Weed Wrangling

Sustainably manage unwanted vegetation, and hold your own among the coffee shop weed wranglers.

| May/June 2007

Next to “cash flow” – and the inevitable “cash flow problems” – one of the most popular topics of conversation at country coffee shops, feed mills and other popular rural gathering spots is weeds. It seems that having the biggest, baddest or most exotic weeds carries bragging rights that rival those for growing the earliest tomatoes, the biggest pumpkin or the best sweet corn.

Like death and taxes, weeds are something that all humans, but especially country residents, have in common. Maybe that’s because there are just so darn many weeds. 

Some 18,000 species of plants are native to North America, according to the National Park Service. For the longest time, that didn’t pose any problem. “Our native flora provide the foundation of the American landscape and define the various ecosystems and regions of the country,” the Park Service says. Plants and animals were free and content to live and let live. But then humans arrived on the scene, and everything started changing.

As we tired of simply hunting and gathering, plants that didn’t matter before suddenly became problems. Some 7,000 years before Europeans settled in North America, Native American women stirred the soil with digging sticks and hoes made of bone and wood to rid their corn, beans and squash of unwanted vegetation. These wild plants now competed with crop plants for moisture, nutrients and sunlight. 

“What is a weed?” asked 19th-century transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. “A plant whose virtues have not been discovered.” 

That may be, Ralphie, old pal. But until those virtues are discovered, weeds are a nightmare that costs American farmers and ranchers, gardeners and country folk more than $5 billion a year in lost yields and control measures.

Hans Quistorff
2/23/2013 7:13:01 AM

Qberry Farm sells Lamb's Quarters as well as the berries. I also use weeds t fight weeds. 12. Selectively allow weeds that are harvestable or complement your crop to grow and shade out the more objectionable weeds. For example around the base of my raspberry plants an unnamed weed comes up early each spring and starts blooming before the berries. this gets the pollinators working the patch and they switch to the berries when blooming plus this weed is very sensitive to heat and dies back leaving a fine mulch for the summer. There is an escaped annual called giant woodland orchid that grows between the Loganberries. These get 6 to 8 feet tall and shade the berries from scalding by the evening sun and have large snap dragon like flowers that again keep the bumble bees working the patch. The stems are shallow rooted and filed with water so as I clear picking space I can lay the along the the row and tramp them down to ad moisture and mulch to the row.

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