Unexpected Good Results Make Me Look Smart



Over the years, gardening and farming have taught me to be pessimistic. I’m the guy who invariably says, when a really nice day arrives, “we’ll pay for it.” We are not in control. How often I have seen two farmers do the same thing but on different days. One makes a profit and the other doesn’t. The one is considered smart and the other not so smart when much of the time it’s pure luck.

So when nature allows me to look smart, I play the part with gusto while I can. Tomorrow it might all blow up in my face. At the moment I am basking in the sunshine of having put one over on my archenemy, chickweed. No significant event here, but satisfying nonetheless.

Optimists should love chickweed. It has many quasi advantages. If I had a washout I’d seed it to chickweed and stop the erosion in two years even if it were big enough to swallow a school bus. To the optimist there is no better winter cover crop than chickweed and if you are very clever, you can sometime use it for pasture here in our godforsaken cold northern winters. Also, it makes a decent salad and an effective salve for skin rashes.

So why do I hate the stuff? It’s taking over our garden, that’s why. Unlike good, honest weeds, it will grow whenever the temperature gets much above freezing and so luxuriates when the ground is too wet to cultivate with anything except maybe dynamite. I know gardeners who are otherwise mild, patient and forgiving enough to endure even jayhawker politicians, but who have finally resorted to flamethrowers to annihilate the weed. Doesn’t work very well however. Even the fires of hell could annihilate only what grows above ground and so after flaming, chickweed comes right back, maybe even faster in spring because the heat warms the ground up quicker.

This spring on the first day dry enough to hoe, I attacked the carpet of chickweed. I do mean carpet because it was so dense the hoe just bounced off. When I tried to rake the stuff, or slide the shovel under it, it remained immutably earthbound. Rototilling was out of the question. What I needed was a big tractor and a disk heavy enough to cut up old Sears Roebuck catalogues. I did learn however that I could skim under the chickweed carpet with a very sharp hoe and rip off pieces. If I worked hard, I could clear a section of garden about ten feet by ten feet in, oh, say three hours. At that rate, by the time I got a garden plot cleared for the tiller, the first ten feet of it would be growing back again.

So anyway, while I was cussing the chickweed, another calamity befell us. A fox decided that it liked the taste of hen better than mouse. This happens every spring. I think the foxes are feeding their young because the rest of the year they don’t bother us. So I have to keep the hens penned up. I do not want to keep the hens penned up. My business plan states very clearly that my hens will graze the meadow and woods around them without benefit of purchased feeds.

From its name, I assumed that chickweed would taste delightful to chicks. So I scraped up a bucket full of the stuff and took it to the hens. Sure enough. After eyeing it querulously for a minute or two, they started pecking away.

So through March and early April, when the soil surface was not too soaked with rain, I scraped off buckets of the weed to feed my “pasture-raised” eight hens, along with an ear of corn or two every day. Then something even more unexpectedly delightful occurred. I noticed that the bit of soil and roots that came up with the chickweed was full of earthworms. My hens were getting a well-rounded, natural diet. They kept laying their usual number of eggs even though penned up. Aren’t I the genius?


Gene some of your chickweed seeds must have floated down to me – I too like in (outside of) Upper and my garden is constantly being taken over with the stuff (and this year thistle is an issue too). I let my hens free range the yard and garden but 2 hens can only do so much – they are more worried about eating all the bugs than ridding my garden of chickweed!!

I love Chickweed too, and always silly bad pulling it. It is the most mild and tasty of spring greens. Next year will make my morning smoothies with it. We can always count on the return of Chickweed. Hope it is there when we need it.

One sure cure for Chickweed is Hot Weather,it can’t stand heat.My chickens,ducks and gesse have about spent the Winter and early Spring living off the Rye,Turnips and Chickweed in the garden.Chisel plowed the other day and did the first tilling about time now to put the panels back up to fence the animals out.I love Chickweed.

thetinfoilhatsociety April 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

Oh, the irony. I would love to be able to grow chickweed, I even bought seeds that never germinated.

Thanks for the good work, Gene. It’s always a little easier to go to the goofy office on Thursdays when I remember I can take a mid-morning break to catch your blog. Your books have helped to calm my mind and spirit in the wee hours of the night many, many times during these past few difficult years. Yes, sir, you and I have made it through some tough times together. Just wanted to say thanks. It’s hardly possible for me to describe how beneficial your words have been to me and those who depend on me.

Gene, I hope you’re s genius, because I’m fighting chickweed and have tried all of the above. Today “the girls” are going to dine in a section of the garden.

Gene I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the USDA’s new program to track farm animals that that went into effect March 11 2013.

    Steven, I wasn’t aware, sad to say. AFter all the hellraising, I thought that the Feds had abandoned this program or greatly watered down the original proposals. I shall have to do some research. thanks. Gene

Must be an echo in here. Yes, you need a tractor – a chicken tractor, set over the chickweed. And harvest your salad first, of course.

Yep – you’re a genius. But I would say that claiming victory in the midst of defeat does wonders in releasing the genius.

School buses in erosion gullies

Dynamite as a cultivation option

The inefficacy of the fires of hell

Disking through Sears catalogs

Inalienable rights of hens in your business plan

That’ll keep me smiling for a couple days.

    Russ, you are such a dear to read me so kindly and so closely. You are keeping me smiling for a couple days too. Gene

I’m also thinking you should take the chickens to the garden, rather than the other way around. Chickens are fantastic weeders and composters. That’s in my business plan. 😉 Also, Laura, I follow the smothering plan whenever I can, but what do you do long term with the feedbags buried in your garden? You must be talking about paper feedbags, not the plasticized ones?

See, each evil has its own good too…
Ducks are even better weeders (and sluggers if that’s a word 😉 than hens, you should try some. Wasn’t it on your blog that I read something about Guinea fowls being good weeders?

    We tried ducks. They were enthusiastic weeders, but no matter what we tried, we were just feeding the racoons. The ‘coons loved duck meat so much they would take them in broad daylight, while our nearby chickens were undisturbed.

Yes, indeed, king for a day–at least!

I smother weeds, particularly thistles. I save those nice heavy feedbags, cut them open, and lay them out over the garden bed. Then I dump loads of well rotted cow manure, old straw, and whatever else I have available. When I do this in the fall I have a nice smooth garden bed by spring where I can plant tender annuals.

they don’t call it chickweed for nuthin’ ;~) thanks for sharing that useful bit of practical wisdom Gene…way to think like a permaculturist…

Here’s a notion, Gene. Why not put your chickens inside the garden fence and let them eat the chickweed and scratch up the roots looking for worms at the same time?

    even better. that way the chickens can fertilize the garden for ya.
    put em to work and sit back eatin salad!

    That sounds worth building a fence for! Then once the chickens have cleaned it out, you could plant your garden in the fenced area and not have to worry about the chickens getting into it. How genius are we now?

Farmers always have some kind of Macgyver solution to any problem that comes up.

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