Every time I work manure around my strawberries I think about that old joke where the mother takes her four year old daughter out to a nearby horse farm to get a few buckets of manure for the garden. On the way home the little girl asks what the manure is for.
“Oh, that’s for putting on my strawberries,” the mother replies.
A long silence follows before the girl says in a small voice, “Can I have mine with cream instead?”
Working composted manure into the garden is an age old practice that stirs up some pretty heated emotions among today’s gardeners.
Maybe it was always controversial but we never had access to garden forums in the days before the internet. Concerns about weeds and E. coli abound.
These days concerns about everything abound. To be sure scattering fresh manure about—especially around the time the fruit is ripening—could be hazardous to one’s health not to mention off putting.
But well composted manure is full of organic nutrients and yes, probably more than a few weeds. In theory the composting process should generate enough heat to kill off the weeds…in theory. In reality all kinds of sneaky robust seeds seem to make it through including dandelions, stinkweed, lamb’s quarters (or pigweed as it’s known around here) and that most insidious character of all…quack grass.
I have heard horse owners sniff, “I don’t feed my horses weeds, therefore there are no weeds in the manure.” Once again this sounds good…in theory. The reality is manure piles are magnets for every seed in the district that comes blowing in on the wind looking for a place to land.
I don’t mind. Weeds tell me the compost hasn’t been saturated with pesticides. It tells me the compost is nutritious. It tells me things want to grow there.
Sterile compost tells me something unnatural is going on. It makes me nervous.
That doesn’t mean I go out in the garden, fist pump and shout “Whoopee!” every time I spot a clump of quack grass. Like any gardener I have often wondered what it would be like if there were no such thing as invasive plants.
For example, what if Europeans had left their dandelion seeds behind?
Life in the garden would be a whole lot easier, but it would be a whole lot quieter as well. All kinds of insects, including bees and butterflies, rely on dandelions early blooms to kick start the season.
And research increasingly shows if we were to consume dandelions instead of killing them, we might discover the fountain of youth has been growing under our noses all along.
Maybe horses should be eating some weeds…and so should we.
There is not a single part of the dandelion plant that doesn’t contribute to our health.
The healing properties of its leaves, stems, blossoms and roots battle almost every ailment known to humanity.
The dandelion can be used as a tonic and blood purifier for liver conditions such as hepatitis and jaundice, for joint pain, constipation, and skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
An infusion of the dried roasted root is a powerful antioxidant, eliminating toxins from the body, as well as making a delicious healthy coffee substitute. The roots have been used for bronchitis and other upper respiratory infections. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it valuable for the treatment of arthritis and gout.
Applied externally, the fresh juice can fight bacteria and help wounds to heal more quickly. The latex contained in the plant sap is used to remove warts and corns.
During the Second World War the plants were even grown commercially for latex.
A cosmetic skin lotion can also be made out of dandelions to naturally clear the skin of acne and fade freckles.
And in scientific studies dandelions have even been proven to reduce obesity! Since it is a powerful medicine you should consult a doctor just to be safe, especially if you are taking any prescriptions.
It’s interesting, isn’t it?
Without weeds, we might be losing the very thing that could save us. Without weeds, I think there would be more gardens, but fewer gardeners; gardeners being those who are obsessed with tending plants and the soil.
I think many of them would lose interest if creating a beautiful and abundant garden wasn’t a challenge. I know there is something wonderfully addictive about standing back to admire a freshly weeded bed that I would miss, as whacked out as that might sound.
Shannon McKinnon is a syndicated columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com