To Weed or Not To Weed

Farming Southern Spain styleWhen the summer growing season started, I was conscientious about pulling all weeds out of my brand-spanking-new garden beds. As summer wore on, and my work load grew in direct proportion to the outside temperatures, I weeded a little less and concentrated more on harvesting and building more raised beds.

I did take the time to notice that the corner of the far raised bed has a huge number of stink bugs. It also has a larger number of weeds because it’s close to the outside of the garden, but to be honest, it is mostly because it’s squash, and I didn’t feel like weeding under the prickly stems and leaves.

My tomatoes, which were right next to the stinkbuggy squash, had almost no stink bug damage. I patted myself on the back for choosing good varieties and moved on — or did until the local Texas Market Grower group began to toss this subject around in this week’s round of discussion.

The initial question was inspired by Michael Ableman’s book, Fields of Plenty. He actually proposes that we not weed, or at least not as thoroughly as I had been taught was necessary.

“Competition Control

    Every plant improves soil structure by spreading out its roots and tunneling
    through the dirt, and in a natural setting, plants interact with a number of
    beneficial microbes — particularly certain kinds of bacteria, fungi, nematodes,
    and protozoa — to get the nutrients that they need. In this symbiotic
    relationship, plants literally feed the life in the soil by excreting food for
    the bacteria and fungi through their roots. Thus, the presence of any plant is a
    boon for the overall quality of soil. And because each plant has a slightly
    different niche, having many different kinds of plants leads to imroved balance
    in soil ecology.”
    — Michael Ableman, Fields of Plenty

Many local plants bring nutrients up through their root system  from the subsoil and enrich the top soil in which we plant our crops. (Clover, for example, is a nitrogen fixing plant, so makes a great cover crop for fallow grazing fields.) The more variety in the plant population, the better variety of nutrients gets brought up to the surface soil. He goes on to say that when “weeds” or local plant variety grows to the point where they are overshadowing your crop or winning the competition for water and nutrients,  scythe or flatten them down to swing the advantage back to the crop. Thus your soil gets the benefit of the variety of plant life, and your crop gets the benefit of improved soil.

Back to my stinkbuggy squash. I had been picking the squash and using it, and hadn’t really thought about the fact that there wasn’t a huge amount of damage from the stink bugs. Mmmmm. Maybe it’s not the squash attracting those bugs, but the weeds. Maybe these stinking bugs are so happy on my weeds that they’re leaving my crops alone. (For the most part this growing season, they did.) Maybe not weeding is a good idea. It sounds good to me. I’ll pay a lot more attention to this notion after the Fall garden gets going.

Happy Gardening!

Julie

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