Introduction: Turn Weed(s) Into Feed
All About WeedSSSSS
Definition of a weed: A plant in the wrong place, invasive, non-native
Weeds are the ultimate survivors. They thrive where your most coveted plants give up the ghost and will take over your house if you let them. You turn your back and they sneak up on you - in our case, leaping 10 feet closer and higher! But they are not all bad. Wait, hear me out… In places where nothing else is growing, they are the only carbon trappers. They ‘make’ soil and keep it friable until you or I arrive and tell them to get lost! There are entire ecosystems that develop around weeds. Now you might say ‘Don’t they rob the soil of its nutrients?’ They sure do, but only if you allow them to get away with it - their cache of nutrients!
We live in California, weed country (pun intended) where even standard ornamentals misbehave. When we first moved into our current home, many years ago, it seemed like all I was doing was pulling weeds and it was not just the monotony of doing so that bothered me, I kept lamenting over all the nutrients our soil was losing with every load of weeds that I deposited on the curb.
That got me thinking - what if I steal all those nutrients right back from the weeds? What if I compost the weeds? It went against all conventional wisdom. Everyone I mentioned my idea to, thought I was crazy and that I would only compound the weed infestation. Now I don’t break rules - not intentionally at any rate - and I sure don’t break the law, but I am by nature a convention breaker and so was I not to be deterred. Today, 20 years later, I am so glad I followed my instinct. Other than an occasional sprinkling of bulb food when first planting new bulbs, for me, commercial fertilizer has become a thing of the past. And I can count on one hand, the number of times we’ve bought potting soil. The bulk of what my plants grow in - including in planters - is homemade compost, that all these years later, still includes a LOT of weeds! With the monsoon-like rain we’ve had in California these past two years, weed seeds that were probably lying dormant during the drought years, have sprung up in full glory, so I won’t be running out of my special brand of compost any time soon...
1) Weeds!!! I always have a perpetual supply (notice their ever abundance where they are constantly photobombing all my pics)! And if I ever run out, I can always help myself to the neighbors’ yard waste from the curb.
2) Any or all of the following: standard compost bin, cardboard boxes (thank you, Amazon!), Mulch bags, black garbage bags, black plastic planters, etc.
Step 1: So Why Compost Weeds?
If you think about it, one thing that is common to most weeds is the abundance of flowers and seeds that they produce. Pull a hand-full of mature weeds and place it on a piece of cardboard or paper. About an hour later, lift the weeds and be amazed at how many seeds they will have already dropped.
You must marvel at how they can be so prolific while growing in what seems to be the poorest of soils. In reality, they are growing in pretty rich soil. It just isn’t user-friendly for our pampered plants. So weeds are not starved of nutrients even though they can survive with very little moisture and thrive in virtual clay! That is because they are tough little guys, whose roots are undeterred by compacted soil and they are super efficient at ferreting out nutrients from the soil. Most weeds are opportunistic and will pig out when the going is good! So their bellies - so to speak - are filled with good food! While doing so, they help break up compacted soil. Another thing they do is unearth nutrients that are trapped too deep within the soil to be accessible for most plants. Case in point, bermudagrass with its roots that go all the way to the center of the earth… And since most weeds produce flowers and seeds by the millions - or billions - or possibly trillions, they just have to be loaded with phosphorus (for flower production) and potassium (for fruit production). What does this mean for you? Harvest those weeds and reclaim all the nutrients that they have so generously made available to you.
Step 2: How to Compost Weeds (and NOT Compound Your Weed Problem)
Rule # 1: Don’t let any seeds see the light of day! Whether you choose to compost in a store-bought composter, or one that you make yourself - out of pallets, or a tomato cage lined with cardboard, or just a cardboard box that will itself turn to compost or those big plastic bags that your mulch came in, make sure that the seed-heads are tucked well into the interior of the pile.
Rule # 2: If you have weeds like Arum, that grow from bulbs, be sure to crush the bulbs before adding them to your compost pile because if you don’t they might not only survive but thrive!
Rule # 3: If you have Bermuda grass, and you consider it undesirable - AKA a weed (like I do), then keep it separate from the rest of the compost because it could - and probably will - root in there! Bermuda grass is tough and grows from very deep roots. That is what makes it highly drought-tolerant and capable of withstanding some blasting sun! Being drought tolerant is also its Achilles heel… it does not like too much water! We had an infestation of it in our Lavender patch and I got rid of it by pulling it out and drowning it in a little water at the bottom of a bucket. This takes anywhere from a couple of days to a week. When you are sure that it is dead as a doornail, then you can safely add it to the rest of the compost. If all this is way too much trouble than you find worth, then just get rid of it. Put it out on the curb to be picked up by your green garbage collector. If you don’t have that service then place it in your garbage bin.
Step 3: A Recipe for Healthy Roots:
Well, this is more like an ingredients list since I don’t have specific proportions that I use but the following four amendments make for some great soil: Perlite, vermiculite, coarse sand, and compost. I tend to use a lot more perlite than vermiculite simply because it’s cheaper - or that vermiculite is more expensive! The sand can be builders’ sand that is sold in 60 lb bags at any big box store, or it can be what is known as concrete sand. It is typically sold in bulk at rockeries, where you may bag it yourself. No matter where you buy it from or how you do, take care to ensure that the sand is washed before you use it for planting. Why? Because plants do not like sodium. If washed sand is not available anywhere near you, then be sure to wash it and for the same reason, don’t pour the washings on your lawn or flower beds. The best place for it would be on your driveway and if there are weeds growing on it, then all the better! And don’t compost those weeds…
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