or so – when they attack something I want to keep in my forest, I hack them down. Otherwise, we make wreaths to give away of bittersweet and wild grape juice and jelly.

In difficult times, the very weediness of these species may well be essential to us – burdock and cattails for example, both technically weeds, both tasty roots and at fairly high densities an acre. Would I rather eat carrots and parsnips? Absolutely – but make times difficult enough and I’ll be delighted to chow down on Gobo (burdock) soup, stew and patties – in fact, actually, I like it now.

An old Scandinavian proverb refers to wild plants and untamed areas as “the mantle of the poor.” It was no accident, for example, that Danish farmers permitted and even sowed wild brome grasses in their fields with their wheat – the Brome seeds were a pest in good years, cutting into the wheat harvest, but in years of bad harvest, the brome grasses persisted, providing edible seeds to compensate for lost wheat harvest – and the practice endured into the 20th century.

Over the years I’ve experimented with a lot of uses for weedy plants – drying nettles for chicken feed, making diapers out of cattail fluff (native practice that I apparently haven’t mastered, because pee-soaked cattail fluff is hard to get off little behinds), making willow hurdles and baskets (I’m not very good at it, but it does work) as wet-loving willow is our biggest pest tree. I’ve eaten nearly every edible weed you can think of, made teas and tinctures out of them, even tried spinning fiber from thistles and nettles (both of them actually fairly promising).

As someone who also relies on cultivated crops, I’ve tried every strategy you can imagine for preventing and killing weeds – I used a borrowed flame weeder once, and decided it was too big a pain. I’ve mulched (which deals with some of them), hoed, hand weeded, used landscape fabric (the weeds just grow on top of it and it looks ugly), tilled, not tilled, solarized, mowed, cover cropped and underplanted. I’ve found that the best strategies for me are a combination of just accepting that weeding is part of life and also choosing my weeds – either creating conditions that are hospitable only to weeds I can deal with or actually planting weeds to fill ecological niches that I know are going to get filled anyway. Now I plant sweet alyssum under my squashes, white clover in my pathways and bee balm in the occasional soggy spot which otherwise will be filled with wet loving ground ivy. Looks pretty and suits my need to manage.

I haven’t solved all my weed problems, and I’m still looking for better solutions for some of them – I’m trying lightly salting my ground around the asparagus, which has shallow roots that make early had weeding difficult but like rich soil that is too hospitable to too many weeds. The goats are making firm inroads into the multiflora roses and the willow trees, but they aren’t a magic bullet.

But I’ve also learned to be grateful to my weeds and appreciate them – to think about how I may someday be grateful for food plants that grow without my intervention. I appreciate their beauty – I really do look forward to the annual gilding of my acres with dandelions, to the harvest of wild grapes and decorative bittersweet. I watch each spring to see the colonies of hawkweed and wild raspberries expand.

My answer to the most intractable of my weed problems is knowledge – to try and get to know them. What plant family do they come from? What conditions do they like? What can they tell me about what my soil needs? What can I use them for – if nothing else, caught before they go to seed, they can enrich next year’s soil. On a dry day, I can mulch my whole ground with lambsquarters pulled up and laid down to suppress further weeds.

It would be a flight of sentiment to claim that all weeds are useful and valuable – they aren’t. Poisonous water hemlock, for example, is a serious pest, and one that worries me since my autistic eldest mouths things. We try and keep it away from our farm. But I find myself considering which weedy seeds might make substitutes for grain crops, and looking at the reality – humans are a weedy species. We too like disturbance, crop up in prolific numbers and invade new habitats without regard for the natives. We humans, then, must look on those species of plant and animal that accompany and work with us with something other than perfect hostility – if the worst case scenarios come true, it may be that the plants of our future are mostly those that have already learned to live with and around humans best.



  1. #1 darwinsdog
    May 11, 2010

    I’ve said it before on this blog, I believe, but I’ll say again that derogatory terms like “weed,” “varmit,” “vermin,” etc., need to be dropped from the vocabulary, just as racist & sexist terms have been dropped, at least in polite conversation. Of all the things I’ve formerly considered “weeds”: Siberian elms, Russian olives, dandelions, purslane, Amaranthus and Chenopodium spp., et al., I have later in life come to appreciate. Even Tribulus, the notorious “goat head,” can bring $10 per pound to anyone sufficiently patient or desperate for money to collect and dry them. And Salsola the tumbleweed or Russian thistle is edible when young.

    It was David Quammen, in his 1998 essay “Planet of Weeds,” who pointed out what a weedy species Homo is. It’s interesting to note that in his essay he gives global human population as 5.9 billion. Today, 12 years later, we are at 6.8 billion, and adding an additional 74 million per year to the biosphere’s overburden. When I was born there were about 2.7 billion humans infesting the globe. Two and a half doublings while I’ve been alive. We’d better get used to eating “weeds.”

  2. #2 Shannon
    May 11, 2010

    Great blog! I love your take on weeds and weeding. As a soon-to-be college graduate (less than two weeks!) with plans to head back to the soil and hopefully work towards being as self-sustaining as possible, I find a lot of inspiration in your knowledge and experience. Keep up the good work!

  3. #3 anita
    May 11, 2010

    Ground ivy tincture is good for colicky babies, according to my mother (I was one, so I suppose she ought to know); and for allergic rhinitis, according to my herbals. Since I suffer from all sorts of allergic things for three-quarters of the year, I am putting my ground ivy to use this year. . .

  4. #4 DrA
    May 11, 2010

    darwinsdog said < >
    Weed is a perfectly good ecological term if understood correctly. A weed is a plant growing where you don’t want it. Yes, many are exotics, natives of other places. Yes, virtually all are adapted to disturbance, and yes, that’s what we humans do best. No question a number of food plants have their origins as weeds, and weeds are a reasonably good, but not foolproof bet to be edible because in they put more energy into making offspring than in making protective toxins.

  5. #5 darwinsdog
    May 11, 2010

    …where you don’t want it.

    Who are “you” (or “me” or “we”) to say where a plant should or shouldn’t grow? I say inoculate the planet from orbit with the propagules of everything, and let flourish what will wherever it will. And let be out competed and go extinct whatever will. How about that? If it works for humans, why not for every & all other organisms? What’s with such blatant anthropocentrism, DrA?

  6. #6 Daniel N Smith Jr
    May 11, 2010

    Great post!

    I need advice on a weed of mine….poison ivy. I run a nature center and work very hard to get people out into the woods but have been losing school groups because the kids got poison ivy in previous years. I have about a 10 acre field we hay 2x a year and a few miles of paths through the woods and wetlands.

    The stuff is everywhere and has been getting worse the last few years. I’m resisting the long process of pulling it out by hand since I am highly sensitive to it. Any advice is appreciated!


  7. #7 FernWise
    May 11, 2010

    My yard has a lot of Scottish Thistle. Lovely flowers, painful leaves. It is a grand plant, tho’. Honeybees and other pollinators adore it, and they flock to the few I let flower. Hummingbirds love them as well. The seeds attract birds, including lovely yellow flickers.

    I see them a household guardians, which is in keeping with their political history as well.

  8. #8 Don
    May 11, 2010

    No, “weed” status is not a foolproof determiner for edibility, DrA. We have a species of nightshade (I believe it’s Solanum dulcamara, but I don’t have my identification notes at hand) growing “weedily” in our neighborhood. I fear that someday, some young child will see those bright red berries and think they might be tasty eating.

    In his book “The Grape Grower,” author Lon Rombough writes, “Weeds are not plants out of place. They are plants with a mission. Weeds are healers of the soil.” I like that!

  9. #9 Lynne
    May 11, 2010

    noooooooooo! Sharon, you didn’t actually plant chickweed. You didn’t. I can understand eating it if you have it, but planting it?

    On the other hand, having grown up on an apiary, I do love dandelions. The bees would bring in loads of bright yellow pollen and really fun bright yellow honey from them at a time when few other things are blooming – so they were great for hive development. But unless you are a beekeeper, I don’t really recommend planting them either ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. #10 Vickey
    May 11, 2010

    Ground ivy = gill o’er the ground, as in “pint o’ gill”. Have you tried making ale with the stuff? (Apparently the gill replaces the hops.) Then quaff a pint w/the peeled & steamed Japanese knotweed shoots?

    Re garlic mustard: it’s not just invasive, it will kill a woodland, in that the root exudate interferes with some-or-another soil fungus that young treelings need to survive and grow. Wish it was easier to find under the snow in January, to harvest it before it gets bitter (which it is now, around here)and sets those thousands of seeds per plant.

    I was cured of dandelion dislike upon hearing the story of the lad who looked out the living room window one day and did the happy-dance, chanting “our yard has the most yellow flowers!”

  11. #11 Don
    May 11, 2010

    Lynne, who has to plant dandelions? ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. #12 Kate
    May 11, 2010

    According to Wikipedia, Glechoma hederacea can be used as a rennet substitute in cheese-making.

  13. #13 Glenn
    May 11, 2010

    What’s not to like about dandelions? My wife, the gardener, is _extremely_ allergic to them. She cannot work in the garden in the spring unless our daughter or I spend a couple of hours removing the dandelions first. This might not be a problem for urbanites. For those of us living on acreage in the woods it’s another matter. And 73 cents does not equal a dollar, so it’s still me that has to go off the land to work for U.S. dollars for all we can’t get from our land yet while she works in the garden…

    If I could get hold of our European forbearers who brought these plant pests from across the oceans I’d gladly open their veins and put them in our compost pile.

  14. #14 Cassandra
    May 12, 2010

    Do you have any resources you reccommend for spinning nettles?

  15. #15 Dunc
    May 12, 2010

    As the saying goes – “Those aren’t weeds, they’re biodiversity.”

    Dandelions would be fine if they weren’t such prolific and effective self-seeders…

  16. #16 Anna
    May 12, 2010

    Thanks for such a great post! I’ve been enjoying learning about our weeds, especially about which ones are dynamic accumulators and can feed the soil micronutrients it might be lacking. (Plus, which plants are indicators that your soil is lacking something.)

    I’ve also got a mass of ground ivy around my raspberries, and I couldn’t figure out why the plant was so obsessed by that area until you mentioned the moisture affinity — definitely one of the dampest spots in the yard. I’m going to have to look into what Kate said about it being a rennet substitute!

  17. #17 Sharon Astyk
    May 12, 2010

    Yup, planted the chickweed. It is kept firmly in control though, since the chickens eat it like crazy.

    Dan, maybe find someone who isn’t sensitive to do the pulling? I’d offer to do it myself (I’m not sensitive) but I’m afraid I’ve got my own to pull.

    This might also be a good job for a flame weeder, if the areas aren’t too dry.


  18. #18 Sharon Astyk
    May 12, 2010

    Thanks, everyone, also for the suggestions for what to do with ground ivy – I didn’t realize it could replace hops in ale – I thought it was just an additional flavoring. But that’s very interesting. I’ll try the rennet thing, but I’m a bit concerned that it would leave a strong flavor – but maybe it would be a pleasant one. I grow yellow bedstraw for its curdling qualities, but hadn’t thought of ground ivy for that.


  19. #19 Lorrieena
    May 12, 2010

    Cassandra – you can run a google search on “spinning nettle” – the results looked interesting. Also, Spin Off Magazine had an article on ‘Spinning the Wild’ which mentioned it. It’s not available online but it was a recent issue, perhaps you can order a back copy?

  20. #20 Don
    May 12, 2010

    Here are a couple of blogs singing the praises of Taraxacum officinale, including some of the things that one can do with it. My yard is full of them–bringing healing to our suburban soil.

    Disclaimer: although I haven’t tried it, I understand that dandelion tincture is rather nasty tasting. But my son has been pulling dandelions, drying and then grinding the roots, and making tea from it. He says it’s bitter tasting and I haven’t tried it yet.

    Some day I might try making dandelion wine again. We have a humorous family story of the time I tried to make it on campus during our undergraduate days. ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. #21 SarahHead
    May 12, 2010

    Great post, Sharon! As a “kitchen herbwife”, I love my weeds, dandelions I make into oil, syrup, tincture the leaves, roots, make a wonderful aperitif, vinegars etc. Chickweed is great as an itch soother, ground ivy for tinnitus & general anti-viral (they say the Romans introduced it here as an early spring green). I use all parts of nettles – food & medicine & one day will make chordage and clothing. I use burdock leaf stems in stew and stir fries, leaf & root for medicine. Cleavers can be used as a strainer and I think for curdling as well. Jim Macdonald has a good paper on the medicinal uses for purple loostrife.

  22. #22 Paul S.
    May 12, 2010

    I’ve heard that it’s a VERY bad idea to burn poison ivy – the uroshiol oil that causes the allergic reaction just evaporates and if anyone inhales it, it can cause the same kind of nasty allergic reaction on the INSIDE of the windpipe and lungs, which is obviously a very bad thing.

    Also, most people who aren’t allergic to poison ivy when they are younger eventually develop an allergy to it. Unlike a lot of toxins, the body actually becomes MORE sensitive to uroshiol the more it gets exposed to it.

    Some plants that are considered weeds were brought over deliberately, but things like dandelions and crabgrass were almost certainly brought over unintentionally because their seeds were mixed in with seed grains. So, as tempting as it is to want to do retroactive violence on the people who were foolish enough to bring them over, the truth is that it was an almost unavoidable by-product of introducing new crops.

    Like Sharon says in the original post, the proliferation of weeds in general is an inevitable by-product of human activity that disrupts and destabilizes ecosystems, since most “weedy” plants are adapted to flourishing on disturbed ground. They originally evolved to grow on land disturbed by floods, fires, landslides, or receding glaciers, but human activities like cutting down trees, plowing, hoeing, digging, tilling, etc., produced environments that were just as welcoming.

  23. #23 Prometheus
    May 12, 2010

    Dan @ #6

    “I need advice on a weed of mine….poison ivy.”

    Only competitor is Smilax which is almost as bad.

    Can’t burn it (fumes can kill you)

    Can’t compost it, too toxic.

    Bag it and send it to the landfill if you must but it respirates and guttates like any other plant, so while you are pulling it up in a pair of duck waders and neoprene opera length gloves you will still get to spend a couple of days with your eyes swollen shut.

    And so….

    You have to go over to the dark side and spray it.

    The best herbicide for it with the shortest toxic lifespan that will not get into the water table is glyphosate.

    The good news is that the poison ivy is actually two ranks higher on the toxicity scale than glyphosate.

    The bad news is that it is made by Monsanto.

  24. #24 darwinsdog
    May 12, 2010

    My tortoises love dandelions. In warm weather they go outside to graze them. We eat them in salads, in moderation. The first time I ever attempted to make wine it was dandelion. It turned into vinegar and I threw it out in disgust. Should have kept it. It was probably some mighty fine vinegar.

    There’s no poison ivy on my property but its close relative Rhus trilobata grows in profusion. When cutting & chipping it, it can cause a mild skin reaction like poison ivy only less severe. When I was a kid in the Midwest, and later in life on Long Island, I would always get a case of poison ivy early in the season. Once it went away, however, I wouldn’t be bothered by poison ivy the rest of the season, even if cutting it. Immunity to it apparently fades over winter, at least in me.

  25. #25 Prometheus
    May 12, 2010

    P.S. Re:Poison ivy.


    Find somebody with a mule. They never stop eating, are good around kids and love smilax and poison ivy.

    No goats or geese etc. (poisons milk and eggs).

  26. #26 Claire
    May 12, 2010

    Weeds are nature’s cover crop, as far as I am concerned. No need to plant them; by spring they cover the veggie beds quite nicely, preventing erosion. I remove them (with a hoe and/or shovel) just before I plant a bed. The early ones like chickweed have already flowered and set seeds by then – that’s next year’s cover crop. More grow while the crops grow; I generally don’t weed much except among the shorter crops, to keep tall weeds from shading them.

    I have lots of ground ivy too. The only place I remove it, other than from the veggie garden while crops are growing, is from the herb bed (because it will shade out the short mint-family herbs) and from flowerbeds in which I’ve planted seedlings, again because it shades out seedlings. Ground ivy makes an excellent green ingredient for my compost piles because it is so moist and there is lots of it. I don’t keep animals so I think of it as a manure substitute.

    Around here (St. Louis) I have heard many people refer to the common blue violet as a weed. Not only is it not a weed (it’s edible and medicinal), but it makes a wonderful lawn substitute. I actively encourage it for this purpose. Same with musk strawberries and with the tasteless ground strawberry. Even euonymus does groundcover duty (although I attempt to keep it from climbing up trees).

    The one plant I will call a weed, zoysia, is considered a desirable lawn grass by many folks around here. All you northerners who’ve never heard of it, consider yourselves lucky. It spreads by runners, grows over sidewalks, driveways, and edgings (and under them), invades neighboring lawns and gardens, and is impossible to mow with a reel mower because it’s so dense and slick that the reel slides instead of turns. If it weren’t for the zoysia grass in part of the yard, I wouldn’t have a gasoline mower – and I have an acre lot. The only environmentally sound way to get rid of zoysia is to shade it out – it needs lots of sun. As the shrubs I planted grow and as I let other plants get into the zoysia, its coverage is slowly decreasing. But it will still be a long time before it’s all shaded out. And people still think this is a lawn grass and spend money on it …

  27. #27 Sharon Astyk
    May 12, 2010

    Flame weeders don’t actually burn the plants enough to make smoke that you’d end up inhaling – they are held on the plants just long enough to burst cells – so it is safe to use on poison ivy. And yes, I know that someday my lack of sensitivity will go away, and I will get PI – but I might as well enjoy it while I’ve got it.

    The problem I have with glyphosate is that unless you are going to individually spray every single plant, spraying a big area will do nasty things to other understory plants as well. Moreover, I’ve heard several people say that the poison ivy recovers on the property faster than anything else after a good rounduping.


  28. #28 Susan in NJ
    May 12, 2010

    Last year we were overrun with mustard garlic and ate a lot … enough that this year, it is not so easy to find in our yard. Alas, now we have a small stand of poison ivy and the indian strawberries are everywhere.
    It’s interesting watching the cycle of weeds even in a small suburban yard, both due to our practices and microclimate changes due to tree removal and trimming.

  29. #29 Ewan R
    May 12, 2010

    The bad news is that it is made by Monsanto.

    Aren’t there any generics available in stores for average joes? Monsanto got pretty brutally mauled by the cheap availability of generic glyphosate based herbicides the past 2 years, it surprises me this hasn’t also impacted the consumer market.

  30. #30 Sava Chankov
    May 12, 2010

    Have you tried chicken tractor? Everywhere I’ve seen it used it eliminates virtually all weeds.

  31. #31 Robin Datta
    May 12, 2010

    A beautiful post – intimating how much there is to learn and understand of an aspect of the world that lies outside the cognizance of so many.

    I have been a city slicker all my uS life (since 1973), but prior to that had been somewhat closer to nature – having grown up in (what is now) Pakistan & Bangladesh.

    It bodes good to a Post-Industrial future that a vanguard of committed individuals and communities are reconnecting with reality.

  32. #32 Greenpa
    May 13, 2010

    One plant I’ve been convinced is a disaster- comfrey. It has OFTEN been recommended as a great weed to plant; good for your soil, good for your animals, good for your soul… but everyone I know who has had to cope with it after it really got going has regretted it hugely. It will take over, and is harder to eradicate than kudzu.

    “The other major pest in my garden is Bull Thistle, which I really don’t like – if you’ve ever sat on a small one while you weeded you’ll know why.”

    We’ve got those, and 4 other species. The thing I wanted to point out (ha) is- chestnuts. We’ve got a bunch, and if you want them, you need to come to grips with the concept that you are never going to want to sit under you chestnut trees- unless you bring something like plywood to sit on. The burr spines build up in the grass, and can often be sneaky- you’ll sit there all comfy for a few minutes; and then be sorry.

    We think the chestnuts and trees are way worth it- but be aware.

  33. #33 Sharon Astyk
    May 13, 2010

    Actually, I love comfrey, and I find it to be extremely well behaved – *as long as you never try to move it* – ie, once you plant comfrey, expect to keep it there. It isn’t invasive or pestiferous in the sense that it will spread – it is actually really well behaved, as long as you never disturb its roots or try to move it. It is only when you till the soil or try to dig it out that those little roots go make more baby comfreys.


  34. #34 Greenpa
    May 13, 2010

    “but everyone I know who has had to cope with it after it really got going has regretted it hugely”

    Ok- One. For the other side. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Also quite possible my experience has been warped by soil/climate differences.

    And indeed, the one friend who wailed the most and longest had tried to downsize a patch established by the previous owner– and got little baby comfreys all over everywhere.

  35. #35 Sharon Astyk
    May 13, 2010

    It may also be species variants – there are several comfreys, and I understand that the true Russian comfrey does set seed and spread – but the ones I have don’t.


  36. #36 Nick
    May 24, 2010

    “derogatory terms like “weed,” “varmit,” “vermin,” etc., need to be dropped from the vocabulary, just as racist & sexist terms have been dropped, at least in polite conversation.”..

    Thanks for sharing your personal opinion and making serious food gardening look absurd to mainstream folks.
    Our main weed problem here in the Bay Area is Sheep Sorrel which makes a lovely vinegar substitute in salads…problem is, what do you do with the 99.999% of it that remains. It pops up under our fruit trees and along the margins of veggie patchs. Nothing can get rid of it as the roots break off underground. Alium trifolium or wild garlic onions are abundant hereabouts and people are incredulous that you can eat them. Also, you can plant them under peaches and nectarines as they are reputed to prevent leaf curl. Still waiting for the results though. How thick do you have to plant them?

  37. #37 Myriam
    May 28, 2010

    When I stand in my permaculture garden, and survey all the weeds growing there, I imagine that I am seeing a few frames of a thousand year movie, where nature takes a piece of bare rock, and creates an old growth forest. That’s what nature is doing, creating an old growth forest. Each weed brings something that for a space of time, is exactly what is needed. Some are miners that bring minerals from deep down up to feed other plants, some attract insects, or protect other plants, or feed the mycorrhiza in the soil. And on it goes.
    Each succession is a new act in the play, a new ecosystem.

    It’s a fascinating movie, really. I just wish I could see the end.


  38. #38 owlfarmer
    May 31, 2010

    I’m always glad to see folks living with their weeds. When we acquired our half-acre in North Texas suburbia ten years ago, about 1/4 of the property was a cleared vegetable and berry garden that had been treated for twenty years with artificial fertilizers and herbicides. I let it go, figuring it had done its time in slavery, and today it’s a small forest with trees and “weeds” and flowers galore–even a volunteer peach tree from an old compost heap from the first year. I could use the space now for food-crops, but will find a way to do without, even if it means cutting down on a decorative iris bed (inherited from the previous owner). Allowing even a small space in one’s yard to go wild can help significantly to reduce one’s carbon footprint, clean up the local air, add biodiversity, and occasionally provide a nice surprise or two in the form of gifts dropped in by visiting birds.

  39. #39 Becky Terpening
    June 25, 2010

    I heard chickens like chopped comfrey and it is a really good compost plant.

  40. Hi alla;
    “In summary, your (outstanding IMHO) preprint establishes that both low-rank and high-rank symplectic ground-state dynamics exhibits a rich computational structure … which is to say, the Hamiltonian potentials on these manifolds exhibits a rich computational structure … and now so we have the natural challenge of describing the computational structure of the middle-rank state-spaces too.

    That’s *one* way to read your article, anyway … the reason it’s an outstanding article (IMHO), is that there are so *many* interesting ways to read it.”
    mary lou…

  41. #41 aluna
    July 20, 2010

    Monsanto! YIKES!!! How about applying vinegar to your poison ivy problem areas?!

  42. #42 Kelly Stettner
    November 29, 2010

    Great blog, some wonderful ideas and philosophies! One thing: I literally cringed when I read that you make and give away wreaths of Oriental bittersweet. The seeds that make the vines so pretty are also very viable as people throw out the wreaths after the holidays. Unless your wreaths are vine-only with no seeds? ๐Ÿ™‚

  43. #43 Japanese knotweed
    December 17, 2010

    Although it’s annoying, Japanese knotweed to cook with is soo delicious! The crumble and stir fry recipes are the best!

    I’ve shared how to make Japanese knotweed wine below…I know its different but it’s actually really nice!

    Firstly itโ€™s time to get chopping. You will need roughly 2kg of knotweed stems for a gallon of wine from your garden and before you start weighing, be sure to take the leaves off them first. To make life easier, cut the stems into small chunks and then itโ€™s time to give them a good soak in fresh water.

    Youโ€™ll need:

    1.5kg of sugar
    Freshly squeezed juice of one orange
    Yeast nutrient

    Bring these ingredients to the boil before pouring over the small chunks of knotweed that you need to firstly place into a straining bag. Leave your mixture to ferment for roughly a week in somewhere safe and covered.

    Eat and drink away your knotweed troubles instead!!

    Thanks for the post!

  44. #44 Amber
    February 5, 2011

    I love this post and the discussion. I have been eating weeds for years and as a preschool teacher, one of my favorite things has been to introduce young children to plant identification and help them find their favorite yummy weeds. Children will eat nutritious greens that they pick from the ground that they would never touch served on a plate on a table in the house. If you give them choices like “dandelion leaf or sheep sorrel” they will come to appreciate the different flavors and get the idea “I love sheep sorrel” I don’t see a need to eradiacate most weeds, I would plant chickweed and purslane myself- yum.
    My big problem is bindweed, or wild morning glory. It takes over any ignored corner of my little less-than-three-acre farm. The roots travel far and deep, and when broken each bit grows to a new plant. Every part of the plant is poisonous, and the only thing I have ever heard of that could be done with it would be to make an emetic tincture (throw-up medicine) but that a trained herbalist should be the only one to make such a tincture or it could make you very sick or kill you. I really want to move my farm toward permaculture, but I don’t know how to start small without having bindweed completely invade it.

New comments have been disabled.