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Sssshhh! The weeds are telling us something!

 
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I have stumbled across this concept on a few of Paul's podcasts and occasional posts here, but I can't seem to find anything comprehensive on Permies, so thought I would ask. There is a lot of talk about weeds as indicators of soil condition, eg this at Homestead.org, but let's say you have a particular type of weed growing really well in a location - is there a good permie plant that you can swap in for that weed that would avoid you having to do much additional work, and that would love that soil/location as it is, in the same way that that weed did? (I'm assuming here that it's really a weed that doesn't provide a useful function as such).

Example - I'm told (haven't verified this yet) that globe artichokes love the sorts of conditions that big thistles love. So I have a couple of thistles, and was thinking of just swapping in the globe artichokes into those exact locations. Dandelions often indicate nice conditions for lettuce (again, I have been told; it could be nonsense).

So, Permies, what are your favourite and most productive "weed exchange" hints? Or is this information tabulated somewhere?
Thanks!
-Shane
 
Shane McKee
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Someone (forget who) posted a helpful reply about what the weeds tell us about soil conditions; it seems to be missing now
However the real question is this: *regardless* of what we think about the soil, are there particular swop-in/swop-out species that work well? So if I see a big thistle, I think "great globe artichoke place" (for instance). While I'm all for microclimates, there are probably micromicroclimates that from a practical perspective don't need any more analysis than "that'll do rightly".
Anyway, I'll replace all my thistles with globes and let you know how I get on
-S
 
pollinator
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Well, in our case the thistles told us that the sheep overgrazed through the winter!

I'm not planning of swapping globe artichokes into their grazing areas, though we will be changing their grazing patterns.
 
Shane McKee
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Michael, ha! Expensive sheep fodder, I think
 
Michael Cox
pollinator
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Well, if they don't eat it (they don't eat true thistles after all) I perhaps could have them in the pasture!
 
steward
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Currently, I am working on reading Gaia's Garden. A similar concept is discussed in the book. As Toby Hemenway describes, you want to occupy or fill all the ecological niches within your permaculture garden. As a result, no "weeds" will have room in your ecosystem. Following that idea, your best plan of action is to gently dig up a specimen of the "weed" , find out the species, look up its niche, and observe its role in the garden. Then, you can find another species more palatable for you that fulfills the exact same niche in the ecosystem.

I really like the resource that you found at Homestead.org. I think many other people would appreciate it.

Since you are talking about cutting down on the work load, there are many ways of allowing your desired species to gain a foothold in fighting the "weed" for that ecological niche. If you are not too picky about how many things are eaten, you could use a chicken tractor technique or release a few of your grazing animals on the patch of land with "weeds". If you do not have any grazing animals, you could ask your neighbors if you could borrow their animals for a day or two. Otherwise, you could use Ruth Stout's method and add mulch on top the "weeds" to shade them and enhance the soil, or you could place a black piece of cloth or plastic over the "weeds" and wait for them to be shaded out that way.

For identifying your "weed", the USDA has a great plants database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/
Also, with the database, you can try searching for a plant that you would like to replace the "weed" with.

If you just want to do plant-on-plant warfare, you would have to choose a plant that you like that is a bit more aggressive in that ecological niche and let it outcompete the weed for the niche. I have oregano, sage, and peppermint sharing a big container in my container garden at home, and as I should have expected, the peppermint is winning. As a result, I have started emergency propagation of the sage and oregano to save some for planting in two separate containers. The way they are being propagated is through simple cuttings dipped in raw honey as the rooting hormone and then set in mason jars filled with water so that they do not dry out while rooting.

I have not gotten to test too many permaculture techniques because I am still in high school, but it is very interesting to read and learn about.

If you are looking for tabulated information on weed exchanges, I think the forest garden section of the forums would be the most likely to contain a thread about about it.
 
Shane McKee
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Thanks Dave. Some great ideas there (the chickens are among my favourite weeders ). You're still in high school and doing all this along the way? Good work - sounds like the next generation of permaculture is in excellent hands! Keep it up

*allows self to harbour some hope for the future*
 
Dave Burton
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Thank you for the compliment Shane. Yes, I am trying to learn as much as I can about permaculture because it piqued my interest so much when I learned about it in my APES class (AP Environmental Science). If things go as planned and I get my college visits done by mid-July, I might have enough time to take the online PDC provided by PermacultureVisions and get certified before my senior year of high school starts.

I looked at a hardiness map of Ireland and Northern Ireland appears to be mostly an 8a with a little 8b and 9a.
The Royal Horticultural Society's database has more information about growing conditions for globe artichoke and thistles. A link to their database is below:
http://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/

Now from my search on their database, it appears that the globe artichoke grows slower than the thistles do, but when globe artichokes are mature, they will be able to shade out the thistles. In addition, globe artichokes are prone to snails, slugs, and blackfly damage unlike thistles which have only two pests- whitefly and slugs. So they may require a bit more attention during the growth stages and some pests' predator habitat if you are going to be the main consumer of the artichokes.
 
steward
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Here's a couple of links/sources.
Here's an archived thread on permaculturenews
As soon as I see lots of creeping buttercup, I can be pretty confident the soil is compacted, waterlogged and acidic.
I haven't found many reasons to like this plant; the bees enoy the flowers, but that's about it in my experience!
The only way I've seen to manage it with anything like a long-term affect
is to add an enormous amount of organic matter like chipped tree mulch to improve drainage and reduce compaction.
Makes it a lot easier to pull too...
 
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I read that cherries and oaks share some of the same fungal associates. When I took a head-sized oak root out (a bushy 4 ft tall oak pioneer), and planted a Nanking Cherry in the exact hole i took the oak out of, that particular Nanking Cherry is doing the best of the 12 that I planted. I also planted some chestnuts in black cherry holes, they are doing no better than the other chestnuts as far as i can tell. Of course, chestnuts have very different fungal associates than many other species. From now on, the pioneer oaks are telling me "plant fruit here".
 
pollinator
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One of the more interesting books on weeds came from the Acres USA publishers:

Weeds, Control Without Poisons by Charles Walters Jr.

Definitely oriented to what the weeds are telling us.
.
One catch, it's mostly weeds you would find in the middle of the USA down into Texas. What I have here in FL isn't in there very much. that's OK though IFAS here does good work along these lines.

Still a great read overall.

Another book on weeds from them:

https://bookstore.acresusa.com/collections/spotlight/products/weeds-and-why-they-grow

Their articles:

https://www.ecofarmingdaily.com/eco-farming-index/


The Acres USA folks were on to the problems in industrial agriculture quite early, and published a number of books on how to do differently:

https://www.acresusa.com
 
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Shane McKee wrote:There is a lot of talk about weeds as indicators of soil condition-Shane



There's a couple of sources I have for soil indicators, one from Patrick Whitefield and another from Sepp Holtzer, there are a few other useful ID bits in this Google Photo's album too...

https://photos.app.goo.gl/zkGH1Qn2o6GjY6hGA

Use a plant identifier like Pl@ntnet to figure out what you've got, here's the web version https://identify.plantnet.org/ a version of which will also run on a smartphone.

Trying to find plants can take you on journeys beyond your borders.  The most frequently used climate classification map is that of Wladimir Köppen, presented in its latest version 1961 by Rudolf Geiger. A huge number of climate studies and subsequent publications adopted this or a former release of the Köppen-Geiger map. http://koeppen-geiger.vu-wien.ac.at/present.htm check the classification for your spot (it'll be a certain colour) and look elsewhere on the globe for the same to see what grows there, you may make some discoveries of new plants to use! There’s a downloadable .kmz file for Google Earth Pro.
 
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Dave Bross wrote:Another book on weeds from them:

https://bookstore.acresusa.com/collections/spotlight/products/weeds-and-why-they-grow



Came here to recommend this one, When Weeds Talk. It's an extremely useful book. A bit of front matter, then basically a printed-out spreadsheet of every conceivable unwanted volunteer with what conditions are its favorite for volunteering. If you get a list of what weeds are appearing on a site, you can convert that into quite a good understanding of what minerals and other conditions exist. Also great for figuring "what's wrong with this little patch here?".

When Weeds Talk
Jay L. McCaman

$25.00
MODERN CLASSIC
This is the 2nd edition of the book formerly titled Weeds and Why They Grow. Acres U.S.A. has long shown that weed control lies in fertility management. Every weed grows in a somewhat narrow window of allowable soil conditions. For the first time, hundreds of weeds of commercial importance are detailed along with the chemical analysis of accompanying soils. For example, burdock grows in soils with very high levels of iron and sulfate, very low levels of calcium and manganese. Balance the soil, lose the weed.

SKU 6149. Copyright 2013, spiral-bound softcover, 143 pages.
 
steward
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For others that might be interested, this book:

https://permies.com/wiki/44461/Weeds-Ehrenfried-Pfeiffer

This article from the Permaculture Research Institute helps us learn about reading the soil using weeds:

https://www.permaculturenews.org/2017/04/14/using-weeds-read-soil-basic-concepts-get-started/

Weeds are becoming a more and more appreciated component of gardening. We have been reintroduced to eating the weeds, with things like dandelion leaves becoming a niche crop. Also, we are encouraging plants that, up until recently, were viewed as weeds (dynamic accumulators like comfrey and pioneering legumes) to revitalize our soils. And, many gardeners are once again celebrating weeds as a means of reading the soil.



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I've been doing some local observing, and under my trees, the weeds are a lot of different clovers, and things in the mint family.  So I'm planting some red clover and mint under my trees for the teas for humans.  Dandelions and sorrel I mostly leave for the greens . . . I wish I could say that the snakeberry strawberries could be subbed out for human edible ones, but they seem to need more sun than the ones growing under my trees.  At least for production.  I haven't had luck trying to grow chamomile or feverfew either, although I have  seen their weedy relatives growing under trees . . . they live for a while but then die out.
 
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