The functioning of weeds in wholesome gardening

thornThe phenomenon of weeds is an interesting one. They invariably comes about when the soil has become severely depleted. So, for instance, the thistle typically comes up when a paddock has been too heavily grazed, as was pointed out to us in an initial course of plant ecology. When I realized that, it seemed to me that the thorns on roses must similarly be the result of some nutrient deficiency.

It is almost as if the rosebush is trying to say: “Stay away from me, you have already plucked so many of my flowers and you never give me anything in return.”

Create the conditions for life and so for diversity, rather than try to find and breed one particular organism to fight one particular disease; once conditions for diversity have been set, disease is subsequently automatically controlled.

About the art of mathematics. It is achieved by ‘anecdotes’ as intangible as axioms and logic, rather than by ‘scientific experiment’. Yet, together with the equally logical art of statistics, it forms the foundation stone and testing ground of scientific experiment.

I am not trying to have a go at scientific procedure. I am merely having a go at scepticism.

This because my experiment, observations and conclusions, based on well-established, ‘proven’ principles and logic, have repeatedly been dismissed as ‘anecdotal’.

That being said, I would like to relate my experience with weeds. After repeating the experiment himself, because by definition ‘one does’, the ‘septic sceptic’ will hopefully make the same observations and reach a similar stage of euphoria, if not ecstasy.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

A little essay on plants, that really is the accumulation of some study, some thought and some experience. There are many people who have contributed by stimulating my thinking on this particular subject.

Firstly of course, there was my father. He basically laid the foundation for much, if not most of my thinking, particularly about nature, with his well-placed remarks, already when I was still a boy.

Then, much later, when I was already at University, there was my friend John Sharah, who, one evening, when he visited me at my small ‘garden-appartment’, made several comments about weeds, that also stimulated me to look at these plants more closely.

Maybe I should also mention the teachings of Jesus, who said to love our enemies: this came to mind one hot summers day, when I was at work in the garden and not feeling very charitable towards these ‘things’. It made me look at them in a new light and even look at them as just what they are, namely: plants……….

Then there was my mother, whom I remember one day in particular, when I was doing the weeding, saying quite a few times that: “nothing grows as well as weeds”. This she repeated several times, which made me think about their enormous growth rate and so their productivity, which led me to look at their potential as providers of, well, maybe I should leave that for the essay itself to describe.

Then of course there were my many lecturers at the Australian National University, who, despite my inclination towards philosophy, insisted on the scientific approach. My lecturers, Professors Pryor and Bachelard, Drs.Tanton, Carnahan, Brittain, Ashton, Whitecross and Chilvers, who at times had difficulty following my train of thought.

I dedicate this paper to all my teachers and not to forget the many librarians everywhere and all those who have persisted with me with their patience and good care, not to forget my friend for eight years, the kind Mr. Karl Viires, when I was a student, my landlord and silent mentor.

The credit for the title goes to JFK.

Roses without thorns?

During my many hours of gardening, I started to tend to many roses. When I was pruning them, I started to make it a habit to chop up the prunings into tiny bits, which I would throw back onto the soil around the rosebushes, rather than carting them away to the tip or the fireheap.

This way of returning plantfibre to the soil provided extra mulch around the roses, but what’s more, it returned the minerals and whatever else to the soil and the rosebush itself.

After doing this for several years, as well as providing plenty of other mulch and sufficient water, I noticed that the roses, which I had treated in that way, were starting to grow fewer thorns.

I figured it must have been because I had been returning the prunings to the plants, rather than removing these from the soil.

The phenomenon of thorns on plants is an interesting one. It invariably comes about when the soil has become severely depleted.

So, for instance, the thistle typically comes up when a paddock has been too heavily grazed, as was pointed out to us in an initial course of plantecology. When I realized that, it seemed to me that the thorns on roses must similarly be the result of some nutrient deficiency.

It is almost as if the rosebush is trying to say: “Stay away from me, you have already plucked so many of my flowers and you never give me anything in return.”

An overgrazed paddock does really do much the same thing by growing thistles.

The earth has its way of talking to us.

ALLIANCE FOR PROGRESS

It was a hot day.

By Gosh, it was a hot day. Old Karl, my landlord, had let me know that he wanted some weeding done under the fruittrees; the weeds growing there, large grass, had indeed grown tall. I did not like the idea at all. In the first place because it was such a hot day and about midday and in the second place, because it seemed such a destructive activity, uprooting plants and so ‘creating’ once again, a bare earth-surface, exposed to the scorching sun.

I had noticed that, especially under the fruittrees, the soil had become very poor indeed, in that it lacked fibre and humus. The big weeds seemed to have taken the last bit of goodness out of the soil.

Weeds; why do they A-L-W-A-Y-S have to keep on coming back?

Generation after generation, season after season, year after year, human generation after human generation. How many of my ancestors have had to face their indestructable vitality; how many generations after me will have to face their unwelcome return?

Weeds,weeds,weeds; cause of so much frustration and waste of so much time.

Ugly things, mostly. How I hated them, or at least disliked them. Yet…, there was no argueing with what needed to be done. Those blasted weeds had grown so tall that they were reaching into the lower branches of the appletrees. They just had to go. So, reluctantly, I set to work.

On my knees and in just about full sun I started to think about what I was feeling. Something like a strong dislike, also known as ‘resentment’. “Those rotten weeds” or something like that. Still, I must have been in a somewhat reflective or philosophical mood, because it wasn’t long before I was thinking about what the Lord Jesus had said: “Love Thine enemy”.

These weeds were indeed my enemy. They were keeping me from what I wanted to do and that was probably going for a swim or do some reading and writing in my cosy little flat, rather than waste my time on these ever returning ugly things.

And I could hardly expect Old Karl to pull them out himself.

The more I thought, the more I started to see that the ideal way of looking at these weeds was WITHOUT resentment, ‘yea…’, with Love.

The more I thought about that, the more I tried to keep feelings of dislike at bay. The more I considered these ‘blasted’ weeds, the more I started to realize that these weeds were in fact …..PLANTS, like all the other plants in the garden.

Unbelievable, but nonetheless true.

Plants they were, with leaves, stems and roots; plants that were growing by the very same processes as all other plants; they used the sun in the same way, the rain in the same way and the minerals in the soil in basically the same way. As ugly as they were, these ‘weeds’ were in fact really and truly, equally honestly and plainly, growing members of the garden varieties and families of plants.

Plants like all other plants; like brothers and sisters. Sure enough, weeds did not produce valuable crops of seeds, like the sunflower or wheat, corn and rice, nor did they produce flax or cotton, no valuable timber or oil. However, they produced PLANTBODY and lots of it and as my mother used to say:”Nothing grows as well as weeds” and that means FIBRE, PLANTFIBRE.

To my astonishment, or was it relief, that was exactly what that patch of garden needed; plantfibre, to bind that loose and depleted soil together and to cover it up, protecting it from the elements and especially from the fierce sun.

And so, that afternoon, a battle-of-old was somehow resolved.

Slowly but surely, what had always been a matter of conflict, friction and strife (“blasted rotten weeds”) started to become ONE great fluid, HARMONIOUS and sensible perspective; ONE continuous view and explanation of why these “rotten” weeds ……’A-L-W-A-Y-S’…….“had to grow in MY garden”…………….. .

It al started to make sense. While nobody would have heard me shout “EUREKA”, for the simple reason that it was too darned hot to be standing dancing and singing, the next days, weeks, months and years started to become in fact one continuous Eureka-experience.

So many forms of ‘well-established’ conflict I could see disappear like snow before the proverbial sun and especially those that have been plagueing, have been a ‘pest’ in agriculture. I could see solutions to so many conflicts, blocks and obstructions, those left, right and centre and especially the so-called mental blocks of frustration. So many ways opening up, so many possibilities appearing and most of all, so much energy becoming freed and available that previously was being wasted on fruitless fighting against nature, but way, way beyond that, an enormous amount of benefits being gained from the spontaneous co-operation between forces in nature that previously were being misguided to conflict with each other, instead of being managed so as to work together. Maybe most of all, the abundance and wealth of fibre as produced by weeds.

I remember well that, at the time, mid to late seventies and early eighties, there was a strong and typically unspoken fear in the hearts of people. I suppose, one of many. A fear bordering on paranoia, to be known as having anything at all to do with anybody or anything dealing with natural or organic landmanagement. Society was so totally ‘committed’ to high-tech agriculture and so steeped in the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, that it seemed almost everybody was totally mortgaged to this ‘system’ of agriculture and devoted, committed, to the continuation of that kind of warfare against nature. And, needless to say, warfare is big, big business, war on weeds and war on bugs included. A ‘method’ of agriculture that was ‘structured’ on an error of vision, namely that weeds (and bugs) were enemies (of the state and of the economy or v.v.), to be combatted, destroyed, eradicated, annihilated, wiped off the face of the earth if at all possible. A serious error of thought and the people, as usual, ‘labouring under the misconception”. 1984 had well and truly arrived ,as described in the book of that name by the author George Orwell.

That view is, by and large, still held, even in so-called biological pest-control, now called ‘integrated pest management’. Weeds (and bugs) are still, by and large, seen as pests, not as plants or organisms with a function, a purpose, DESPITE THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION! Because I am not an entomologist I will stay with the example of weeds. However, the same principle, I am sure, would apply to insectmanagement.

Weeds are plants.

When that had dawned on me, instead of throwing the weeds across the fence for the chooks to eat them after I had pulled them up, I started to look on these ‘weeds’ as FRIENDS who were there to help me restore the soil. I realised I could use the sheafs of pulled up (grass)fibre, when I layed them next to each other, to form one continuous mass of straw, making a matting and so a cover for the soil against the harsh sunshine, or the soil-smashing impact of the rain, now well-known as mulching. To prevent the weeds from sprouting again, all I had to do was to shake off the soil from the roots and expose them to the sun to make sure that they would dry out.

It slowly started to become clear to me that, the more weeds I had, the more matting I would be able to make and so, that the better and the bigger these weeds would grow (and the healthier), the better the land would be off in the long run…………. .

My mental effort to restrain my resentment had paid off. From that time, as I said before, my understanding of plants and soil-biology became one continuous Eureka experience. I had also realized that weeds were also known as ‘colonisers’; plants, like their human counterparts, that prepare the way for others to follow later.

In the case of weeds, the first colonisers are usually grasses, ‘just’ holding the soil together and when left to grow, forming (big) sheafs of fibre. The essential point was not to eradicate them, but to, if possible, as much as possible, encourage their copious and prolific fibre-growing capacity and, at the appropriate time, apply this fibre as protective matting. Once the matting is placed and regular (early-morning) watering is done, microbial soil-activity can really take off and deeper rooting and broader leaved flowering plants (and ‘weeds’) usually follow.

On observation, the matting indeed allowed for a greater diversity of microbial life.

(At this point I maybe should say that my experiment was done in Canberra which has a temperate climate and where the average temperature is below the optimum temperature for soil microbial activity, which is about 25 degrees. It would seem that the experiment does not hold very well in a tropical climate where the average temperature is well above this optimum.This means that humus formation can hardly take place and invariably whatever humus build up does occur gets washed away by the heavy down-poors during the wet season.)

As stated above, a matting of weeds allowed for a greater diversity of soil microbial life.

Firstly, the matting of weeds made waterretention possible at the soil-surface, the surface previously and torturously exposed to the sun; the benefit of mulching. Most readily observable were the developping grey-white fungi in the grass-matting; subsequently small bugs that started to chew up the matting and leave their droppings. What I particularly remember observing, after a few months and seasons of weeding and applying the pulled-up weeds as ground cover, was the sequence of events at the next generations of grasses.

One might initially ‘think’ (panic), that, when the grasses are allowed to grow (and seed), they will take over the whole garden. Not so; not necessarily so.

When the sheafs of grasses, before or after prolific seeding, are continuously pulled up and NOT carted away but immediately used as matting, the matting will eventually so enrich the soil and enhance the diversity of organisms at soil-level to such an extent, that the grass seeds in time become eaten up by the many soil-bugs, -grubs, -insects and whatever else by now is thriving in the shade of the sheafs.

This ONLY, once again, when the sheafs are used as matting, instead of being carted away to the tip or tossed onto a fire-heap. The seeds of the grassy colonising weeds had fully formed in the heads. When they had fallen to the ground however, they got eaten out of their husks by the large variety of lifeforms that were living in the matting, formed by the grass-sheafs and which life-forms were now getting nourished by the abundant supply of grass (weed) seeds. And so, well before the seeds could sprout in the sufficiently moist environment, they got eaten up by the abundantly present grass-seed-eaters, so, doing the weeding well ahead of my schedule, well before the seeds could even sprout. I particularly remember making this observation, for I could see these active little eaters inside the swollen husks, eating to their (and my) heart’s content. And then, there were all these empty grass-seed-husks. A definite sequence and process of co-ordination had started; things were starting to work, together.

No need for panic; all those seeds were getting eaten. The remarkable thing was that apparently only the grass seeds were getting eaten and the seeds of the plants that were next in the natural succession or progression were not, as these came up, growing up through the mulch.

By the way, the plot of land I was dealing with had already been terraced and so was horizontal and not on a slope; any rain falling was penetrating into the soil all-right, only the lack of protection from the sun caused it to soon dry out and turn to dust.

The first weeds, the colonisers, had, also in this case, done their job well and it looked like they were not going to come back as long as a ‘bug-rich’ mulch and humus would stay in place. In most cases however, these first (grassy) colonisers are removed by bad-tempered gardeners and no matting is built up, so that none of these organisms can develop etc.etc..

In fact, a great many (suburban) gardeners still believe that a bare earth is a ‘clean’ earth and so a ‘healthy’ earth. And so, grass seeds continue to sprout on that bare earth, fulfilling their natural role, until the ‘secret’ of their ‘mission in life’ will become wider known and accepted.

As part of the natural progression, in my experiment a next species of ‘weed’ started to emerge and become more prevalent and even more dominant than the previously prevailing grassplant. Now appeared a broader leaved and flowering plant with a deep tap-root, namely the dandelion , Taraxacum officinale .

By this time, humus had started to form and worms appeared. All this, I should say, upon regular early-morning watering. The sense of this became clear to me after observing my landlord doing this with his orchids; early-morning watering, rather than evening watering, prevents disease-organisms to develop overnight; organisms that develop during moist and dark conditions, rather than those that develop during moist conditions during hours of (day)light. No doubt these are different organisms altogether and less, if at all, harmful to plant health.

Once again, back to the backyard. From this time on, I started to welcome, with much anticipation and almost with excitement, any and every plant that wanted to grow in my garden, whatever plant it was going to be, as the mulch allowed for many seeds to sprout; seeds that could have ‘blown-in’ from anywhere.

And with the mulching, the ‘weeds’ also became much easier to pull up, as well as that they grew much bigger and so of course produced more fibre and so mulch.

I started vey much to enjoy this positive version of the ‘viscious circle’, as experienced by so many frustrated gardeners and I was right in the middle of it; right ‘in the thick of things’ and things (‘weeds’) were getting better and thicker all the time; the land was noticeably getting ‘fatter’.

Later, I would remember how a friend of mine, earlier on, had gently pointed out to me the much maligned ‘weeds’ and in his usually quiet manner had expressed the view that also weeds have a right to existence and a role to play and that they deserved better credit than they got. This was not his exact wording but appropriate, for John Sharah was an accountant. I saw him again years later and his strong power of observation quite amazed me.

I also remember my father one time mentioning a European professor, who developped the fertility of a bare piece of land, merely by returning and/or digging in the weeds growing on it. At the time that seemed highly unlikely to me, after all, what good could weeds possibly contribute? The power of conventional ‘thinking’ (prejudice).

However, at the time of the above described hot summer’s day, I had not seen John for several years and, frankly, his, as well as my father’s remarks, were far from my conscious thinking.

But, once again, back to the backyard: no resentment to weeds, in fact, LOVE those blasted things; they ARE plants. And not only had I realised that weeds are important parttakers of and contributors to plantlife as producers of so very much needed soil-fibre and therefore have a rightful place in the scheme of things; recently, 1994, I started to see them as more than colonisers; they seem to have the nature and sprite, the spirit and enthousiasm of volunteers.

Volunteers to be the first lifeforms on an otherwise deserted or depleted landscape; volunteers to initiate soil-restoration where no other plants want to grow.

Volunteers with such an indestructable drive to start off better things, that, as every gardener knows, no matter how often one tries to eliminate these plants by pulling them up and carting them off or destroying them by completely burning them, somehow they a-l-w-a-y-s come back with that same ‘blasted’ vitality and determination to ‘go and be fruitful’, as God told Adam and Eve to be, in the garden of Eden.

Looking on weeds as ‘volunteers’, their vitality and ‘liveliness’, their ‘vigour’ can be seen as the same sort of energetic enthousiasm as we can find in children. When we know how to apply this desire and this drive to contribute and for activity, we are on the way to start something great, namely working WITH natural principle, rather than against it; WITH Nature, its drive and its ‘enthousiasm’ as an integrated system of spontaneous activity of organisms that all ‘know’ their job, their time and their place …

To allow weeds to do their bit is to stimulate the natural system rather than fight it. Fighting it is not only a useless waste of energy, it is most frustrating and never won; applying the principles of nature, working WITH them and seeing that, together, they bring tremendous and so many unexpected surprises, is one of the most rewarding, exciting and satisfying things I know . It is like that unbeatable and always returning drive in people, and especially in the young, to do something good in times of stress and great need. Not to turn away and disappoint plants, puppies and people with this often most annoying drive to participate or contribute and be helpful, rather, to know how to apply it; not to fight it, but to work it; to use, co-ordinate, direct it.

To see ‘weeds’ as enthousiastic volunteers and colonisers of desolate lands is to start off a vast interPLAY of many lifeforms. Part of this interplay I already described. Once the first colonisers have been allowed to fulfil their role completely, i.e. to provide maximum (and equally much needed) FIBRE, then natural mechanisms make way, from ‘within’, for the next species of ‘weed’, volunteer colonisers. These often have a long tap-root with which they dig up (mine) the minerals from the subsoil, usually rocklike material. The topsoil by now is protected by abundant fibre and moisture and the taproot can start to provide the minerals for more than just fibre production (as by grasses). Minerals for greater diversity of more luscious products like leafier plants, larger seeds or bigger fruits; juice, starch and protein beyond the initial cellulose, which mainly has served as the fodder for microbial (and necessary) soil-organisms.

The plants, all the plants, greatly benefit from the laying down of this mulch (matting) for many reasons. One of them is that large populations of micro-organisms can come to live in the now moist toplayers of the soil; the majority of these micro-organisms are beneficial and contribute to well-being of soil and plant.

Unfortunately, many people (still) believe that micro-organisms, like bacteria and fungi, are always harmful and the cause of disease. While it is true that many diseases are caused by bacteria and fungi, it is far from correct to conclude that therefore all bacteria and fungi are the bringers of disease and disaster. The opposite is in fact true; the disastrous condition, the poverty of a great part of agricultural lands, exists because of an absence of these bacteria and fungi and that in turn is a consequence of the chronic absence of FIBRE. Fibre, that forms the fodder for these micro-organisms and as mulch, protection from the elements; the food and shelter for these bacteria and fungi. The fibre increases the amount of water a soil can retain, in that the fibre absorbs the moisture and releases it when it is needed.

As said above, the increased amount of moisture present in the soil makes it possible for large populations of bacteria and fungi to be active and productive in the toplayers of mulch and soil. Many of these organisms have a positive contribution to make to the growthprocesses of the plants. This also is not commonly known, mainly,once again, because most soils are very deficient in fibre, so that the beneficial organisms become outnumbered by the diseases-organisms. That is, the so-called ‘disease-organisms’ are detrimental for the usual crop-plants, however their appearance has a reason and a function in its own right, namely to increase the amount of fibre for the soil and so increase the amount of necessary substrate for organisms to grow on.

While it is true that disease-organisms like Pythium species cause the phenomenon known as ‘damping-off’ of seedlings, which is their collapse, this means that a natural mechanism is operative to attempt to restore the chronic fibre shortage of the soil. While the seedlings do not get off the ground higher than a couple of centimetres and then collapse unto the soil, this means that, by natural mechanism, a small amount of FIBRE is created and so becomes fodder (substrate) for another generation of microbes. This is only a very small amount, but bacteria and fungi are small. It is clear that in the case of the occurrence of the ‘damping-off’ organisms, the soil is too depleted of, once again, FIBRE, that it is too poor in nutrition, to support a healthy crop. The ‘damping-off’ organism is a natural mechanism by which that fibre content is restored, be it on a very small scale, however, that is the scale that these organisms operate on; a very small scale indeed. Once the fibre content of the soil is restored, the ‘damping-off’ ‘disease’ does not bother seedlings. I can almost hear you say: “No, it probably won’t, but something else will”. That would only be the case in a soil that lacks a healthy diversity of organisms. Such healthy diversity of organisms can be created by the application of weeds in the way as described. In this way, lots of FIBRE is created (grown) etc. etc..

The spontaneous growing of mostly self-sown weeds creates increased diversity of life. Firstly a diversity of plantlife in the form of weeds, the subsequent increase of fibre available to the soil and with these, the increased plant diversity and the increased fibre content, comes an increase in microbial activity. Birdlife is attracted to the copious amounts of weed-seeds with subsequent increased fertilization from the bird droppings. Increased insect activity was already mentioned as well.

The ‘damping-off’ of seedlings is only one example of a ‘disease’, however, most plant-diseases seem to operate in principally the same way, that is, when there is not enough fibre and humus, a disease will attack the plant; the plant will collapse, thus increasing fibre for the soil, resulting in more humus and thus a greater diversity of microbes and eventually a healthier soil. When crops are removed from a soil, organic matter needs to be added to keep the soil and the plants healthy; when the mulch and humus and thus the microbial diversity decrease, the plant will become more vulnerable to ‘disease’.

The large populations of microbes benefit the plants in many ways, both during their (microbial) life as well as after it. During their life, many microbes live in a so-called symbiotic relationship with a plant. This basically means that plant and microbe benefit from each other’s presence, activities or products. As in the practice of added mulch, it means that, for example, a fungus of the soil, living close to the root of a plant, will exchange minerals for sugars produced by the plant. Fungi can readily dissolve minerals from rockmaterial, because they leak acid out into the soil, which softens and dissolves rock particles. The fungus absorbs the minerals and makes them thus available to the plant in exchange for its products of photosynthesis.

It therefore is a big mistake to think that fungi or bacteria are necessarily bad or disease-organisms. Much of this paranoia has been brought on by horror-stories and horror-movies, in which some bug or insect is going to ‘take over the world’; 1984-type propaganda.

One of the probably best known examples of a constructive and positive symbiotic relationship between a plant and, in this case, a bacterium, is the fertilising effect on the soil by the nitrogen-fixing bacterium (Rhizobium sp.), living at the root of the leguminous cloverplant (Trifolium sp.).

This is during their life. After their life these microbes benefit the soil by, once again, staying on the spot. The calcium of their minute body-skeletons becomes available to the plant and so to the puppy or person eating the plant. Only during the time when I was eating my own homegrown vegetables and especially silverbeet, did I notice that my teeth seemed to be getting stronger and less prone to decay. Ever since I moved from my tiny ‘farm’, have I become a welcome client of various dentists, once again.

The vast network of fungi, the mycelium, works underground in much the same way as the grassplants work above ground, namely, as colonisers and as a force that binds loose soil together. They invade the subsoil and make a richer plantlife above ground possible. Minerals, minerals, minerals. So greatly needed for so many life processes. The absence of bacteria and fungi from the greater part of agricultural soils means that many foodproducts lack these many minerals, so essential to (human) health. Therefore it is so important to ‘weed’ and mulch in the described manner; when the plants that spontaneously appear are left to grow to maturity, uprooted and used on the spot, used as mulch on the spot, stimulation of soil-microbial activity is sufficiently achieved by the pulling up of these plants and the shaking off of the soil from their roots over the existing mulch, followed by the placing of the pulled-up ‘weed’ on top of the mulch and so exposing it to the drying out by the sun, thus ensuring that the weed will not regrow. Mineral input is provided by the spontaneous productivity of the weeds. The cropping of weeds and the direct mulching with weeds is a way in which the practice of fallowing becomes directly incorporated onto the land under cultivation. The ‘wild’ weed is allowed to make its contribution of its abundant productivity and is subsequently immediately applied, rather than the delayed action and the transport from a non-cropped, fallow piece of land.

There also seems to come into action some sort of saturation principle. By returning to the soil the abundance of weeds and subsequent fibre, it seems that this abundance nourishes the soil to such an extent that the soil becomes saturated with biochemical compounds that arise from the breakdown of the plantfibre of the various weeds and the soil, also for this reason, will no longer grow the weeds of the first stages. On subsequent application of the next generations and phases of weeds the soil becomes further saturated with the breakdown products and this inhibits further regeneration of already grown weeds, apart from insect and other fauna-activities that consume the abundant seeds above ground.

The inverse of this saturating process seems to occur when for instance and typically a paddock becomes overgrazed and the soil grows thistles or weeds that are toxic to cattle; this would seem to be natures way of protecting itself against further soil-abuse.

Continued (and guaranteed) subsequent abundant ‘weed’growth continues to ensure the input of essential fibre and minerals for healthy humus formation, only when the ‘weed’ continues to be applied as mulch, rather than being carted away as a much unwanted nuisance…………… .

Continued application of ‘weeds’ in this way provides for continued unexpected surprises by lifeforms that join in in this growing rhythm and movement, this dance of life. Not an enforced and inescapable form of enslaving, convulsive movements as in the so-called St.Vitus dance, as a nasty consequence of infected, diseased and sickening crops, a treadmill-like lifeless drudgery of death, like unfortunately so much of ‘modern’ ‘life’ has become: “I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go”; rather a totally spontaneous expression of joy as a consequence of the observation and application of natural principles, resulting in abundance and well-being.

Continued observation of strong and harmonious growth will not cease to reveal truly exciting surprises and the observer becomes totally filled with a sense of wonder and a steady sense of contentment, happiness, security and peace. No dull and dragging, but fast and exponential progress in both quantity and quality of natural growth, goodness and diversity; diseases dwindle and disappear like snow before the sun;

Helpful insects and birds appear out of nowhere to help attack and eliminate an oversized population of troubling bugs or whatever; plantsizes increase and perfume and taste improve enormously.

A development can be observed, so totally unexpected and way beyond human planning or anticipation. One such surprise was the gradual diminishing of thorns from roses as I continued to feed the soil and as I described in my short essay:’Roses without thorns?’

Time and again I had the feeling that all of nature around me was waiting and seeing how it could quickly jump in and assist me with what I was doing to help it. Talking about enthusiasm….. .

A peace-accord between nature and man; to work WITH nature rather than against it and to scale down all future use of environmentally dangerous substances, beginning in the backyards, the frontyards and on the nature strips of suburban Metropolia.

To paraphrase the words accompanying the American Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your weeds….,your leaves and all your unwanted fibre………..”

Postscript

Once again, let me state that my experiment and observations were done in the temperate climate of Canberra, rather than in a tropical climate like that of Darwin, where it seems the principles don’t operate because the average ambient temperature is above the optimum temperature for microbial activity, hence little or no humus formation. Also, what small amount of humus formation occurs is usually quickly washed away by the heavy downpours during the wet season.

By Marcel Werps BSc

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4 thoughts on “The functioning of weeds in wholesome gardening

  1. Hello Marcel,

    I have always despaired of people digging out weeds and throwing them away (except for “Twitch”, I throw that away too). To me it was much needed humus, plus minerals that had come from the soil – surely this practise was depleting the soil in our gardens?

    Well, my chance to prove my theory came. Having just been married and moved into a rural rental I was going to have a garden, something not unfamiliar to me as my farther and I had shared a garden for years. But this was MINE!

    I was faced with a soil that required every bit of my 100Kg to drive the spade in 50mm. I then had to jump up and down on the spade to get a respectable size spit of dirt to turn over. So this was what I did spit after spit after spit, till I had absolutely ruined a pair of Blundstone Boots. But I did have two beds 3.5mtr x 7mtr, six plots 1mtr x 1.5mtr for zucchinis and squash, and a bed 0.7mtr x 7mtr with a trellis for beans.

    While digging a found the soil to be loaded with dock. I had to just dig them in as the soil was so hard I couldn’t do anything else. As you would expect, I had a bumper crop of dock. Every last piece of chopped up dock root grow into a healthy plant.

    Docks grew up in among the vegetables and I kept chopping them off and putting them back into the garden. As crops finished I dug the ground over and put the tops of the docks back in. But most of the roots I removed and composted (separate from my regular compost).

    The next year was easier digging but heaps of dock. The tops when back into the soil and the roots went into compost. I also prepared another 3.5mtr x 7mtr bed so I had more room to let the dock grow between crops, and hence more green material to dig in.

    After a couple more years I found that the garden was starting to produce a lot better. I was loosing some produce to insect attack but not as much as in the first year, and the plants looked healthier. But I now had wild turnip and a wiry tumble weed type thing as well. So they got dug in too.

    After another couple of years I noticed the docks were not looking healthy but the vegies were looking, and tasting great. Plus it seems the stronger and healthier the vegetables grew the fewer attacks there were from insects, moulds, etc. So I kept digging in the weeds.

    The next year docks were few and far between in the garden. They would start growing, then get black spots on the leaves and die. When I dug them up I found the roots were rotting and had a mould on them. But the garden was healthy and there was very little in the way of insect attack. In fact the only attack worthy of mention was that of the wallaby kind. I put a dusting of cayenne pepper on the sweet corn (skippys favourite), and there was no more problem from that quarter.

    But I did have a new weed, a soft sorrel type ground cover. So, you guessed it, I dug it in!

  2. I found Marcel Werps essay on Weeds extremely interesting and will never think of plants as merely ‘weeds” again. An informative, intriguing insight into a green world I have never explored or entered into before. A most fascinating and well-written essay based on the author’s meticulous research. This worthwhile essay is highly recommended.

  3. Hmm. Very, very interesting ^^ I intend to return to this article and read it again.

    In South Florida humus formation is possible, but shade and leaf litter from trees are vital; the tropical climate here means that soil temperatures can get too high to allow for humus formation. Thus, a soil covering + shade is an absolute requirement to protect against harsh summer sun and late summer downpours.

    I get pissed off when people around here insist that the leaves and weeds be scoured away (><) And to think that I'm defeated by ignorant fools!

    The above article explains why most of the world's breadbasket regions are in the temperate zone.

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