Thursday, August 7, 2008

Weed Control

Anagalis arvensis is a weed that produces an advanced root system to ensure its survival. Datura stramonium relies primarily on seed for reproduction.

Left: Anagallis arvensis, a weed that produces an advanced root system to ensure its survival; right: Datura stramonium, a vigorous weed that relies primarily on seed for reproduction.

A weed is defined in the most simple manner as a plant growing in an area where it is unwanted. This could apply to a garden, a farm, or any possible landscape where a plant may appear. Plants may be considered unwanted based on ornamental value or their competitiveness with desired plants. Plants within the same community often compete for water, nutrients, and physical space. Unfortunately, it is the weed that most often wins, followed by a reduction in crop yields and garden aesthetics. It is in these situations, that weed control is most often practiced.

Before we make an attempt at weed control, it is important for us to understand why the weed is so often victorious over the plants that we originally intend to grow. An ecological definition of the weed will bring us closer to an understanding: “Weeds are plants that are especially successful at colonizing disturbed, but potentially productive sites, and at maintaining their abundance under conditions of repeated disturbance” (Liebman, Mohler, and Staver, Ecological Management of Agricultural Weeds, 2001). Unlike the cultivated plants of the farm or garden, weeds have biologically adapted to these conditions over several generations to ensure survival. An example of this biological adaptation could be the size and structure of the seed or the the length of a tap root.  Weeds with an annual or biennial life cycle primarily rely on seeding to spread. However, perennial weeds have highly developed root systems, in addition to seeding, that give them an advantage in spreading and creating new plants asexually. Knowing these characteristics helps us develop strategies for control.

In the past the gardeners at The Cloisters have relied primarily on the mechanical removal of weeds—hand weeding. Although this technique is effective, it is obviously the most time-consuming and labor intensive. This season we have been experimenting with steam as a means of weed control. We use a simple steam cleaner, which is the size of a vacuum. The results have been wonderful. If applied at the right time, the steam addresses both seed dispersal and the vigorous root systems of weeds. Not only is it effective, it has its roots in the Middle Ages, as mentioned in the earlier post, “Another Thistle”.

—Kevin Wiecks

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Comments (8)

  1. Adriana Says:

    You may like to know that Datura Stramonium or Thorn Apple is a psychoactive plant and thus could be found in the long list of witches herbs. The witches used this nightshade plant along with henbane to make “flying ointment.”

  2. Kevin Wiecks Says:

    Hi Adriana,
    Thank you for the information, as well as your participation on this blog. We have been growing both Datura stramonium and Datura metel for some time at the Cloisters. They have both been located in our magic bed for the reasons you mentioned. The plant actually contains the same active alkaloids as Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade, another plant with psychoactive properties.

  3. Reupbert Says:

    I also believe I saw Salvia Divinorum during my visit, which also is known for it’s psychoactive effects and has a long history of use in visionary quests and spiritual healing. I find it very interesting that this plant is in the Sage genus and mint (Lamiaceae) family.

  4. Kevin Wiecks Says:

    Hi Reupbert,
    Salvia divinorum is not grown at the Cloisters. The plants in Bonnefont Herb Garden are restricted to Medieval species. Salvia divinorum is a new world plant that is believed to be native to Oaxaca, Mexico. R. Gordon Wasson, early pioneer in ethnobotany, also found it very interesting that a member of the Lamiaceae family had these properties. In one of the first publications on S. divinorum, Wasson discusses the use of this plant, as well as Coleus pumila, another member of the Lamiaceae family, by the Mazatec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico. Wasson also suggested that S. divinorum may be a cultigen, altered by man for certain desired traits. (R. Gordon Wasson, Salvia divinorum- A New Psychedelic From The Mint Family, 1963).

  5. Betty Says:

    I am very interested in the steam method of weed control. You describe a machine the size of a vacuum. Is this a commercially available machine? I have seen clothes steaming devices in retail stores called “professional steamers” with a vacuum like tank and a long wand. Is this similar to the steamer you use or perhaps an “off label” use of one of these clothes steamers that you have adopted for the purpose of weed removal. Thanks in advance for any info you can share.
    Betty

  6. Kevin Wiecks Says:

    Hi Betty,
    The steamer we use at the Cloisters is very similar to the smaller devices used on clothing and furniture and it works wonderfully. However, they do make other steamers that are specialized for weed control. The steam reaches higher temperatures and is under greater pressure. They also have attachments that make it easier for application, but these machines tend to be very expensive.

  7. SJE Corp Says:

    Hello,

    We have been exporting our industrial grade steam machines to France and Canada as professional weed-removal equipments successfully. You can see few pictures of such applications on our website.

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