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How do I see buttercups as a blessing?  RSS feed

 
Jason Greenwood
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I'm in western Washington and have a suburban plot that has been well disturbed in it's history. Aside of the, there are buttercups almost everywhere (except further back in undisturbed forest), and they are constantly angling at my gardens. Several areas of former lawn that I am converting into gardens without tilling are significantly infested. Or, to use a word loaded in a different direction, significantly endowed.

If you haven't dealt with buttercups before, they grow to about a foot or two tall, send out 20 foot runners in all directions, inhibit nitrogen fixers in the soil, and smother everything around them for light. They can grow in the shade where little else does, and from their launch their attacks benevolence on the surrounding areas.

It would be easy to plastic-mulch them out of existence, but in the process I'd kill the wonderfully thick layer of moss that serves as a living mulch, and all the other life that is heading in the right direction. I want to understand how these can serve a useful function in a process of restoration of this sad land. As has been discussed before (on a podcast, at least), plants regarded as invasive are often helpful pioneers in the process of restoration, by growing and providing a foothold of organic matter and fertility before other plants would be able to.

The thing that puzzles me here is their anti-nitrogen impact, and the fact that buttercups won't ever want to give up no matter what the soil does, and it feels like I'll have to wage mighty war in the future if I let them get any more established than they are now. I'd love any insights!

J
 
Galadriel Freden
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Location: West Yorkshire, UK
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Hi Jason and welcome!

I too have buttercups in my rather small suburban garden. From my own observation, their best quality is that they seem to stop erosion pretty well, as they cover soft ground quickly and firmly with their runners. I personally seldom pull weeds any more, buttercups included, but just chop and drop them for the most part. I have successfully sheet mulched them into submission, too. If you plan on eradicating them, the bare ground will need to be planted immediately, and/or mulched heavily to prevent recolonization.

I am currently experimenting with deep mulching--8-12 inches of moldy hay in this case--instead of sheet mulching. I deep mulched a bed in late spring, after the buttercups had established themselves there, and about six months later they're still under the mulch and have not sent out runners, and only a couple of leaves are still poking through. This could be an option for already planted vegetable beds, where sheet mulching would be difficult.

Good luck; at least the flowers are pretty, if nothing else!
 
Lora Van
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Location: Seaside, OR
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What a good question. I live on the coast of Oregon. I am trying to learn to love buttercup. It really likes the foundation around my house which is fine because my house is dark blue and it looks really good near it. It seems to make a mighty fine groundcover that keeps out the grass from our yard. I do have some shrubs and flowers there too so I have also used the chop and drop method around them to at least give them a fighting chance. I have never lost anything yet to the buttercups relentless sprawl but maybe I have just been lucky. I look forward to hearing some answers to your question.
 
John Saltveit
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There are both serious and silly reasons to like buttercup. Let's start off with the silly ones. Robin Wright was named Buttercup in the movie "Princess Bride". Also if you put one under your chin it will discern whether you like butter or not. Just ask any 6 year old.

However, and PERHAPS more importantly, buttercups are so incredibly powerful here in the PNW because they are dynamic accumulators of calcium. We tend toward low calcium soils here in the PNW due to heavy rainfall, which perhaps you've heard about. In addition, buttercups and other ranunculae are very unlikely to be in the same family as your vegetables, fruit, or mushrooms, and so biodiversify your yard, adding an entirely different set of microbes to the soil food web and assuring that a balance of soil life will not allow one powerful disease to take over your whole yard. Pulling out the leafy parts before flowering adds that organic material to your yard, which is full of calcium and improves the heavy clay (Willamette Valley) or sand (Puget Sound) so that food grows better.

After I added ag lime to my soil, buttercups weren't wiped out. They just became so much less aggressive which is fine by me. Just make sure you look closely before you eat parsley, burnet salad, or earth chestnut leaves, because you don't want to eat a poisonous buttercup by mistake.

John S
PDX OR
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
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Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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Why do you build me up (build me up) Buttercup, baby
Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around
And then worst of all (worst of all) you never call, baby
When you say you will (say you will) but I love you still.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
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Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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Ken Peavy had an awesome observation, that lawn clippings can be used to make a nitrogen fertilizer. Just add them to water, let them stand three days, then apply to ground. Less salty than human-generated nitrogen, though that's good in a pinch, but pretty fast to make and free!

You could do this with the buttercups and then have nitrogen plus calcium to give to your soil.

Also, they're helpful for bees and other pollinators, have a pretty long flowering season.

And maybe there's a good reason for their nitrogen-fixer inhibition--maybe that is a part of its pioneering function? by preventing nitrogen-fixers from coming in too soon before the calcium is available? I'm thinking of how sepp holzer says chopping and dropping is bad for the fields (!) because the grass breaks down too fast and over-fertilizes the soil--beter to let the snow push the grasses down in the winter and decompose at their natural rate, something like that. So maybe the timing is there for a reason. Millions of years of evolution and symbiosis. As the Evil Queen put it in Once Upon a Time, "There are forces at work that we know nothing about."
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
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Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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PS we got an "opportunity" to test out the snow-pushing-weeds-down thing this winter in Boston...had a bumper crop of lambs quarter come up this year but I can't say for sure it was dramatically more than last year's.
 
John Saltveit
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I like the idea in general but I'm going to add a word of caution, Joshua.

Elaine Ingham often mentions that if you cultivate anaerobically, like leaving plants in water without pumping oxygen, you cultivate a particular type of microbe. The anaerobic microbes tend to build things in the soil that don't create the soil food web that helps grow vegetables and fruit. It's good for molds, slimes, and fungus that works against human health. Typically, they create diseases in humans. However, I don't think that's what we want in our soil food web. In nature, leaves typically fall in a forest over logs and sticks. There are little pathways for oxygen to flow through. In the soil in a natural forest, enough sticks and rocks are in there so there is some drainage and oxygen flowing throughout the soil that disease carrying microbes don't dominate.

I make compost tea regularly, but I pump air into it, so it creates microbes that benefit human and human food health. Because I like people, as well as lots of other beings. I don't like disease microbes as much. Perhaps I am a speciesist.

John S
PDX OR
 
Hans Quistorff
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My carpet garden did a good control on them.
 
André Troylilas
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A belgian permie regurlarly tells that the buttercups are edible, bringing lots of interesting nutriments but as horrible as can be regarding the taste.

In my garden, I put lots of straw in order to contain their development; it somehow works, but they're still there.
I do hope they will go away when my soil will be better; I heard they were frequent on hydromorphic compacted soils.
 
john mcginnis
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André Troylilas wrote:A belgian permie regurlarly tells that the buttercups are edible, bringing lots of interesting nutriments but as horrible as can be regarding the taste.

In my garden, I put lots of straw in order to contain their development; it somehow works, but they're still there.
I do hope they will go away when my soil will be better; I heard they were frequent on hydromorphic compacted soils.


Follow on to that idea, seems to me that rather than tight the buttercups yourself enlist the aid of a particular critter than is fond of buttercups. I for example scythe the weeds down in sections, let the chickens have their fill of the cuttings. What ever is left is fodder for the compost pile. Once the section is down a revisit by the chickens a couple of times takes out any re-emergence. Seems to work so far.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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On toxicity of buttercup, or lack there of, ID yours carefully before eating, or feeding to stock.
http://www.eattheweeds.com/buttercups/
 
John Saltveit
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Nice idea on the Green Deane edible page. They also are indicators of wet clay and hardpan, which they are adding organic material to and making better drainage for.


John S
PDX OR
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
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Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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good point about the anaerobic microbes, it's important to soak it only a few days. sepp holzer makes one that soaks a lot longer and ferments, somehow, but that's for a different purpose and I forget the details . Ken's one came from Mother Earth News I think, and he said you need to take it out before it begins to stink (sign of anaerobic microbes).
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Get a goat that you are not going to milk, watch the joy on their faces while they eat them, you will then have received the joy from watching the goat eat buttercups!!!

do not drink milk the buttercups make milk taste awful from goats! Hahaha
 
Angelika Maier
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John your air thing is interesting, how is your setup? And I would like to know too if it is true or rumor that buttercups contains calcium, then they could be used as fertilizer (dried buttercup??) I have so many of them. They indicate poor drainage.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Thinking back on times that i observed goats eating butter cup and refusing to touch it: When they were eating it it was growing tall and compact. When they refused to touch it it was low and sending out runners to start new plants. Therefore there may be different degrees of toxicity in different growth states.

From a permaculture standpoint observe what it is doing and try to discern why. I have observed that it has shallow but very tough roots. You can cultivate under the roots and up root them but very difficult to chop through them. It will grow in full sun as long as there is sufficient moisture and also likes an edge which has bare soil due to shade in which case it provides ground cover where its roots do not compete with deeper rooted shrubs. It can be smothered if the ground is covered to block all light.

I frequently have opportunities to pick up carpet when a whole house has all the carpet torn out and replaced. One of the first batches was cut in 3 or 4 foot wide strips which was perfect for between my berry rows. The 8 foot wide role worked perfect for the pumpkins in the previous post. The plan is, as soon as the patch is cleared, I will roll the carpet up and ad more grass from the field and roll them out in the opposite orientation. The crop then grows in fresh soil and the critters under the carpet continue to cultivate the soil.
 
John Saltveit
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Like most home compost tea makers, I use aquarium pumps and 5 gallon buckets. I use one for fungal compost tea and one for bacterial compost tea.

I hunted for a long time to try to satisfy someone else's urge for documentation of what I've read before about calcium. I am happy for anyone to do that work. I'm done trying to satisfy someone else's need to limit my practices. Go for it!

John S
PDX OR
 
Mike Haych
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Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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A bit of digging turns up the following.

You know drainage of a piece of ground is poor if you see water standing long after rain has stopped. The presence of wetland plants such as purple loosestrife, yellow flag, cardinal flower, buttercup, horsetail, Joe-pye weed, smartweed, sedges, buttonbush, winterberry, and, of course, cattails is another indication.

Soils that are only moderately high in clay yet are high in sodium, the latter a condition common in the western part of the U.S. and near salted roads in these parts, also suffer from poor drainage. Sodium prevents the aggregation of small clay particles into larger units. Remedy this condition by substituting calcium, usually from gypsum, for that sodium. Acidity resulting from application of sulfur or iron sulfate can dissolve calcium carbonate in alkaline soils to release calcium and produce the same effect.


This would seem to suggest that buttercups are not a source of calcium.
 
Angelika Maier
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Hi John, do you protect your aquarium pump from all the sludge and slime in the compost tea or do you put your ingredients in something?
 
John Saltveit
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My compost tea doesn't have sludge or slime because I am aerating it with the aquarium pumps.
John S
PDX OR
 
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