Weeds are socially constructed

Jul 9th, 2014 | By | Category: Blog

The definition of a weed is a plant growing where it is not wanted. That’s all. This means that what is and is not a weed varies across time and place. In fact, a plant may simultaneously be considered a weed and not a weed by two different people (or even two competing opinions in one person’s mind!) observing it at the same time and in the same place.

A lot of my time these days is spent weeding, so I have plenty of opportunities to contemplate this. For instance, lamb’s quarters are edible plants that show up in my gardens a lot. When small, their leaves are really soft and taste kind of like fresh peas. I always take them out, but isn’t it weird to remove an edible plant from a place designed to… grow edible plants?

Last week, I removed some volunteer tomatoes from a bed that was planted with squash. There, they were weeds. I moved them to an adjacent bed that had been planted with cucumbers but that was still half empty. There, they are a crop. Five feet west, and they are no longer weeds (to be removed and thrown away), but a valuable source of food (to be cultivated, harvested, and eaten). Phrased that way, transplanting is like a miracle. It makes food out of waste with almost no effort!

2 Comments to “Weeds are socially constructed”

  1. Abigail Cheskis says:

    Hi Eliza!

    I really liked your description of the tomato plant seen as a weed in one row of plants and as a valuable crop in another. Although I haven’t done much farming before, I’ve done some work in flower gardens, where weeding was often my main task. I too was frustrated at times, especially because I had also been learning about more permaculture type practices in which weeding isn’t prevalent. But one person’s explanation of weeding definitely helped me to become less frustrated and more accepting of the process: by weeding, you are offering a helping hand to the plant which you are trying to cultivate – removing “weeds” or plants that aren’t “supposed” to be there allows more nutrients and space for the plant to grow and thrive.

    Although I’m sure that you know the purpose of weeding, I thought maybe putting it in that particular way might give you a new perspective. Hope the weeding continues well for the rest of the summer!

  2. Mandy Kwan says:

    Hi Eliza,

    That is cool, I find that very interesting because I weed too and I learned that a lot of the invasive weeds actually have health benefits. It is kind of weird, sometimes I wonder, why can’t we leave these “weeds” here because they do have benefits. However I learned that sometimes having the “weeds” there can take away space for the plants that a farmer may actually want to grow in that area.

    Does the place that you work at save the weeds? Or do you guys just compost them?

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