A weed is any plant growing where you don’t want it – whether it’s an oak tree, a rose bush or a dandelion. There are a certain number of plants that we have been conditioned to think of as always being weeds: thistles, brambles, stinging nettles, and so on. However, all of these are hugely important to wildlife (and can be to us, too): thistles produce attractive flowers – good for butterflies and many other pollinating insects; brambles produce blackberries – good for us and many bird species; nettles can be used to make tea, ease arthritis, or be fermented to create a plant-food; and dandelions have many health benefits as well as attracting numerous beneficial insects.
So before you pull up something that triggers your weeding reflex, ask yourself whether it is doing any damage where it is, or whether it is truly in the way. If not, maybe it can stay there a little longer and do some good (attracting insects and acting as a green manure, for example).
Sometimes weeds do have to be removed to make way for planting crops or to stop them smothering or taking nutrients from the plants you want to grow. Some methods that we’ve discussed already, like crop rotation and using mulches, can help suppress weeds in the first place, but when it comes to organic removal, your best friend is the humble hoe. There are many styles available, the most common being the Dutch hoe, although our favourite is the sharp-edged Swoe, which can be used in any direction and is easy to use in hard to reach places.
The best time to hoe is in the morning before a warm sunny day, so that the disturbed weeds will quickly desiccate and die. If you plant some of your crops in rows, make sure the gap between each row is wide enough for your hoe to run through without damaging any of the plants.
The weeds you can’t reach with a hoe will have to be removed by hand. This can feel like a dreaded task at times, especially in the early summer when many weeds can be vigorous, but various techniques may ease your pain. Firstly, make sure you are comfortable and do not feel rushed. Use a kneeling pad and take your time. Do it mindfully and remind yourself of the good you are doing for your crops, thanking the weeds for adding fertility to your compost heap! Do it on a lovely day when it feels good to be outside doing something physical. Alternatively, some people prefer to be distracted from the task by listening to music or the radio; you could even spend the time learning a foreign language or listening to an audiobook using headphones.
Once weeds have been removed, this is the perfect time to add a mulch around the crops to prevent further ones getting a hold.