Friday, June 1, 2012

Why I Love Pulling Weeds

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fortune of the Republic, 1878

One of my favorite activities is wandering around my garden with a basket to collect weeds. Instead of annoyances, I see each dandelion or clump of crab grass as food harvested for my compost bin. (Enter the chorus of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”… da-dum, da-da da-da da-dum…).

Here are the top three reasons I love weeds:

1.  Weeds are a great source of nitrogen and carbon. With a good carbon to nitrogen balance (20:1) fresh weeds only need a small amount of brown material to strike the perfect carbon to nitrogen ratio (30:1 for those number geeks).

2.  Fresh weeds (I love that phrase) help bury my food waste in the pile to avoid flies. This is especially handy when I’m running low on brown leaves.

3. More material into the compost bin = MORE FINISHED COMPOST!

Before I get too mushy about my love of weeds, let me say there are a few that really get under my skin (figuratively and literally).

When we first purchased the house, our yard was overrun by euonymus (think of the southern kudzu problem but on a smaller scale) and that sneaky vine still fills in every available open space. It takes for-ev-er to decompose and even when chopped into bits it will start growing out of the compost bin!

Poison ivy is another “weed” I could live without. Personally, I feel that calling poison ivy a ‘weed’ is like calling the Black Death that ‘bug going around.’ All I have to do is look at the stuff and I break out in itchy red bumps. Poison ivy may be the only plant not welcome in my beloved compost bin.

On a lighter note, I don’t worry too much about composting weeds that have seeded. When you compost weed seeds you risk planting the seeds when you spread the finished compost. I figure weeds are going to grow anyway and I obviously enjoy pulling them so the dandelions go in, puff balls and all.

I managed to reference Emerson, Monty Python, and the Black Death in the same post, I think it’s going to be a good Friday!


  1. If you have a sufficient amount of weeds put them in a plastic bag, better yet double bag them and let it bake in the sun for a while. "A while" meaning a week or two or whenever you get back to dealing with it. Set the bag on top of your bin if it's black plastic, makes it cook even better. The heat should kill the seeds. If you have a solar cooker that's even better. Cheers fellow dirt lovers...

  2. Friend of Poison IvyJune 1, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    In keeping with the virtues of weeds this post started with, poison ivy produces berries that ripen in the fall and often persist through the winter. These berries are an important food for migrating and over-wintering birds. I let it grow, as long as it's growing up a big tree, I just don't touch it (and would never compost it).

    1. Mmmm, poison ivy berries...tasty.

      Just kidding, Friend of Poison Ivy, I love the birdies too! (:

  3. I have been told that you should not put weeds into your compost bin. I too pick weeds, more out of compulsion, but would love to also see the weeds a resource rather than pests.

  4. Okay, I've been a lax composter for TOO long! I went out to check on our two Earth Machines a couple days ago and was quite disturbed. My son and husband had just been putting stuff in them without regard for balance or compostability (like long, woody vines all rolled up in a big wad). One EM was all green while the other was all kitchen waste. Neither had been stirred in AGES leaving them dry and packed. So, I'm back to being an active participant. I had a little chat with both of them about chopping things into small pieces, mixing the input, and making sure they have a good stir every few days. One of the first things I did? Put a ton of crazy weeds in with the kitchen waste! Oh, the flies are so nasty. I look forward to getting some good sun, again, so we can get this cooking party started!

    Question: The EMs don't take on too much water, in fact, they sheet almost all of it. They are very well vented so the material ends up being pretty dry most of the time. Do I need to worry about adding more moisture? How much/often?

    Thanks and blessings,
    Prodical Composter in Price Hill
    (aka Heather)

    1. Yes, you want the pile to be about as wet as a wrung out sponge. If it seems dry you can leave the lid off before it rains or water the pile. You want the environment to be hospitable to the mocroorganisms and they need water to thrive.

      Also, if you can find a good layer of leaves to throw on top of the food waste, that should help with the flies.

      Good luck getting those compost bins in shape!

  5. I use Lefty's trick when I get horse manure from the local riding studio. Mind you, the stuff usually stays in longer than a week or two due to my inability to realistically schedule my time . . I mean, my dedication to the process. ;-)

  6. Thanks for weeding out this information! ;) I don't put weeds in my bin since I am not as fond as you are about pulling them once I use the compost. But leaving a bag of them on my bin to "bake" before I put them in is something I will do--and then I can stop throwing away all that other green stuff. Thanks for the post!

  7. You're abilities on composting are impressing. Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge with us!

  8. Thank you so much for *advocating* for adding weeds to bins! People are far too afraid about the seeds and roots.

    As others have stated, baking or drying the weeds with roots will kill them dead. As far as seeds go, there are still several ways to work around that. One - pull weeds when they aren't going to seed; this alone is what motivates me to pull early and often. Two - if you do pull weeds while they're going to seed, you can very easily detach the seed part and throw that part away. There is also a good chance that of the few seeds that make it into your bin, the heating process will do them in.

    So glad I found this blog. Keep up the good work!

    1. There is so much potentially excellent compostable material in weeds, I can't imagine throwing them all away!

  9. Nice! Love that you are saying this. I run in some pretty hardcore composting circles and this is generally taboo. I'm on your side and it's nice to know that I'm not alone!