People are often shocked when I say that weeds are okay or that
I like weeds. There is the idea out there that the only good weed
is a dead weed, but I disagree. Now don't get me wrong, I'm am not
saying to let your property, garden and yard grow up in wanton weeds.
As a gardener, you have to keep some semblance of control or succession
will overtake you on the way to the climax forest, which is the
ultimate goal of nature.
So let me cover myself here. Weeds can be very troublesome pests
and will need a good deal of control. Too many weeds will take the
moisture, nutrients and light from the plants of choice. Weeds are
pushy and aggressive, and if you do not use a great deal of discretion,
they can get the better of you. They can harbor insect pests, but
they also give shelter to beneficial insects, so that about equals
You need to practice selective growing, with the goal not to eliminate
weeds, but control them. Most of the common garden weeds go hand
in hand with gardening, because the weeds also like the rich, moist
soil of a garden. I encourage you to learn what the weeds are and
what they can be used for.
Deep rooted plants like dandelion, lambsquarter, thistles and pigweed
go deep into the subsoil and pump up minerals from down beyond the
root range of most garden plants. Weeds, when they are young and
succulent can be turned over as a cover crop, making excellent soil
builders. Weeds, even such pests as young tumbleweed, can be a welcome
addition to a carbon hungry compost pile. The younger and more succulent
the weed, the more nitrogen available for the compost.
Being nutrient strong they are also good body builders, and some
are quite tasty, especially when young. Shepard's purse, lambsquarter,
purslane, dock, dandelion and chickweed are good as salad greens
and potherbs and are higher in nutrients than cultivated greens.
They make good animal and bird feed, also. Farm animals consider
weeds to be gourmet. Even caged birds will benefit from being fed
chickweed. Wild birds consider many weed seeds a treat. It's is
a pleasure for the bird watcher also.
Weeds can be used for companion gardening techniques. It has been
scientifically proven that certain crops do better with some amount
of weed infestation. For example, a few cornflowers in the rye or
corn field increase the yield. Chamomile, which can seed itself
as wildly as a weed, acts as a "doctor plant" to surrounding
Reading about weeds is like reading a book on herbal medicine.
Many plants in your yard, right now, are easily made into botanical
medicines to aid family, friends and pets. Affilare, knotweed, dandelion,
mallow are good examples. You could make a healing salve out of
chickweed, plantain, dock and dwarf mallow.
I may not have convinced you to grow weeds in your gardens, but
I hope at least I have raised your consciousness a bit. The next
time you look upon an weed, feel a bit more kindly, even if you
do pull it.
Central Oregon does not have as many pest problems as more temperate
climates do. This helps to make up for some of the less positive
aspects of gardening here.
The best place to start with control is with prevention. Organic
gardeners know that healthy plants have more resistance to insects
and disease, and that maintaining a high level of soil fertility
and humus give the plants a better chance. So any time you have
problems, look to you soil and see what you can do to improve it.
Rotating your crops will help to keep problems down. Companion
planting can also be helpful. Garden hygiene should be high. Keep
the garden free of debris, baskets, sacks or piles of things as
these can give problems a place to start. If you have fruit trees,
pick up fallen fruit. Avoid handling diseased plants before handling
healthy ones; wash your hands first.
Maintaining a balanced environment is an important factor in pest
control. Birds in your garden are a critical part of this balance.
A house wren feeds 500 spiders and caterpillars to her young in
one afternoon. A swallow devours 1000 leaf hoppers in 12 hours.
This is a phenomenal amount of help for your garden and all you
have to do is provide some food, suitable nesting, escape cover
and water. When landscaping include food cover such as bush and
choke cherries, service berries, mountain ash and other plantings
with fruits. Let some things in the garden go to seed like sunflowers,
lettuce, poppies and cosmos.
Toads and frogs are another valuable addition to the well balanced
environment. A toad can eat 10,000 insects in 30 days, about 16%
of those are cutworms. Snakes, although not beloved by many people
are another good insect eating addition to a garden.
There are many predator insects that also aid in protecting your
garden from the plant eaters. Many are naturally available and some
you can buy live and add to your environment. Lady bugs, spiders
and lace wings are the most commonly known and the easiest for most
of us to spot. There are certain types of flies and the black ground
beetles that are champions in the battle. These are who you are
killing any time you spray with poisons, whether they are organic
poisons or not.
When prevention fails and you find insects on your plants you must
then learn to distinguish between moderate insect life and infestation.
Moderate insect life is an integral part of a natural environment,
and there must be prey for the predators to be able to live in your
garden. If you determine infestation, then start with nonpoisonous
methods first before trying the big guns.
Plain water used as a strong spray can sometimes solve the problem
with aphids or spider mites, or at least keep them in check. Wood
ashes sprinkled around plants can help with cutworms and slugs;
mixed with planting soil will help with root maggots of cole crops,
carrots and onion. Cutworms can also be deterred with the use of
paper collars put around the stems of transplants.
Homemade sprays made of onions, garlic, peppers and herbs have
been reported to be effective as an insect control. The herbs used
are the strong smelling ones like tansy, southernwood, wormwood,
pyrethrum and feverfew. Chamomile made into a strong tea and used
as a spray will stop the damp off of seedlings. Alcohol, soap and
detergent can also be used for homemade sprays.
Diatomaceous earth, the fossilized bodies of ancient diatoms, are
sprinkled on plants or mixed with water and used as a spray. This
helps with most insects, including cutworms, slugs, aphids and spider
There is an increasing number of commercial organic preparations
coming onto the market place. Safer's has an insecticidal soap preparation
that works very well. Many of the preparations are botanical poisons,
such as pyrethrum, rotenone and ryania. Bacillus thuringiensis,
which is actually an organism, is effective against the caterpillar
stage of moths and butterflies, and there are some new Bacillus
varieties being used for the Colorado potato beetle and mosquitoes.
My personal philosophy is that a poison (even though it is not
toxic to warm blooded animals) is going to take too high a toll
on the environment of my garden and I will only use it as a last
resort. I have been successful in keeping the insect population
in balance in my garden by nonpoisonous means.
One of the handiest new innovations I have seen are the floating
row covers. This polyester fabric is bought by the yard, spread
over the garden plot and anchored at the edges with soil. It gives
a greenhouse effect, protects from frost and keeps insects from
depositing eggs. This protects from cabbage worms, root maggots,
aphids, and other insect that come from outside. Water passes right
through to the soil.
The greenhouse is another matter. Problem insects adore the protected
environment and multiply at an alarming rate. I can usually keep
it under control with soap and alcohol sprays, but do occasionally
have to resort to stronger methods.
Having your own animals can be an effective deterrent for animal
pests. A dog will keep away deer, rabbits, squirrels and some will
even catch burrowing animals. A cat can be helpful for the rodent
A good fence is another defense against most of these pests, be
they wild or domestic. The fence should be a fairly small weave
wire fence, tight to the ground. You need to go six feet high or
more if you are keeping out deer. You may want to actually build
a cage with a roof over some gardens like vegetable, particularly
if you encourage wildlife. Burrowing animals can be deterred with
underground fencing also.
Gophers, voles and rock chucks are the main underground invaders.
Besides the underground fencing you might try whirligigs stuck in
the ground, the ground vibrations are supposed to deter these creatures.
I've heard of people flooding the tunnels, smoking the tunnels and
putting bramble vines down them. There are traps and poisons. Juicy
Fruit gum has even been reported to work, you apparently just unwrap
it and drop it down the holes. I haven't tried it.
Other rodents, such as mice and squirrels can also be pests. Using
live traps and then moving them is the only solution I know besides
killing them. Mice, rabbits and porcupines will strip the bark from
your young trees. It is recommended to wrap the trees with tight
mesh wire, but be sure to loosen it as the tree grows.
Rabbits are fairly easily deterred with a fence. They are not bold
creatures and are easy to scare off. They do not like the smell
of human hair or blood meal and neither do deer, so scatter these
around the edges of your garden.
Deer are another matter and probably the most difficult of all
the pests to keep under control. There are even reports of deer
going right up on peoples decks. Tall fences, with a 90 degree angle
at the top are helpful. Some people report success with blood meal,
human hair, commercial preparations and smelly soaps like Irish
Spring. I have even heard that the manure of large zoo carnivores
is good. Any of these can be put in net bags and hung on the trees
and shrubs all around your property. If you like the deer, your
best line of defense may be to plant things they do not like. Of
course, if they are really hungry, they might eat even these plants,
but it's worth a try.
|Deer Proof Plants
|Bamboo (not hardy)
|Daisies (particularly gloriosa and marguerite)
|Rosemary (not usually hardy)
||Zinnias (not hardy)
According to Thomas Jefferson, gardening is not
just a craft but an art comparable to painting.
Perelandra Garden Workbook - Machaelle Small
Wright, Overlight Deva of Insects
"If man is to sensitize himself to the communication
of the insects, it important that he view them as messengers of
a problem and not the problem itself."
Square Foot Gardening - Mel Barthalemew
"How large the garden should be is often
hastily decided while the gardener is in the flush of spring fever.
That's a bad time! It's like going grocery shopping when you are
Joy of Gardening - Dick Raymond
"Once you've got a big crew of earthworms and
bustling soil life working in your soil, don't lay them off. Feed
your soil and soil life with a series of green manure crops."
"My approach to many garden chores is to picture
them from the plant's point of view--what does this crop need for
the best health in this point in its growth? Then I can figure out
the easiest way to do what's best for the crop."
The Natural Way of Farming - Masanobu Fukuaka
"In nature, plants live and thrive together,
but man sees differently. He sees coexistence as competition; he
thinks of one plant as hindering the growth of another and believes
that to raise a crop, he must remove other grasses and herbs."
Landscaping With Nature - Jeff Cox
"When citing plants in the natural garden,
it helps to think like a plant."
"Wild creatures are symbols of the great web
of nature at work, just as our natural landscaping is symbolic of
the wild place that inspired it."
Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest
- Arthur R. Kruckeberg
"Perhaps in time forgiveness will come to one
who proposes that the common sagebrush be given a place in the garden.
But in Britain it is already a favorite."