Why growing your own weeds sometimes just won't work

RosemaryDW

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I'm writing this post because I often see members very stressed over finding "safe" weeds and foods around them. I'm fortunate to have access to weeds and good foods without growing them myself. I am in a mild climate so things do grow most of the year. We don't have snow or freezing temperatures. That said, it's a very dry and scrubby location, on top of which I don't have much space for plants.

This is the one space I have available to me "just" for weeds. It's what I imagine is available to some apartment dwellers or other people with limited space. You can see it isn't very good. The ground is hard as a rock; it's in shade half the time and hot, reflected sun most of the rest. We store junk out here. (Anyone want a fiberglass canoe? Cheap!)

That hasn't stopped me from trying; I really like the idea of having foods available without leaving the house. This winter I spread out red clover seeds, which can help improve bad soil over time. I harvested weed seeds from other areas, dried them, and put them out, carefully pressing them into the soil with my feet. I planted a couple of planters, one with "good" soil we had purchased, one with the sad clay soil we already have. One got a wildflower seed mix, weed seeds, and some of Tyler's seed mix for tortoises. The rest of the wildflower seeds got tossed to the ground, as did some more of Tyler's mix.

We had great rain this year and I was hopeful but once again I got bubkis. You can see a few decent plants at the front of the space but it gets pathetic as you move to the back.

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The sow thistles grew okay, as did some of the chicories from Tyler's mix.

The clovers gave it a go. Once it got at all hot, however, they withered and died, even though I watered. Bugs ate those that did grow.

The wildflowers and Tyler's herbs really struggled. They sprouted but never grew well in clay and shade. Here is the single Chinese Houses plant that bloomed: one bloom on a stunted plant.

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Because this side of the house grows so poorly, birds never come here to look for food. But aphids and small catepillars sure do. Without any predators, they are everywhere and they've eaten much of what did grow. Here is what is happening to most of the true weeds; nothing left but stems.

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Even the tough mallow in this pot is being chewed.

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I got one big wildflower out of the other pot: it won't last long but it sure is pretty. Too bad the tortoise doesn't like it. o_O I have a couple of other flowers in here, most died when it got hot.

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Looking things over, I might get two weeks food for one hungry Russian out of this if the bugs and heat don't get it first. Let me point out that it is early May--it isn't even hot yet.

The one thing here that grows back well is a native grape; looks like we got it in just the right spot. She does eat this, the bugs don't, and it takes next to no effort. We've got some spineless cactus next to the garage and it goes okay but is still quite small.

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I love having weeds and other foods easily available but if I was limited to my own space, I'd be out of luck.

All this to say that sometimes our best efforts to grow weeds and wild plants just won't do it. When that's the case, we have to do the best we can with store bought foods; perhaps the few things we can grow or find; and the occasional weed or windfall food. We've got plenty of members who do just that and raise healthy tortoises. Weeds are ideal foods, but I don't think members should beat themselves up if they can't find a way to get them, especially when they are brand new members and have so many other things to get right, like enclosures.

Just one opinion!
 

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Big Charlie

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I wonder if you would have been almost as successful if you had loosened the soil and watered it, and just let the natural weeds grow. I've tried planting grass several years in a row and it never works, even with grass seed that is guaranteed to grow. All that grows is mostly crabgrass and some wild grasses. There is one type that dies out in the summer and another that dies out in the winter. It looks sparser this year than in the past. With all the rains we got this year, we had tons of sow thistles. They are mostly dead now, and the bugs got to them too. I think some of the weeds that were dominant in other years, like nettle, didn't do as well.

When we had a ranch, one year we spread wildflower seeds over a large area without preparing the soil or raking it in, and without watering. They came in beautifully. I don't think that would work here.

Your grapevine looks great.
 

Cowboy_Ken

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Oftentimes even in parks where the caretakers and gardeners say they use no sprays of any kind they do regardless of what they tell you.
I think it's best to meet your neighbors and see if maybe they can't help you out. I had one neighbor that would regularly leave dandelions in her garden until they were huge, just so she could feed the weeds to my tortoises.
 

ZEROPILOT

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My yard is reclaimed swampland. It's very alkaline and mostly sand and chunks of coral, but that seed mix took off and grew like crazy in full sun.
Can you make a framed box and place soil in it and plant the seeds in the "better" soil?
 

RosemaryDW

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Oh goodness, thanks so much for all the suggestions!

I did not make myself clear. I have a small but "good" space on the other size of the house! Two years ago, six months before we found Addy, it had been landscaped to support local, native plants. It took a lot of work and dollars. I'm also near some unsprayed public areas and a good farmers market. I even had a multi-week assignment in high school biology learning to identify California plants! None of that happened with a tortoise in mind; we just lucked out (or she did).

In other words, I have resources that many people do not, whether they are financial or geographical; without them, I would just have a pathetic spot of clay soil. I could make it work better by boring holes with a jackhammer but it still wouldn't be very productive. I've tried; like I said I'd like to be able to walk around the house and grab some weeds. I put a picture of the "good" side below. You can see it's not fully grown in and won't be for some time. Addy is a terror on some of our smaller plants; I'd like to limit the destruction. :)

I wrote this post because I thought it might be helpful to owners with limited options. So often I see new owners distressed looking for good foods, when they don't yet know much about plants or truly are in a bad location for one reason or another.

The biggest issues I see mentioned in the forum are to help new owners in getting the heat and temperatures right; over and over the experts (rightly) point out the problems that are most harmful to tortoises. Poor diets aren't good but they don't cause the immediate issues that the others things do. The diet help given here is amazing; I think it is also overwhelming at times. I know I've been responsible for some excessive detail--just look at this post! :)

The right foods are absolutely important. I'm trying to find my own way to better supporting newbies with information I post. Many folks here are already great at that.

I hope all of this makes some sense.

The "good" side: The four white spots are the few primroses she didn't get this year. Most were eaten to the ground.

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ethan508

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Growing many-things from seeds is challenging, it is why the greenhouse/nursery industry can stay in business despite a packet of seed cost 1/10 the price of a seedling. Weeds might be more fickle than we give them credit for. They survive because they are opportunist that send out millions of seeds that can lay dormant for long periods but will jump into action given the proper conditions.

When you garden, you pull weeds the entire growing season, but I've noticed that different weeds give me different troubles based on hot/dry, hot/wet, cold/dry, cold/wet and everything in-between. For example, I have no bindweed (morning glory) or milkweed now but they will be everywhere in August. For now I have blue mustard, white top, and weed grasses but those will all die off in the heat of summer.

So if growing weeds isn't working, fall back to the edible flower plants that are readily available as transplants/seedlings at the nursery (petunia, pansy, zinnia, etc).
 

RosemaryDW

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Bindweed is a summer weed around here for sure. Keeping milkweed going is hard but then again we've got a different kind of nursery going on. :)

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