Boek : Weeds, Guardians of the Soil

In deze terugkerende rubriek geef ik een uittreksel van een boek welke een bijdrage heeft geleverd aan mijn kijk op Natuurlijk Tuinieren.

Deze keer betreft het Weeds, Guardians of the Soil van Joseph A. Cocannouer. Het volledige boek kan kan hier worden gelezen.

Leeswijzer. Per hoofdstuk heb ik de, naar mijn idee, belangrijkste stukken weergegeven. Wanneer ik naar aanleiding van het geschrevene een opmerking maak laat ik dit voorafgegaan door [Opmerking] om zo het onderscheid weer te geven tussen het boek en mijn persoonlijke mening.

Near the top of the list I place pigweeds, two or three strains, and lamb’s quarter, both familiar throughout the country in garden and field. Under most conditions these weeds are beneficial to the crop with which they may be growing. The same can be said for some of the nightshades, the ground cherry, and succulent purslane. Even some of the noxious weeds, like the cocklebur and bull nettle, are soil improvers where the individual plants have ample room for full root development. Then there is the goldenrod, an attractive weed that can be used in fiberizing gravelly soils, or loose sandy soils. On slopes where water erosion has done its work, the persistent yard purslane along with a few other creeping weeds will do a good job at starting land comeback.

It is possible that no soil-improving weeds in the United States excel the ragweeds, particularly the common annual rag, because the latter will establish itself in practically all types of soil. The giant ragweed, often called the horseweed, is also valuable but is more selective in its habitats. And not far behind the ragweeds are the sunflower, the milkweed, two or three thistles, the annual wild morning glory, stinging nettles, annual smartweeds, wild lettuce, and several wild legumes, including sweet clover, the latter the aristocrat of all weeds. All of these wild plants have root systems that forage deeply into the soil and can be employed as mother weeds, or as green manures in a rotation. All of them are soil builders.

And everyone can learn to be a reliable judge of his own soil. One should form the habit of studying it as one would any other important problem. Look first for the fiber. Pick up a handful of dirt and examine it closely. Fiber must be there to guarantee the sponge structure. The earthworms, healthy and numerous, will also be conspicuous everywhere, as will other worms and insects — if the fiber content is right. If all these agents are there and healthily at work, your soil world is probably functioning as it should.

But don’t be dismayed if you find a stiff clay only, or a soil that for various reasons seems unpromising. Don’t be deceived by superficial appearances! Such soils may still be rich in plant-food materials. Those materials are just not in a condition to be absorbed by the plant roots. Give that land a good dose of fiber — and watch the favorable response you get. Decayed barnyard manure, compost built from manure combined with weeds — or a few well-directed crops of deep-foraging weeds will in time make things right. To conquer and establish balance in heavy, fiberless soils sometimes calls for a real battle. Give weeds a chance to do the fighting. They won’t let you down — if you direct them.

So, with white sweet clover mixed with sour clover and bur clover, together with the weed growth that had somehow survived on the land, we started in to break through the hard layer. The weeds were alfilaria, lupines, poppies, carpetweeds, dandelion — and a few others that seemed to come from nowhere. Among these were a few that did not have to give up immediately the hot days struck. All weeds except the clovers came up of their own accord.

The earthworms, the tunnel makers, not only build air passages but add to the soil’s fertility through their own manure deposits. Earthworms form a link in the fertility chain the value of which would be hard to measure. A weak earthworm population is a good indication that several things are wrong in the soil world.

Of all the operations involved in a successful agriculture, maintaining an unbroken fertility chain in farmlands is decidedly the most important. But the farmer’s soil-maintenance problems are quite different from those of Nature. Whereas Nature in her virgin fields produces and then turns her production back into the soil almost entirely, the farmer produces and harvests, and thus is forced to weaken his soil-fertility chain — unless he carries on permanently constructive soil-maintenance operations at the same time. Most of our food-producing lands have sunk below their primitive strength because farmers have failed to play fair with Nature. Even where quantity production has held up fairly well, quality of produce, compared with what came from our lands several decades ago, is much lower than what producers and consumers realize. The soil-fertility chain has vital links missing!

Removing substances from the soil in order to support life is of course the aim of agriculture; neglecting to keep, up the fertility chain while doing it is poor farm management. It is invariable law that the farmer must put back quantity and quality into his surface soil for quantity and quality removed. That alone will maintain the soil-fertility chain. Rare is the farmer who does not have at his command the very materials that Nature herself uses in maintaining her primeval fertility, and usually in abundance: animal manures, compost materials, legumes and other green crops — and deep-diving weeds.

“Yes, but why weeds instead of farm legumes or some other cultivated crop?” Here again is the answer to that one: because few cultivated crops have root systems that forage extensively through the subsoil — Nature’s cellar storehouse.

Of course, if there is no subsoil from which to pump materials — better dispense with the weeds; unless the weeds are grown as a green manure. There is not much one can do in the rebuilding of one’s land without some sort of a foundation upon which to build.

In improving land with weeds, every sprig of the weed growth should go back into the soil. When weeds are grown alone as a green manure, or when left thinly distributed through a cultivated crop, they should remain on the field as long as possible, but not until they become dry. The weeds should go under while green, yet be given the maximum time to store up materials that have been gathered in the lower soil zones. In this way man is able to improve on Nature’s excellent practices. In the wild, the weeds normally can go back into the soil only after they have decayed above ground.

It is quite possible to have a complete fertility chain so far as the number of links is concerned, and yet have a soil that is not functioning satisfactorily, though the physical condition may be good. Such a condition may obtain when some of the links in the chain are weak while one or more are overly strong. This results in an unbalanced soil. Occasionally a farmer will throw his soil out of balance by pursuing the wrong course in an effort to strengthen the fertility of his land; by overbuilding one or more links to the neglect of the others.

In short, in maintaining the soil-fertility chain, or in keeping up soil balance, watch the fertility chain as a whole. Don’t emphasize some links to the neglect of others that are just as important. It is actually true that a soil is no stronger than its weakest fertility link. Keeping a balance in the fertility chain is practical agriculture at its best.

But — weeds are not mushroom soil builders. Keep mind that weeds, aside from pumping much valuable material from the lower soils up to the surface, also do very constructive work by fiberizing the lower soils. Often it may require several weed crops before any noticeable benefit appears in the cultivated crop above ground. But in due course the weeds, if kept on the job, will re-establish land balance.

because the green parts indicated what was taking place down in the soil. The various leaf changes meant specific root changes; appearance of flowering buds and later of flowers told us what kind of growth the roots were making. Every farm boy knew that, if the weeds were growing thick, like a jungle, most of the roots were feeding close to the surface of the ground. But if each weed had ample room for unrestricted growth, by the time the plants were a foot tall the roots were foraging far from home.

[Opmerking] Als onkruid volgroeien (er komen knoppen in), dan geeft dit aan dat de wortels op zijn sterkst zijn. Door ze er dan uit te trekken breng je schade toe aan de planten in de directe omgeving. In dat geval zou je het onkruid moeten snoeien.

A few domesticated crops, and practically all herbaceous wild plants that I have listed as valuable weeds, appear to have two distinct groups of feeding roots: those which secure their food entirely in the surface soil, seldom wandering far from the base of the mother plant, and which usually are vigorous only during early growth; and those rovers that go far for food and water.

Practically all weeds do have plenty of roots that feed in the surface soil, and until the deep feeders are well established in the lower soils the former will get their share of the food materials near the surface of the ground. Once the deep feeders are settled to their task of feeding down below, however, most of their feeding is done down there — unless the subsoil is extremely weak. From then on, provided the weeds don’t crowd each other, they will more than pay back to the cultivated crop all they robbed it of.

And now the question: what is it about weeds that makes it possible for them to do all this soil-improving work not possible with most farm crops? If weeds are directed, or even if given a fair chance to go it alone, they will establish that reserve referred to above, through the fiberizing of the subsoil.

Most wild plants have been forced, through their struggle for existence across the ages, to develop roots which will forage deeply for food and water under adverse conditions. The larger portion of domesticated crops, by virtue of their having been more or less pampered by man, have lost most of the soil-diving ability possessed by their wild ancestors — if they happened to come from wild ancestors. What has happened is that most crops have received their improvement above ground; their root systems have grown weaker with civilization. The root vegetables are exceptions, of course. As a rule crop roots are not fighters in soils where it requires a real struggle to make a go of it.

To repeat: a crop growing in a weedy field, provided the weed crop is reasonably thin, will go through droughts better than crops grown on clean land. Moisture comes up along the outside of the weed roots; many crop roots accompany the weed roots into the lower soils and thus secure extra moisture in that manner; and the weed growth checks evaporation from the surface soil.

One of Nature’s valuable laws is that two unrelated root systems do better when growing together than when either is growing alone. There are, of course, occasional exceptions to this. The wild growth in forest or meadow shows the law wonderfully in operation. Nature keeps her soils in complete balance largely in this manner. Wherever one species of plant occupies an area alone, it will usually not long survive. My boyhood weed cove was an exception. Ordinarily the single species gives way to a mixed growth. And this mixed growth is likely to hold its own for a long stretch of years. This is Nature’s system of crop rotation. But she needs to do much less rotating when the roots are dissimilar.

In maintaining her green carpet on the earth, Nature wastes nothing. For instance, some plants secrete strong substances from their roots (substances which are apparently not useful in the dissolving processes) which, if left in the soil, will prove injurious to some unrelated plants as well as to the plants exuding the materials. But many unrelated plants find these substances in no way harmful when contacted by their feeding roots. Actually, the substances may be taken up by these plants as food. Or if not as food, certainly with no ill effects. A few members of the sorghum family leave in the soil considerable toxic material. In the irrigated sections of the west it often takes two or three cropping seasons to eradicate this poison. However, when legumes are grown with the sorghum, the land rarely registers any lowering of production during the following season. The legumes seem to take care of the poison left by the sorghum.

And weeds — every one of our soil improvers — will also take care of those toxic materials. I remember a field of grain sorghum that was given little or no cultivation, with the result that the weed crop was more conspicuous than the sorghum, though there was an excellent crop of sorghum growing among the weeds. The land produced heavily the following year, a crop unrelated to sorghum, but an adjoining field that had been kept free from weeds on the same type of land did not do so well. The weeds strengthened the land and took care of the sorghum secretions at the same time.

Now to summarize the values of deep-diving weed roots: (1) these roots are persistent explorers in a rich world which is to a large degree unknown to domestic crops — until the weed roots build highways leading into it. Thereafter the crops are provided with a more extensive feeding zone. (2) The weed roots pump those “lost” food materials back to the surface soil; (3) the weed roots fiberize the subsoils and (4) help to build a storage reservoir down there for water; water moves up along the outside of the weed roots — up to the surface soil and the thirsty crop roots which feed in the surface layer. That is why a crop on “controlled” weedy land can go through a drought better than a clean crop on similar land.

But there is one thing that we do know with certainty: anything that interferes with the constructive laws of Nature down there in the soil world is going to stir up trouble.

— 6 —

“A right cultivation of weeds, therefore, will do much to promote soil fertility — Raise the quality of a weed crop in a garden and quality in the vegetable crop will be a foregone conclusion, FOR THE TWO ARE INTERDEPENDENT — Seed saved from the best plants (weeds) should be sown on land which is carrying a poor weed crop — It is my rule never to deprive the soil of weeds for longer than is absolutely necessary — During the course of the growing season there is room for both crop and weeds — I have never found that CONTROLLED weeds interfere with the crop — ”

Controlled weeds! Farmers and gardeners should not get the idea that companioning weeds with crops indicates a careless system of farming. It is true that with some crops the weeds can be permitted to go their own way; allowed to grow how and where they please, and still they will do constructive work. But as a general practice the weeds must be controlled for consistently beneficial results. They should be thinned so there is no crowding in garden or field of the domestic crop, and no crowding of the mother weeds themselves. It is the vigorous root system of the weed that does the valuable work, and those roots must have room to develop. That means weed spacing of one, two, or more feet, depending upon the type of soil and the kind of cultivated crop, as well as upon the weeds employed as the companions. With garden crops, weed spacing is even more important than it is with field crops, because vegetables as a rule are more sensitive. Extra work? Surely! To rebuild land, as Nature does, spells work.

The weeds in the field were superior as food weeds, just the same as any crop is better when it is given a bit of attention during the growing period. In the field soil the weeds grew fast, he said, and produced an abundance of tender leaves and stems, whereas the wild weeds became tough soon after they had made a little growth. To make sure that their weeds would grow as they wished them to grow, the squaws thinned their weeds a little. This gave the weeds a chance to grow larger roots, and when weeds had large roots they were able to go down into the soil for water, which in turn kept them green and succulent longer.

In answer to my question as to whether he had really meant that the weeds were not harmful to the corn and pumpkins, John came back even more decisively. The corn and pumpkins were not harmed by the weeds that the Indians grew as food weeds, which, as I recall, generally meant two strains of pigweeds, lamb’s quarter, sunflowers (for their seed), a variety of wild lettuce, purslane, and milkweeds. John had all his life seen the harvests from clean fields such as white men always had near the agency, and he had been brought up near weedy fields. When the weeds grew the Indian way the weeds never reduced the production of the planted crop. Indeed, Indian John said he had come to the conclusion that the weeds helped to produce more corn and pumpkins in some of the fields with which he was familiar.

So I learned from this Indian farmer that he had discovered through trial that weeds, when they produced strong roots that spread through the ground, were better anchorages for his soil than were his corn or beans or squashes. He was more scientific than Indian John, since the Mexican controlled his weeds very definitely in order to accomplish his purpose. The large weeds, aside from being soil preservers, also served as mother weeds for his vegetables, though he wasn’t quite sure just how they helped his pimientos and calabasas.

In companioning weeds with his growing crops, whether in the garden or in the larger field, the farmer or gardener should be concerned first with what the weeds will do to his immediate crop; second, he should be interested mostly in what they can do toward improving his land. If his land is already fairly productive, he will probably be more concerned with the immediate effect of the weeds on his growing crop. In this situation, his problem will be to use the weeds in a way that will help his soil and his growing crop, too. But if his soil is seriously eroded or otherwise depleted, he should take a long-range view of his problem. He should be chiefly interested in the permanent improvement of his land, even if the weeds would seem to be temporarily injurious. What he loses through this severe soil-building period will be more than paid back later.

Sunflowers also do not serve well as mothers in a garden, owing to their height. But both ragweeds and sunflowers scattered through farm crops do a lot of good. I have no doubt that sunflowers, growing in a Kansas cornfield as companions of the corn, have across the years meant many an extra bushel to the farmer who could never get round to cut them out.

And as a final word about mothering crops with deep-rooted weeds: don’t expect miracles, especially if your soil has received one-sided treatment for a long stretch of years, or no constructive treatment at all. If you approach this type of farming seriously, you will discover that you have a means of improving your land — and doing it without harming your main crop. All of the weeds mentioned so often in these discussions make excellent mother weeds — if you control them.

However, anyone who expects to take a mediocre or poor piece of land and get a good crop of vegetables from it solely through mothering the vegetables with weeds, is likely to be in for some real disappointment. The weeds, if handled correctly, will do constructive work in the soil — but they won’t perform magic. Nature is no magician; she is a slow, reliable builder. One never loses by following her laws.

— 7 —

Soils, like dwelling houses, need an occasional overall cleansing, no matter how fertile the land may be. As stated elsewhere, toxins or toxic substances often get into the soil, either through running the same crop on the land for a long period of time, or as the by-products left from organic decay, or through poor tillage practices. Wherever vigorous bacteria are abundantly present, as they always are in a normal soil, some toxic substances may result from their work. These substances are not food materials, and though not harmful to some crops they can be more or less injurious to others.

But I am certain that weeds, handled properly, will both purify land and enrich it at the same time.

What is needed in a great number of such cases is an all-round cleansing of the soil. Which is the same thing as saying that the land needs to be turned over to weeds for a season. And don’t forget that the weeds must always be worked back into the soil, else soil depletion may be the harvest instead of soil purification.

On most land, particularly weak land, annual weeds used in a rotation should be given two years to make a start. The first crop is likely to have a tougher job than any of the subsequent ones. Growth may be scanty owing to a scarcity of weed seed — if there was no planting of the weeds; or the surface soil may be so weak in fiber that it bakes readily, thus choking the young weeds soon after they come through the ground; or the subsoil may be extremely hard to drive through. It will often take a second crop even when the weeds are given all possible encouragement, or maybe a third or fourth crop, before much constructive work can be in the lower soils.

And abandoned or badly eroded land may require more than four years before there will be enough deep divers to accomplish a great deal. On such land all available weed seed should be planted copiously. In most cases the weed growth, after once well established, should not be left on the land more than two years. The valuable weeds in such situations commonly drop in efficiency after the second year of heavy growth, because by then less valuable weeds start taking over. The deep divers become thinner and thinner, and grass, a more persistent fighter after the weeds have strengthened the soil, creeps in. While this habit of grass is desirable in pasturelands, it has no place in cultivated fields.

Owing to the fact that most soils are likely to be deficient in nitrogen, the element which is the basis of the valuable protein in plants, it will be better to turn the weeds under when the majority of them are at the flowering stage. The nitrogen content of the leaves and stalks is generally greatest at this period. Since this valuable nitrogen has been gathered from the subsoil below the reach of most cultivated crops, a lush growth of weeds worked into the surface soil may add more nitrogen than a growth of legumes which supply the nitrogen through their nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

“Coarse materials should not be applied directly to the soil; they should be processed in the manure pits first. If the latter operation is not practicable, the green materials should be cut and permitted to start decay before inculcating them into the land. One is unkind to the soil who asks it to do the work which has been assigned to the farmer. The soil’s work is to feed the plants. It cannot take on the extra work without lowering crop production.”

In other words, green crops should be cut or broken down and permitted to wilt before working them into the soil. This may seem like an unimportant operation. The wilting of the weeds, I mean. Yet it can easily mean the difference between quick decay and having the materials lie in the ground a long period before disintegration is complete. If the fermentation is permitted to start above ground, the decay processes will usually continue without check until the stuff reaches the fiber stage.

Where possible, weeds should be put to work along with barnyard manure or compost in order to hasten the job. If the land is extremely obstreperous and the weeds do not move in readily, it is good gardening to help the weeds take hold. Gather the seed of desirable weeds and plant them.

To supply “weed mothers” most advantageously to the garden — or weeds for special green manure — as has already been suggested, the gardener should know exactly the month or months that the most valuable weeds make their best growth. With this knowledge, when he has ample garden space it is often possible to get a fine green manure, made up entirely of weeds, on the part of his garden where he plans to plant his late vegetables. If he is in a region where there is time to permit the weed growth to remain until strong root systems have had a chance to develop, the land will be greatly improved for whatever crop or crops are to follow the weeds. The weeds in such a case will need to be severely disked or otherwise broken up, and permitted to wilt before being inculcated into the soil. Then the land should be double disked, or given an extra spading if the garden is small, so as to destroy large air spaces. Such a weed crop will enhance the productivity of the land more than anything else, with the possible exception of an abundance of well-rotted barnyard manure or correctly built compost — or a combination crop composed of inoculated legumes and annual weeds.

The gardener can use these summer leftovers in various ways, but the best procedure is to turn them directly into the soil unless he is in a position to make them into compost.

In any case, he shouldn’t burn the stuff. Burning, since the ash is left on the ground, is of course better than carrying the rubbish off; but burning destroys the fiber which is probably what the soil needs more than fertilizer.

I am convinced that a weed-legume combination is best as an unfailing system of soil improvement. A crop of inoculated legumes, interspersed with annual weeds, both growing vigorously as companions, is the superb fertilizer for building up and holding the fertility of soil. This is a system of manuring that can be adjusted to all conditions where plants will grow at all, for there are both legumes and annual weeds adapted to nearly any condition. These companions need only to be put to work.

Green manuring land with weeds, if the greatest value is to be obtained from them, may call for weed treatment other than that of turning the weeds loose to grow as they will. Thick growths may have to be thinned in order to encourage the growth of strong root systems. However, with a dense growth of healthy weeds, a fairly large percentage of the plants will fight their way down into the lower soils. Nature will employ her soil builders constructively — if man gives her a chance to put her laws into operation without any interference from himself.

— 8 —

Grass has the power to rout the weeds when conditions are right for the return of the grass. This is also an interesting segment of the weed-grass cycle. Grass can conquer the weeds when the soil is rich in fiber. It is not uncommon to hear farmers complain about weeds killing out their grass. “Looks like my pasture is goin’ to be all weeds pretty soon! Weeds are killin’ out my grass more every year.” Just the reverse is really the case. The grass gives way because the soil particles have run together, thus destroying the porosity so essential to grass roots. When this happens the weeds take over — and do the very things that Nature has assigned them to do. Sometime later the weeds will be replaced by the grass. Wild meadows all contain weeds, and many of those weeds are constantly shifting about in the meadow or pasture; imperceptibly improving weak spots so the grass can move back.

But the chief value of weeds in grasslands comes from their fiberizing powers; from their ability to strengthen the weak spots in the upper layer of soil, and to fill those spots, as well as the lower soils, with fiber.

I have been asked many times where the grass came from. The fact of the matter was, a goodly portion of the grass crowns had not succumbed completely. Now, with the soil improved by the weeds, when the rains returned green shoots quickly appeared, coming out of the dead-looking clumps. There were grass seeds everywhere, too, just waiting for those favorable conditions in order to sprout. This new grass added immeasurably to the rebuilding.

Weeds, and probably grass also, seem to produce two kinds of seed at the same time: seeds which sprout readily when growing conditions are favorable and which play the main role in maintaining the life cycle of the plant; and seeds which seem to germinate best under abnormal conditions — when that particular species of plant is facing a severe struggle of some sort. Some weeds produce seeds that lie dormant for a long period of time, though sprouting conditions may appear to be excellent.

Nature makes certain that no situation can arise where varieties of weeds are not there and ready to go to work when necessity calls. Only when the land has been completely peeled by erosion, and the surface soil together with all weed seed has been carried away, will there be a complete dearth of weeds on the land.

As already pointed out, the death or weakness of the grass, even where overgrazed, is likely to be due to the soil’s having compacted. The grass cannot come back permanently until the soil has been refiberized; made porous. This, Nature, if left to go it alone, will do with her weeds. Man can help with domestic legumes, particularly those that have strong root systems. Clover along with several other legumes will do the fiberizing work, whether planted along with the grass or before it. The grass roots will follow the clover roots down into the soil to a fair depth, and from then on will do their own fiberizing; will build their own permanent sod.

The legume-grass combination will work the same as the weed-grass combination in pasture improvement. If weeds have already taken over and done a fair job of fiberizing, the clover should still be planted for the quick nitrogen it can supply. Young grass needs an abundance of nitrogen, and the weeds and clover will take care of that.

— 9 —

One of Cato’s most interesting — and certainly progressive — agricultural principles was that the raw materials must always be composted before being inculcated into the soil. This, he claimed, saved the plant roots from having to do a lot of extra work that was not directly connected with the production of crops. He wanted plant food materials served ready for immediate consumption. No raw manures or other undecayed ingredients should ever be applied directly to the soil.

The only reason I could discover why the Chinese were partial to the green material was because the processing was quicker. A few farmers I talked to also considered the “green compost” more quickly available when applied to the soil. I found only occasionally a Chinese farmer who was building or had built what he considered a complete compost, though any of them could tell you all about Chinese composts. Green weeds would be the best possible materials for making composts, they say, but these are no longer to be found in sufficient abundance on the hills. As a general rule, like the old Chinese woman already described, they chop up the small amount of green stuff they are able to gather and apply it directly to the soil.

The town gardener, though his plot may not be larger than a four-by-ten table, should learn how to build compost the Howard way, and then use it for all it is worth along with green weeds turned under occasionally, and with mother weeds in his plots wherever the latter is practicable.

As a compost gardener, the town gardener will then never burn the leaves from his street trees. Fallen leaves are tops as compost material. Aside from containing excellent fiber, which all soils need, tree leaves are rich in minerals. Do not forget that tree roots delve deeply into the soil for food and moisture. They bring up enormous quantities of these food substances, a goodly portion of which go back to the soil when the leaves fall, after having completed their work as the food-processing laboratories of the plant.

Being unable to meet all the requirements for an ideal compost mixture should not deter one from doing the best one can. Weeds and leaves alone will give back a very desirable fertilizer. If you have some reasonably good dirt handy, just build a three-layer stack as follows: weeds, leaves, soil; weeds, leaves, soil, etc. Or, weeds and soil; weeds and soil. Where manure is used, weeds, manure, leaves; weeds, manure, leaves, work out well. The point is, make use of those lawn mowings, fallen leaves — all stuff that will decay in a reasonable time — for making a better fertilizer than you can possibly buy.

— 13 —

In planting weeds, a farmer must keep in mind that weeds are very decidedly weeds. Which is to say that their habits are wild. The seed should be scattered over the surface of well-packed or hard ground, not on land that has been freshly plowed. The best time to plant weeds is just before or during a rain in early spring, or in winter when there is snow on the ground. Scatter the seed over the snow and forget about them. While many weeds, such as sunflowers and lamb’s quarter, plant easily, some of our best weeds are unpredictable. If they don’t grow the first time, you may have to “try again” several times.

Harvesting crops from poor land that is under specific treatment is as a general rule not advisable. Neither should such land be pastured until it is well on its way toward normal productivity. Best to put everything back into the land until normal fertility is restored.

— 14 —

My claim for weed values rests entirely upon this basic law of the togetherness of things in Nature. It would be contrary to Nature’s law of harmony, for instance, not to have any means of bringing back to the surface the food materials that constantly trickle into the lower soil regions. It is true that capillary water lifts much of this material back to the surface, but soil conditions must be right before capillarity can take place efficiently. Deep-foraging weeds will fiberize the lower soils and thus help capillarity. And weeds are not robbers, save in some instances where they are uncontrolled. Instead, they are Nature’s most important means of preventing waste!