According to Walter Conrad Muenscher’s 1935 classic handbook, Weeds, “The Canada thistle is one of the most feared weeds in the United States.” Judging from the number of desperate requests we have received on how to deal with this prickly perennial, Canada thistle still strikes terror in the hearts of innocent farmers across the country.
Many sustainable growers subscribe to the philosophy of “feed the soil, not the plant.” Our whole farm approach to weed management follows the same line of thinking – we call it, “weed the soil, not the crop.” Instead of relying on the cultivator or the hoe to save the crop from the weeds, we use cultural practices, including cover cropping, bare fallow periods, rotation and shallow tillage, to reduce the overall weed pressure in the soil. One result of this proactive strategy is we no longer depend on the cultivator or the hoe to grow certified organic produce. “Weeding the soil” has also enabled us to use reduced tillage and living mulches without compromising weed management.
So, our farming system to feed hungry street boys is to have them farm “weeds”. As we have all experienced, weeds are perfectly adapted to their climate, are robust and need no fertilizer nor any of the insecticides to enhance a good crop. Because we are aiming for long term diversified permaculture (this is a Shea native tree area), we needed some very quick marketable crops while we wait for the trees to mature. These field weeds intentionally farmed have a ready market in the big city 5 km north.
For the most part, up until the past few years, humans and henbit have peacefully coexisted. But in the past decade, farm handbooks and herbicide ads have come out portraying henbit as an enemy, a threat to productivity on the farm. Because of its sheer commonness, do chemical salesmen see in Lamium a potential cash cow?
The solution to the weed problem is intimately connected with the adoption of a better system of farming. A knowledge of the life habits of your worst weeds, plus careful planning and neighborhood cooperation, then, are the important factors in weed control. Planting only clean seed, summer-fallowing where practicable and doing it thoroughly, adopting a cropping system that will discourage the growth of perennials, and the persistent use of the proper types of cultivating machinery — all will help you in the task of eradication.