There was a time, not so long ago, when weeds were just considered weeds. There were no “invasive” weeds. The concept of an invasion of weeds appears to be linked to the human separation from the lessons of nature. A weed is, of course, a plant which a human considers out of place. In nature there are no weeds, only plants covering the earth offering their unique benefits to the forces of life. Nature’s timeline is very, very long. From this perspective, nature can be seen to have little regard for the hurried demands of the human concerns of plants out of place. Weeds, or plants out of place, is a human perspective which is not consistent with nature’s perspective.
As farmers, we are concerned with plants out of place impacting our crops. With decades of experience in annual crop production, it has become very clear that such weeds are a signal from nature about how our agricultural practices are impacting the earth. In this sense the weeds become a mirror for the farmer to look into. Certain weeds can signal soil structure imbalances, some signal nutrient imbalance, some chemical contamination, and so on. When field conditions are well balanced and nature-benefitting agricultural approaches are taken, the farmer is rewarded with minimal weed “interference” and abundant, vigorous crops. Weeds invariably are of benefit to the agricultural field as they are well selected by nature to harness the sun’s energy and provide the benefits of this energy consolidation to the living organisms surrounding them. The weeds provide the soil with a physical cover as well, with all the associated benefits.
Almost invariably there is no bare soil in nature. Soils’ formation, continuance, and development are dependent upon consistent coverage with plants. Nature is very adept at maintaining this condition; farmers, however, are often not as adept. Weeds are nature’s cover crop, often superior to our “cover crop seed blends”, in diversity, vigor, and appropriate ability to bring life to the soil environment. We can assist this life-building process when we are paying close attention and have a willingness to cooperate and interact with nature, this being one of the most uplifting of human experiences. This engaging with natural forces in a cooperative farming endeavor is a humbling and awe inspiring experience when the complexity and interconnectedness of creation is glimpsed. However, oftentimes cooperation with nature in agricultural practices is not the case and farming results in detriment to the life force.
With so many distractions from the earthbound human’s role as caretaker and co-creators in the development and expansion of the living forces, much has deteriorated. Environment collapse is prominent as the impacts of pollution, war, and greed destroy living systems. Some basic examples include, but are not limited to, the air’s gaseous nature is altered by fumes of industry, including much vaporized herbicide. The rain falling through this environment picks up many pollutants and alters the soil environment. The soils themselves are often “treated” to various pesticides. The sun is blotted out by jet fueled chem trails and particulate matter from pollution. Radioactive fallout from nuclear sources, microwaving, electromagnetic disturbances, and far more — in response to such destruction, nature changes…
The soils alter their biological, chemical, and physical conditions under these influences. Many plants, insects, microbes, and animals cannot survive these changes, resulting in the observed “die-outs” of various species. The mode of decline for these species is often disease or other life-threatening pestilence. Often the disease is blamed for the die-out and humans fail to consider the environmental conditions that were the underlying cause.
Some of the obvious die-outs we have witnessed in Connecticut over the last few decades include the complete loss of several tree species including: the Chestnut, the Elm, and Red Pine. These are quickly being followed by the Spruce, the Hemlock, the Birch, the Aspen, the Sugar Maple, and the Oak. Actually, pretty much every tree species in now under significant disease and insect pressures, resulting in very sparse canopies and significant discolorations. “The trees are brown and the sky is white”, being a common condition. Most other plant species also develop significant disease conditions as well. The insect populations have also quickly followed the plant decline, with the decline of early spring pollinator populations on our farm probably approaching 99%, compared to a few decades ago. These earth changes are requiring strength and vigor of new plant species, in order to maintain vegetative cover over soil surfaces. It is not surprising that we are “invaded” by these new plant species, thanks to the earth’s wisdom.
To apply a preservationist approach to such rapidly evolving conditions is a difficult proposition. The earth needs to evolve to maintain its vitality, yet humans at the same time have difficulty letting go of the past. The approach to “invasive weeds” may benefit from this outlook, nature is wise in seeking to protect itself with these plants, yet we humbly ask for assistance in growing some of the plants we desire. This is how we approach farming as well. A gentle, careful approach where human and nature work together to create a living, thriving environment in a powerful symbiotic relationship. This provides the human life with much meaning, to be of benefit to life, as well as giving us plenty to do.
However this humble cooperative approach is rare, and instead we are faced with many who view these plants as an “invasion” — something to be battled against with all the weapons of war. This requires a certain level of arrogance to believe that nature knows not what she does, and that the humans know better. The battle against the enemy, which in this case is nature, is actually a battle against oneself, for when the interconnected web of life is witnessed, the face of the enemy on the battlefield is finally seen as one’s own. For now the battle continues, the enemy continually shifts forms; now an invasive plant, then an insect, a germ, a terrorist, or climate change. The approach is consistently one of war; pesticides, sterilizers, pharmaceuticals, bullets, bombs, and weather modification. The result is more suffering, death and destruction, long into the aftermath, all to the detriment of the forces of life.
Nature, in boundless compassion, constantly holding up the mirror for us to see ourselves.
A few years ago the local newspaper sent a reporter to one of our farmers markets for a story. The next day we were pleased to see a local farmer generously offering a taste of delicious wine berries to a curious customer, the wine berry being a less known raspberry relative. We were quite surprised when the next week a regulator from the state department of Energy and Environment (D.E.E.E.P.) came to inform us that our market was offering illegal berries for sale. Before being dispatched from the market he managed to provide us with a list of numerous plants that had, in legislative darkness, become illegal to cultivate. These included such plants as watercress, valerian, and wine berries, among many others. This legislation declared them “invasive species”. Actually, just previously to this event our local health department had informed us that though we could sell fruits and vegetables we could not give them away without a “sampling permit”. So our front page coverage was actually illegal sampling of illegal berries, but that’s another story.
The idea of being invaded by delicious, illegal berries was very attractive to us, so we set about trying to increase the wine berries on our farm. Unfortunately after years of encouragement the wine berries have absolutely refused to invade and all we have is a tiny patch of hardly productive plants. We have had similar experiences with watercress, and valerian. We can encourage them to grow but they certainly will not invade. Of course most plants are presently struggling in our environment, so this is not really surprising. Though some of the declared plants do seem vigorous enough to continue to thrive, hopefully more of the declared “invasive” plants will prove to be capable under our conditions.
Despite the general environmental difficulties, we have still found the earth willing to provide us with abundant, healthful crops when great care in agricultural approach is applied. This was the case last fall when we were harvesting all the root vegetables for winter storage and sale. The shining stars amidst this abundance were the turnips and winter radishes, with absolutely astounding yields of perfect roots — the clear definition of a bumper crop. Unfortunately the market conditions for turnips has not fared well over the years, and even though almost all vegetable varieties have increased in consumption, the turnip eaters appear to be dwindling.
This led to charges against this writer of being an excessive Cancerian, in need of the security of many tons of turnips stored in the root cellar beneath his bed. Though on the surface I accepted these charges, secretly I suspected something else was afoot.
Happily this became clear when, in late winter, fear of the coronavirus first brought on frenzied buying of storage vegetables, followed by concerns about food shortages. Though a bit of the turnip did sell, it turned out that, more importantly, the stockpile of turnips brought great comfort and peace to the local community when we informed the many people that they were welcome to come and eat as many turnips as they could if social conditions deteriorated.
Following this came the realization that raw turnip and radish are primary vegetables for treatment and prevention of colds and flu in many traditions. We found while studying Chinese medicinal approaches that colds and the flu are often considered an excess of the “cool and damp”, and that raw turnip and radish bring balance to this condition. As well, when talking with an African American friend, she related a story from when she was a young girl in which her mother always made her eat raw turnip when colds or flu threatened. Though perhaps this mandatory approach has diminished her enthusiasm for turnip eating, we have, as a family, also appreciated the consumption of these raw or pickled vegetables for many such health conditions.
Now that a more complete view of the great turnip excess of 2019/2020 can be seen, it becomes clear that the earth is still willing to provide in abundance what we most need. Quite a reassurance in these times of darkness. The darkness would have us not continue to create in a loving, cooperative association with nature. Yet the darkness also assists us in evolving, as we can bring an appropriate amount of light to balance the darkness. When we step back and look from above at our situation, we see that nature is clearly ready to continue to help us in this effort. Though many people are prepared for this time, there are still some who are just not ready to eat raw turnips.