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The Blessing of Weeds Weeds attract useful critters It’s true! Have you ever struggled to plant a nice butterfly garden, filling it with lovely flowers, and then noticed that the weedy lot across the street is also filled with butterflies? From shepherd’s needle to clover to thistles, weeds are a veritable Drive-Thru (FlyThru?) restaurant for wildlife. Leaving patches of weeds is a great way to bring in moths, bees, butterflies, ladybugs, fireflies and other wonderful garden visitors. Some, like passion vine, host the larvae of lovely butterflies. Others, like honeysuckle, feed wandering hummingbirds. Still others provide places for good predators such as preying mantises or lacewings to lay their eggs. Most yards are basically wastelands of inedible grass and a few toxic shrubs. If you want life to visit, make a place for it—weeds are that place!

the terrain, there’s almost always a weed that wants to pop in and fix the damage to the earth’s skin; and that’s really what the soil is: a thin layer of skin over a living planet. Just as your body scabs and stitches itself back together when you get scraped, the earth does the same thing. Weeds are soil Band-Aids! Did you know the ground has what’s called a “seed bank?” It’s true. Seeds fall into the soil constantly, spread by wind, animals and sometimes even their own propulsion systems. Many of those weeds lie in wait for decades until the right combination of events (such as a pair of truck tires) wakes them from their slumber. They pop up, grow, drop leaves and seeds, and die. Other weeds, like clover, also have a relationship with soil bacteria that allows them to add new nitrogen to the soil. Weeds will grow and die, over and over again, fixing the ground, and allowing fertility to return until other longer-lived species like shrubs and trees can provide a more permanent cover. Now that’s amazing and hard to top … except with salad dressing, which leads me to the next section.

Weeds repair the soil One time I had a few water oaks removed from my backyard. The man who did so used his truck and a line to pull them in the right direction as they fell. When he did that, he left two long, sandy ruts in the grass from his back tires. A few weeks later, as I was wandering the backyard, I noticed that those streaks had filled in with green, and it wasn’t the green of grass. In the bare soil, previously hidden clover seeds had germinated and repaired the gashes. This happens everywhere! Ever see a rough construction site or some road repair work? They may have torn out grass—but grass isn’t always what pops up after they’re gone. Instead, pioneers such as thistle, pigweed, mullein and other tough characters appear, as if by magic. The topsoil might have been stripped, and the ground might be rocky—but no matter how rough

Many weeds are edible Salad dressing? Oh yeah! Plenty of people know that dandelions are edible, yet there aren’t many of those around here. One plant I mentioned earlier—the “shepherd’s needle,” also known as “Spanish needle” or, most accurately, Bidens alba, makes a very good cooked green. I sauté them in lard, then add a few home-raised chicken eggs. Add garlic, salt, black pepper, paprika and basil, and yum. Good stuff. Another delicious weed is the smilax, also known as “greenbriers” or just “brambles.” At various times throughout the year, the vines put out tender new growth. These shoots are easy to break off, and they’re well worth the effort. Smilax shoots are dead ringers for asparagus and are superb when steamed or sautéed and served with butter and salt. Beyond these two, you can

by David Y. Goodman

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ther than the weather, if there’s one thing we gardeners like to complain about, it’s weeds! There’s nothing like having to pull endless nutgrass tubers or getting pricked by a spiny amaranth to make you curse “The Curse.” For some of you, “The Curse” might not be familiar—so here it is in Genesis 3, from the eloquent King James: 17 And unto Adam he (God) said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. So there it is. The ground was cursed, and it takes a lot of sweat to eat. Heck, in Florida it takes a lot of sweat to just stand around. If your takeaway was “don’t listen to your wife,” your focus is wrong. The idea is this: man defied God, and is paying for it, particularly in the realm of gardening. Yet here’s the thing that gets me: the more I’ve learned about weeds, the more I’ve come to realize that weeds aren’t only a curse, they are also a blessing. Yes, believe it or not. Today let’s take a quick look at three amazing ways in which weeds make our lives better.

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