Weeds might be the bane of the conventional farmer, but at Avondale we regard them as storytellers that are worth listening to. Every weed has an ideal environment that it likes to grow in. If a soil is out of balance – deficient in certain minerals, too acid or too alkaline, a specific profile of weeds will grow there as living testimony to the particular environmental condition. Really hardy, pioneering weeds are the narrators of very deficient soils.
Instead of waging war on weeds, we are interested in what the plant is telling us about our soil conditions. An example of this, is that in 1999, our wetter vlei area was literally infested with nutsedge, also known as “uintjie”. This is a notoriously tough weed to get rid of, whether manually or by using herbicides. Nutsedge thrives in acidic soils that are usually deficient in calcium, phosphate and zinc. The plant does well and spreads vigorously in wet, anaerobic conditions where drainage in the soil is poor. In order to sort out our nutsedge problem we started by addressing the deficiencies in the soil by adding natural sources of rock phosphate and zinc, as well as dolomitic and calcitic limes to balance the Ph. We sowed cover crops in the area to improve drainage. Knowing how resilient nutsedge is, we expected that it might take some time before we solved the problem. However, the weeds disappeared in just one growing season, and have not returned. Nor will the nutsedge return, while the soils remain balanced. Weed seeds and bulbs can be in the soil for 5, 15 or even 50 years without germinating. If the soil conditions are not ideal for their growth, they will simply be dormant. Thus, achieving and maintaining balance in the soils, and in the ecosystem as a whole, is a highly effective yet gentle approach to weed control.