Thursday, March 26, 2015

Prolific as a weed

I've had a free resource growing in every backyard I've ever lived in. They're called weeds and they're incredibly prolific. I was raised to think a weed was an annoyance to be controlled. Some weeds are an annoyance, but I've since learned they can be just like any other plant in my garden - they serve a useful purpose.

A sloping footpath covered in dead weeds

In spring, the weeds first emerge. In summer, they grow too prolifically to control and in autumn they set seed and start to wane. This is the perfect time to turn those weeds, back into the ground they emerged from. Footpaths, once encroached by hanging branches and tufts of weeds, are now covered with a layer of mulch.

With another year of seeds to cover the ground, I'm ready to grow next years crop of free mulch and nutrient accumulators too. I want those weeds to set seed so I can have more free mulch next year. We mow our footpaths so we're not walking on weeds, but the edges always seem to amass weeds the mower can't reach.

March 2015

When these side-dressings of weeds begin to wane, that's when I turn them into mulch. I pull them out in autumn and use it to mulch, not just footpaths, but for around plants too. These are my saltbush plants I made from cuttings last year.

Once these bushes get some more size to them, the weeds won't be so much of a problem. That's because the shrubs will shade them out. In the meantime, I feed them back to the shrubs to help them grow.

Saltbush - originally in the ground
November 2014

Am I worried about being overrun by weeds? Not really, as they're just like any other living plant I own. They are my chop and drop mulch, instead of carting mulch in. I've discovered chop and drop mulch, breaks down much quicker, and is less likely to mat together causing water penetration issues.

Plus its right there for the taking! Every year. Dependable. Come drought or flood. I don't have to worry about this particular crop failing to produce a harvest.

The dreaded Burr

There is one weed however, which does cause us problems and that's burrs. Because burrs can prick your feet, even when wearing thongs. They can even come into the house on soles of shoes, and catch tender feet unawares as well. Both our kids have been introduced to the "ouchie" of burrs now, and autumn is the time they start to become an issue.

And yet, I still cannot bring myself to poison them, because they cover the ground where grass won't grow. The burrs only grow in compacted ground or where the soil is so poor it won't even grow grass. In this case, the burrs job is to cover the earth and bring up nutrients for the soil. With enough nutrient, the ground will start to grow more grass.

Although I don't enjoy the autumn "ouchie", I've got to respect the burrs role in the soil.

I have strategies to thwart the dreaded burr though, and one is by adding mulch on top. This gives grass a better environment to grow in. By improving the water holding capacity of the soil, grass will out compete burrs over time. I've run guinea pigs and chickens in tractors to thwart burrs too. They eat the emerging plants, and manure left behind improves the soil conditions for grass to out compete the burr once again.

Paving in front of chicken coop

But my very last strategy where I cannot thwart burrs from compaction of the soil, is paving! I've found paving in high traffic areas is the only solution, because the soil is never going to be allowed ideal conditions to improve. It doesn't matter how much mulch you put down, the soil is always going to compact in high traffic areas. So I have no problem with paving them over.

 Brick paving ramp to verandah

Especially if its recycled paving through using old broken concrete, or in our case, recycled bricks and paving from other people's leftovers. Unlike concrete slabs, paving allows water to penetrate the ground below too.

There will always be those weeds which make life extremely difficult, but the majority of them are very useful in the garden. Its the one crop you can almost guarantee, won't fail. It will always be there to mulch your garden.

My life has gotten a lot better, since I stopped trying to stop weeds being prolific, and used their natural tendencies in my soil's favour instead.


  1. You have always talked about cut and drop so its nice to see it in action. We don't trust our weeds to not overtake our annual vegetables but we don't poison them either. Instead we try to get to them before they set seed-we put them in compost after pulling them. NOthing new there. However, last year I began to get better at identifying those weeds and low and behold-some were edibles. I also have started a very small forest garden and took the chance on leaving the weeds alone in that area to see what might happen this year. Its too soon to tell.

  2. The wonders of a forest garden. It will be interesting to see how it turned out.

    I can understand why people want some weeds gone, especially from veg beds, but I don't think we can ever win the battle with them. It takes up a lot of energy to deal with weeds because they are so darn prolific. But if you can turn that energy into a yield, all the better. Weeds add lots of nutrient to compost.

    1. Exactly! I haven't the energy to try to keep a tidy garden anymore- hence the forest garden. I think we can live with less weeds, even the edible variety but then when I think about biodiversity, I forgive these weeds;)

    2. I imagine you're using remnant forest on your land for the garden? Some people try to duplicate a forest with fruit trees and fruit bearing shrubs and ground covers. I reckon you could tickle the edges of your remnant forest with a few hardy fruit trees, then once they get some size to shade, you can stick in some shrubs and ground covers.

      That way, you end up with a very productive food system which you don't have to put a lot of energy into. :)

    3. I had existing crab apple and black walnut on one side. Elderberry on two sides and hazelnut on one. I decided to add fruit trees, berries, and herbs. I used violet for ground cover and am establishing walking onion and Jerusalem artichoke. I have ground nut out there ( if it lived) and as I said, edible weeds. Even more actually. I spaced things far enough apart that I was able to plant all at once. It was very wild to say the least:) and its a customized forest garden, not a native one in a strict sense.

  3. Sorry it took me a while to reply, but that little food forest sounds awesome. Good luck with its development this year. :)

    1. Its okay as I understand! I was out of town all last week myself. I also wrote a small post with pictrues on the project-I found that I don't have enough pictures so will maybe film it this spring/summer.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. I love reading what you have to share. Gully Grove is a Spam free environment though, so new commenter’s only leaving hyperlinks, will be promptly composted.