Posted on behalf of Will Pleskow, UW student and UWBG volunteer service learner
I never thought weeds would be so endless and time consuming but I certainly have a new perspective on weeding after many back-breaking hours digging out seemingly endless little green plants. All of the planting and weeding that I have done and will do take place right outside the greenhouse in a secluded part of the Arboretum used for plant propagation. The vegetable garden has lain fallow for many months so as you can imagine the weeds were quite healthy at the start of the quarter. The two primary weeds are shotweed (Cardamine hirsute) and horsetail (Equisetum sp.). Horsetails were some of the first land plants to evolve on planet earth and continue to make their impact on gardens as well as my back.
Shotweed is a small plant that has green leaves and sometimes a yellow-white flower budding from the middle. It’s native to North America, Europe, and Asia. It’s part of the mustard family and is the only weed I encountered at the Arboretum that is edible. Shotweed flowers early in the spring up until autumn. After budding Shotweed develops seeds in pods that are highly sensitive and will often burst upon being touched “shooting” its seeds flying in a close proximity to its mother plant. The easy distribution of seeds is what makes this plant multiply and infest so quickly. Often times removing all of the shotweeds visible with the naked eye is not enough as their seeds may still lie around buried in the soil. Due to shotweed distinct qualities it makes it a difficult weed to eradicate and is therefore very prevalent in many parts of the world.
Horsetail is about 1 – 2 feet tall and sticks straight up with whisker-like leaves coming off the sides that give it its distinct look and name. Horsetails, like ferns, are plants that reproduce with spores rather than seeds. Despite its irritating affect when dealing with in the garden, this fascinating plant is a “living fossil” and one of the oldest land plants on earth dating back some 375 million years. This remarkable weed is found everywhere in the world except Antarctica. The horsetail prefers wet sandy soils but is adaptable to almost any type of soil. The stalks start deep beneath the ground, which make it hard to dig out, and also very enduring. In addition, it is also unaffected by many herbicides so the only way to remove this weed is by hand. Horsetail along with shotweed makes for a very lethal duo in the garden and creates a situation where one must constantly be weeding to sustain a healthy garden.
With the new experience I have gained by volunteering at the Arboretum this quarter, I plan to grow and cultivate a sustainable and environmentally friendly garden of my own. This ties directly with what we have been discussing in class and the strong importance professor Litfin places on “knowing where your food is coming from.” I hope one day to have a garden of my own where I can grow my own plants and provide food for myself from my very own garden. This service learning project has been a great opportunity to get hands-on experience with growing and cultivating food in an environmentally friendly and healthy way.