By Andrea Lucy, Experiential Learning Program Lead
Last year, we wrote about how weeds can be used as food and medicine. Now I’m about to tell you that at Fresh Roots we remove most of our weeds. Surprised?
We’ve got a problem. It’s as thick as weeds out there on the farm. Whether you view weeds in a good or bad light, we have WAY too many! From February to October, our farmers spend the time planting. From February to February, our farmers weed, over and over and over again. It’s a losing battle, nature has a leg up on us. And it’s a shame. Not only does it mean it’s more difficult and time-consuming for us to grow beautiful, large produce to share with the community, but it also means students spend less time planting, caring for sprouts, and harvesting because the time is consumed by weeding.
But, we have a solution. Introducing the flame weeder!
Did your jaw drop? Mine did too at first when I heard we use this. After last year’s wildfires that wreaked through interior BC, the last thing we want is fire on the landscape. Right? Not necessarily. As our farmers have shown, the difference here is that the flame weeder is a very controlled fire. We choose where the small fire goes, and have all the resources at the ready to put the fire out when we want to.
Here are a few reasons why a flame weeder is a beneficial tool on our farms:
- Helps us grow food organically without the use of pesticides.
- Reclaim farmland we can’t use otherwise due to the forest of weeds
- Increases efficiency (eg: less labour weeding = more food to market)
- More time for education, less time weeding
- Learning with plants year-round. During the winter many classes visit our farms, but because of our issues with weeds, we have to cover all our rows with black tarps to try to smother the weeds during winter. Therefore, visiting classes can’t engage with any winter crops or plants.
- Can practice no-till method with the flame weeder, meaning we don’t destroy the delicate network of bacteria, fungi, invertebrates, and nutrients built up in the soil. The no-till method also reduces soil erosion.
We’ve got a plan, now all we need are a couple more flame weeders to add to our toolkit.
Using controlled fire on the landscape is nothing new, but it’s something we’ve forgotten in the last 150 years of colonization. Dr. Amy Christianson’s and many other Indigenous scholars and firefighters’ work on “Good Fire” is bringing this sustainable tradition back to light, during a time it’s desperately needed. This Ologies podcast with host Alie Ward and guest Dr. Amy Christianson is an eye-opening introduction to Indigenous Fire Ecology . The Good Fire podcast goes even deeper, with an emphasis on the BC context.
To learn more about the good, the bad, and the ugly of weeds, try out some of the hands-on activities here: