Landrace Gardening: Racing the Weeds

Reader Contribution by Joseph Lofthouse
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The principles of landrace gardening can help us to grow plants that compete more effectively with weeds. By planting genetically diverse seeds and selecting via survival of the fittest, we can create plant populations that compete better against the local weeds that are common in any specific garden.

One of the earliest things I noticed when I started landrace gardening is that there are tremendous differences in how robustly plants of the same species grow in my garden. Some plants grow vigorously while other plants barely survive. Plants that grow vigorously have a huge advantage over weeds compared to slow growing plants, and that advantage accelerates during the growing season as the vigorous plant chokes out weeds, and the slow-growing plant gets overwhelmed. For example, see the photo of the watermelon plants. They were planted and photographed on the same day. They grew a few feet from each other. The plant in the red box would not compete well with weeds

Slow germination is another issue that can cause the weeds to get a head start over crops. As landrace gardeners we can select among genetically diverse populations for genes that lead to quick germination.  I’ll again use watermelon as the example. This spring about 70% of my watermelon landrace germinated quickly. The 30% that germinated slowly are being eliminated. I drew a yellow box around a slow germinating seed. It was pulled immediately after taking the photo.

Another strategy that I use to select for plants that compete well with weeds is that I allow weeds to grow in my garden. [Not like I could stop them.] Plants that easily succumb to weeds do not survive long enough to produce offspring in my garden, so I am inadvertently selecting for plants that thrive in spite of the weeds. Here’s a photo of a cantaloupe that is thriving among the weeds. I drew a red box around its kin that is not as well adjusted.

I’m enjoying writing these posts, because it gives me ideas about what I need to select for in order to improve my garden. It’s obvious to me today that I need to spend some effort on selecting among my carrots and parsnips for quick germination and early vigorous growth. These are the two crops that I am most likely to lose to weeds. 

As a landrace gardener I have a variety of methods at my disposal to select among genetically diverse crops for plants that will thrive in spite of competition from the local weeds. This is part of the reason why I believe that landrace gardening is a path towards food security through common sense and traditional methods.

Photos by Joseph Lofthouse

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