Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Weed By Any Other Name Is Still a Weed?

I've been meaning to get back here, I really have!  But I've been busy with a lot of other things.  I still don't get all my projects done that I'd like, but I guess the most important things, such as keeping my family fed and clothed, is getting done.

Lately I've been focused on weeds.  What is a weed?  Having a garden (or two or three) to tend, this is a topic that will come up eventually.  And there are differing perspectives on just exactly what makes a plant a weed.  I heard it said once that a weed is any plant for which you haven't yet discovered a use.  I asked some of my friends recently to share their own personal definition of a weed, and this is what they had to say:

"My favorite theory is that a weed is any plant that is growing where the gardener doesn't want it to grow."
"A weed: an unwanted plant."
"A weed: any plant in a space I do not want it in."
"To me a weed is a plant that is not in a place where I want it."
"Any flower is technically a weed."

I also asked, "Are there any plants that you always consider a weed? And under what circumstances do you not care about weeds?"

"Scotchbroom is a weed.  It is an annoying noxious weed.  It grows and grows and grows.  Teenagers don't grow as fast as Scotchbroom, and you and I both know just how fast teenagers grow!"
"Sow thistles are always a weed to me!"
"Nope.  Most."
"No.  When it is in a place that I don't care if it is overtaken with greenery."
"No, not really. It really depends on if I am low on something as to whether it will stay or not.  I really don't care about my weeds if they can be well hidden. In town the tend to frown on anything that they don't care for. For instance, we eat and use our dandelions, but the neighbors would rather sneak over in the dark of the night and spray them all gone. LOL"
" IF I had a garden I'd weed out the plants that I would not use to produce food, herbs, or what I consider beauty."

Since I do have a garden (or two or three) I've had to make some of the decisions on what to pluck out of the ground and what to leave.  My mantra of late has been, "If you don't know what something is, leave it alone until you can positively identify it as something you don't want!"  Unless you are very familiar with what a plant looks like in its early stages of growth, you might very well pull out something you really did want.

What are some possible reasons for not weeding?
  1. When you have newly planted seeds or young plants, pulling up nearby plants might disturb the soil too much and uproot or stress them.  In this case, wait until the plants you want to keep are a bit bigger with some established roots.
  2. You might accidentally pull up the wrong plant.
  3. Any plant that is larger provides some shade, which is a good thing to a baby plant in the hot sun.
  4. Any plant that is larger provides some wind protection, which is a good thing if you live where the wind blows quite fiercely at times.
  5. Any plant growing provides protection against soil erosion and water loss.  Observe that bare dirt dries out faster than where vegetation is growing.
  6. Some plants send down deep taproots, to reach the water and minerals that are deeper in the soil, also bringing them up to the surface.  This provides a pathway of loosened soil for neighboring plants to reach down for the good stuff.  Most garden vegetables don't have a deep root system.
  7. Most "weeds" are edible, and are actually more nutritious than the stuff you plant, plus they will grow better because they are hardier and more acclimated.
  8. Many "weeds" are medicinal.
  9. The plant is pretty.
  10. It's a lot of work :D

And I suppose, to be fair, I should list some reasons you might want to weed:

  1. You like the "neat" appearance of bare soil around your plants.
  2. Some people believe that "weeds" compete for water and minerals (which they might at certain stages of growth.)
  3. You might be allergic to a particular plant.
  4. They shade your plants too much.
  5. They might obstruct proper growth of the plant you are cultivating.
  6. They might really be "taking over" your garden.

Please feel free to share any of your reasons for or against "weeding" "weeds" out of your garden, yard, or elsewhere.

At the moment, there are two plants that are pulled out at sight:  Wormwood and Ragweed (I don't have any pictures at the moment of either one).  Both plants when in bloom cause bad allergic reactions to people who live on or come to the farm.  In the garden and immediately around it, they are uprooted, if at all possible.  Elsewhere on the farm, they are mowed down before blooming.  Both plants are medicinal in nature, but are not needed in great quantity.  The pastured animals will eat wormwood when they need it, but it otherwise gets left alone.  A tincture can be made of ragweed blooms to prevent the hay-fever / allergic reactions, but since it takes several weeks to prepare the tincture, it won't be of any use until the following season.

As to what "weeds" I am less likely to uproot, that will have to wait for another post.  I intend to write about each one that I have encountered in our yards and gardens.  Or, at least a few of the more interesting ones.

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