Thursday, 4 June 2009

Thinking of weeds in a different way

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Most treatises on weeds solely concentrate on the eradication of, or the opposite, useful ways to make medicines, eat or feed weeds to livestock. All are these facts are good to know, but weeds can teach us more. Why do weeds grow where they do? Usually a shrug of the shoulders, and a "weeds happen" look accompany that question.

An examination of weeds growing on our farmsteads, and in our yards will tell us what is going on below, in the soil. As gardeners and farmers we need to know about the terra firma beneath our feet and hoe.

If you are new to your land, or are just thinking of starting a garden from scratch, weed identification can be very helpful. Weeds like certain soil conditions, and can survive the worst environment. I took a walk today in some of our high impact areas and snapped some pictures of places and the weeds that grow there. If you see these weeds, don't locate your garden there without the expectation of a lot of work. Problem weeds can persist for decades in high impact areas. I will stick with common names, and common weeds, and even though some of my impact areas are caused by livestock, people can tread hard on the land too. Native Americans called Broadleaf Plantain, White Man's Footstep.

Location: Barnyard, wet soil, high animal impact during wet weather. Not much grows here during the summer except Broadleaf plantain, dock and sorrel. I doubt this spot would ever make a good garden spot unless you built raised beds and brought in soil and amendments.

Location: Barnyard driveway, some grass, and clover but mostly pineapple weed.

Barnyard, high animal impact during wet weather. This area receives full sun and is covered with dog fennel, and some pineapple weed. Sometimes both of these weeds are known as Chamomile.

Barnyard, high animal impact during wet weather. This area is even wetter as the buttercup or ranunculus shows. Ranunculus roots are very toxic to pigs.

Garden, with the dreaded quack grass. Quack likes a hard pan, if you can correct that, you can make the quack leave.

Quack grass propagates by rhizome. If you want more quack in your garden till it, and chop it up into little pieces. The more you till, the more you will have. It will thank you.

To get rid of quack, plant annual cereal rye and summer fallow. The rye breaks up the hardpan and has allelopathic properties that have a lasting effect on the quack grass.

Area near the barn, with high animal impact. Canadian thistle loves acidic and nitrogen rich soil. These spread by underground roots, tilling only gives you more thistles. Cutting just at bloom time will weaken the plant and eventually they will die out.

Pasture near the treeline, this area shows good grass growth, but the bracken fern is still persisting. Timed grazing, or mowing and generous compost applications would help this area.

Our most persistent weed - Himalayan blackberry. This species is very invasive, this shoot in the middle shows this springs growth, already 45" tall. The berries are good, but these plants get so dense and thick, and are so strong they are hard to eradicate.

Most of these weeds don't bother us too much, in our sacrifice areas near the barns there is no need to do anything for soil improvement, since we are not changing the use of these areas. The weeds are the earths way of protecting the soil. Irritating as they may be, they are just doing their job. It is our job to observe and learn from them and make changes if necessary.

What weeds, if any, are the bane of your life?


Annette said...

From looking at your pictures, I have a few of the same weeds. We eat the plantain (currently making suave from it) and sorrel. Have not tried the dock yet. We also eat the lambs quarters (though there is more than I could possibly consume all summer), common mallow, and then the sorrel. There is some wild lettuce that we have not tried yet and it would appear that we also have Canadian thistle (wondered what it was). *sighs*

Sandra Fonseca - outrasartes said...

Nice post!
It looks like I have a bit of these in my land and I'm not eating them - except for the blackberry.
And lots of ferns and Quackgrass...

Margaret said...

I have all of the my veggies and in my flower gardens, it's constant battle.

Red Fern said...

Great post! I especially appreciated your approach to the topic--weeds are not bad, they just are. The first step toward living...harmoniously, if you will, with weeds is to begin looking at your land as a diverse ecosystem that includes plants, animals and insects. There's more than grass and "weeds" (i.e. the good stuff and the bad stuff). There's sorrel, thistle, colt's foot, crabgrass, etc.

What I hear you saying regarding weeds is, cultivate and create nurturing soil for the plants you want and the rest will take care of themselves. Now that's a philosophy that works for life in general!

Daniel Spurgeon said...

Very informative post! Thanks!

drp said...

Bindweed - bane of my existence. Wonderful in a field, it produces beautiful flowers, but dreaded in the garden. Tilling propagates it wildly by turning one plant into dozens of new plants. Only thing I've found to slow it down is hand-pulling and trying to get the old root out of the ground attached to the new plant. So far it's a losing battle.

Paula said...

Ah, now I know the names of them! We have many of the same, especially that thistle that grows in the landscaping. My garden is a raised bed, and most of my weeds were those little maple tree sprouts from the "whirly bird" seeds that dropped on them this past fall. While the weeds were plentiful prior to spring planting, they were easy to pull out. My husband despises the dandelions that grows in his grass. Me? I don't care if we have dandelions in the yard. In my motherly opinion, grass is for playing on not for looking at. I find it hilarious that he growls at the dandelions because he grew up in the country and farmed most of his life until we were married. The grassy field by his old house where they played all summer long is full of dandelions! Perhaps he ingested one too many as a kid while sliding into home base!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the informative post. The bane of my life weed-wise is onion weed and oxalys!!!!!! Both seem impossible to get rid of. Any hints?
Thankfully it seems to hold them at bay if I plant things as soon as I have weeded an area so that the weeds can't take over as much.

renee @ FIMBY said...

I've worked a lot in the soil in my little backyard. After years of work and adding compost the garden growing areas now have good, loose soil. But the rest of the yard, where the children run & play all season long is basically plantain. Plantain has wonderful herbal properties so I put up with it, especially since I don't have much choice, it's what grows best in the hard packed clay.

Regan Family Farm said...

No wonder I have no victory over quack grass...all this time I thought tilling was helpful :( I'm trying to appreciate the weeds, but I so enjoy a weed-free garden!

AccidentalHW said...

Wow, I'm impressed at how well you know your on microclimate. None of these weeds grow where I live, I think. But while I know which weeds predominate in my area, I don't know what they signal, really. I can see how really useful this info would be.


Good golly this gave me something to think about. RUSSIAN THISTLE aka TUMBLEWEED is a tough one. We used to be able to burn them before there was such a thing as an air pollution control board. They burn fast and hot. I believe it's still the best way to get rid of the weed and the seed. POOF!

Dia said...

Indeed - great info! I've fought quack grass for years - good info about the rye!
I came home this PM to my lawn having been mowed - inc a patch of yarrow I wanted to leave & my St John's wort! Did my son-in law do me a 'favor?' (the St John's is behind the rock border, & my dau's mowed before without damaging it) or a neighbor?? Sigh.
Some 'weeds' are precious

Shawna said...

oh my. morning glory morning glory morning glory. and a bit of raspberry, blackberry, purslane and some kind of cress, which at least are all edible! i don't know what those say about our soil. it hasn't been used as a garden in years.

it's the morning glory that takes up most of my day. and my uncle hates that i leave dandelions growing in our vegetables. hey, if it's edible, why not!

henbogle said...

This was a helpful post, thanks. I have all the above, but am managing slowly with compost and mulching in veggie and perennial beds. My worst enemies are creeping buttercup, Japanese knotweek, and creeping bellflower, the last 2 highly invasive non natives that like our clay-ey soil. I'd love to hear your suggestions.

Deb G said...

Bindweed (morning glory) and buttercups! The buttercups I don't worry about too much, I just pull them out of areas where I'm growing veggies and where they might crowd something out. The bindweed I keep working at, wherever I see it. It would take over the world if it could I think....

lizzylanefarm said...

Hey we have all of these here too...The bind weed is something new in the past couple of years. I think it has come from the hay brought in to feed the animals.

I have just been pulling it out. Also spraying it with white vinegar helps.

Thanks for the info. great post.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

My goodness, what a great group of comments! I love hearing about different weeds in everyone's yard! Thank you.

Annette, our cows love the plantain, and I know what you mean about the lambsquarters - most falls to the hoe or if it gets away from me the chickens get it.

Sounds like you are really making good use of your weeds! If you cut the thistle just before blooming, gradually you can "bleed" it out of your ground. Horses love it after it is cut and wilted. Go figure...

Sandra, we look at the growth on the blackberries and fantasize about the vegetables growing at such a great rate. Sigh.

Margaret, it is a constant battle isn't it.

Red Fern, you said it so much more eloquently than I did - Thanks :)

Daniel, thanks!

drp, Luckily I don't have bindweed, (knock on wood)it sounds like you are on the right track.

Paula, I wish I had whirly birds for weeds! That Mel knew what he was talking about after all ;)

I can just picture you and hubbyman going back and forth about the dandelions. Maybe he knows my neighbor who stopped by one day after church to ask us if we knew we had dandelions in the hayfield! As if we hadn't noticed...

Miriam, we don't have onion weed here and our oxalis only grows in the shady woodland. I do know some weeds love acidic soil, and adding lime can bring the pH to a more neutral reading and some weeds will just disappear. Hope that helps a little. Also clearing a garden space the year before and using cover crops of some kind can get rid of a lot of weeds and weed seeds.

Renee, I hear you on that, we aren't willing to change our use of our barnyards, as they are our sacrifice areas during the winter so we can protect our pastures. So we put up with the weeds and find uses for them such as you have. Thanks!

Regan Family Farm, if there is a victory of quack grass, you let me know!! I love it in the pasture as it is excellent forage, and in biodynamics is considered a dynamic plant, but the garden - that is a different story!

AccidentHW, thanks, if you start looking you will see what causes the weeds, poorly drained soil, constant traffic, too much animal manure at the wrong time, etc. Very interesting stuff.

Maybelline, the Native Americans used to burn... It is the same with the blackberries they burn very well after you cut them, and my bad, I really enjoy that!

Dia, ooh I know how you feel, I just found a great area of St John's wort on my nephews land the other day, and after commenting to my family that no one had driven on yet, the nephews and their buddies came through on their motorcycles and dune buggies that night - I haven't been brave enough to go look yet!

Shawna, I wish I had raspberries growing out of control in my garden! That morning glory is pretty but it sure looks like it likes to hang on!

I think uncles need something to shake their heads about sometimes...:)

Ali, could it be drainage, the knotweed is on the noxious weed list here, and it and the buttercup seem to like shady, and wet ground, both hard things to remedy. I have had good luck eradicating the buttercup by covering it with plastic or card board to weaken it, and then pulling it and making sure I increase the sunlight. Adding lime and lots of compost like you have been doing is a great remedy too, since it can really turn around your ground fast. What is the creeping bellflower? We probably have something similar, but I am not sure.

lizzylanefarm, we got an annual bindweed too, that I think came in the chicken feed. We got rid of it, but gee was it a terror and I had no idea what it was at first, since that type doesn't grow around here.

So many of the common "weeds" came here from Europe as contaminants of grain crops many years ago. The entire west coast is contaminated with Tansy Ragwort, which is very poisonous to livestock, and it supposedly came is the soil used in the ballast for ships. It is a constant battle!

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Yes great post! We look at our weeds as soil indicators and they help us to identify soil imbalances like ph, nutrient deficiency, etc. All of this talk has re-inspired me to read Weeds: Guardians of the Soil. It is available to read on the Journey to Forever online farming library.