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Winter weeds

Winter weeds

"Why mulch the garden now?" Daddy asked when he was visiting in October.  "Weeds aren't going to grow this late in the season."  It turns out that weeds were growing, and if I'd had my act together, it would have been smarter to get the garden mulched down by the end of September when a lot of the winter weeds germinated.  Your garden may have different trouble plants, but these are our three most common winter weeds.

Common chickweedCommon Chickweed (Stellaria media) loves bare, disturbed ground and will quickly spread its runner-like stems across your garden.  Identify this alien species by the rosette form of its growth, by the small, roundish leaves, and the tiny white flowers.  Although chickweed is a pain in the butt to hack out of half-frozen ground when you want to plant your early spring crops, if you do let the chickweed get ahead of you at least you'll know that the chickweed greens are beloved by your flock of chickens.  In fact, I've read that common chickweed is often eaten by humans either in salad or as a cooked green.

Purple dead nettlePurple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) is easy to identify when it blooms in the early spring --- the top few leaves turn purplish to set off the pink flowers, and the square stem proclaims it to be a member of the mint family.  At this time of year, the non-stinging dead nettle takes a bit more care to identify, but once you feel the fuzzy leaves, you'll realize few other wild plants have the same gestalt.  Like nearly all of our garden weeds, Purple Dead Nettle hails from Europe, probably introduced for the edible young leaves that can be eaten like chickweed.  Although Purple Dead Nettle does like to fill up the winter garden, the flip side of the coin is that it will bloom even in the winter if the weather is mild, providing food for honeybees during warm days. 

Hairy BittercressHairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) always cheers me up since it's the first flower I see most years, blooming as early as February or March.  Although the bittercress grows its leaves in a rosette, they are very different from chickweed, never taking on the sprawling appearance and usually reaching only two or three inches in diameter.  Like the other weeds, Hairy Bittercress is from Europe and is considered to be edible.

Learn more about cover crops in my 99 cent ebook! As I read all of the benefits of our three "worst" winter weeds, I nearly talk myself into leaving the ground unmulched.  But I know that all three of these guys will quickly go to seed and overrun the garden, a no-no when running a no-till operation.  Next year I hope to mulch earlier before the seeds germinate.

Sick of filthy waterers?  Our homemade chicken waterer is always POOP-free.


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Thanks including pics with labels. That's a real resource. I have a picutre of a plant that a farmer acquaintance has in her herb garden that she can't identify. Can I send that to you to see if you know what it is? She has asked other farmers in the area (Peterborough, Canada) and no one seems to know.
Comment by J Sun Nov 14 14:14:20 2010
I'd be glad to take a look, although I can't promise anything since I've only set foot on Canadian soil once. :-)
Comment by anna Sun Nov 14 16:27:22 2010

Thank you so very much for the close ups of the chickweed, etc. We have something called knotweed, I think. I tried giving some to our chickens (who are penned) up and they loved it, then found out it is invasive and am wondering how to rid the yard of it. We have foxes around here which come from the woods, grab a chicken, fling it over the shoulder, and are gone so fast you think you are seeing things, so our girls stay confined. I really feel for them, and keep giving them greens in addition to their feed to keep those yolks orange! They are a mixed collection of brown egg layers with the exception of 6 easter eggers and we are still collecting a dozen or more eggs a day (18 hens total). PS Still awaiting arrival of 5 DIY nipples; maybe today! Clear ice topping the waterers this morning! Happy days!

Comment by Evelyn Qualls Thu Nov 29 11:01:34 2012
Evelyn --- Glad the photos helped! You might find this post about Japanese Knotweed interesting --- it's edible for you as well as your birds. Good luck with your fox problem!
Comment by anna Thu Nov 29 16:06:19 2012

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime