Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Weeds are useful - honest!

What's a weed? Well one definition of a weed is a plant that's growing in the wrong place.  Like the olive trees we saw growing by the sides of the road when we travelling to South Australia.  I see them as a bonus (free olives anyone?), others see them as a weed.  It's all a matter of perspective. For example, weeds growing in worn out soils are a good sign that the land is regenerating.  

Using a lot of mulch in your garden like we do, definitely cuts down on the amount of weeding that's required.  Unfortunately it doesn't quite remove the need to weed altogether.  Unlike most Melbourne households we don't have a green waste bin. Instead we compost all the lawn clippings, tree prunings, leaves .......and weeds onsite.

So what do we do with our 'weeds'?

The first stop is our pet guinea pigs. These little guys had all been looking for homes when they came to us and we make a point of providing them with a high quality of life. Too many guinea pigs out there are not being cared for properly and have terrible lives, but that's another issue altogether. Anyway, these little guys love to eat a variety of the weeds that grow in a typical suburban garden. And they turn it all into nice little pellets that are great fertiliser for the garden.  Plus they're cute. Big tick for those little weed eaters.

For the weeds they don't eat, we turn into a weed tea.  We add the weeds to a black plastic garbage bin and top up with water, making sure the weeds are completely submerged (using bricks to weigh them down). The lid goes on and the bin is left to sit in a sunny spot in the garden for a few weeks. The sun heating up the bin and the water both act to kill the weeds. After a few weeks you can fork the dead weeds into the compost bin to break down further. This leaves you with a nutrient rich (and sometimes rather pungent) water solution which you can then dilute 1:10 and add to the garden. This is a great way to recycle nutrients in your garden - nothing is wasted.

Of course some weeds are edible so you may want to think about incorporating them in your meals. Ben Shewry, chef of the Melbourne restaurant Attica, is well known for his love of foraging for edible weeds and their inclusion in his menu. The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants list for 2013 had  Attica listed at number 21 which is pretty darn impressive. Looks like interest in foraging for edible weeds could be on the rise! If edible weeds interest you, then there is plenty of information available. The Australian book "Useful Weeds At Our Doorstep" by Pat Cardigan contains clear pictures to aid in plant identification and describes all uses of common Australian weeds, including medicinal. Another one we have at home that that gives us a chuckle is "101 Uses for Stinging Nettles" by Piers Warren. Yep, it really does contain 101 uses for stinging nettles. There are lots more books on the subject out there.

Lastly, a word of caution - if you aren't foraging with someone experienced, take care to make sure you've correctly identified the plant you intend eating - that way you'll avoid any potential nasty suprises.

So next time you see what you consider to be a weed, try thinking of it more as an opportunity.......

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