Can weeds in my crop beds be friends with my crops?

A question sent to me via the contact page.

Oh Herbaloo!  What is a girl to do?
How can I learn to understand the weeds in my crop beds as friends to my crops?  How can I transform my internalized projection of seeing competition in the relationship between my crops and “weeds” and learn to see cooperation?  Can you offer thoughts on developing a selective eye to create a balance in my approach to loving my food without perceiving the plants in close proximity as enemies? -Atira

Mulched Garlic as big as the Wheelbarrel

Hello Atira,
This is something I too have hoped for…Peace in the Garden, as opposed to War.  There are several Earth Lovers who have spent their days learning to do just this.

Masanobu Fukuoka – a Japanese Elder who has spent his post-Biology days learning to farm sustainably, and simply.  He recommends finding the weed in your area that you can plant, or train, to live under your crops, while allowing profit and soil fertility to rise up!  His book is called the ‘One-Straw Revolution‘.  He also encourages mulching.  I am currently reading this.

Another Earth Lover is Ruth Stout, author of the ‘No Work Garden Book‘.  I read this book a while back and it started my passion for a no-kill/no-till Farm.  Her method is mulch, mulch, mulch!  She is so much into saving labor that when planting potatoes, she throws the seed potatoes into a pile of mulch, and comes back several months later for the new potatoes.  Mulch is her only work, besides harvesting.  And it adds organic matter and essential plant nutrients to boot.  You can find this book for sale for a very low price on the internet.

Thirdly, there is Susan Weed, Herbalist from upstate New York.  She spoke about ‘Gardening with Nature‘ at the 2009 United Plant Savers Conference in Rhode Island.  She practices Plant Spirit Medicine and was convinced that with persistance, you can ask the weeds to back off.  And encourage those that you like to take over.  You can also get to know your local weeds and utilize them for food.  My favorite new Wild Food from the talk: All grass seed in North American is edible!  You can add it to oatmeal, as Susan does, or you can boil it like rice/ more common kitchen grasses.  By removing the seeds from weeds, you can slowly eliminate future generations.  So instead of pulling grass, ask it to back off into its appropriate place in the yard, and take the seeds from the areas which you don’t mow, presumably in your garden.

Some friendly garden weeds in New England…
Low Growers = Purslane, Clover, Oxalis, Chickweed.
Edible Weeds = Lamb’s Quarters, Amaranth (seed), Purslane, Chickweed.
It is wise to research the wild plants in your area before eating them.  But there are lots of books, made locally to you, that will tell you exactly what is what.  Or you can search out a local weed walk with your neighborhood Herbalist/ Woodsman or Woodswoman.

Just remember, if your Vegetables & chosen Garden Plants are given the love and nutrients they need to be big and beautiful, they will shade out the weeds and thrive!

Goodluck Earth Sister!



Update 06/27/10:


On your internalized view of competition, and your desire to see cooperation, I offer this…

I accidentally planted Beets into a row which had already been seeded with Cilantro and Dill.  When I hoed the Beets I noticed the two herbs growing there along the Beet line.  The more mature Beets in this field had their tender leaves eaten by the night-roaming Deer.  But this Herbal Beet row was looking good.  I left the Cilantro and Dill and only took up the grass, etc.  The Beets are still looking good.  There has been a bite or two but I think that the Deer stop munching when they taste the herbs, which I have heard they leave alone to begin with.  So this “weed” has come in handy.  I think there will be a time when I should harvest the herbs so the Beets can spread out.  But the real experiment is to see how the Beets do with these herbs at their roots.

That’s where companion planting comes into play.  Your “Selective Eye” will be developed by learning which plants grow best side-by-side.  For instance, a popular combination is to plant Basil near your Tomatoes.  Not only are they good neighbors, but they help each other with the growing process.  The Native Americans had their Three Sister’s idea of planting Corn amongst the Squash Vines and letting the Pole Beans grow up their stalks.

When planting flowers and medicinals, you just have to group them in gardens which contain plants native to all the same region.  And furthermore, which herbs live in colonies and families.  Asking the Spirits for advice is always an option.  You could even dowse, or experiment…

Check out the book Carrots Love Tomatoes.  Or this free article from Mother Earth News on companion planting.

goodluck! xo

Update 7/16:

Looks like the Beets were okay living near the Cilantro and Dill, and as far as them helping/ liking each other…  Well my Farmer would say “That’s still debatable…”  But I think they did  😉

The Beets that were 'accidentally' planted in the seeded row of Cilantro and Dill. I think they liked it!


2 thoughts on “Can weeds in my crop beds be friends with my crops?

  1. Wonderful post! And wonderful perspective. I’ve been discovering the joys of this philosophy over the past few years: if you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em! I only wish I had know what an abundance of edible weeds I had growing all over my property in Connecticut! It’s somewhat different flora here in Virginia, so while I’m mourning the weeds I neglected up there, I AM discovering some wonderful new ones here.

  2. now i daydream about this idea all day at work…
    when i weed around the plants at work, my boss says i am massaging their roots. and when i pull up those weeds, i actually am creating aeration and nice fluffy soil for the plants to spread out into and get bigger. pulling carrots. that’s what made me see that weeding is sometimes inevitable…or at least thinning (which means you sow a whole row and take out the sprouts in between. so carrots would be 1 carrot sprout every 3 inches).
    we are getting tiny carrots instead of big fatties. i felt bad pulling them out! they will eventually get very long instead of growing sideways, but then pulling them out can cause them to break, and they take much longer to grow big.
    the fact that we pull out those weeds makes them weeds. they are the Earth’s Band-Aid, as a former Farmer once told me. they are the first to come up when the soil has been tilled/scraped/wounded. and without “disaster” those plants would never have learned to pop up so quickly. and you can eat them, how friendly is that?
    …a little more to ponder while you bask in the sun in the garden. i must say, this is something i think of QUITE often. 🙂

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