Reflecting on last week’s post, it seems that weeds get a bad reputation. These native plants that grow liberally in our gardens are quite often deemed useless and a pain. However, small, non-threatening amounts of weeds can offer good services to your garden so long as they do not compromise the growth of your other plants.
Weeds for soil improvement
Rather than leaving your soil open and exposed, why not grow some weeds? It may be better to have something growing in your soil than nothing at all. When soil is exposed to harsh weather, it can be wiped clean of many of its qualities that make it fine for growing.
Deep rooted weeds such as thistle or dandelion can make minerals more available to other plants by reaching deep into the ground, they also serve important aerators and can improve drainage. Strong rooted weeds such as quack grass can help break up hardpans and allow other plants to feed from lower soils. Weeds from the legume family such as clover and vetch have nitrogen-fixing properties which will enhance the fertility of the soil.
Letting weeds grow on unused land can protect your soil from exposure and erosion. Maintaining plant life on land and in garden beds not only protects it, but can ameliorate it. Weeds will add organic matter to the soil that will keep nutrients accessible, improve water retention capacity and allow soil aeration for when you do decide to cultivate.
Weeds and soil diagnostics
Like any plants, weeds have conditions in which they thrive. Many weeds do best in marginal soils. Identifying the weeds in your garden is important for they can assist in determining what soil amendments you need to employ to improve and build up your soil.
In fertile soil you can find: lamb’s quarter, chickweed, thistle and dandelion.
Lean soil: shepherd’s purse, mullein.
In compacted (hardpan) soil: plantain, knotweed, quack grass, clover, mouse-ear chickweed.
Poor drainage: Colt’s foot, buttercup.
Acidic soil: moss, sorrel, daisy, knotweed, horsetail, nettle.
Alkaline soil: clover, Queen Anne ’s lace, chickory, chickweed.
Weeds as food
As you may know, many of the weeds we have in our gardens are edible. They can make a great addition to summer salads and soups. Best of all, they’re free and effortless. Here is a list of some of them and how you might want to prepare them!
Clover: the sweet flowers can be pulled apart and sprinkled over salads. Flowers can also can also be steeped for tea.
Dandelion: the leaves (best when young and before plant has flowered) make a great addition to salads, they can also be dried to make tea. These leaves are high in iron and are known for their liver-cleansing properties. The root can be toasted and made into a drink similar to coffee.
Lamb’s Quarter: leaves, best when young. You can eat raw in salads or steam/cook leaves and serve as a cooked green.
Sheep Sorrel: the leaves of this weed are sour and delicious. This is a recipe from our friends over at Adventures in Local Food cooked up with sheep’s sorrel. It’s also quite delicious accompanied by rhubarb in a spring crisp!
Stinging Nettle: leaves are edible when raw, but they’ll sting your mouth for a bit. Perhaps are best consumed when dried and steeped as a tea.
Purselane: leaves of this weed have a delightful lemon flavour, great when added to salads or a garnish for soup.
Japanese Knotweed: Young shoots can be harvested before they are 8 inches long, and can be eaten quite like asparagus. Check out this post for a great knotweed salad!
For further reading:
Interested in learning more about microbes and soil health? Click here.
Want to know the steps to getting your soil tested? Click here.
Written by: Mhari Lamarque