Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Love your weeds, Connect to Nature

In Northern California, it is our wet season, and though colder than usual just now, in the garden, it’s the time of water and a few winter vegetables, like garlic and kale and chard and endive and onions and some cover crops, like fava beans and field peas and vetch and wheat and rye.

This is the time of year when the so-called “weeds” can thrive, the wild oat grass and the mallow and the dock. This is good.

Weeds are a miracle of life, and they do what plant life does: they take solar energy from the heavens and water and minerals from the earth and turn it into more plant, more green, more “weed,” more biomass. More Life. More oxygen.

To pull out weeds now is to destroy nature’s oxygen and life making purposes. It is to rob your garden of all that plant material that the sun and water and soil would be creating all winter and spring. Someday, and someday soon, an honest gardener will have to stop hauling “stuff” in to the garden, stuff that requires fuel to haul, be it manure or straw or compost. It’s getting time to starting thinking about honestly creating our own biomass to create our own compost.

This could take the form of growth compost radishes for the compost pile, like John Jeavons does. Or, it could take the form of growing all the weeds you possibly can in the winter and then when spring comes and it’s about a month before planting, push them all down, cover them with newspaper, and cover the newspaper with some soil or straw or compost, something to keep it from blowing away. The newspaper will turn all that biomass to soil, rich incredible compost, right there where you want to plant. No tugging out, lugging to the pile and then lugging back to the garden.

In Permaculture , a system of designing your land and garden to imitate nature, extra effort in creating tidiness is usually an affront to natural processes. In the case of weeds, in Permaculture, they are encouraged to grow and then either “sheet mulched,” as explained above, or else eaten by animals that are used within the system for feed or wool or milk. Then the animals are fed on the gains from the sun of the winter.

This is working with nature. This is easier on your work, healthier for the earth and gets us out of this habit of thinking of nature as the enemy, of all thinking of nature as something to fear or conquer or control.

As an aside, but an important one, this fear of and disconnection from nature has very much to do with people’s fear of walking and riding bikes places at night. Yes, yes, it is less safe, and a big part of that is, I think, a cover for a fear of the nighttime, which like fear of dirt, or fear of insects, or fear of weeds, is a disconnection from the non-linear and wild and natural parts of ourselves.

So. Let your weeds grow. Daydream about the seeds you saved last fall and summer. Dig some trenches for irrigation or some swales. What’s a swale? That’s another Permaculture way of cooperating with nature to catch the water in the wet time of year, and it’s another story.

And while you are letting your weeds grow, you might want to take advantage of some of the immense nutrition that you could treat yourself to with mallow and dock, this time of year, and chicory and dandelion coming along soon.

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