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Make your weeds work for you

Why would you pay attention to this negative aspect of gardening?

Blue Borage is about solving problems, fixing pain points. 

This means addressing one of the big gardening challenges - weeds. 

Implementing a green waste management system will give you clear processes for each of the weeds you have growing, which can give each of them a purpose, and allow for peaceful co-existence. End the war against weeds, end the war against nature.  

A lot of home gardeners want to make better compost, but struggle to find enough green material. Most of the weeds in your garden are able to provide this quality, especially those with succulent, juicy leaves, such as agapanthus. 

There’s a long-held belief within mainstream gardening that weeds are bad, something to battle. As a result, home gardeners can feel a sense of panic, like they are losing control, or that too much space is being wasted. 

When weeds are given a useful role in the garden to help make top quality compost, then the negativity vanishes. If you can approach each of your weeds with curiosity, then it starts to feel like a tactical game - just like you would study a chess opponent’s favourite moves, you can learn how each weed grows, thrives and multiplies. 

If you are looking for ways to eliminate chemical solutions to weed management, then this is an important topic. Managing weeds responsibly reduces our dependence on chemical solutions to pest management, which will in turn help keep our waterways clear, and give our insects, birds and other animals safe material to eat. In an ecosystem where everything gets eaten by the next thing up the food chain, the toxic substances we think are far, far away from humans end up being present in our vegetables, our fish, our grains and our dairy products. It’s time for a clean break, into truly organic, natural principles. 

What sorts of weeds will you find in your garden?

Weeds fall into a range of categories. 

Let’s sort them according to how we might work with them in our gardens:
- common useful weeds like dandelion, plantain, clover. These could be called herbs, not weeds;
- pretty weeds that are a bit more invasive, like cleavers;
- more annoying weeds that still get added to compost quite freely, like buttercup, tobacco plant, monbretia, kikuyu grass;
- challenging weeds that don’t go straight into compost, like oxalis, convolvulus, tradescantia;
- public enemy weeds that are still fun to work with, like ginger;
- and then the truly intimidating persistent weeds that do need immediate action wherever you see them, like the dreaded moth plant.

How to deal with weeds?

Group 1:

Herbs commonly called weeds e.g. dandelion. These are so useful. The deep tap root is excellent for breaking up soil, perhaps more useful than a garden spade. Other excellent tap roots are dock and parsley. 

Group 2:

Plants commonly called weeds, but not prone to spreading excessively, and are ‘pretty’ in amongst your vegetables. You don’t need to worry if these flower and go to seed: e.g. cleavers. The little bobbly seeds can be a bit annoying, and if you have a long-haired cat then you’ll need to keep an eye on her fur. Pull the whole plant out if it gets annoying, but trust me, it’s harmless, and will do well in your compost.

Group 3: 

Plants commonly called weeds, that I don’t enjoy in my vegetable beds: e.g. buttercup. I still pop this straight into the compost, but my irritation climbs just a little with this plant, because (a) it can spread and (b) it takes a little extra time to dig up with roots - I find my wonder weeder really handy here, or a weeding tool with a pronged end is good.


Group 4:

Plants widely accepted as weeds that DON’T go into the compost: e.g. oxalis. This looks like such a sweet little plant, you could get quite fond of it. I can hear baroque flute or recorder music in my head as I work with it - cheerful & chirpy. My method for this particular weed is to ‘harvest’ as much as I can (roots and all), and put it into a big barrel, covered with water, and leave it for a couple of weeks. Stirring every few days helps to keep it oxygenated, and therefore less stinky. Once the smell is fairly pungent I strain some off, dilute it 1:10 and pour this stinky liquid in the areas where the oxalis is or was thriving. Sometimes this seems to dampen the health of the oxalis enough that you won’t see it for a few months. It’s hard to believe this works… but you can actually discourage a weed from excessive growth simply through overdosing the soil underneath with itself. (Note: if you aren’t able to make a stinky liquid brew at your place, then you can put the weeds into a bag on their own to dry and shrivel up, reduce in volume, and eventually add these to a dedicated worm farm)

Group 5:

Weeds that are in the ‘public enemy’ category that I am still happy to use: e.g. ginger. I like to think I’m a responsible citizen in terms of invasive weeds, and won’t ever encourage the spread of ginger. It really does threaten our native plant species. However, if I find it in a client’s garden, then I’m all for an approach that uses the ginger to make soil, while gradually reducing its presence - all without the nasty chemicals. 

How? 

Firstly, put the flowers and seeds into a stinky liquid - the same method as for the oxalis above, but you want a dedicated container for the ginger, separate to the oxalis.
Secondly, put the green stems into compost, after chopping them into short lengths. 
Thirdly, dealing with the roots. I’ve had a lot of luck putting these into worm farms, and letting the worms munch through them. You have to chop them up a little first, so the worms can get into the good bits in the middle and munch their way through the bulbs from the inside out.

Group 6:

‘Public enemy weeds’ that need special attention: Moth plant. I’ve been using a dedicated worm farm to manage this, and although it takes a long time for the worms to munch through the flesh, they are turning the fruit into soil. The hundreds of little seeds should also get eaten, and the resulting worm castings could be made into a worm tea mixture. 

​Frequently Asked Questions

What about if the weeds have got seed pods… I’ve read that composting them encourages them to spread throughout the garden?

Gardens have weeds. Even if you get rid of your weeds, then birds flying overhead will drop weed seeds into your garden, and set off a whole new cycle. An absence of weeds, in a sense, is also an absence of life. 

What if my compost doesn’t get hot enough to kill the weed seeds? 

It’s exciting seeing your compost get really hot, almost like magic. But in a home setting, the outer layers won’t get all that hot, so even if you ‘kill’ some weed seeds, you won’t get them all. Getting used to weeds being a natural part of your garden, and a useful part of your compost is the best approach. You’ll find that you start ‘harvesting’ them as a necessary component for your hot compost piles and weeding becomes part of maintaining your garden.   

Should I be pulling weeds out before they flower or go to seed?

If you want less of a particular weed, then pulling it out before it forms flowers or seeds is a good idea. But you may start to enjoy the flowers and want to keep them for the bees and other pollinators. 

I hate weeding, like I really, truly hate it. Is there any way to just create a clean slate each season? 

Hire a gardener to come every now and then for that ‘clean slate’ feeling. Or, you can use a no-dig approach and cover your soil with something to suppress weeds (cardboard, newspaper), then a layer of mulch, some fresh soil, and then plant into that. This ‘lasagne’ method won’t keep the weeds away forever, but might make you attain that clean slate satisfaction. 

​ Assignment: Create a Green Waste Management Plan

Are you ready to keep all your weeds on site and use them to make soil? 

If the answer is yes, then let’s get started. 
Step One: Cancel your garden waste collection service. 
Step Two: Identify your weeds, and decide the best course of action for those causing stress. 
Step Three: Set up the systems you need for weed tea or separated weed storage. Label the containers so that other people helping you in the garden know what goes where.
Step Four: Make weeding the garden fun. Get the right tools for the job, and do a little at a time.
Step Five: Plan and build a hot compost pile and make soil every month - can you start this month?

​Case Study (Holly Street)

PROBLEMATIC WEEDS

Oxalis: Weed tea - use liquid as weed suppressant (dilute 1:10 with water) and in hot compost, put remaining sludge into worm farm.

Convolvulus: Weed Tea - use liquid as weed suppressant  (dilute 1:10 with water), put remaining sludge into worm farm

Moth Plant: Put into Dedicated worm farm (make worm tea with finished worm castings)

All other weeds: Gather up in one place to store until next hot compost build. 

USEFUL WEEDS

Dandelion: Encourage more of these to grow down the side of the house, to build better soil structure. Flowers can be harvested and dried for biodynamic compost preparation BD506

Clover: Clover is fixing nitrogen to the soil. Bees will enjoy the flowers. 

Want to get some expert help with all this?

Book a green waste management consultation to create a step-by-step plan for you or your garden maintenance crew to start using all of the weeds on your section to make top quality soil. 

Here's a form to get you started off on your own.

Contact Katrina when you need more help: katrina@blueborage.co.nz

Ideas for innovative edible gardening solutions using biodynamic methods to make exquisite compost is what the world needs right now. To see the full range of online courses go to blueborage.teachable.com or get in touch by email at katrina@blueborage.co.nz



 

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