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Help!? I have no idea which plants I can eat and which are weeds!
This is a common beginner question, and one that I get asked all the time. How do you know which seedlings are your food and which ones are weeds?
Now I know many of you will say: ‘But you can eat many weeds! There are plenty that are edible & healthy for you to consume!’
And you’re right!
However for those that do not wish to consume those edible weeds we’re just going to discuss how you can figure out which of your little seedlings are weeds and which are your crops.
How to Tell your Crops & Weeds Apart
- Wait until they reach the ‘true leaf stage’. I know many beginners believe that the cotyledons (the first leaf that you see) is a true leaf. Cotyledons are the first leaves to emerge when a plant germinates, but they provide nutrients to the seedling until its true leaves unfurl and begin the process of photosynthesis. True leaves will look different from the cotyledons as you can see in the example below.
- Wait for the seedlings to get larger and produce more leaves. Often you can’t tell what they are until a plant gets larger.
- Look at your seed packet photo of the vegetable or fruit, or google certain crops to see what they look like at different stages of growth. Many seed companies offer catalogs or growing guides, and these are perfect to cross-reference what your crops are supposed to look like. If you’re a beginner gardening this is especially important to take note of .
- Look around outside of your garden bed if you’re confused with what crops are there. Often the weed seeds sprouting in the beds will also be close by.
- Keep an eye out for color. Beets, swiss chard or red/purple crops will be easier to distinguish.
- Look for contrasting leaves. Frilly carrot tops or shiny leaves make it easier to tell.
- Pay attention to the timing of germination. If you have plants that popped up 4 weeks after you sowed your crops, but the seed packet said they germinate within 1-2 weeks, chances are this new crop is a weed.
- If you have large masses of something they’re likely weeds (unless you went crazy with the sowing!). I sow many crops in blocks instead of rows (especially if they’re baby greens) however if you just started growing food and don’t know what your crops are it’s better to wait a season or two. In the photo below you can see a pea seedling surrounded by a mass of weeds. On the right I started weeding but there’s lots more to go!
- Sow your crops in rows and mark that row with the variety you’re growing. If you lose the marks (I have kids I know how that goes!) wait for the row to fill in.
- Take photos with your phone of what crops you’re sowing in each row. I leave the seed packets on the ground and take snapshots as back up.
- Be an organized garden planner & keep track of what you’re doing in a season. You’d be amazed at how important dates are when growing food! Learn more about smart garden planning here.
- Don’t use weed infested soil. Of course you won’t know how many weed seeds you have but sometimes free soil ends up being a lot of extra work. If you’re unsure use the solarization technique below.
- Solarization is a method of sprouting your weeds, usually under plastic, and then making them die off before they can go to seed because they’re too stressed from a lack of water/heat. Garden Betty shows you how.
- Tilling often brings weeds seeds back up to the surface. Weed seeds nestle in the top few inches of soil, but many are unable to germinate because they’re too deep. When you till it moves the deeper soil and seeds back up to the top so they can sprout. This means tilling can sometimes cause more work in the long run.
My name is Isis Loran, creator of the Family Food Garden. I’ve been gardening for over 10 years now and push the limits of our zone 5 climates. I love growing heirlooms & experimenting with hundreds of varieties, season extending, crunchy homesteading and permaculture.