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building weeds

June 15, 2012

From Caleb-The Space of Food


I can identify at least many weeds by name: dandelion, lambs quarters, nettle, clover, crab grass, bamboo grass, and chickweed (the first three, picked at the right time, are edible and quite delicious), and numerous others by sight. Our food requires a great deal of coddling to be successful. Weeds are quite remarkable in their ability to take over space. They employ two different strategies for dominating space. Some shoot up tall and spread wide, blocking out light of their competitors. Others spread wide and flat, giving little space to come up. Some are remarkable in how the stems easily break off leaving the roots to regenerate, and some can regenerate from a small piece of root.


Weeding is without doubt, the most boring and odious task on a farm. It is labor intensive. Recently weeding a lettuce bed at the Red Hook Community Farm, I barely moved 10 feet in 40 minutes. This harvested 15 gallons of packed weeds. The lettuce was invisible in the bed when I started. The weeds in volume heavily outweighed the lettuce. Weeds are more efficient at packing space as densely as possible. Sometimes the roots of the weeds intertwined with those of the lettuce, requiring a detangling and replanting.

It is no wonder that people so quickly adopted chemical warfare in attempting to deal with the problem. The chemical warfare has only bred herbicide resistant weeds. Since every year with weeds is a new generation – sometime several generations in a year – the weeds have the opportunity to go through evolutionary changes much faster. Thus weeds have become resistant to Round-Up, and the chemical companies are proposing escalation to a variant of the chemical used in Agent Orange, the notorious herbicide sprayed in the Vietnam War to reduce the jungle cover. There are a great many environmental problems associated with chemical use, including human health effects, animal reproductive problems, hive collapse disorder, soil health, water and ocean health, and the list goes on.


Unfortunately, there is no other option but to get down and dirty with this and employ the labor. The most basic, used for the most sensitive plants, is to pull by hand. Next is a variety of hand tools, and long-handled hoes and sickle hoes. Finally, there is machinery like rototillers on the small scale, and tractor-driven plows and disc harrows and other such equipment on the large scale. Orchards and vineyards can employ simple mowers to keep a healthy grass cover, and orchards can even use grazing animals to keep the weeds down and provide fertilizer.

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