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In Praise of Weeds

Over the years, we've learnt to gain a certain appreciation for the weeds that grow in our garden. Although they can compete with our crops for nutrients, water and space and do need to be controlled, we've learnt to observe and ask why they are there and what they can tell us about our soil. 

Nature has a way of moving towards stable and enduring systems. "Weeds" can play a big role in that - especially in terrain that presents deficiencies. Nature often calls upon various elements to fix problems or fill in a gap. Instead of looking at weeds as the problem, we can look at them as symptoms of an underlying condition within the soil. We have to remember that weeds are plants too, and like all plants, each variety needs specific conditions and nutrients to thrive. The term "weed" is a constructed and imposed label that has stemmed from our interactions with the plant. So with this in mind, what can we learn?

The root systems of weeds can tell us a lot. For example, deep taproots of plants such as dandelion, burdock or thistle tell us that our soil is compacted. These taproots are there to help create space and pathways for water, nutrient exchange and for weaker roots systems to survive. 

Depending on what is popping up in your garden, it can indicate what the Ph level of the soil may be. The Ph of the soil is important because it affects the bio-availability of the nutrients to the plants. If the soil is too acidic or too alkaline - this can greatly affect nutrient uptake. Weeds that thrive in acidic soil are plantain, burdock, mullein, knotweed, horsetail and dandelion to name a few. On the other hand you'll find chickweed, goosefoot and queen Anne's lace in more alkaline soils.

Weeds can also give us information on the conditions and nutrient profile. Certain weeds will thrive in sandy, clay, wet or dry soils. If there is an abundance of a specific weed, it could be an indicator of a certain nutrient deficiency or abundance. For example purslane thrives in soil that is high in phosphorus, and thistle may indicate low iron and copper.

On another note - what may be growing in your yard and garden can have profound edible and medicinal attributes! Mullein, burdock, lambs quarters, chickweed, purslane, plantain, nettle and many more are all edible and have incredible uses that go beyond the garden. Something to be curious about!

In the end, weeds play a vital role in our ecosystems! Think of them as pioneers on land that has been degraded or destroyed by fire, clear cutting, tillage or flood. They come in and survive in places that nothing else can. They add organic matter back into the soil, protect from erosion, absorb and recycle nutrients, aerate soil for more life to thrive, and are the first and necessary succession to a budding new ecosystem that is waiting to flourish. 

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