Making the Most of Weeds

Make the most of weeds, weeds are inevitable so use them!

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.

weeds ised for mulch, weeds make good mulch
Use some of your weeds  as mulch. This young pepper will have less competition from weeds now.

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.

pigweed, amaranthus retroflexus, wild amaranth
Pigweed is a wild form or amaranth which makes an excellent potherb.

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

Blog: Lambsquarters, too Good to Be Wild!

common purslane, purslane growing in a parking lot
Purslane is delicious and nutritious.



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!

Giant Ragweed, tall growing weeds!
Giant ragweed is a favorite of all our ruminants. I’m glad it comes back so readily, as they can’t get enough of it.

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.

large meat rabbit, very large domestic rabbit, BIG rabbit

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?

Johnson Grass, Johnson Grass makes LOTS of forage
In the South, Johnson Grass is a terrible weed, but it also produces a huge amount of forage… for animals!


 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.

Mint weed is noxious, perilla mint hurts animals who eat it.
Perilla Mint, also known as mint weed, is neither appealing to most animals, nor good for them.

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.


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2 thoughts on “Making the Most of Weeds”

  1. Just a note on Perilla Mint:
    Readers beware, that if you attempt to remove one of these noxious weeds, be sure to finish the job, by uprooting it, because if you break the main stem without uprooting the entire plant, it will send out several new seed heads to replace the one you just broke off, making your weed problem about 5 times worse than it would have been if you had just left it alone to multiply on its own.

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