Re-defining the Garden Weed: The Dynamic Accumulator

Re-defining the Garden Weed: The Dynamic Accumulator

Weeds get a lot of negative press, but once you’ve heard about dynamic accumulators you’ll be open to using weeds as an active and functional part of your garden. There are hundreds of weeds out there that don’t deserve the harsh treatment we’ve so commonly given them. In fact an area of land with a lot of weeds usually is an indicator of soil health, and nitrogen richness which many of the fruits and veggies we eat need to thrive. Dynamic Accumulators are plants that have a special knack for using their roots to pull up micro and macronutrients in the soil and make them available to be used by neighboring plants.

One of the reasons weeds can be tricky to the modern day farmer is because they’re so good at absorbing those nutrients, we just naturally assume that they’ll outperform vegetables, which is only partially true. Competing root systems can be problematic for many crops, but by keeping the right kinds of weeds in the ground you’ll actually improve your soil quality and promote a biodiverse ecosystem that most crops have higher rates of success in. When we think of weeds we think “pull ‘em up” and never consider how they might benefit an entire ecosystem, dynamic accumulators might be one of the best ways to diversify while fixing the soil with plenty of nitrogen.

Here’s a list of 4 dynamic accumulators that UMass Permaculture and UMass Dining use in their gardens to retain biodiversity and healthy soil systems. With dynamic accumulators in mind we can revise our analysis of weeds and promote some unique species to bring a touch of biodiversity that will end up truly helping your plants.

#1 White Clover

White clover pictured here is seeded as a cover crop in between these cabbage plants. 

Most varieties of clover are multi-functional ground covers that shouldn't be weeded from your garden. While we see clover often pop up and dismiss it as a weed, it’s probably popping up because there’s a lot of nitrogen in the soil. Clover is a legume (like beans) and is a fantastic nitrogen fixer, which means its root system contains small bacterial nodes that absorb nitrogen from the soil and easily convert it into ammonium, which is essential to any plants growth. Plant clover as a ground cover and let it grow!

#2 Burdock

The large leafy green in the background is burdock, scrounging up nutrients for the leeks growing in this garden.

The burdock plant has all kinds of medicinal benefits. The root has high levels of inulin (up to 50 percent), which has traditionally been used to treat diabetes. Both its flowers and leaves have antibacterial properties. A tea from the leaves and stems has been used to treat rheumatism, and tea mixed with brown sugar has been used to treat measles. The seeds are used as a diuretic.

#3 Chickweed

A largely forgotten culinary 'weed' chickweed is tasty as a leafy green in salads, as the name suggsts its also great chicken feed. 

A highly nutritious dynamic accumulator, chickweed is not only edible but it will draw up nutrients and restore the soil in any garden. A great companion plant, and a resilient ground cover to be planted with any low-lying vegetables.

#4 Comfrey 

Comfrey leaves are exceptionally large and surprisingly soft. Their ability to break down in compost is also unmistakable. 

Comfreys nitrogen content is particularly high, making it a good substitute for animal manures in compost systems. The leaves are also a good activator in stagnant compost bins due to their super speedy ability to rot down. Having comfrey in the garden growing alongside other plants also brings in other benefits such as their ability to draw up nutrients from below the root zone of most other plants.

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Gifford Delle
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