I don’t weed much in my big gardens.
I mean, I have to weed right now, since I mistakenly put fresh hay down as a mulch all over the back garden – leading to thousands of hay seeds sprouting aggressive, spreading grass over its entire surface. The no-dig garden has mistakenly become a “dig” garden, as I work to pull out all of these plants. But, in everyday maintenance, I let things slide, and I’m generally happy that way.
So are the pollinators: I have seen bees of every stripe and colour visiting the first dandelions, then the other flowering weeds in the garden in the early spring. Bumblebees, honey bees, mason bees, and even green metallic bees. As this lovely little article points out, dandelions are an important early source of food for all pollinators, helping them start up after winter and keep going until the more nourishing flowers open. And with colony collapse disorder threatening to kill off the human-kept pollinators on whom we depend for a large proportion of our food, it’s becoming more and more urgent to protect what is left of wild pollinator species. Therefore, in order to protect our food safety, leaving patches of wildflowers and flowering weeds is not laziness nor untidiness, it’s kindness to wild creatures and self-preservation.
There are quite a few other serendipities of letting weeds grow as they will and only more-or-less reigning them back when they actively interfere with food crop growth. Among those serendipities:
- when the ground is bare except for food plants, crop-destroying insects have an easier time honing in on those plants, because they operate on sight and scent to locate them, and the less confusing the landscape, the more chances they have to find the plants that you’re so busy trying to coddle into maturity. But with enough biodiversity in the garden, the insects may choose to predate on the weeds instead of your plants, if they’re more tender and tasty – organic farmers operate on a similar principle when planting trap crops, sacrificial plants underseeded around brassicas or other plants vulnerable to predation.
- weed cover gives shelter to predatory animals like toads, lizards and snakes, who help reduce the numbers of slugs and other unwanted insects. I have planted out my tomatoes in the front garden this year, which is less sheltered and wild than the back garden, and already my losses to slugs are heavy.
- letting the weeds get big before they’re pulled means much less work. (That is, if you catch them before they go to seed).
- weeds are only weeds when they’re unwanted plants; yet sometimes, happy discoveries of ‘wanted’ volunteers turn weeds into welcome visitors. If not for a plant identification guide of local species to Quebec, I would have pulled out a bunch of Oenothera biennis or Yellow Evening Primrose, not only not a weed in my opinion but also a medicinal plant whose seeds I had planned to BUY in the future in order to plant it.
More serendipity, less related to weeding and more related to mulching is the fruiting of two morel mushrooms in the front garden:
I believe they are edible morels and not false morels, but I’m not sure of my identification skills so I left them alone. Still, I was thrilled to have them pop up in the middle of the straw!