Weeds and Their Story

July 10, 2023

A weed is basically an unwanted plant species.

While weeds are often pests to farmers and homesteaders, we have also come to understand that weeds, as irritating as they are sometimes, all have a story.

What do they have to say?

There is the Biblical story/aspect of weeds. Then there is the aspect of weeds benefitting and correcting the soil. We know that every weed has something that it is trying to correct. Different soil conditions allow a different weed species to thrive. It is nature trying to heal itself.

Often part of the story is simply that nature is trying to cover itself, to avoid running a fever, and to feed the biology in the soil. Other aspects might be weeds with a deep taproot trying to break up compaction or correct soil imbalances in biology.

We also know that many times they are here to correct nutrient imbalances. In these cases, the weeds usually have a high concentration of the mineral that the soil is low in.

Farmers and consultants in history have done a lot of work in this regard, and have come up with some fascinating insights into the topic.

Here are three books on this subject that are worth checking out:

  1. Weeds, Control without Poisons by Charles Walters
  2. When Weeds Talk by Jay McCaman
  3. Weeds and What They Tell by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer

In these books, you will often find valuable nuggets about the weed species that you are trying to understand. An example would be giant ragweed, which is considered an invasive and unwanted weed that may decrease property values when left to go to seed and reproduce.

Giant Ragweed is simply another ragweed that reproduces by seeds whenever moisture conditions, or lack thereof, are right. Crusted soil conditions, drought, and other poor moisture conditions cause a shortfall in the potassium processing system, which signals ragweed to have at it for the season. These conditions give the weed permission for life. Thus, giant ragweed appears. The book states that the soil may also be deficient in copper, among a few others.

In the case of ragweed, additional organic matter and constant cover would likely improve the situation dramatically, even if it was only compost and organic matter tilled into the soil and then also used as mulch over top to prevent crusting of the soil surface. Compost adds potassium and organic matter, and would improve water holding capacity. Or would a diverse cover crop blend help more?

The point is that when we listen to what weeds have to say, we are much more likely to manage them successfully and in a way that is productive to the soil ecosystem.  A win-win for everyone including the farmer, the consumer that purchases food from the farmer, and also the future generations (our children).

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Source: Melvin Fisher | Sponsored by Keystone Bio-Ag LLC