Weed woes? | Daily News

Weed woes?

Due to ignorance and misinformation, weeds have a bad reputation. Because of this reputation they are perceived as a foe. However, the educated and experienced home gardener knows that weeds are our friends. They are a valuable part of the home garden. Green Thumbs speaks to Founder President of Eco Friendly Volunteers (ECO-V), Kanchana Weerakoon, on Weeds, plants that play a huge role in balancing the garden ecosystem.

First of all, Weerakoon, wished to highlight the common misconception that weeds are valueless and a nuisance. She points out that according to literature, ‘A weed is a plant considered undesirable in a particular situation’ or a ‘plant in the wrong place’ or ‘Plants unwanted in human-controlled settings, such as farm fields, gardens, lawns and parks’.

“Weeds are referred as ‘valueless plants growing wild, especially those that grow on cultivated ground harming the desired crop. They are called ‘undesirable’ or ‘troublesome plants’, growing profusely where they are not wanted. I guess the best way to classify weeds is according to their lifespan. According to lifespan they are categorized as Annuals (the life cycle is short. They usually come out after a rain and then flower and die off) Perennials (they live for a longer period normally more than two years) and Biennials (usually live for two years, producing the flowers on the second year). Even though people call Weeds ‘valueless plants’ I strongly disagree with this reference,” said Weerakoon.

She goes on to add that she doesn’t believe in calling any plant ‘valueless’ or a ‘nuisance’. Some plants are classified as Invasive Alien Species (IAS) according to plant science. However, she understands that all plants classified as weeds in home gardens are very useful in their own ways.

“Lantana camara (Gadapana), Siam Weed (Podi sighnomarang) or Mimosa pigra (Giant mimosa) could be some troublesome plants. But most of these plants are present in larger agricultural lands where there are non- sustainable soil practices (where the soil is disturbed with chemicals and extensive tilling),” stated Weerakoon.

She assures us that whatever we have in our home gardens are 100 percent beneficial if you know the way to wisely use them. Mimosa pudica (nidikumba) is very useful for bees as they have large amounts of pollen. Bees collect pollen as food for storage in the hive. So from one flower they can collect lots of pollen. So by having a Nidikumba more bees will come into your garden. Also Nidikumba is a very useful plant which can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere (Nitrogen fixation is the process by which nitrogen gas from the atmosphere is converted into different compounds that can be used by plants and animals). They have special bacteria to do that in their root system (we call such plants as legumes).

If Lantana camera (Gandapana) bush is in your garden, even though it is classified as Alien Invasive plant, still it’s a great plant to use as liquid fertilizer or pest repellent and also the flowers are a great source of nectar for butterflies. But you have to be careful. When seeds appear at a young age you must pluck them, so no new plants will appear by birds eating them and spreading them in your garden.

“Also once, somebody said Kaladuru (Cyperus Rotundus) is a real nuisance in their home garden. But it is a medicinal plant and if you uproot them there are local ayurvedic shops who are willing to buy them. Once you remove the rhizome they will stop spreading eventually. In my Metta Garden (loving kindness) we cut the grass very frequently so Kaladuru or any other grass can be used for mulching (to cover the bare soil in beds ensuring healthy soil) which is an essential practice in Organic Home Gardening,” pointed out Weerakoon.

So called ‘weeds’ could be a very healthy herbal plant that we can use in Kola Kanda (Monara Kudumbiya) or as a medicine for cuts and bruises (Kepum Keeriya, Tridax) or headache (Thala or Thulsi) or even eat raw as vitamin C (Ambul Ambiliya)

“In the food chain, grass and herbs are the producers in the food chain (Producers make their own food. They make up the first level of every food chain.) So, these are very useful for all kinds of Primary Consumers such as grass hoppers, beetles, and other insects, lizards, frogs or Secondary Consumers like birds and even Top Level consumers like human. Weeds are food sources for many pollinators like bees and butterflies. Without these pollinators the world will be devastated as no food will be produced. Weeds are sources of medicines. Even weeds are medicine for animals (Have you seen dogs and cats eat grass when they have stomachaches?). So, we cannot say that weeds are useless,” explained Weerakoon.

One must definitely not use any weedicides in home gardens. It defeats the whole purpose of trying to have a 100 percent natural Organic Home Garden. Managing whatever weeds you have at your home garden is very easy.

“For instance, if you have a clean beautiful lawn then hand picking the weeds is the best exercise. I have a Heen Udupiyaliya (Desmodium triflorum) in my Garden. It is a great medicinal plant referred to as a weed too. So, weeding in this Udupiyaliya patch is a form of meditation. When my kids were small, I used to do it with both of them and it was a fun activity. That helped me to keep my two boys calm while concentrating on one action for a long time. I still enjoy doing it even on my own. Manual Weeding is good to practice even in your vegetable beds. When you are into weeding you will become more aware - What is this plant? Should I remove it or can I leave it? Who will benefit from those plants? So you are always mindful and this is very important for your mental well-being. This way you will leave plants for other beings such as bees, butterflies and bugs too.”

Weerakoon also explained to Green Thumbs the practice of using Mulch (covering the ground). Another method to avoid weeds is using mulch. When you cut your grass let them dry for few days. Once they become brown you can use them as a mulch on your vegetable growing areas or on beds. Also, you can add any straw, cardboard, brown paper or non-laminated, non-printed cardboard boxes as mulching material which are good manure eventually. It will also control weeds and save soil moisture which in turn too helps earth worms and other microbes in the soil.

“Honestly, you will not need to do any weeding once you practice this for a long period because your garden ecosystem will go into a naturally functioning ecosystem with good practices. In Sri Lanka we are all blessed. About 99 percent plants are beneficial. Mainly, as I said all species in home gardens are herbs or medicinal plants used in our Hela and Ayurveda medicinal systems. If I name a few local names they would be Monrakudumbiya, Wal Koththamalli, Pitawakka, Genda, Ambul Ambiliya, Kaladuru, kapum keeriya, kuppameniya, Thala and Belathana. All these are full of medicinal properties - remedies for diabetes, asthma, allergies, eye treatments, cold and fever,” explained Weerakoon.

In addition to being a good form of exercise, manually getting rid of weeds is quite effective. Once you manually remove them, automatically the soil loosens, increasing the oxygen condition for soil microbes to function effectively. Also, regeneration of weeds will be lower as roots and rhizomes are removed through this method.

“As I mentioned within the home garden environment there is nothing called ‘not beneficial’. They are all somewhat beneficial to humans or/and animals. The best approach is to let them grow and then try to identify what species they are either using a guide book or asking someone who has the traditional knowledge. Then you will learn the benefits of such plants,” said Weerakoon.

Weeds which won’t be of much benefit are those like the Giant Mimosa. It is highly unlikely that you will find this plant in your home garden. All other weeds are either manure that you can add in making compost or you can add them as mulch.

In Organic Farming weeds are a part of the biodiversity. They are referred to as wild plants or natural plants. They play a huge role in balancing the garden ecosystem. They help pollinators and they help other insects. So, once they are not there, then the dependents of these weeds will disappear.

“Weeds are just like other plants. They absorb everything from nature. The only difference is these natural plants or weeds are hardy and reproduce fast. So, their survival rate is much higher than delicate vegetable plants. So, then they will obviously compete with the available resources in the garden. That’s when you have to consciously remove these naturally growing wild plants from your vegetable beds. These are not the ones which are outside of the vegetable beds but those among the vegetable plants that you grow. So, once you remove these naturally growing plants from your beds, the competition for resources is no more.”

Weerakoon ended with these words – ‘Plants need love and care for healthy growth and weeds are plants too. Weeds are not bad. Only humans call them ‘valueless plants’. We must always remember the role they play when it comes to the balance in the home garden ecosystem. 

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