Happy Weeding, Happy Garden and the Humus Among Us
Notes From the Gardener
The Memorial Day weekend is generally understood in our area as the advent of the tourist season. Soon the roadways will be bursting to capacity with visitors coming to enjoy for a few days what we who live here can enjoy throughout the seasons. To the merchants, this influx of people is a godsend. To many residents it is simply a big pain. It is all in the eyes of the beholder. In the eyes of this gardener the arrival of the tourists is analogous to the arrival of the weeds. All of a sudden they're everywhere.
Since no garden can produce a crop left unprotected from the onslaught of the weeds, "weeding" is a primary chore of each and every gardener. I don't suppose that even the longest stretch of the imagination can make weeding fun, but regarding weeds in a different light can make the chore less tedious. Let me begin to explain by offering you Penny's definition of a weed. She says, "A weed is simply a plant growing where you don't want it to grow". Now, since I am the one who does the weeding at this farm, I might accuse Penny of seeing nature through an optimistic, rose-colored fog, but her definition is right on the mark. A weed is only a threat to a garden crop if by proximity it competes for water, sunlight and nourishment. Otherwise, weeds serve an ecological purpose, provide beauty and can be used as food.
If you've ever witnessed a piece of land razed and stripped of its topsoil, the first plants to appear are the deep, fleshy rooted ones like plantain, dandelion, chicory or mullein. Those deep roots help prevent erosion and as they die back those fleshy roots add humus to the soil. This is nature's first step in recreating the topsoil. Many of the "weeds" serve the gardener well by acting as host plants to the many beneficial insects. Lacewings like the nettles and lamb's-quarters. Predatory wasps are attracted to umbel flowers like those of the wild carrot, Queen Anne's Lace. Evening Primrose is always allowed to grow here and there on this farm because Japanese beetles are so attracted to this "weed" that they ignore crop plants that they might not otherwise.
Weeds. Beauty. Can the two words appear together? Yarrow, daisies, black-eyed Susans, buttercups and purple loosestrife all appear on lists of weeds. No! They're wildflowers, you say. Again.....the eye of the beholder. What artist has ever captured the haunting blue of a chicory flower? Let some milkweed grow in the garden and you'll enjoy the flitting of the monarch butterfly all summer long. Maybe you'll be fortunate enough to see dozens of migrating monarchs gather on an autumn aster that you decided not to pull as a weed months before.
Salad lovers are always looking for a new ingredient to add variety and zest. Lamb's quarters, purslane and chickweed are all common garden weeds that are quite tasty and nutritious. All we have to do is learn to recognize them as food.
Regarding weeds with new understanding may never make weeding an adventure, but perhaps a little less burdensome. HAPPY WEEDING!