Weeds

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I’ve learned some psychological coping tricks to deal with weeds.  I learned which are edible and take great pleasure in eating them.  Some I appreciate for the wildlife they support.  Some are eaten by my animals.  And some provide a service of conserving soil by opportunistically covering bare soil.  So I’ve had a laissez-faire attitude toward weeds, but that is changing.

My Dad had an uncle who claimed that velvetleaf, Abutilon theophrasti, seeds could survive in the soil for thirty years, because he hadn’t let a velvetleaf plant produce seed the entire time he had been farming, but he still had velvetleaf weeds in his fields.  So I figured what is the point?  But I’ve let some weeds go to seed and watched the results and am not happy with what I am seeing.

Below is a photo of dozens of small burdock plants in a pig pasture. I had let some large burdock plants go to seed the prior year and the rooting of the pigs provided a perfect environment for the seeds to germinate. Above is a photo of a dandelion and its long taproot, showing you how tenacious some weeds can be.  Weed control is a concern and is moving up on my list of priorities.

 

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7 Responses to Weeds

  1. Dave Perozzi says:

    What prompts you to want to reduce the amount of burdock? Obviously the burrs are annoying and I’ll admit that in the fall they make a field look unkempt. I don’t mean to get sanctimonious saying “Weeds are just plants you don’t understand” or some other patronizing oversimplification. I have several plants that I look on as just plain weeds, such as the velvetleaf you mentioned. Burdock remains a weed if it shows up in my carrot patch, but I don’t see it as a weed in my pasture. I am interested to hear what it is about burdock that puts it in your crosshairs.

    It meets your three criteria (human edibility, pioneer species when the soil has been over-rooted or over-trampled, and wildlife feed over the winter when flocks of wild turkeys eat the seeds) for being an acceptable or at least tolerable weed. I’d also add that it appears to be great cattle feed. My cattle eat it right down to the stalk throughout the spring and summer. An extension agent told me that it is nutritionally equivalent to alfalfa in terms of protein and fiber quality, but I don’t have the data to back that up. In the early spring, after the two-year old plants have partially decomposed, I often uproot them to see what’s happening. The root husks are as big as tillage radishes and usually full of earthworms, so I think they are useful contributors to the underground food web.

    I’m also curious how you extracted that dandelion root intact. That’s an impressive taproot.

  2. Dave, you make some great points! And that’s probably why I wasn’t worried about a few burdock plants last year. But I can see how quickly I could have a solid stand of burdock in my pig pasture.
    Some of the reasons I don’t like Burdock: the pigs don’t like to eat it, unsightly and annoying when the burrs stick to you, and years and years ago we had sows on summer pasture but we didn’t rotate them out of the pasture and when they had eaten everything else, they ate the burdock and we think that is what caused many of the sows to abort their fetuses at that time.
    I haven’t learned to eat Burdock root, but I understand its eaten in Asia, so maybe that’s something I need to try.
    The Dandelion was pulled when the ground was soft in the spring. I thought it was impressive also, hence the photo.

    • Dave Perozzi says:

      That is interesting about the link between burdock and sow abortions. I have noticed that the pigs are much less likely to eat it than the cattle, so maybe there is something about it that disagrees with pigs. If it isn’t practical or reasonable to rotate the cattle through the pig pasture, then I can completely understand how too much burdock (or too much of any number of other plants) could be a problem.
      The point about burdock being human food is the flimsiest of the reasons to keep it, at least for me. There are a lot of plants that are edible, but I’ll be the first to admit that unless I have a cultural appreciation for them as food, I won’t eat them except as a novelty. Perhaps if I had someone prepare a Japanese pork and burdock soup and a few other meals with it, I’d “get it” and I’d be able to adopt it as part of my diet. But without that social and cultural reference point I have a hard time getting into new foods.
      The other challenge to the discussion about edibility is scale. Sure, I can make tea out of goldenrod. But I can make a year’s worth of tea out of the plants that grow in the weeds next to the mailbox. There are five acres of goldenrod out back. I can’t drink that much tea… Same goes for the pasture full of burdock.
      Thanks for putting your ideas on the blog. I’m always interested in hearing what you are doing and thinking.

  3. Edmund says:

    I inherited some mighty impressive stands of pure burdock when I bought my place. Where we’ve been running the cattle burdock is still in the picture, but is much reduced since both they and the sheep relish it.

    Is there anyway to arrange your pastures such that your cattle can take it down for you? Until last year my cattle really went after it primarily for the 2 or so weeks prior to flowering (roughly July 1st through the middle of July where I live), but starting last year they demolished it at every opportunity no matter the season. The seek and destroy habits have persisted in the herd, so something seems to have been learned for good.

    I think the burdock root eaten in asia is a different species? Not sure, but I am sure somebody told me that was the case. I’m too lazy to look into it any farther than that so I’ll just pass along the hearsay for now – If you take management steps to deal with it I hope you’ll keep us updated.

    • Thanks Dave and Edmund. The Burdock is definitely worse in my pig pastures and I use tillage to disrupt, unfortunately Burdock seems to be one of the plants which can persist even with tillage.
      My cattle eat as well, but maybe I’m not running enough pounds per acre because much of it still seems able to set seed.
      I cut a lot of my acres for hay at some point in the season and that will usually prevent seed production for those plants.

  4. Anonymous says:

    About eating burdock: http://www.ediblemanhattan.com/recipes/burdock/

    This woman’s writing style is in the arena called “purple prose” but maybe there will be useful information too.

  5. Karen says:

    Thank you very much Anonymous and Curiousfarmer!

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