Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Weeds in the perennials bed

Photo of a garden bed with various shrubs and flowers and a ground cover of weeds
Perennials (edible and ornamental) and chicken food (weeds)
I've had a bit of an internal debate about my perennials section in the back corner.  It's the least visited area of my garden, unless you count the front postage stamp of course.  I frequently visit the goldfish pond but only go into the perennial section beyond it once or twice a week.

Currently it has many shrubs, both decorative and food producing.  It also has some herbaceous, aka non-woody, perennials, but most of all it has weeds:  everywhere!  Now I'm not a fan of bare, exposed soil.  I certainly prefer weeds to that.  However, I'm torn as to whether I should leave the weeds (as they're great chicken feed), or go with the more tidy look of thick mulch;  After all, the rest of the garden is pretty tidy looking, especially compared to that riot of weeds.  You can't even tell where the paths are any more.

It's true I don't let many weeds grow in my veg beds:  they shelter slugs, the bane of my life.  Some weeds I permit, however, like the current covering of chickweed amongst the broad beans, or the occasional dandelion here and there.  I know the chickweed will die off in warm weather, and even if it didn't it's easily pulled or hoed out.  And dandelion, besides being the chickens' favorite food, doesn't take up much room either above or below ground, so a few here and there with the veg doesn't bother me;  I harvest the tops every once in a while for the chickens, leaving the roots in situ.  A whole bed of dandelions would be more of a problem, of course, but that's not the present situation.

But back to the perennials.  Right now I don't dare let the chickens in to self-harvest, as I don't trust them not to dig up the newly transplanted sorrel, or help themselves to the young redcurrants and gooseberries.  In fact, for a good proportion of the summer, they just aren't allowed back there because of the damage they do.  So either I have to cut the weeds myself and bring them to chickens, or just let them grow and grow until it's safe to let them in.

On the other hand, a thick layer of mulch will also produce some chicken feed:  bugs and slugs, although those weeds also produce bugs and slugs.  Mulch is easier maintenance--just topping up and raking it back into place every once in a while.  And it looks nicer than a tangle of weeds.  It's also good for the worms and other soil life, and in turn good for the plants.

So there's my dilemma.  On one hand, free, high quality greens (with bonus bugs) for chickens;  on the other, healthy soil resulting in healthy plants (again with bonus bugs).  Both would serve to give us high quality food, in both eggs and fruit.  But which one is best?

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