Knowledge from Olle Garden Bed: Useful Winter Weeds

Chickweed is a kind of cultivated soil weed in the cool season. In the global mild winter climate, it forms a thick green carpet on the garden beds. According to records, chickens do eat leaves and stems when they are in a good mood, but they will not be hungry to control the twigs. In my chicken inspection garden, there are still a lot of twigs that can be pulled up for composting, as well as some selection techniques for crushing in the ice sand. If left undisturbed, healthy weed plants can produce thousands of seeds.

I've accepted this reality and gradually made friends with chickweed and its close associates – bittercress and henbit - so that I am glad to see the summer weeds after the frost has turned them into a paste. Compared with crab grass and other mobs in summer, weeds in winter are cowardly. Their shallow roots help prevent soil erosion in winter.

raised garden bed

Foraging for bitter cress

Perhaps it is the best taste of winter weeds. The hairy bitter celery (Cardamine hirsuta) has finely split leaves and grows in a symmetrical rosette. Many foragers look for bitter cress in spring, but they can find it in the garden all winter. Plants grown in cool weather taste like mild watercress. When a dish needs to be sprinkled with fresh chopped vegetables, I often use them as a substitute for parsley. You can also use bitter celery puree as the basis for pesto sauce. The bitter water celery will not have white flowers until spring, and the shallow rooted plants will be easy to pull up after they are stretched and begin to bloom.

In some areas, bitter celery is an off-season shelter for at least two aphids, making it a trap crop for aphids. When you pull up and compost infected plants, you can eliminate thousands of current and future sucking aphids.

I have never seen aphids on the bitter cress in the garden, and I regard them as a self sown winter crop. The very cold weather will cause the new leaves to become smaller and wrinkled, but the bitter celery will be kept in good picking condition throughout the winter under the protection of the covered tunnel. In late autumn, I choose a good place for bitter watercress, pull out other weeds, and cover the bed with wire frames covered with row covers (garden wool) to maintain the productivity of these simple green vegetables throughout the winter.

raised garden bed

Lamiums friendly to pollination media

In my garden, there are at least two kinds of weeds, Lamiums - the hen (Lamium amplexicaule) and the slightly beautiful dead nettle (L. purpureum). The seeds germinate in autumn. At the beginning of winter, the plants sit in the garden like fist sized rose knots. Compared with other overwintering weeds, they bloom early in spring. Hens and dead nettles are important nectar sources for bees to start their annual reproductive cycle. Bumblebees, in particular, hunt hens because they can use their long tongues to get into the nectar of slender flowers. In Japan, cockscomb is often allowed to blossom near orchards because it attracts a variety of pollinating insects at the right time in spring.

They are sometimes called "dead nettles" because they look like nettles but have no stingers. These and other Lamium species keep the soil safe in winter storms, and then perform colorful performances when they bloom at the same time in spring. Large areas of wild flowers in full bloom will form beautiful spring flowers, which can be easily pruned or pulled out before they produce mature seeds. These seeds will germinate in the next autumn.

Am I too weed friendly? Perhaps, although I prefer to eat spinach, kale and other cultivated vegetables, it is also important to recognize the usefulness of cold resistant wild plants that happen to be weeds.