Could You Befriend a Weed?

Have you ever considered that weeds can actually be a highly beneficial addition to your garden, if you just know how to use them?

Weeds are typically seen as a plague to every garden. But the thing is, nature has no name for weeds. They can be described as opportunistic species – hardy plants that consume and reproduce quickly, allowing them to survive in a variety of environments. And they serve a very useful and important purpose.

In nature, ecosystems don’t mature overnight. They mature in stages, through a process known as ecological succession. An immature forestecosystem is created through some sort of disturbance, such as human interference, fire, or extreme weather conditions. During this time of instability, nutrients and food webs are out of balance. The weedy, opportunistic species come in during this time, making use of whatever nutrients are available. Over time, they release nutrients into the soil through inherent metabolic activity as well as through their death and decomposition. As more nutrients and food web niches are made available, new species appear to play their role in evolving the ecosystem. As the soil food web diversifies, so too does the above ground ecosystem continue to diversify in plant species. Eventually, a mature variety of grasses make up a grassland ecosystem, or in the case of a forest, a variety of canopy trees, woodland shrubs, and grasses make up a forest ecosystem. But this could never have happened without the weeds coming in first to balance out a disturbed landscape.

Permaculture adopts nature’s view of weeds – they are nature’s way of remediating a disturbed ecosystem. Of course, gardeners won’t want weeds in their space regardless of what it may mean in successional terms. But perhaps we can reclaim the value of weeds – they are edible, some are medicinal, and some can be good for your garden. Many weeds can be fed to livestock, which saves on buying feed. Weeds are great for a compost pile – if you can get your compost pile to a hot temperature, the heat will kill off the weed seeds so they won’t grow again in your garden.

In the next part, we’ll talk about some common weeds you might find in your garden and how it might be of use to you.