Learn to Love Your Weeds

We’re on a mission to help you think differently about your weeds.


Every time we talk about weeds during a workshop, there’s always a few people that are very resistant to the idea that we should welcome—and dare we say it, even encourage—weeds under our fruit trees.

First let’s have a think about what a weed really is. In most cases what we really mean is a plant that got there by itself, i.e., we didn’t plant it. Even for experienced gardeners, it can be difficult (almost impossible) to know all the plants in your garden, and when we don’t know what a plant is, many of us have a slightly unfortunate tendency to take the approach of “if in doubt, rip it out.”

Yorkshire fog grass
Yorkshire fog grass

Actually, no plants are intrinsically “bad”, even the ones that have characteristics that make them unpleasant to have around (Gorse, anyone?) or possibly dangerous to an ecosystem (think wild blackberries in the Australian bush). But even blackberries are valued in their native England, where they form natural fences and barriers along many a country lane, and are valued for their fruit. So really, a weed is just a plant that we have decided is in the wrong place.

Many plants we think of as weeds are also herbs, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as “any plant with leaves, seeds or flowers used for flavouring, food, medicine or perfume.” They also have other uses such as stock feed, dyes and cosmetics. Suddenly, weeds start to look useful!

Onion grass in pear block
Mixed weeds in the orchard

From a biological farming point of view, we also prefer to having living plants under our fruit trees (as opposed to bare soil, or even to mulch), for a long list of reasons: they keep the ground cooler, provide habitat for soil microbes on their roots, provide organic matter for microbes and earthworms to eat, pump carbon into the soil, attract predator insects, and fix nitrogen – just to name a few!

So, with that very long list of positives in mind, it suddenly becomes much easier to find reasons to love each and every one of the plants in your garden, regardless of whether you think of them as a “weed” or not.

Marshmallow & Capeweed

Learning the name of a plant is the next step to appreciating its attributes, and deciding whether or not deserves a place in your garden.

But it can be overwhelming, because there are literally thousands of plants that are commonly found in gardens and backyards. So, take it one step at a time. In the Grow Great Fruit program we look at one new weed every couple of weeks and go in-depth into its properties, how to identify it, and all its potential uses. It’s a neverending (and endlessly fascinating) topic, but these are some of the ones we’ve covered so far:

  • Great Mullein
  • Gorse
  • Marshmallow
  • Cleavers
  • Plantain
  • Capeweed
  • Yorkshire fog grass
  • Oxalis
  • Wild radish
  • Knotgrass
  • Borage
  • Dandelion
  • Tansy
  • Ivy leaf speedwell
  • Blackberry
  • Fumitory
  • Catsear
Harvesting wild blackberries

Wannabe an organic farmer?

Since we started sharing our farm with the Gung Hoe Growers and their market garden, we’ve suspected that there’s a groundswell of people out there who would love to do what we’re doing – running slightly too small (by commercial standards) organic farms for profit or love.

ggf-facebook-pageSo to test our theory, recently we wrote a post on our Facebook page inviting comments from people who want to be organic farmers or live a self-sustaining lifestyle, asking what’s stopping them? What are the biggest barriers that get in the way of people realising their goals and ‘living the dream’?

Well, what a massive response! We got an outpouring from many people who expressed in equal measure their passion and desire to be growing their own food, along with the frustration and disappointment of how hard it can be to make it work.

Here’s just a selection of what people had to say about…

unnamed-1…their dreams and aspirations:

  • to become semi self-sufficient and trade with others nearby
  • just for home use…I would like to be able to supply family
  • I want to set up an organic/permaculture veggie garden and orchard integrating traditional fruit and vegies as well as bush tucker foods
  • I want to start my own organic market garden, buying land and a house somewhere cheaper, I think I know what I need and have the funds to do it, I just need help with a business plan and would love a mentor. I know what to do, just need support. I love growing organic vegies!
  • It’s a dream to one day have a patch that we can live off sustainably
  • implementing food garden and chooks, animals
  • I want to make a living out of my farm – but I don’t know how

img3494…the biggest challenges and barriers:

  • lack of infrastructure
  • lack of machinery
  • lack of TIME
  • having to work full time to pay for the farm
  • knowing what you want to get out of it
  • knowing what you need to do to get the best return from your soil type
  • understanding how to use organic principles
  • the skills to be water wise and knowing how to improve an old, outdated, inefficient irrigation system
  • weed control
  • pest control
  • compost making
  • setting up networks for support and marketing
  • planning and working with what is there with progression plan
  • structure, fencing, water

…the questions people need answered:

  • what can we produce what there is a demand for?
  • how do we know if there will be a market for what we want to grow?
  • how to develop a small farm into a profit-generating enterprise?
  • how do I engage neighbours in productive conversation re spray drift and chemicals in waterways?
  • how do I improve soil as quickly as possible?

…and the wishlist of what people want or need to help them realise their dreams:

  • I need a business plan and a mentor
  • being able to read the wisdom of weeds
  • the money to buy the farm
  • designing farm layout (keyline principles)
  • I need a basic design

Wow. Basically, these guys wrote our life story. We have shared these dreams, asked those questions and felt frustration at all those barriers.

But when we look back over the last 20 years, we’re also incredibly lucky that the pathway that this farm has taken us on has answered so many of those questions. We’ve done courses, read books, had mentors, employed business consultants, done farm planning, done market research, established marketing supply chains and networks, learned to value and understand our weeds, and learned the wisdom of continuously working on improving our soil.

Not that we would ever claim to ‘know it all’ – far from it! After all this time, we’re still learning and evolving. But what we do have is many years of experience, lots of runs on the board, and the successful experiment of Mel and Sas starting a micro-farm at our place, which has opened our eyes to a whole new way of farming, where we can use our land, resources and experience to provide a pathway for a new generation of farmers and food growers.

And judging by the recent outpouring on Facebook, this is just the beginning!blog-2015-08-27-1

A reflection on life – and weeds…

Hi there!

Just a disclaimer before you go any further: This is more of a diary entry than a blog…

I (Mel) fell in love with working with and in the earth for many reasons, but I do remember one moment when I began to see lots of parallels to being human and the way the earth moves. I saw in winter how nice it was to hibernate, and take stock, as it seems plants are doing also. They are ever growing, even if it doesn’t look it on the outside. I like to think of carrots…they’re getting sweet and juicy under there, but you’d never know. Trees are still flowing with life even though they look dead. It’s when you can work on them without too much harm (eg, pruning, transplanting).


I believe when we live in awareness with the plants and animals around us, the moon, the changing daylight hours, we also live and feel the earth’s seasons. But we also have our own human seasons. Seasons, or chapters we can call them, of joy, growth, pain, acceptance, learning… We could make a list a day long!

I’m not sure yet what this chapter I’m in shall be called, but for me it’s been new territory. It’s been a big year. Both Sas and I had very hard work lives last year which left us a bit worn to say the least, then earlier this year a good friend suicided, close friends had some big life issues to deal with and there’s recently been a family death—it’s all seemed a bit big to handle sometimes.


My resilience feels naught and things that aren’t really a big deal or stressful make me wanna melt into a puddle and slide away.

The reason I’m sharing all this is because sometimes media just shows us the good, happy and ‘successful’ things and I don’t think it’s always helpful or real. It can make us think if we’re not those things then we’re failing. Not true!

Sas and I took winter slow at the patch so we could work hard at our off-farm jobs to try and save $, but it’s been a hard juggle and what’s real has been the consistent support and belief from our friends, families and community in us both as people and our vision.

Thanks to some of that support shown in monetary means, we had a whole paid week at the patch this week. Despite the rotten weather we got stuck in and started on all the jobs we’ve wanted to do but they haven’t had our priority due to lack of time. (There’s an important lesson just in that!)


It’s felt so good working with the earth again for a decent amount of days and observing things I hadn’t seen for months that brought back magic moments of realisations. For example, of course when you work the earth different weeds come up due to the land’s history, compaction, water, cultivation techniques, etc. etc. A year on, where we’ve worked there are different and less weeds coming up; these tell us about the health of the soil. You can only observe this over time and with conscious involvement with where you are working. The health and resilience of the soil requires us to pay attention to everything!

This is much like us as humans—over time different weeds come up that tell us how we’re going. They are signs to observe and listen to in order to take real care of ourselves. They can also show us the history of what we’ve learnt, the work we’ve done and the learning we’re in the process of, just like looking at weeds in the patch.

After a solid day of picking yesterday Sas and I felt the sunshine on our faces, the dirt under our nails and a renewed sense of hope. We are gonna be ok as humans and we are able to get that patch back into shape and looking beautiful and it’s really productive!! It just required a bit more time, not just to keep it going, but to do all the maintenance too (can you read the age old realisation in that statement?!).

Our sweet peas are abundant, the broadies and snowpeas are a small forest in their own right, the bees have lots of flowers for food… There is life and we are in it!! Thanks again for all the support out there.

May you nourish yourselves and your own seasons,

Mel n Sas.