In permaculture, weeds are an essential part of the ecosystem. Instead of digging them out or using herbicides, you should compost them to add value to the soil. Eliminating waste is one of the 12 principles of permaculture. Cut your weeds down to the ground at least once each month, and lay their leaves directly on the soil.
The weeds will protect the soil and reinstitute it with a nutrient boost. This method is effective as it leaves the soil untilled. Tilling has a high capability of exposing new seeds as nature looks to reestablish an ecosystem.
Below are the methods used to deal with weeds in permaculture:
To have a weed-free permaculture garden, use organic mulch. Plant about 5-10cm mulch gardens with straw or leaves to suppress weeds. Mulching also reduces the need to water the land, support soil life and prevent erosion.
You can also kill weeds through solarization.
The mulch will decay and replenish the nutrients in the soil. Weeds add to the biomass of the soil, especially when they die, and build a new layer of nutrient-rich topsoil.
2. Harvest edible weeds
Alternatively, you can turn weeds into a food source. (ironically, this means they aren’t really weeds). A variety of “weeds” are edible and highly nutritious. Harvest your edible weeds regularly and use them to feed yourself and your family.
Some weeds that offer high nutrition value include broadleaf plantain, yarrow, borage, stinging nettles, purslane and lamb’s quarter. Continue reading to identify the correct edible weeds in your garden.
3. Replace with a similar crop
Weeds occur naturally as a reaction to a situation in your garden. It can be missing minerals, high moisture content in the soil, or any other variety of issues. You can let weeds continue growing in your farm to assess the conditions that support their flourishing.
Later, you can remove the weeds and replace them with desirable crops that grow in similar conditions. You, therefore, get to fill your niche with what kind of crop you want, rather than leaving it to chance.
This may not be an option when removing weeds from a pond.
4. Let them grow
You can choose to leave your weeds in the soil if they have no significant impact on your crops. If weeds are smaller than the crops in your permaculture garden and are not aggressively spreading, you should leave them alone.
This is to avoid disturbing the soil, since it might lead to aggressive weed growth. If the weeds are not blocking the sun from reaching your crops, you can leave them be as they contribute to the biodiversity of the garden.
Let your crops push through the weeds, and eventually, the system will restore itself, with weeds giving way to other beneficial vegetation.
Examples of useful weeds in your garden
Common Plantain/ Plantago major
You should let this weed grow and die on its own. Cut back the leaves monthly and use them as a layer of mulch. Leave the roots intact, and the plant will either grow again or decay, enriching the soil and attracting beneficial organisms.
- This perennial plant grows to a height of 20cm.
- It is often used as a medicinal herb.
- Plantain accumulates calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese and sulfur in the soil.
Lamb’s Quarters/ Chenopodium album
These weeds improve soil quality. However, you have to let them die on their own. Lamb’s quarter has deep roots which accumulate nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus and manganese. In addition, it is edible if grown in a safe environment.
Dandelion/ Taraxacum officinale
This weed has edible leaves which are full of vitamins and minerals. The roots and flowers have various medicinal uses. The flowers attract ladybugs and other nectar-seeking pollinators. The roots accumulate potassium, copper, calcium, iron, and silicon.
It grows to 40cm tall.
Ground Elder/ Aegopodium podagraria
The roots of Ground Elder are quick spreading and will regrow promptly if left in the ground. Mainly grown for groundcover. Its vigorous growth makes it bad for your permaculture garden. It is edible and has various medicinal uses.
This perennial weed grows to 60cm tall.
Chickweed/ Stellaria media
This weed appears in highly tilled areas where the soil has been sufficiently disturbed. Its roots accumulate phosphorus and potassium. Chickweed attracts pollinators in the spring and early summer. It has edible leaves and certain medicinal uses. You should allow it to grow and die on its own, to avoid limiting its availability to pollinators.
Grows to around 15cm tall.
Curled Dock/ Rumex crispus
It is highly aggressive, but it is beneficial in re-establishing fertility in the soil. The deep roots are vital for the accumulation of nutrients and the leaves are good for composting. Curled dock attracts caterpillars and many species of butterflies.
- Its leaves are edible and can be used as herbal remedies.
- A perennial plant growing 60cm tall.
Can I use weeds as groundcover/mulch?
Weeds can be used as groundcover in bare soil. They help to preserve moisture in the soil and prevent erosion through wind or water. Weeds can also be used as mulch cover, adding to the nutritional value of the soil. Weed seeds are very persistent in the soil and remain viable for decades, so if the weed is aggressive, don’t use it for mulch.
Purslane and lamb’s quarters are good groundcover weeds, which do well with corn.
Weeds you can use as ground cover or mulch
Yellow Sorrel/ Oxalis corniculata
An annual plant that grows to a height of 1cm, but spreads to around 15cm. It spreads rapidly by seeds and underground bulbils. The weed is perfect for groundcover as it does not block the sun from reaching low-growing plants.
Bittercress/ Cardamine species
Low-growing garden weed, spreads freely by seeds. You can plant it on bare sections of your garden and they will thrive in poor-quality soil.
Common purslane/ Portulaca oleracea
This low-growing weed is highly drought-resistant and can reshoot from the stem after it is cut off. Its seeds can survive in the soil for around 40 years. Despite its resilience, purslane is non-competitive with many crops, even when it fully covers the ground. It can be beneficial as living mulch for beans, corn, and tomatoes. It also contains minerals, fatty acids, essential vitamins, and anti-oxidants.
Can weeds be used as fertilizer/ compost tea?
You can use weeds from your permaculture farm to make fertilizer tea. Compost tea is an essential requirement for an organic garden. It is prepared in the following steps:
- Add chopped weeds and water in a large bucket.
- Cover it to keep mosquitoes and other insects out.
- Leave it for about four weeks, but stirring the mixture weekly.
- You should typically use around eight cups of water for every pound of weeds.
- Once the tea is ready, use a sieve to strain the plant material. You can throw out the seeds and leave the rich, nutrient-filled liquid fertilizer.
When your compost tea is ready, dilute with water. Use the mixture as a direct fertilizer by adding it to the soil at the roots of each plant. You can use the mixture for vegetables, blooming fruit plants and new transplants in your permaculture.
You should use the tea immediately after you prepare it, ideally once every fortnight.
The following weeds can be used to make compost tea:
Deep rooted weed which collects minerals such as potassium, and iron from the soil.
High in nitrogen, calcium, folic acid, vitamin A and potassium. It is a legume and as such makes a great soil-enriching mulch.
It is a natural insect repellant, and thus helps your crops avoid insect and fungal infestations. Rich in phosphorus, vitamin A and B, nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron.
They store a lot of nutrients in their roots, mainly vitamin A and C, calcium and potassium.
This weed is rich in growth hormones. It is important to getting young crops through the initial stages of germination.
Weeds are a vital part of permaculture. They can be used as food sources, as mulch and also to fertilize the soil. In permaculture it is best to let the weeds grow and die on their own to avoid disturbing the soil. This may trigger the aggressive growth of some weed species.
Weeds add biodiversity to your garden and can be beneficial to your food crops by helping retain moisture and enriching the soil. Weeds can be a nuisance but they are also a blessing. They can feed you, improve the quality of your garden and repair the ecosystem.