I think that industrial ag rapidly, perhaps exponentially, increased the misconception, but i also think that this mindset is somewhat ancient.
Industrial agriculture has long held the view of "competition is bad" in fields and pastures when it comes to growing things. Unscientifically, I would say this bias is the result to being poorly informed about soil function.
If you rob the bank and the getaway car stops at the compost pile, and the finished compost goes back on the garden, is that good, better or worse than dropping it?
In my garden, leaving the root works, but only for sure with annuals... but not all annuals, most.. but not all. It definitely works better if I mulch over the cut plant.
You leave the root in place rather than yank it out and complete the heist.
That would depend on too many factors, depending on the species and the garden locale.
Ok, here's a question... If you rob the bank and the getaway car stops at the compost pile, and the finished compost goes back on the garden, is that good, better or worse than dropping it?
Wow. You must really LOVE purslane in your gardens! Sounds like it's the equivalent of quack grass to me, but I found a place/use for it in my creekside horsetail patch. Horsetail, by the way, is also not at all welcome in my garden. It's nearly impossible to get rid of if it get's established. It's spreading rhizomes are unstoppable, much like Canada Thistle... but at least it is not a prickly bastard. Thistle is the ultimate bane, with quack grass and horsetail neck and neck for a close second. Fortunately horsetail is not nearly as common in my garden, and so I think I will have it done with if I keep on it in the next few years. Quack grass is the one that I deal with most, because of the seed bank. Thistle comes up as a clone from deep spreading rhizomes and as such it takes a while to get it under control but my in garden patch is relatively small compared to the main meadow, where there are acres of the stuff.
I pull it up, and hike to the nearest paved roadway, and deposit the plant onto the hot asphalt: To be scorched, and squished.
What's working for me ATM is:
- plant lots of seeds in a small planting box in a perfect spot;
- when they've grown to overcrowding, transplant them right next to a weed in the garden;
- rip off the top of the weed and place a big leaf on it;
- now the seedling and the leaf/mulch are robbing the weed of sunlight so it doesn't grow. The leaf/mulch is also keeping the seedling's roots moist so it gets lots of water.
I don't have a single weed as large as my veggie plants. I planted lots of dwarf endive which when closely planted gets so thick when growing together that it's hard for anything else to spring up above it.
I just wanted to acknowledge this. This is an important observation by Kyle. Not all garden's and locations are created equal. Do you mulch at all, Kyle? Tim's endive method (or some similar fast growing weedy plant of favor) might be something to try.
One thing I would definitely underscore is something Mike Jay first brought up — water usage. Out here with our sandy soils and dry summers, weeds can quickly decimate other crops around them. They will germinate in a thick mat in the spring, go to seed in a few weeks as the rains stop, suck up all the water in the area, and die off — months before your veggies will have had a chance to mature. If I forget to irrigate for a week, weedy places will be completely dead, while weeded places will be doing just fine.
Also very good observations and comments. It's unlikely that the chopped and dropped plant will be accessed by your garden soil's microbes much unless you live in the tropics, or place it under mulch on the soil surface, or otherwise keep it moist, or you have tons of fast working compost worms in your garden. Compost is pretty much all about making beneficial organisms, and killing weed seeds is a bonus if it's done right. I would strongly suggest chopping weeds before they flower, or just as they begin to, so that they do not go to seed. It should be noted also, that only a properly made hot compost heap will have a substantial effect on strong seeding weed's seeds.
I make compost to breed beneficial organisms, and a compost pile will do that orders of magnitude better than mulch will. At the same time, my compost pile is burning up the fuel that these beneficial organisms need to survive — the same organisms that live in your garden soil that might be able to use that fuel if it were chopped and dropped. At another look, a compost pile can heat up enough to kill unwanted seeds, while chopping and dropping will just leave the seeds in place… I guess I look at it all as a complex equation without an easy answer.
If the land grows good maize without aid, transitioning such land is pretty easy. Instead of the constant heavy removal of it's biomass, a person could harvest the corn off the stalks, leaving them standing, and in the spring plant a cover crop of spinach and greens, and later when it warms up a crop of scarlet runner beans can be planted at the base of the corn stalks, given a little space and light to start with. Corn has a remarkable carbon sequestration in it's roots, and the above ground portions will be slowly incorporated as the beans bring them down. Once the runner beans are done, there will be a good green manure from the greens, as well as mulch of partially degraded corn stalks and runner bean stalks, the mixture of the green manure and the dry stalks makes an excellent sheet compost to plant into next year or as a short late fall crop.
Constantly taking a heavy crop of a field like in a mono-crop of corn or soybeans, is another robbery where the loot is not reinvested back into the field.
I think your opening line states the crux of the issue. Plants need to get established. Often this is a water or light issue. Sometimes heat. I tend to think that if I can knock the vigor of the weeds back a bit through chop and drop (or altogether remove the real troublesome ones that I mentioned), then my plant's thrive, but if I let the weeds have full ground, full tilt, no holds barred, then I end up with some resulting issues with some of my chosen crop plants. Generally though, I have to disagree with your statement. It's a matter of ensuring that your plant's get what they need, sure, but this does not, in my thinking, necessitate a weed free garden.
If during the time your desired plant is establishing itself, growing, or producing your desired output whether it be flowers or crops you have a weed competing with it for nutrients, water, or light it will hinder your desired plant. What happens over the long haul is irrelevant. Don't forget that even if your weeds return nutrients it used while growing, it has still diverted the nutrients while you needed them in your rose or tomato plant.
That's not really what I said. What I said in part is that the chopped plants are not nearly as beneficial if they are left on the surface of the mulch. If the mulch was lifted and the chopped plants were added beneath the mulch where they would stay moist and be readily available to the soil surface, then those nutrients would be nearly all returned (particularly if your soil's worm population included a good proportion of composting worms). But i will elaborate on the sameness or equality or balance of soil nutrition as a result of leaving weeds a bit and chopping them down later on in this post. If you read all my posts (and i know that I wrote a lot of posts and a lot of long posts at that, so if you don't remember it all, that's entirely understandable), then you would be understanding me a bit different, I think, on other aspects of this.
If we're discussing this issue and some say that when you chop and drop a lot of weeds, then what you're saying is that next spring you'll have the same nutrition in the soil that you had last season as the nutrition is returned to the soil by mulching out the weed plants.
And what I am saying, is that the more plants that you have growing (while not decreasing your chosen crop plant's ability to thrive, via shade, lack of moisture, excessively close proximity) the more life that you have in your soil and thus the more nutrition is available, both in the short and long term. Tim's garden is an example of this, as is mine. Others have also corroborated. When you chop and drop the plant at a young age (I recommended several times to not let the plants mature unless you really like that particular species around in your garden), there is an enormous amount of benefit/nutrition that is left in the soil. So I have to disagree with what you are pointing out. These statements that I am making are particularly true, in my way of thinking, if the nutrient base (living soil matrix) is already at a high % level and the living soil and mulch is left as intact as possible (% of non disturbance). The higher these %'s are, the more likely that the soil will retain and drain water at the proper rates according to the needs of the plants, for instance, and also the more they are able to handle tighter spacing because the nutrient load is readily available via the microbial networks. In my way of thinking, the more a gardener does the things that myself and most others have been discussing here, the more life, and thus nutrition, is added to the soil right away. The situation also compounds on itself in a positive way as time goes on.
I'm just pointing out that while the weed is growing this year it's reducing the nutrition available to this years crops.
Certainly air circulation is a part of any permaculture strategy, regardless of whether we are talking about yard, a garden, a house, or an individual plant. Plant spacing is sometimes the factor that contributes to diseases. It has also been proven that plants grown in nutrient rich soils (particularly those rich in micro fungi) are able to provide antibiotics and other medicines to the plants in their exchanges for plant sugars. Bacterial based compost tea sprays, applied to both the aerial (above ground) parts of the plant and the soil or mulch surface, have been also shown to have great benefits to aid disease resistance or to cure the symptoms. Weeds in general, can not be, in my thinking, pointed out as the source of the problems associated with late blight or other diseases. If you find that your spacing is contributing to late blight, then by all means keep your tomatoes clear of most weeds, keep your tomato plants separated by air space, and encourage air flow at every turn where they are growing.
We should also while discussing the idea of what effect weeds have in the garden discuss what they do to air circulation and how that effects the late blight my tomatoes suffer from.
I'm sorry to hear that, John. It sounds like you are doing your best to get those tomatoes happening, and bravo for getting out there and doing it; a lot of people don't when they are suffering with fatigue. I would suggest cardboard and/or mulch to keep weeds down so that you do not have to work so hard at it. There is work in doing that, but in the end you do a lot less, the microbes seem to thrive under this cover, and the tomato roots and their associated microbial life will not be disturbed, thus making your soil system that much stronger/more resilient.
I suffer from fatigue issues and my medication side effect is fatigue. And I have trouble kneeling. I'm sure my neighbor is horrified looking at my garden. I never could hoe, so I resort to using my spade to chop vertically and then take a five minute break after each tomato plant.
Ok. So, even if you are not having a weed free garden, you seem to be saying that you do not approve of leaving weeds in the garden. I, for my part, am not saying that all weeds should be left, or that all weeds need to be chopped, or any other ultimatum about weeds at all, except that they can do good. What I am really saying for the most part is that weeds have the potential to provide great benefit to the garden's soil, if they are utilized to work for you, rather than against you. You still need to ensure that your desired crop plants are getting what they need in terms of space and light and water, but those needs might actually be different if the soil system is being boosted by the weeds being left for a time or for their duration. My thinking on this, and the greater thinking that is being discussed, is that the information about such things that is in most old garden books will be turned on it's head in coming years as a result of what is being discovered about plant-soil and plant-plant, and plant-soil-plant interactions. That is my understanding, and I'm sorry if it troubled you that I implied that your garden is weed free.
I don't know where you got the idea I have a weed free garden.
I'm saying that this quote potentially assumes that you do not want or have weeds in your garden. Sorry if that assumption was false. What I am saying is that I agree with your thoughts: A desired plant should be given all that it needs for nutrients, water, and light, and weeds should be chopped and dropped or brought to the compost heap if they are hindering these essential processes.
If during the time your desired plant is establishing itself, growing, or producing your desired output whether it be flowers or crops you have a weed competing with it for nutrients, water, or light it will hinder your desired plant.
Thanks Tim Kivi for initiating this thread with his question, and for the rest of you for adding to the discussion. This community really is bursting with knowledge; and sometimes it's through a deeper discussion of something like this, that I actually formulate much more solid strategies, and get on them more, myself. Thanks all.
Outstanding posts, Roberto!