Overstory #3 - Weeds as a Resource
Weeds: A Problem or A Resource?
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. - W. Shakespeare
A very useful design principle is: Turn constraints or problems into opportunities. Weeds are often seen as major problems, and much energy and resources are spent fighting them. But are weeds really the problem, or is our perception of them the problem? What follows is a short exploration of some ways that weeds can be a resource for farmers, foresters, and gardeners.
Beneficial functions and uses of weeds
Weeds are vigorous improvers of land, constantly striving to create more diversity, organic matter, and abundance. Weeds on the land may be accomplishing what Nature knows needs doing there, better and faster than we are. For example:
Weeds support diverse soil microlife
Soil microlife feeds off plants. The diversity of plants on the surface is directly related to the diversity of microflora in the soil. Weeds can contribute greatly to that diversity. Removal of weeds to bare the soil reduces diversity. It is very likely that there is important soil life or function being supported by some family of weed that has yet to be documented. For example, several nitrogen fixing species used to be considered weeds, but are now valued and actively cultivated by many farmers.