Sustainability: Ode to the Opportunistic Plants

I’m what most people call a lazy gardener. I don’t like digging garden beds every year or tilling the soil. I let the weeds alone, allow opportunistic plants, and let the grass grow chest high. HHH doesn’t try to exclude wildlife to protect our harvest and don’t pull up plants we don’t know. I let branches lie where I cut them unless they present a hazard or I have another use for them. I don’t grow in pots, nor baby my plants with fertilizer, extreme weather protection, or even water them past the day I install them.

Naturally, my yields are lower than the average garden, and I lose plants regularly. Sure it’s hard on me when a garden I installed for someone is yielding 10x what mine is despite being much smaller. I dream about the production I could get out of my land if I wasn’t lazy. If I bought and brought in fertilizer and water and a million other inputs… inputs that are stolen fertility from someplace else, and often less than sustainable. 

Now everything I don’t do does not mean I don’t work hard, nor does it mean I neglect the land. I make conscious decisions as to how to handle the management of our property. My refusal to use gasoline-powered assistance is a personal decision. Yes, I have a truck and I use it to haul mulch, soil, etc. but that is the extent of it. The truck gets parked on the gravel drive and then unloaded by hand with a shovel and a wheelbarrow.

From the Outside….

One of the opportunistic plants at HHH

My neighbors regularly drop by and ask if I want them to mow for me with their tractor. I decline and tell them there are baby trees hidden in all the grass and if I need to I’ll mow by hand with my scythe. They roll their eyes and drive away. Clearly I’m nuts. What they don’t see is how much healthier my land is compared to theirs. 

They don’t see that I don’t flood as badly, the soil life is intact, my soil structure isn’t destroyed and I’m not fighting erosion. They don’t see that I don’t need to water during a drought. My land is also still green when theirs is brown. My neighbors don’t see what the weeds tell me about: microclimates on our site, the pH, drainage, fertility, type, and the soil’s recent history. They don’t see the biodiversity of my land: the rabbits, bees, turtles, frogs, the fireflies, dragonflies, and ladybugs, or even the cardinals, owls, and hummingbirds. 

My neighbors don’t see the valuable habitat I create by leaving food and shelter to wildlife like wasps, ants, snakes, spiders, termites, and scorpions. They don’t see that I get fertility on-site from visiting wildlife and pollination from local insects. They don’t see that I have minimal pest problems because their natural enemies are nearby. 

My neighbors don’t even see the food and medicine I can harvest from plants that don’t need anything from me to grow and produce. Trees like Hackberry, Sassafras, Pine, and Mesquite, or weeds like Cattails, Duckweed, Horsetail, Kudzu, Japanese Honeysuckle, Lamb’s Quarters, Lemon Bee Balm, and Dandelion.

Opportunistic Plants This Year (and a few others)

Greens bed at HHH

This year I planted Swiss Chard, Kale, and sweet potatoes for greens. Lamb’s Quarters volunteered in some of my starter pots. I transplanted the opportunistic plants in their own section in the garden, side by side for comparison. 

I’ve been harvesting each green once a week off of 5 swiss chard, 6 kale, and 3 sweet potato slips. I harvest three times a week from 8 Lamb’s Quarters. I haven’t had any pest issues with the Lamb’s Quarters. However, the Kale has been destroyed this last week by cabbage loopers. The sweet potato didn’t give me much in the cool spring, so there were a few months I couldn’t harvest regularly. The swiss chard has been faltering in the heat this last month, needing supplemental water. 

Meanwhile, the opportunistic Lamb’s Quarters has been unbothered by heat, cold, drought, or insects. Those plants are giving me three times as much food and has the longest productive season (January to July from records). I didn’t need to plant it or store seed over the winter. It came up when it was ready from seeds it had dropped last year. It’s clear to me that Lamb’s Quarters will be a regular addition to our homestead. I welcome this weed to our dinner plate. 

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2 Replies to “Sustainability: Ode to the Opportunistic Plants”

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