It seems no matter how much attention you put into your garden, the four letter word always comes up…WEED. However, weeds can be beneficial if given a chance and a little know how.
Different weeds can be used as indicators and tell you about your soil if it’s unbalanced caused by poor drainage, aeration,low fertility, nutrient or mineral levels. When these deficiencies or unbalances are corrected, weeds will disappear. After they decompose, the leaves and stems help to balance the soil with the nutrient levels they provide.
A lot of domesticated cousins have similar characteristics to the weed family. For instance: the orach is a colourful domesticated version of the lambs quarter weed. Both contain a rich source of minerals, calcium, iron, phosphorous and vitamins A, B2, C and niacin. They can be eaten raw in salads or cooked like spinach. Often called the ‘Goose Foot’ because of the shape of their leaves, domesticated members of the goose foot family are spinach, beets, Swiss chard which all contain oxalic acid. This means that people that suffer from weakened kidneys or experience gout should be cautioned not to overeat any of these vegetables. I have used lambs quarters both as a poultice for swollen joints on horses and as a herbal tea when the leaves are dried.
Anyone visiting our farm will see moderate suggestions of weeds in a permaculture fashion. Along with lambs quarters, I will allow members of the umbellfrae family (includes wild carrot along with inter-cropping its domesticated cousins fennel, angelic, dill) which all produce a tiny flower required by beneficial ladybugs, lacewings, hover-flies and parasitic wasps. They all are a biennial plant that takes two years to complete its biological cycle. Both weeds mentioned provide a large tap root which will break through hard pan soil surfaces to reach moisture and nutrition and deliver to inter-cropped edible shallow rooted crops. They also provide a humid micro-climate to stabilize the moisture in the air acting as a nursery crop and shelter for smaller edible and ornamental companions.
Many square foot or square meter gardeners will control most of the weed issues that appear in their raised garden vessels. However, by mimicking this beneficial natural habitat balance with an intercropping program to your garden plots, you will be supporting and be interconnected to the ecosystem.
– Paul Smith