Whether you’re in the city or the country, you have to wage a constant war on weeds. Many are hard to kill, some are poisonous.
Others, however, are hard to identify. And if you don’t know what it is, how do you know whether to pull it out (and how)?
When down at the recent Small Farm Field Day, I visited the stand manned by the Department of Agriculture. They pointed me to an excellent phone app, called NSW WeedWise.
This contains a comprehensive collection of weeds, including photos and descriptions. It also indicates how serious a weed is, and whether you’re required to destroy it.
A lot of the weeds I already knew about, but I was pleased to learn about Moth vine. This looks quite like choko, and it’s growing on the back fence of the convent.
Far from being edible, however, it has sap that’s poisonous, and it spreads itself liberally when the seed pod bursts open.
Another day, another weed. Download the app from the Apple Store or Google Play.
Following on from our earlier our weeds are lettuces, here is the latest rogue to grow in our pebble driveway.
Yes, that’s a purple bean plant, self-seeded into a bed of stones. It just goes to show that even edible plants that we take for granted are incredibly resourceful and adaptable.
Now to drive around it, as I can’t bring myself to pull it out — it looks so happy where it is!
We let many of our herbs and vegetables go to seed. We do this for three reasons:
- The flowers attract beneficial bugs into the garden, which keep the aphids (etc) in check.
- We practice ‘seed saving’, which allows us to keep sowing our favourite vegetables without having to buy new seeds.
- Down the track, the seeds end up germinating throughout our garden, giving us extra crops of our commonly-eaten plants.
Our lettuces are a perfect example. The photo above shows a lettuce that self-seeded in the middle of our driveway — a very useful weed! Lettuces have also sprung up amongst our beetroots, and in our other garden beds.
Fresh food with no effort? That’s what I call productive gardening 🙂
Living in the inner city, there’s no shortage of weeds, in the street and in our garden. Thankfully not one but two books have been published to make the best of it:
- Edible Weeds and Garden Plants of Melbourne (Doris Pozzi)
- The Weed Forager’s Handbook (Adam Grubb & Annie Raser-Rowland)
The first is a self-published book covering common weeds, their identification and use. Don’t be fooled by the name: this book is applicable throughout temperate regions in Australia, including Sydney.
The second book is professionally published, and covers much the same ground, but with more pictures.
Both are truly excellent, and they make you look at “weeds” in an entirely new way. Many of the most common weed plants are edible, as salad ingredients, steamed or in stir-fries. They also have many medicinal uses.
Using the two books, these are the weeds that we identified growing in our garden, or in the food forest out the back:
- Blackberry Nightshade
- Cobbler’s Pegs
- Fat Hen
- Sow Thistle
- Sticky Weed
That’s quite a list! With the plants growing at different times throughout the year, we’re going to make an effort to make use of what’s growing wild, to supplement our garden crops.
We’re also using them to give our chickens a green feed every morning, which is probably why their yolks are so yellow!
(The fact that 80% of the weeds out the back are edible does gives pause for thought. Perhaps they were seeded deliberately at some point in the distant past?)
With the winter growing season drawing to a close, it’s time to clear the garden beds to make space for spring planting. So out come the huge broccoli plants that have kept us so well feed over the last few months.
With our two compost bins and one worm farm already full to the rim, a new plan was required if all this green material wasn’t to go to waste.
So I decided to construct a hot compost heap, consisting of layers of green and brown material, at least one cubic metre in volume. In went the old plants from the garden beds, and all the weeds from out the back. The brown material is mulch donated by the local tree trimmers and a pile of old leaves.
Hopefully if I turn it a few times, I should have a big pile of rich compost in time to top up our raised garden beds.
And in the same vein, beside the new compost heap is the council green bin containing our weed tea. With an unlimited supply of weeds, they get drowned in water and anaerobically “brewed” for at least a month. The result is a liquid that smells really nasty, but when diluted keeps the fruit trees extremely happy.
Nothing goes to waste!
About six months ago, I cleared a overgrown mass of privet in the convent’s land behind our house to create a new food forest. Apple trees were ordered and planted, along with a bunch of other fruit trees.
This quickly became the first round of a multi-year war against weeds. With the warm, wet weather, the privet was immediately replaced by half a dozen varieties of invasive weeds, which are now several metres high.
Starting at the near end, I’ve been countering this by laying down newspaper, and piles of mulch (kindly donated by a local tree trimming company). A variety of plants have been established as part of the ‘apple tree guild’:
I’ve also been planting a number of dominant vegetables to act as ground cover:
- multiple types of pumpkin (normal and heirloom varieties)
It’s clear that this will take some time, years most likely. Still, it’s a good weekend project…
The big surprise has been the hundreds of cherry tomato plants that have come up amongst the weeds. We’re not sure whether these came from the neighbours chucking tomatoes over their back fence, or from seeds being dropped by birds.
We’re not complaining either way, as we’ve already harvested 2-3kg of cherry tomatoes for ‘free’, having done nothing but watch the plants grow. There’s probably 10-20kg of tomatoes yet to grow and ripen, if we can find the time to pick them…
PS. in the end, the food forest is likely to become a ‘convent garden’ rather than a community garden. I’ll be the ‘head convent gardener’, with a produce-sharing arrangement in place. A good win-win outcome! 🙂