The Permacultivator - Journal of Cool Climate Permaculture
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Getting the Message from Weeds


Do we treat an illness within our body with short term fixes, or do we look for the underlying problem and build up from there.Just like our body , the soil has illnesses too and more often is hit with fixes , but does this repair or correct the overall problem? Sometimes you will see our cultured plants looking unhealthy and yet the weeds in the same area are very healthy. Do we blame the weeds or are they telling us of our neglect towards our cultured plants and the soil.The message of weeds is of great importance to those who want to live close to the land.Weeds grow where we do not want them and are able to withstand the adverse conditions thrown at them. They live in soils from very acid to alkaline, from moist to dry and from rich to very poor. They tell us of our failure to work with natures growing medium, and are only here because of our mistakes. They have grown up with change over hundreds of years, which has evolved them into guardians of the soil life.Weeds provide us with many useful indicators of the soil type and quality. (see Table)

Weeds are highly successful wild plants, and are adapted to rapidly colonising bare earth. To do so, they have evolved many ways to travel quickly. They can travel on the inside or outside of birds and animals, by wind or rain, self explosion by touch and by man’s feet.

In some cases their seeds can hang around in the soil for hundreds of years and will reappear when needed by nature. If the conditions are right for one particular weed then it will appear and indicate the problem, just like a warning light on any machine.

If you take notice of the weed or weeds and correct the problem, hey presto, no more of that particular weed. They can live for a month, six months, one year or several years completing their life cycle, each having their reason for being here the longest.

From hard crust to humus, weeds will gradually improve your soil.A succession may start as pig weed, plantain and clover and finish with chickweed, dandelion and fat hen. There are many different weeds to do many different jobs as needed. They are the litmus paper of our soil’s health.

When growing strong weeds can be good to man.

  1. -they can be used as a green manure; protecting the soil from extremes, breaking the crust and hardpans, increasing the fertility, diving for minerals where other plants cannot reach and helping the cultivated crop to be more drought resistant.
  2. -they can also increase soil biology with diversity
  3. -releasing chemicals or nutrients to other plants as in the wild marigold (Tagetes minuta) exudes chemicals which help to suppress soil nematodes. Legume weeds such as clover can help when the roots die off and release nitrogen into your soil for other plants to retrieve.
  4. -food for man and beast (very important as they are rich in many minerals).

If seaweed holds many minerals from the sea the weeds collectively do the same for the soil. For example:

So to be self-sufficient by using mineral rich weed fertiliser and compost, you will have a rich soil. This can be achieved by the collection of weeds, to make liquid manure or compost. Most weeds will thrive in soils with high concentrations of certain minerals or send roots down to places where nutrients or minerals are abundant. The concentration of nutrients within them is related more to the soil than to the forces of the weeds. These plants tolerate conditions in the soil that might be toxic to other plants.To rid yourself of weeds observe the type of weeds growing and make a conscious decision to change your practise of farming or gardening, and apply some new knowledge to work out how to rectify the problem.

We have touched the surface with this information and will be always learning from nature. Keen observation of the life forces within nature provides information for anybody to be guided in the right direction.