I've been making weed tea down the back of the garden. The process is pretty simple: find a big bin, drop in some manure, fill with weeds and water, and stew. Most days Lu wanders down for a bit of a stir, and adds her own ingredients: rose petals, calendula flowers, walnut shells, and I suspect James the Splendid Red Engine might have tumbled into his watery grave as well. I'm hoping this will all break down, and all the goodness in the plants (unspecified goodness, I'm no scientist) can be mixed with some fish emulsion and worm castings and poured on needy plants.
I don't know where I got the idea from but I suspect it was one of the Gardening Australia blokes (have you noticed it's only the men who talk produce on that show - a very traditional division of garden labour) who first introduced me to weed tea. It appeals to my don't waste things mentality. All of those weeds, loitering on corners when they could be doing something useful with their time! As I wander around I'll pull up weeds. If they're seeding they go into the tea; if not I pop them into one of my beloved black compost bins. Either way, weeding becomes addictive as I try fill up my containers with organic goodness - the quicker they're filled the quicker I can re-distribute them on my still poorly soil.
I say I use weeds but that's a tricky term to use, bringing me as it does to the debates over what is a weed. I've always rolled my eyes at the old permaculture chestnut "you don't have a weed problem you've got a perception problem". Such a smug thing to say in the face of the threat to wild areas that escape or are tossed from our gardens. But there is something to the idea that weeds are only weeds when they're not where you want them to be. At the most obvious level, each weed was once an endemic plant in a finely balanced ecosystem. At my own more personal level, organic gardening and permaculture-lite makes me reassess what were once weeds, and are now crops in the garden. I grow the weeds until they are big and green but not seeding so I can use them as high nitrogen green matter when I build a compost heap; those on the turn go in the black bins; when I misjudge my brinkmanship and seeds appear they are drowned in the tea. Thistles are carefully tended to provide greens for the chooks on the days I can't face them running roughshod over the flowers and pooing in the courtyard. Conversely, plants I once welcomed are now pulled out. All my lovely self-seeded foxgloves are a threat to the girls and so I sadly yank them up (one theory has it foxgloves are the source of witch imagery: the digitalis can be used as an ointment, inserted by a stick or broom (!) and you feel as though you are flying; it can also give people a sense of growing feathers or fur, perhaps the source of werewolves and familiars). On the whole, my list of plants I don't want in the garden is shrinking by the day and is pretty much limited to plants who won't leave when asked nicely (e.g. oxalis and onion weed).
One final twist in the tale: who knows what's a weed gardening with a two year old? Lu likes to broadcast seeds in her own idiosyncratic garden beds. Sometimes those seeds are purloined grain from the chook house, sometimes they're donated by me, sometimes Lu grabs a handful of something while my back is turned. In the orgy of green manuring she had easy access to all kinds of seeds and spread them liberally around the garden. But now I'm not sure if the plants are green manure in an unexpected place or some kind of weed that has set up home. Now that I have a use for them all, it doesn't really matter. An unweeded garden is a place of opportunity and no longer the domain of an obvious garden slut.