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What Superweeds can Teach You


Spending time in your garden is more than just a hobby (although you can have fun doing it).

It’s a vote. A vote with your hands for a world that makes sense.

Here’s a good example of why this vote will help you in a big way: Superweeds

Amaranthus hybridus 01

Superweeds, like Pigweed seen to the right, are going to make food much more expensive over the next couple of years.

Here’s some background on why.

A superweed is a weed that developed resistance to a herbicide called Roundup.

Roundup is used by farmers just about everywhere.   It’s being used so much that about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton  grown in the US have been genetically modified to tolerate high dosages of Roundup to kill weeds more effectively.

However, something went wrong with that plan.  The same genetic modifications that made useful crops immune to Roundup have migrated into the genetic code of the weeds that were sprayed with it.  Now, 20 species of weeds across 12 million acres of farmland (about 8% of all US farmland) are resistant to Roundup.  Further, given current rates of growth, most of US farmland will have them too in five years.

What does this mean?  Killing weeds has become very hard, nearly overnight.  There isn’t any easy method for removing weeds and the costs of doing so are much higher than what they were previously.   The bottom line is that the price of food will go up, and up, and up as these superweeds spread.

We will see more failures like this in the near future.


Central planning simply doesn’t work with systems this large and complex since you can’t predict outcomes with any certainty.  The Soviets found this out twenty years ago.  We see it in finance as the Federal Reserve and the other big banks continue to dance with global financial panic.  We see it in agriculture as Monsanto and its government support system drives into uncharted territory with genetically modified foods.

So as these attempts at omniscient global engineering fail, what should we do?

We should produce more of the food, as well as everything we think is important, at a human scale.

Human scale means that the decision making used can be fully understood by normal human beings.  A decision making process that makes sense.

We’ve been making decisions at this level for hundreds of thousands of years, and it works. In contrast, our knowledge of what works at the global super-system level is nearly zilch.

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  • Erling Jacobsen

    I don’t agree with the name “superweed”. Just because a weed becomes resistant to glyphosate does not mean it is immune to all herbicides. Before GMO corn and soybeans, which use glyphosate, non-GMO corn and soybeans used other broadleaf and grass herbicides. If the GMO crops had rotated off glyphosate and used the older pesticides every other year or so there wouldn’t be so called superweeds.

    • johnrobb

      Erling, It’s true that they really aren’t that super. Let’s try a narrow version of “super.” A daredevil/black widow level. JR

      • Wermund

        But it is not as if the genes for roundup-resilience has migrated from soy to weeds, they have been selected for by the use of glyphosate. There is not and will not be gene-transfer between higher-level organisms (with the exception of GMO’s where we humans do it of course).

  • different clue

    Many pigweeds (genus Amaranthus) are green-leaf edible when young. This roundup-immune pigweed might well be one of these.

    I am just a barely-amateur micro-backyard gardener, but I have read that many successful farmers are able to prevent weed problems by proper crop rotation, soil fertility maintainance, etc. Acres USA Bookstore carries and sells many titles on that subject. Also, there are books about the mechanical suppression of weed-seedling growth at crucial times in the agricycle as part of non-chemical weed prevention/suppression. The title : Steel In The Field comes to mind as one of these.

    • Gary

      Yes, steel in field! Whyyyyy, when I was a kid, I was in the field with the other kids slinging steel hoes to get the weeds that the tractor powered steel could get between the crop plants. Problem solved.

      Later in life during a brief stint in a communal housing situation I was amused to see the weeds we spent so much time eradicating as kids being served up for dinner. Who knew they were so tasty. Fresh Lambs Quarters and soup made with young stinging nettles comes to mind.

  • Aloha! I had to laugh at your picture of Pigweed because I have that growing in my garden, in my lawn, and would pull it out and think that it is such a nuisance.

    However, my Thai friend who sometimes cooks for me saw it and said that it the leaves are very good for stomach ailments, and she sometimes puts it in soup!

    I guess it proves the old adage, one man’s treasure is another man’s trash, or one man’s weed is another man’s medicine!


    • johnrobb

      Aunty, So true. It is a very rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids (lots of people take fish oil supplements to get them). Here’s a recipe site that had a good treatment of it (very nice pictures of a prepared dish):


      Portulac Salad – Purslane – Pig weed

      Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant. Purslane has .01 mg/g of Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). This is an extraordinary amount of EPA for land based vegetable sources. EPA is an Omega-3 fatty acid normally found mostly in fish, some algae and flax seeds. It also contains vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and some vitamin B and carotenoids, as well as dietary minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron.


      • Don

        The salad you show is of the Portulacaceae family not the amaranthus mentioned as a superweed but called by a presumably local name of pigweed. Local names often cause confusion.

        • johnrobb

          Thanks Don. JR

      • different clue

        Common names can lead us astray sometimes. Amaranthus pigweed and purslane-portulacca pigweed are two highly unrelated plants. ( I wonder what the omega-3 level of Amaranthus pigweed would be . . . )

        • johnrobb

          Thanks DC. JR

      • Cool! Maybe I should eat more weeds!

        Mahalo for sharing,


  • What concerns me more than issues of herbicide effectiveness is the idea that so many plants have the same genetic characteristics. In this case, crops are bred to be resistant to herbicides to make it easier to control weeds- OK. However, our food crops are being hybridized around a remarkably small number of basic strains. That may increase yield and make weed control easier, but it also leads to vulnerability to pandemic diseases. The Potato Famine in Ireland and the Great French Wine Blight are two examples where disease attacked major crops with devastating results. What would happen in the US if some “blight” attacked the corn crop? It might be a bit more than an incremental increase in food prices.

  • alc

    Crack a book on genetics, John!

  • Gary is correct – which gets back to the point of the article. Farmers used to cultivate and weed the fields mechanically. The big problems became the efforts to increase yields and minimize labor to increase corporate profits and to control seed crops as a way of controlling people.
    Now everybody is out of work and we are poisoning ourselves. The NEW WORLD ORDER is responsible for the destruction of normal living in favor of food stamps. Dependence instead of self reliance. Ignorance instead of common sense.
    Take control of your life or the government will.

  • John Glavis

    As a biodiversity researcher I must admit being delighted to hear of plants gaining pesticide resistance. I am presently trialing many under-utilized indigenous food plants from all over the world here at our gardens in Northern California, and it is clear that there are lots of highly nutritious options outside the box of conventional production.
    We are in the midst of a complete transformation of our food system and it all comes down to scale. We must have farms too small to fail…a collective cooperative community-based back-yard neo-indigenous model… a redefining of the work “subsistence”. We are entering a time of total disruption and unpredictability. Gather together with friends, family, and community… find your place and make your stand….

  • For almost every problem, there is a solution waiting to be rediscovered. Perhaps we will again see the day when domestic geese are used to weed (and fertilize) the fields as they once were. “Cotton Patch Geese” were named not for their appearance, but because they are so good at weeding cotton fields. They are managed by using mobile shade and water troughs to keep the geese working in the areas needing the weeding. When they have put on enough weight by consuming the weeds, they become a delicious roast goose, and provide “goose grease” used for cooking and as a lubricant. Our geese do a nice job of keeping the weeds at bay – and they’re a pleasure to watch.

    Geese fell out of favor as herbicides took over weed control, and since they are grazers, they don’t fit into the meat factory model that chickens do; they are also more difficult to dress out than chickens. They still have a wonderful role to fill, and their time will come again. There aren’t many better examples of a resilient, multi-use item than the goose.


    “Automation of vegetable farming will cut costs of producing the most beneficial kinds of foods. Automated weed removal will reduce pesticide exposure and raise yields”

  • Devin

    On a tangentially related note (honey bees and fungicides):

    Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees caused by exposure to fungicides/fungicide levels previously deemed harmless, but they increase susceptibility to the Nosema parasite 3-fold.

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