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Farming Among The Weeds

WHile the info in hhere might be of little use to anyone not growing rice and barley in Japan, the spirit and intent should be of great value to anyone that gardens. We have often explored the place where weed meets garden here, and many of us are starting to take a less stringent view of volunteer spontaneous plants than we used to.

I was brought to the idea originally by Joseph Cocannouer's Weeds: [url=http://journeytoforever.org/farm_library/weeds/WeedsToC.html]Guardians Of The Soil[/url], so F-san's ideas here were not new or foreign to me, but that is not the case for most gardeners. We have been set against nature at every turn; soil organisms, insects and even the plant world we cherish has earned our enemity.

Yet Nature is trying to set plants in place based on needs in the soil. Ever notice how one weed does well here, another in this condition or that? Nature's every move is designed to build more soil, better soil, with a higher fungal content. The plants select biologies, the biologies adjust the soil, and we get succesion. Our gardening continually pushes back against this improvement of soil towards a more fungal dominance. Yet we would find many of our crops enhanced by that very process.

This year I embraced the weeds. Let the lambsquarters and purselane have their way. Ate a good deal of them in the process and used some for compost. I like lambsquarters as a pot herb very much and nibble and munch when I am in the garden (and often out of it as well). This chapter is one I have embraced for some time, and wonder who else is revelling in the fecundity of weeds... anyone?

HG
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This is the chapter where he talks about the seed balls, how to sow seed when you are leaving your fields mulched. Haven't tried the seed balls yet, but maybe next year....

My favorite part of this chapter is the very last line:

"Ultimately it is not the growing technique which is the most important factor, but rather the state of mind of the farmer [gardener]" !!
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Yes, we can certainly learn a lot from looking at the weeds. Fukuoka said that learning to co-exist with the weeds and understand their yearly cycles was the turning point in developing his natural farming technique. For example, he saw the "seam" in the weed succession in the orchard and planted his summer and fall vegetables just as the weeds were changing over to the new season...actually a little before. He also mentioned that when you see the weeds of a particular family of plants growing well it is a good idea to try vegetables, vines or grasses of the same family. We ate many of the weeds as well, and I still do here in Oregon.
"There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or compose a song" --Masanobu Fukuoka
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What are your weeds of choice on the left coast, Larry?

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I'd put lamb's quarter at the top of my list. Also, pig weed (an amaranth), dandilion, shepard's purse, minor's lettuce and chick weed. May of these are considered oportunistic or "invasive" species, but they perform very useful functions. They cover and hold exposed soil, bring nutrients up from the depths of the soil, provide habitat for birds and insects, to name just a few.

The best writer on eating weeds and other wild plants was probably Euell Gibbons. He is best known for Stalking the Wild Asparagus. His family were refugees of the dust bowl so they needed to learn about wild edibles to survive. Gibbons wrote a delightful article for Organic Gardening and Farming in the "60's about a week he spent eating only weeds in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

A friend of mine, Michael Pilarsky, in Eastern Washington wrote a leaflet about all the many good things "weeds" do for the environment pointing out that "invasive" species may not be all that bad and that, of course, they really take hold in places humans have been active with their plowing, logging and grazing. Anyway, he ended the article with this, "Perhaps I am one of these weeds. I subsist outside the formal economy filling a beneficial role which is not fully understood or appreciated. I am really a thorn in the side of the System. I am not native to eastern Washington, but I am now living here and me and my friends are abundantly reproducing."
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(just dropping by; haven't been able to read for a couple of weeks due to Vergil's second, unplanned surgery :( )

I'm unfamiliar with shepherd's purse or pigweed. I know chickweed, miner's lettuce, and dandelion; I *may* know lamb's quarter :oops: . Gotta look 'em up. Do you know whether shepherd's purse, pigweed, and/or lamb's quarter grow naturally in (i.e., are native to) the S.F. Bay Area?

I've crunched down on miner's lettuce more than once, and it's very nice. My own dandelions, though, grow in the cracks of the sidewalk out by the street. I'd really rather not eat them, so I remove them and they go into the compost pile. I removed chickweed from someone else's garden plot at her request and threw it into her compost pile; I hope her compost runs hot enough to kill any seeds there may have been. She seemed to really want it gone....

Somewhere around here Scott, Mr. Helpful Gardener, and I had sort of an extended discussion about the value of weeds and which ones I eradicate and why....gotta find it.

EDITED to add: Found it at http://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=21366

Running on memory and momentum lately.... (and, clearly, the Search function :wink:)

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I remember looking at some soil samples under the microscope, from the same 20 square foot area. One sample came from the root zone of some invasive mugwort, the other from where the mugwort had been removed 2 weeks or so prior.

I was struck first by the relative moisture - the bare earth was dry, while the earth under the mugwort was damp.

When I looked at the samples under magnification, I saw lots of activity in the mugwort sample, from arthropods to nematodes to protozoa. In the bare earth sample, I saw nothing squirm or swim, and I saw no nematodes.


Ever since, I feel like crying whenever I see landscape cloth.
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I know how you feel about landscape cloth, Toil. At least with sheet mulching the cardboard or newspapers actually stimulates the earthworms and microbes to come to the surface, then decomposes to add to the organic matter. Eventually many of the weeds come back, but they are much more manageable then and the garden plants have gotten a jump on them.

Mugwort grows all over Japan and all over Fukuoka's orchard. I love it, and love the smell of mugwort on a hot dry day. It's kind of sage-like. Once shortly after I got to Fukuoka's farm I cut myself pretty badly with the kama, the short handled sycle (sp?) everyone uses there to cut weeds. It was really embarassing. :oops: Anyway, Fukuoka looked around and pulled off a few mugwort leaves, chewed them up a little and told me to hold it on the wound. It did wonders.

All the edible weeds I mentioned are found in the Bay Area. Pig weed grows very low to the ground. I forgot to mention purslane. Purslane is grown as a garden veggie in France and other places. Up here in Oregon it comes out in abundance in late spring in fields that have been plowed for other crops. Dandilion is suggested all the time by permaculture people as a companion plant with others around trees and in garden beds. Macrobiotic enthusiasts apparently love dandilion (and burdock) because they are so yang. The young leaves are a little bitter but good in a stir fry, later the root is good as a tea. The deep root system loosens the soil and brings up nutrients. Another great tasting treat is the buds and flowers of any of the wild radishes and mustard.
"There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or compose a song" --Masanobu Fukuoka
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I tried growing a bunch of the weeds this year for food and found I like some of them (Drop the word Among from the thread title; I have been farming the weeds! :lol: ) They are often ludicrously easy, incredibly productive and are building soil (as noted by toil's field assay, more plants = more biology = more soil fertility.

Mugwort holds a place in the herbalist tradtitions from around the planet. It is a wormwood ([url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemisia_vulgaris]Artemisia vulgaris[/url]), so has the nervous system reactions noted for abisinthe and other wormwoods, the worming effect noted in the common name, and it has been noted for it's effects on menstruation by Western, Chinese and Ayurvedic herbalists. The tea is noted for inducing dreaming by many cultures.
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Today, I had a chance to read most of "One Straw Revolution."

Much of the garden is already tilled for this year, so it's too late for that part.

However, I do have a spot about 10 foot square which is grass. I think I'll get a dibble which I used to call a sharp stick and plant corn in that area when the grass starts to turn green and see what happens. I don't eat much corn anyway. I just like to watch it grow. So it's very low risk.

I also have hundreds, maybe a thousand pumpkin seeds. So I'll be planting some of those in various places around the yard to see what happens. Maybe just outside the fence in the landscaping rocks. That's about 750 square feet.

Looking around I found a corner where I piled a bunch of brush most of last summer. The soil looks pretty good there now, so I think I'll put some beans and peas there and see what happens.

I'll take some pictures along the way.

Thanks for the book recommendation.

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So glad you did read it. This is my favorite book of all time, and we were so lucky to have Larry here for the reading of it. Glad to see the conversation is still going...

What was your takeaway so far, gershon?

HG
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The Helpful Gardener wrote:So glad you did read it. This is my favorite book of all time, and we were so lucky to have Larry here for the reading of it. Glad to see the conversation is still going...

What was your takeaway so far, gershon?

HG
Wow, what a difficult question. When I read something like this, I try to attach to the concept in the author's mind that can't be expressed in words because it hasn't reached that level yet. In fact, that concept can't be expressed except by examples.

Farming is just an example of his philosophy of life. To restrict it to farming would be to miss the point. One would be looking at just one of his fingers instead of the whole person. To learn what another is teaching, one must do as they are asked without question. If I take the actions in the way he suggests, then perhaps I'll be able to work up to what was in his mind as the actions contain all that was in his mind in a way reading the book can never accomplish.

I may find he was teaching an excellent way of farming. Or he might be teaching something entirely different.

Personally, I cringe at the word "farm." I believe society would be much more efficient if we grew vegetables instead of grass. This could solve many of the water and land issues. It could also greatly reduce the use of oil and many other natural resources. For instance, my vegetables don't come packed in plastic or cans. They don't ride in trucks. They don't sit under lights and get a spray of water every so often to make them look fresher. And they aren't grown by underpaid, abused workers in other countries. I could go on and on.

My only critique is the book makes things seem too complicated.

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Gershon, I really didn't mean to jump on your last statement because the rest of what you said, I want to think about/digest/appreciate a little longer before commenting on it.

But I think when you get past the complicated, what he's saying is really very simple. It's just more... Mindful.

The mainstream gardening/farming/agriculture techniques are, to my mind, much more complicated in the sense of all the things you are "supposed to do", but is "Mindless" in that you --they-- just do those list of things without thinking about it.

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applestar wrote:Gershon, I really didn't mean to jump on your last statement because the rest of what you said, I want to think about/digest/appreciate a little longer before commenting on it.

But I think when you get past the complicated, what he's saying is really very simple. It's just more... Mindful.

The mainstream gardening/farming/agriculture techniques are, to my mind, much more complicated in the sense of all the things you are "supposed to do", but is "Mindless" in that you --they-- just do those list of things without thinking about it.
Feel free to jump. There was a hint of banter when I made the statement.

Jumping back, the translator mentioned that "mindless" as well as "do-nothing" are words that are difficult to translate. There are a lot of hints in the book the concept of "Mindless" is what's called "Bitul" in Hebrew. It's completely emptying the mind of everything so one can be receptive to the seed of an idea that should happen to land there. I'm still working on "Do-nothing."

Neither one of us is likely defining the word the way he meant it. But how we define that simple word changes how we perceive his writings. Yet, from what you said, it seems we are close.

There is something he says I like: "Before researchers become researchers they should become philosophers. They should consider what the human goal is, what it is that humanity should create." He says his way is "to be close to nature." My way is to find my place in nature as simply another insect in the garden. His way is to create. My way is to cooperate with what has been created. The two viewpoints come from different sides of looking at a concept and it's likely I agree with him completely. As I get more experience, I'm more often taking the role of the creator.

I'll leave with a parting thought. There is more pleasure with things that happen in the mind than things that are physical. They are a lot cheaper, too. Each of us is free to choose our own paths as we each have different things to learn. To me, a garden is not a garden. A vegetable is not a vegetable. They are simply physical things I'm presently using to learn other things. In my opinion, his book is not about farming at all. He seems to be using gardening as subject matter to teach something else. If one learns his lessons they will learn many things.

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Larry and I had a discussion on the nature of Zen teaching and how the koanic tradition of nonsensical statement teaching deeper meaning (I.E., "If you meet the Buddha on the road you must kill him" which speaks to both the nature of perception and the strict adherence to doctrine, without addresing either directly) was often part of F-san's repartee.

While this makes the topic seem complex at times, it is the surest way to burn off the false ideas of human hubris. The koan I gave above speaks to not listening to masters, to finding one's own unique way in the world. Fukuoka-sensei would have us observe the place to learn how to grow there, to let the plant, or the "seam" in the weeds or the soil tell us what and how to grow.

So in the end, AS is right; it is not the exact nature of the action, but the mindfulness of doing that becomes important. There is a complex system you must be somewhat aware of, but you do not need to understand the intricacies of the soil food web to do no harm to said system. Once you understand and accept the basic principles behind organics, then GMOs or ammonia salts or deep plowing all become clearly anathema to your paradigm. I do ont need to be a biochemist to understand compost works in the garden, I must simply observe my plants and soil...

Wendell Berry speaks to the role of humans to steward the land, his sense of "husbandry", of how our behaviors can be harmful or helpful. To exclude Man from Nature is the first step in the problem, not the solution; as we industrialized our economy, moving from farming to specialization of labor, we created a disconnect that threatens the very fabric of Nature we count on for sustenance of life. Our lack of connection to the land has allowed us to commit grave heresies and destroy systems that threaten all living things, including ourselves. We have lacked mindfulness...

There is a form of Zen meditation that has you simply keep in mind the action you are currently doing; when walking , think "walking...walking....walking", when eating thinking, "Chewing... chewing...swallowing" and so on through the day, maintianing mindfulness on the actions, no mattter how insignificant or mundane. We must be as aware of our role as destroyer as we are of our role as creator, and obeserve every action with thought to it's consequence. I believe we need to move away from the overheated pressures of economy to the real needs of life; food, water, air, and preserve and repair these things not just for humans but for all beings. As we grow mindful of these others, the answers come far clearer and easier...

But we need not think about it so much, just do it... :wink:

HG
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