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Weeds, Crabgrass, & More! Oh My! Growing Well Newsletter

At last, at last – the weather has moderated!!! Ah – the delight of a 55-degree dewpoint – almost felt like a cold snap (which it TOTALLY isn’t!). Those tropical dewpoints of last week were more than challenging to work out in (if we wanted to live in Florida – we’d move there!!)– and the rain!!!! The wind!!!! The challenges!!!! It’s been delightful to have a decent dry day to clean out goat pens… and that always feels good (strange as that may seem…).

So – now that the weather is better, what’s going on? Well – the aforementioned goat pens get cleaned – as do many other animal pens. The mud finally begins to dry out. The overgrown first cut hay comes off the fields (some made it, some didn’t…) and the WEEDS erupt everywhere!

Weeds, Crabgrass, & More! Oh My!

Did you know that there is no word for weed in any Native American language recorded? The whole concept of weeds is both very old European and very modern American… Everyone has heard the old saw that “a weed is just a plant out of place” – which is true as far as it goes…but …weeds are also diagnostic tools for major mineral imbalances and soil instability (check out Weeds and What They Tell), food for a huge host of beneficial insects, carbon pumps for soil microbes and nutrient accumulators that can help to move minerals up to the surface (harvest this energy with weed tea!). You can (and perhaps should!) look at a weed as nature’s first aid kit. Weeds act as Band-Aids, splints, rehabilitators more reliable than any human therapist –and their patient is the planet itself…

Now – having said all of that – there are times, of course, when you do have to weed but do take the time to really LOOK at what you’re pulling and perhaps try and figure out WHY you have it in the first place – and does it have any value independent of the human emotions involved…

Case in point…

The much-maligned dandelion and the even more maligned crabgrass. As I type these words – I can almost hear some of you groaning… “She’s defending THOSE plants???” Absolutely! And let me tell you why ☺

There’s a lot of good information on the value of dandelions so let’s look at the crabgrass plant. I think this is one of the most amazing plants!!!! I’m not saying that I don’t pull it out when it’s in the way in a nicely managed garden but – have you ever really looked at the plant that you pull up??? You’ll see why you should in the second bullet…So… let’s look at some crabgrass biology and see how it makes the world’s best Band-Aid….

  • It grows horizontally –that means it shades/cools/protects from ultraviolet light the ground in which it is growing thereby keeping whatever soil biology found there functioning.

  • It’s one of the few plants that can live in massively compacted soil with minimal minerals to support it – think about the median strips of roads like 190 – it’s growing in the Jersey barriers (as are ragweeds, some goldenrods etc.) and then, examine those lawn areas in your own world that will only grow crabgrass – any similarities?? These are the plants that can slowly turn dead zones back to living systems…

  • Crabgrass is an annual grass – that means a couple of things…

  • You get a chance every year to improve your soil so that crabgrass doesn’t grow

  • The plant produces masses of seeds so if you want to reduce the crabgrass population in your yard then you have to pull them BEFORE they flower (usually starting in late July – end of summer)

    • The seed has a high oil content – and the birds LOVE it – more than niger seed - and it’s fantastic for putting excellent body condition on our small seed eating birds as the season wraps down –watch who comes to visit the seed heads.

    • All domestic herbivores LIKE crabgrass –it’s a high energy grass – and – in fact – can be sown as an annual forage for all farm animals – who knew?? I actually bring home all of the crabgrass weeded from gardens to feed to the goats.

  • Crabgrass preventer only works for part of the season… How many of you have put on Halts or some other chemical when the forsythia blooms (just like the package says) and have found yourself dealing with crabgrass anyways by the end of the season? Most people who have tried chemical controls at least once still hunt crabgrass in late summer… So, figure out what is making your lawn or garden more comfortable for the crabgrass and not for the plants you WANT to grow and change the conditions to match the desirable plants.

  • Crabgrass pulled before it flowers and then composted makes an EXCELLENT compost – add any of the other weeds (before flowering) and you’ll really have a high energy compost. You can also use the plants to make “weed tea” at any stage of their development- and reap their incredible energy through decoction to feed back to your desirable plants.

  • And speaking of soil biology – crabgrass is a C4 plant –that means that it has the capacity to pull more carbon out of the air through its version of photosynthesis (and that version of photosynthesis uses less water so crabgrass is very drought tolerant). That means that it pumps that much more carbon down into the soil as sugars and feeds the soil microbes. The next time you pull up a healthy crabgrass plant – take the time to really look at the soil both around its roots and remaining from where you pulled it up. Check out the soil structure that it developed.

There you have it – a defense of the lowly crab grass plant! Hopefully, you’ll take a good look at the whole plant the next time you pull one out 😊

Moving on to our next installment of “What’s Blooming Now”… We’re going to look at a tropical plant that is just coming in to its own – the Canna Lily. Cannas- are grown from rhizomes - get planted in the spring after frost – and glow with color until frost. They’re wickedly easy to grow even if you do have to dig them up for the winter. You can even leave them in their pots for the growing season, let the frost take the foliage, clean them off, move them inside, dry them out and store them where they can’t freeze (they don’t need light when dormant). We have two-year old plants just waiting for a chance to wow you with their tropical drama. They do like a moist, rich soil and can even work with bog edge conditions. Good organic fertilizers help bring out the best in flower production. We’re happy to go over details when you pick one out…

And then, let’s take a look at Agastache – anise hyssop…if there was ever a plant designed to appeal to pollinators and birds it’s this one. You can check out the amazing array of insects feeding on the lavender flower spikes on the new plants that have just arrived and you’ll see all kinds of finches feeding on the seeds once you take one home and plant it. Anise hyssop’s self-sow and move themselves around your garden so plan to move them to where you want them to be first thing in the spring.

Quick reminder - we’re going to look at native plant garden and design in depth on 8/5 with Native Plants and Re-wilding, 1-2:30pm: Here’s a chance to explore this complex topic, learn what some of the plants look like and see how you might add them to your garden designs. This will be a joint presentation to cover all sides of the conversation. $30/person – limit 10 – and includes a native perennial for you to take home.

One last thought: Let’s move on to those quickly maturing hens that so many of you bought back in the spring. The mid-March chicks are now about a month out from laying…they should still be on Grower/finisher grain for that month but be prepared to start making the switch to layer pellets by mid-late August (and in to September for those of you with later chicks…) Poulin has layer pellets but Poulin also has Egg Production Plus. Take the time to look at this grain if you’re interested in the best eggs and the healthiest birds. We discovered this grain years ago when we were feeding our Khaki Campbell ducks for egg production. It’s the ONLY poultry feed that uses flax seed for protein and NOT soybeans (and has plenty of B vitamins for ducks)! Why does this matter? So many reasons…but the two most critical are that flax is not genetically modified and flax also has a superb Omega 3 fatty acid component that makes for superb quality eggs for human consumption. Check here for some specifics - I know it’s a bit technical! Isn’t it nice that Poulin figured all of that information out and put it in to a grain?!?

So, that’s it for this week. Lots of color, lots of good conversation, lots of all kinds of good guy bugs (and a few not so good – but that’s reality!!) and a whole lot of fun in the great outdoors for the month of August – hope to see you at the store!

The Good Earth

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