Weeds, A Plant out of Place?

Many of us who deal with agriculture daily have been taught over the years that a weed is a plant out of place. From that training, we move forward and begin to teach and share with others what we were taught.   Then one day we realize that what we were taught wasn’t correct.

In the last 10 years, after dealing with soil fertility and crop nutritional needs, I have changed my opinion of that teaching about weeds being a plant out of place. I have come to understand “a weed” is a plant that is growing exactly where the conditions invite that plant to grow.  It germinates and thrives in a spot because the soil, nutrients, air, and water conditions are properly aligned and are encouraging the advancement of that specific plant.    According to Jay L. McCaman in his book, When Weeds Talk, he indicates “the word weed was derived from the Anglo-Saxton word “Weod” which meant “little herb”.  If herbs are useful for our healing, then weeds are also helpful for healing the soil.” Weeds are not just opportunistic as some educators might convey; they are indicators, symptoms of a soil imbalance.  They are, as McCaman stated, “Healers of the soil”.  They are not a quick fix, but a steady transitional move to set the soil back in balance.  Most soils today are low in available calcium and create a situation where other nutrient ratios are skewed.  This scenario produces hardpans, crusting, and compaction at one and often various places within the soil profile.  Hardpans, crusting or compaction issues lead to situations where non-desirable species (from a cropping or economic standpoint), thrive.  These species germinate and grow in an unbalanced nutrient situation.  Tight, compacted, waterlogged soils that restrict water, oxygen and nutrient movement are the result of these imbalances. Furthermore, this creates an environment where nutrient cycling is greatly restricted, creating the need to purchase more and more nutrients, pesticides and other inputs. For the lawn owner or the alfalfa producer these soil conditions promote a host of species that love this environment.  Dandelion, as an example, indicates that soil is low in available calcium, high in potassium and low in humus. Another, Large Crabgrass, indicates the available calcium and phosphorus levels are very low. It further indicates that potassium and magnesium levels are high, humus is low along with lower or unhealthy levels of microbes. Marestail recognizes the same thing: calcium and phosphorus levels are low, potassium is high and humus levels are low. This condition leads to plants that germinate and thrive in unbalanced nutrient situations.  Ninety percent of the species listed in MaCaman’s book indicates low calcium, high potassium, and low humus.

Today’s agrochemical “de-evolution” protocol is to throw a chemical fix at everything: weeds, insects, and disease. As chelators, these chemicals tie up available nutrients and cause these imbalances that allow the unwanted species to proliferate. Heavy use of the macro elements Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium have created an environment that is low in calcium and other essential nutrients both micro and trace elements. Calcium is the trucker of nutrients and is needed at levels greater than the designated macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Looking at calcium rightly is the primary move to establish a healthy soil profile that functions the way it was designed to function, magnificently.