One day this past summer I let the chickens out of their spacious outdoor pen and then took my garden tools to the garden to weed. Sasha, the hen at the top of the pecking order, ran after me into the garden, where she pecked and shook each weed that I pulled up, moving away after about 10 minutes in search of juicier bugs. Redneck stayed by me the rest of the time, clucking softly. Occasionally I’d hold a weed out to her and she’d peck all the green parts off, weeds held in the hand being more attractive, I guess, than weeds with their roots still in the ground.
I love weeding – it is such a meditative activity. It reminds me of the strength and persistence of undomesticated nature, weeds being naturally evolved plants, with traits like tenacity and hardiness bred into them by competition, unlike the coddled and delicate plants we have bred for greater seed, leaf, or fruit output.
There is the ancient equisetum, which once grew in forests 80-100 feet tall! I imagine a thicket of horsetail in a marsh, only 79 feet higher and correspondingly thicker around, too. Their stalks are too siliceous to compost easily, and their tough, black roots have the texture almost of plastic. Yet their tiny buds are plucked off every winter by wild turkeys, so even they feed the local fauna.
Burdock are the royalty of garden weeds, with deep taproots – in uncleared land they may be 5 or 6 feet deep. The taproots are edible by humans, sometimes even sold in the coop or at the farmers’ market. (It may be worth it to buy them, if you’d like to see what they taste like, because the sweetest part of the burdock root is the farthest down. If you try digging it up yourself, I wonder if you’d recoup the calories spent digging one up?)
Babyweed was so named by my in-laws because, when it is a baby itself, it is easy enough for human babies to pull up, roots and all. But when fully grown, its roots have strengthened and the downy fuzz that covers the whole plant has become thick and prickly. I need gloves if I let it get that big.
Wild strawberries are a blessing during a hot June hike up the hills, but almost seem devious in the garden, with their runners sending up new shoots every time you turn around. It is impossible to eradicate every bit of root, and any bit can propagate.
As I weed I think of the permaculture garden I want to plant someday, when Tua and I have our own place: coppiced black locusts (for their blossoms), strawberries, ground beans, raspberry bushes, traveling onions, elderberries, Jerusalem artichoke, thyme, lamb’s quarters, maybe purslane as a ground cover. I’d still need a plot of lettuces, tomatoes, carrots, annual herbs, etc., but it would be good to honor and make friends of the hardy weeds, rather than always banishing them beyond the chicken-wire pale of the kitchen garden.