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Why The Weeds Grow

 

After a long winter, when spring finally arrives, the gardeners and farmers just can't wait to get out and start planting. However, they soon discover plants sprouting from seeds they didn't plant. These plants, like greedy strangers, soon become unwelcome, and the dictionary calls these unwelcome plants "weeds." Like troublesome insects, weeds take some of the enjoyment out of gardening.

You can read through the gardening magazines and farm journals and find much written about weeds, but very seldom is it praising. You are told how to prevent, outwit, and even poison them. Did you ever read anything good about weeds?

Weeds are Nature's greatest and most widely dispersed group of plants. Man has often condemned the weeds and considered them his enemy. Mention weeds and most people think in terms of control. They rarely think of why weeds grow.

Have you ever wondered why weeds seem to grow everywhere? Or have you ever thought of how desolate and bare the earth would be if the only plants growing were those we planted?

I, too, fought weeds, with much dislike, until one day I asked the above questions. After much thought and study, I discovered some obvious, but usually unseen or unthought of, facts. I found weeds weren't the enemy I accused them of being.

The weeds aren't all bad, and I feel they deserve at least a fair amount of recognition in the plant society. Weeds are here for a purpose and they have a job to do. They are here to insure that the soil of our planet always has the protection of a green blanket, and little does man realize the importance of this cover. Our fertile soil, man's greatest natural resource, which took Nature centuries to build, would erode away without the protection of a plant cover.

The profusely growing weeds are part of the Creator's plan because man, with some of his bad cultural practices, would lose much of his valuable topsoil if the weeds didn't move in to help prevent it. Weeds take no chances; they soon invade and protect any soil left bare.

If it weren't for weeds, mostly unwanted weeds, the topsoil of many farms would have eroded away years ago, gone from our farms forever, gone to muddy our rivers and fill our lakes and eventually end up in the ocean. Weeds are said to rob our crops of moisture, sunlight, and nutrients, but they shouldn't be unjustly accused. The weeds don't rob, they only borrow, as eventually it all returns to the soil for future crop use.

Weeds are not given the protection man has given his domestic crops from insects, disease, and other adverse growing conditions, causing weeds, or wild plants, to maintain hardiness. Rarely do you find weeds destroyed by insects or diseases.

Some weeds are pioneer plants as they are able to grow in soil unsuited for edible or domesticated plants. Each year, as the pioneer plants grow and decay, the soil is improved. Nature gave these plants a means of protection, such as a bitter taste, thorns, or even made them poisonous, so they wouldn't be eaten by animals. This is so they could continue the soil-making and building processes until finally good soil is made. Then the edible plants can move in and take over.

Weeds are indicators of certain soil deficiencies. For example, scientists have found that wild daisies grow in lawns that are deficient in lime. The daisies somehow collect or manufacture and store lime in their tissue. When the daisies die, the lime is deposited in the topsoil. This continues until the lime becomes sufficient for the lawn, then the wild daisies disappear.

Daisies are rarely found growing around the area in which I live because the soil, having been made from limestone rock, is already rich in lime. Many of the wild plants tell us other conditions of our soil. Some grow only where the soil is waterlogged; some grow in soil that is acid and others only in alkaline soil.

There are times when weeds are even good companion plants. Some have insect repelling abilities, while others with deep roots help surface feeding plants growing next to them to obtain moisture during dry spells through capillary attraction. Water moves up the outside of weed roots from the deep moist soil toward the surface, and shallow rooted plants make use of this moisture.

Properly controlled or spaced weeds also give a certain amount of beneficial shade and humidity. When the weeds transpire, the air becomes more moist and there is less moisture loss from domestic plants.

Weeds are easily grown and make an excellent cover crop. The successive growth and decay of weeds lays down an absorbent mat on the soil, which prevents erosion from rain runoff and wind. This absorbent mat of growing and decaying weeds traps the rainwater and causes it to soak into the soil for future needs. The water soaking into the soil keeps the springs flowing, which feed our rivers, keeping them crystal clear and flowing at an even rate instead of flooding after each rain. This insoak also feeds the wells from which many people get their water supply.

With the decaying weeds holding the rain on the soil to soak in, and the growing weeds taking up and storing in their tissue the soluble plant foods, the wasteful leaching of phosphate, nitrate, and other minerals is prevented. This helps prevent the pollution of our water with an excess of these nutrients.

Weeds are a vital link in the soil fertility and food chain. Farmers should realize the value of weeds toward soil building and conservation and take full advantage of them.

When vigorous weeds become too numerous in the fields and gardens, however, their control does become necessary. Not realizing the dangers of spraying chemicals into the environment, many farmers and gardeners use powerful herbicides to destroy weeds. Some of the herbicides are hormones so powerful that one ounce distributed over 35 acres of cotton will seriously injure the entire crop. Some herbicides can persist in the soil for years, and they upset or unbalance the necessary harmony of the soil organisms.

There are safe and non-polluting weed control methods available. Mulching with organic materials smothers weeds while also conserving moisture and helping control soil temperature. The old reliable method of hand weeding, hoeing, and timely cultivation with adapted equipment is still the most widely used and most effective safe method.

The most important thing in weed control is to stay ahead of them, especially if permanent control is desired. The weeds must not be allowed to reseed. In a fertile soil, rich in humus and beneficial soil organisms, weeds are not such a problem because the rich soil will compost and digest some of the weed seeds, preventing them from sprouting. The result is that weeds don't become too numerous where they aren't really needed.

Are you beginning to see that weeds are not just an accident, but were planned and have a purpose?

Besides protecting the soil, weeds and plants perform still other services for man. Plants are the bridge of life between the mineral kingdom and animal kingdom. Plants alone have the ability or power to use the energy from the sun to convert the elements of the earth into food for man and animal. The plants are the bridge between the soil and you because all the food that nourishes your body, sustains your life, and makes you grow, comes directly or indirectly from plant life.

The delicious vegetables we eat today were nothing more than weeds centuries ago before people started cultivating them. Even today a lot of the plants we call weeds are cherished by many as delicacies.

Since long ago, certain weeds have been valued as having therapeutic powers and medicinal value. They are no longer called weeds but are given the respectful name of herbs. If you search through the folklore medicine journals you can uncover a natural herb remedy for almost every ailment, and from these much of our modern medicine has advanced. Aspirin and many of the other pain relievers doctors use originated from plants. Penicillin, which is a drug of nearly miraculous effectiveness against a number of dreaded diseases, is obtained from a primitive plant of the fungi group.

Plants have the power to convert man and animal waste products back into useful materials. The carbon dioxide we exhale while breathing is converted back to life-sustaining oxygen and a food element-carbon. The pollutants from automobiles and factories are filtered from the air by plants. Without these services, we would soon suffocate and starve.

The algae and fungi that feed on garbage, manure, and dead plants and animals, cause your compost pile to transform waste into valuable fertilizer. These plants are very small or microscopic but serve a vital link in the continuing life-cycle of birth, growth, death, decay, and rebirth.

Wild plants also furnish fiber for clothing, building material for our homes, and make homes for most of our wildlife.

The fuel we use to warm our homes and run our automobiles is energy from the sun's rays captured and stored by plant life many years ago. Each plant, be it domestic or weed, is still today operating as a perfectly efficient factory, capturing the sun's rays to be used now or stored for future use. In capturing and converting the sun's energy, the plants prevent the air and earth surface from being overheated by the penetrating sun's rays. You might say the plants are air conditioners, as they keep us comfortable.

Because of the plants, especially the wild plants, Nature is never boring, but always beautiful and fascinating. When the plants bloom, they add sweet fragrances to Nature. They attract and feed the fluttering butterflies, and the bees make honey from the wildflowers. The grasses and flowering weeds beautify our roadways. They cover or hide the trash and litter thoughtlessly thrown aside as well as the bare rock and dirt.

We could probably go on and on finding good things to say about weeds. If you are wondering, I still hoe, pull, and cultivate to control weeds when necessary, but it's with a different frame of mind. Mainly, I have learned to use the weeds to an advantage. Here we might add-the weeds cause the gardener to get his exercise between planting time and harvest.

Even though few people love them, and they are always being destroyed, the weeds are very generous. They keep coming back, as their seeds are usually impatiently waiting in the soil to sprout forth. Weeds take no chances-they produce many seeds to insure the survival of their kind so there will always be plants to clothe and protect the earth.

 

The Garden-Ville Method - Lessons in Nature

 

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last updated:  March 10, 2004