Friday, June 3, 2011

Rethinking Weeds

Last year was our first summer in our newly constructed house. We had a lot of prepping to do before we could garden. Since the yard site had been scraped down, we were left with a hard pan of clay and weeds. We built raised beds in the backyard and imported a lot of top soil. With that soil came the seeds of more weeds! With the work of our backyard garden and our community plot, we were overwhelmed by the weeds and could barely keep up. This year, as we work on our front yard project, weeds have become a topic of conversation again.

Our backyard 'weed box' and future chicken coop location!
What do we do about all of the weeds in our front yard? The earth became so compacted from construction that it was practically impossible to dig any weeds out, and so they were left to reseed themselves and multiply. When the day arrived for more topsoil to be delivered, we debated about what we should do. Cover the weeds up? Try to dig them out? My husband even thought about renting a flame thrower to burn them to the ground! I think many people wouldn't give this dilemma a second thought, and would opt for an application of herbicide. But, I wonder if it wasn't the herbicides that started this perception problem in the first place. A quick and easy fix, but with long term often unseen consequences that I won't delve into here.

In the end, we left the weeds be and covered them, which has provided us with a temporary reprieve. But, I know they will be back...

Right now, my feeling on weeds is just that: let them be! Perhaps I will feel differently about that statement later in the summer. And of course, we don't want the weeds to crowd out our garden vegetables, so they will need to be maintained somewhat. We're also going to be experimenting with growing some ground cover and then using it as mulch in order to help reduce weeds. However, if you're trying to grow a lot of vegetables like we are, striving to maintain that perfect appearance is stressful at best. Some may think that leaving a few weeds is a fine theory for those out-of-sight gardens, but what about the front yard garden? The one everyone will see? This was part of our dilemma in deciding to put most of our front yard to growing vegetables instead of sod. Sod helps to cover up the weeds and disguise just how many you have. A garden can be less forgiving that way.

Our front yard project: Step 1: Top soil delivered. Step 2: Plant vegetable Seeds.
Unfortunately, we've become accustomed - myself and my husband included - to thinking that our front yards must make a good impression to our neighbours and community, that we should follow the status quo with nicely manicured and weed-free lawns. Perhaps we feel that they will provide others and ourselves with the illusion that our life is neat and orderly. Perhaps it is simply a case of feeling like we need to keep up with the Joneses. Whatever the reason, in our house, we're trying to rethink our view on weeds so that gardening can be a more enjoyable experience.

Just when I was beginning to doubt our plan to grow veggies in our front yard, I came across a lovely section of words in Eliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest, that provided me with the determination to follow through with our plans, 
"Regard the weeds as the soil savers that they are - in essence a short term green manure. Their roots have aerated the soil, and their tops will add to the bounty of the compost heap. Move ahead, get out the seed packets and plant something new."
Look to the benefit of weeds, and not the negative - that is the underlying theme of what he is saying. This idea really resonates with me, and deep down inside, this is how I feel about weeds. The constant digging up and pulling feels like I'm fighting a pointless battle. Perhaps we could just allow some weeds to exist in the front yard. Dandelions are my new favorite edible 'weed' and other plants that grow wild around here, like clover, have other benefits such as being able to fix nitrogen into the soil. I'm sure if I understood more about how each of these weeds might be of benefit in the garden, I would feel less inclined to get rid of them all. While I will always hate quack grass, I think I could learn to like some of the others in my garden.

Linked to A Moderate Life.


The 21st Century Housewife© said...

There is such excellent advice in this post! I have struggled with weeds too, but like you, I don't want to use herbicides. I have been known to dig them in in the past and it does work :) As long as I keep on top of the little weed sprouts that come through it's fine, but I really have to watch them or they try to take over! Thank you for sharing this post with the Feed Me Tweet Me Follow Me Home Blog Hop. I have followed you on Twitter. Hope to see you again at the hop this week - the linky is up now :)

Shanon Hilton said...

Thanks, I'm glad you agree! I still can't help but pull a weed here or there every time I'm out in the garden, but I'm trying not to obsess about having the perfect yard this year. People expect to see toys on the floor when you have kids, so I think it should be the same with weeds in gardens! We'll see how that turns out. ;)