Happy Earth Day! I bet you thought I’d give you a break from talking about weeds, since it’s Earth Day, and maybe give you a run down of things you can do to love your Mother instead. But you are so wrong! And really you should have known better; weeds are, after all, some of the Mother’s most beloved children, wouldn’t you say? After all, she helps them to thrive everywhere.
Then again, weeds are good children to Gaea. Weeds are usually very good for the earth, for the soil, and they all do different work. Here are two examples of why, if you love your Mother, you should love the weeds too:
Dandelion (yes, again) is very kind to the soil. That nice long taproot penetrates the hardpan and brings up minerals (especially calcium) from deep down. They deposit these minerals nearer the surface, replenishing minerals that have washed away (often by careless human treatment of the soil, but sometimes by erosion or other natural forces). These same taproots help to break up and aerate compacted soil, and create much-needed drainage channels. This rototilling action is further aided by the earthworms who are attracted to dandelions. And when the plant dies, the root channels help the earthworms continue to journey deeper in to the soil. Dandelion also attracts many species of beneficial insects and birds–and is a prime food source for honey bees. And finally, dandelions give off ethylene gas, which can cause nearby flowers and fruits to mature more quickly–a compelling reason to let the dandelions hang out in the garden with your tomatoes, huh?
Here in Oregon there’s a lot of hubbub about the horrors of Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius). But let us consider for a moment where Scotch Broom moves in. Where do you see it? In clear cuts. On bare hills beside roads, where all the vegetation has been scorched or chopped or dug away for “safety and health” reasons. Scotch Broom would not be “invading” if we had not already ravaged the ecosystem. Studies suggest that Scotch Broom is not invasive in an intact ecosystem. Scotch Broom moves in when large areas of land have been laid bare, protecting the soil from erosion, and fixing nitrogen in the soil to restore it’s health and fertility. Read more about it here.
In general, weeds do many jobs, from increasing nutrients, to improving drainage, to providing food for all kinds of creatures (including humans), to attracting beneficial fauna and slowing or stopping erosion. Weeds undo a lot of the damage inflicted on the soil by humans–or at least, they do if we let them. I was going to say a lot more on the subject, but discovered someone else has said it all much more eloquently than I could in this amazing article.
One last tidbit: at the Wise Weeds site you’ll find a list of weeds and what they can tell you about the condition of your soil, plus a little bit about some of their other uses.
So there it is. You can show Mama Gaea some love every day by simply giving the weeds a little room to grow.