Weeds are an inevitable part of gardening. Basically, a weed is an unwanted plant, a plant growing where it is not wanted. It seems to be a truism that weeds grow MUCH MUCH BETTER than anything planted on purpose! There are many schemes for how to get rid of weeds, some are better than others. Some which harm the environment are truly awful. There is a saying: When given lemons… make lemonade.” I believe this is precisely how one ought to approach the problem of weeds. Instead of just lamenting that they are there, let’s make the most of weeds.
I Can Think of Four Ways to Make the Most of Weeds:
1. Make the most of weeds by using them for mulch.
When I pull or cut weeds I almost never carry them out of the garden unless I have a better use for them. I use them for mulch. Mulching can be as simple as pulling them and piling them up thickly enough to shade the soil. If you really want to get the most for your work, place some cardboard on the ground first, then toss those weeds on top of it. The cardboard multiplies the effectiveness of that mulch. After mulching, the soil underneath is invariably, more loose and fertile than before.
For a bit more input on mulching. See The Delights of Mulch.
2. Compost them.
Composting weeds involves mixing them with some soil as well some sort of “brown material,” which is high in carbon. Brown materials include wood chips, leaves, sawdust, hay or straw. The mix needs to be well wetted and protected from drying. In some cases the gardener will turn the pile several times before it is fully broken down into a rich loamy soil. Those who make the effort to do this often report phenomenal results after applying their compost to garden vegetables.
For more on Composting, see Ron Cook’s Article on Composting.
3. Some weeds are just plain good to eat!
While weeding I regularly come upon certain weeds and decide that they’re just going to have to stay where they are for a bit. I want to eat them when they get a little larger! It really helps to recognize those which are useful and/or edible. Some weeds rival domesticated vegetables with their culinary excellence. Last evening the crock pot had my supper going in it, while I finished the last part of the day weeding. I trimmed a pigweed plant and tossed the greens in with my supper, adding to the load of vegetables in my meal.
Three other common weeds which make for good eating are pokeweed, lambsquarters and purslane. If I can eat and enjoy it, chances are that’s how I’ll use a weed.
Edible Wild Food article on Pigweed
4. Make the most of weeds by using them for animal fodder.
Our family raises and consumes A LOT of rabbit meat. During the warmer part of the year we feed them mainly on what we pull or cut from the garden and roadside. We also keep our ram (male sheep) and buck (male goat) penned. This is for control of breeding and to keep them from trying to kill each other. Since they’re penned, we have to give them their food. Their absolute favorite is a big armload of weeds!
There’s always a lot of weeding to do on our place. Why not turn those weeds into meat?!
Dealing with lots of weeds is actually a good reason to get into raising some kind of herbivore for meat.
There are a number of reasons I especially recommend rabbits
1. Rabbits are quiet. One could raise them without the neighbors even knowing.
2. They don’t require much space. One could raise a significant amount of meat in a small shed or garage.
3. Rabbits eat a lot of forage (weeds or hay) if raised on an extensive diet.
4. They’re easy to process.
Did you know that Homesteading Edu has an entire course on raising rabbits for meat?
There are other herbivores one can raise. Click here to read about Ron Cook’s experiment with Cotton Patch Geese.
One caveat: If you don’t know a given plant, be cautious in feeding it to your animals. Most will reject a plant which is not good for them. If they don’t readily eat something, avoid it.
Read more about Perilla Mint.
I want to eliminate perilla mint in my garden and pastures. Before it makes seed I can cut it and use it as mulch or material for compost.