A Sticky Situation

When we purchased the pecan orchard last August, FD and I were both aware the property had a thistle problem along its south and west boundaries. For much of the autumn and winter months, when the thistle plants were in the rosette stage, FD would pry the dinner plate sized plants up with a shovel and I would use a gloved hand to pull them out of the ground, exposing the roots to die in the sun. We knew we could only make a small dent in the thistle population by hand pulling them this way. But using chemical to eradicate them was out of the picture at least for the time being. With Emma and Ronnie due for release in late winter, and knowing they would be exploring the available forage as the new growth of spring arrived, I was not willing to use chemical unless absolutely necessary. Besides, the region was hampered by fallen trees and decades of woodland debris, so there was no good way to get a spray rig back in those areas anyway. The only way to apply chemical there would require hiking in with a backpack sprayer – which was not at all appealing to me.

The vibrant pink color of the thistle flower is enticing!
The next breezy summer day will have thistle seed sowing itself to the north… until the fall and winter winds toss it back to the south.

During the winter months, my biggest priority was to pick up wood and all sorts of debris in the old orchard. We would not be able to mow in the spring unless the orchard floor was cleared of decades of dropped limbs and branches. So, I gathered and burned debris all winter long and into the spring as the weather was favorable to allow me to continue cleanup. But, before long, it was also time to plant gardens and tend to the flower beds. Yard mowing started up early too. Consumed with all my spring chores, I quickly forgot all about the thistles – until they began flowering. The rosettes of fall and winter, had become tall, leggy plants with pink, globe-like flowers. Looking like alien cyclops eyes, large communities of the beasts stared as I passed by in the electric buggy. By then, it was impossible to get to them because hedge parsley and thickets of cat brier grows rampant in the same areas the thistle have invaded. While hedge parsley puts off a delicate leaf and a dainty bloom in late spring, by mid summer, those tiny flowers become a dried, sticky bur that attaches to everything! Not willing to venture into that bur-infested area, I decided to forget about eradication until the coming winter, when most of the weeds and hedge parsley will be knocked flat by the weather, and the thistle will be easier to get to. Unfortunately, the problem will be magnified by another year’s worth of thistle seed carried far and wide by the Oklahoma winds.

Ronnie can often be found in the “Land of Thistle and Hedge Parsley” on the southern border of the pecan property. He does not seem bothered by the burs that attach to his coat. Most of the time it is tasty cat brier and other good eats that draw the deer into that particular area.
Emma and Ronnie often have loads of hedge parsley attached to their coats which, of course, brushes on other weeds and drops in new locations.
I have plenty of company as I work through the tall weeds in the orchard!
Spike, Ronnie, and Emma often keep me company as I work along the slough. The broad-leaf plants in the blurred foreground are cockleburs.
The snowy egrets continue to come to the little bit of water in the slough. I love watching them work their legs for tadpoles and small aquatic life.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I managed to finish my work cleaning the area of the orchard west of the slough that runs north and south through the eastern quarter of the orchard. A week later, FD completed mowing the last area of tall weeds in that region, and we were feeling very happy and excited to have accomplished so much over the summer months! It had been hard work, and demanded constant dedication. We had been fortunate that the weather had been so agreeable over the last year, and the slough was finally drying up in the late summer heat, allowing us to cross the now dry waterway to the east side of the orchard. But I did not see how I would manage to clean up that area until winter. Big timber would have to be moved with a tractor and a couple of dead trees needed to be cut and hauled off for sale or milling. And, of course, all of the smaller wood debris that I would be gathering by hand, was buried in tall Bermuda grass and cloaked in vast patches of hedge parsley and thistle. I had not had to deal with either of those nasty plants working in the shaded areas on the other side of the orchard. This eastern area received a lot more sun exposure, and I suppose with that, more weeds were able to sprout up.

The slough must have been grand enough to support a catfish this year. This poor soul perished when the water level became too low to survive.
Emma stays with me until the heat gets to be too much for her. Ronnie and Spike often go off together, carousing and venturing to parts unknown. Emma seems content to lay nearby and rest, keeping an eye on me while I work.

Then one evening, as we looked over the slough area and discussed the next phase of mowing – which would be to knock back a thick growth of wetlands grasses – we found yet another problem. Cockleburs were growing all along the slough. Venturing into the broad leaf plants that were more than three or four feet tall, I realized many of them were already loaded with burrs. Hundreds of others were first-year plants and would not put off a bur fruit until next year. They must be pulled this year to prevent plants with a bur crop next year. I knew that taking a brief rest before starting cleanup on the east side was now out of the question. No, my next task will be to eradicate – by hand – as much of the cocklebur crop as I can before the plants grow any larger and begin dropping bur seeds everywhere!

On my glove and pants leg is the hedge parsley flower in the bur stage. This property (and our immediate ten acres where our home is) is covered with this horrible plant. But it is not considered an invasive or noxious species in our state.
Immature cocklebur fruits still make for viable seeds for next year. This plant will be pulled and burned.
The grass bur situation is bad in the pasture area between the old river channel and the orchard. At some point, we will have to use chemical to eradicate this plant from the area.
We also have a few buffalo burs on the property. I noticed on my last walk to the river that buffalo burs are very invasive in that area. I hope we never have a problem with those!
A view of pulled cockleburs in the slough area, dying in the summer sun.
Many cocklebur plants are as tall as I am!
I will be walking to the far trees pulling cocklebur plants along the way. Cockleburs prefer wetland areas. Who knew?
The monarch seem to love the cocklebur plant. But I am not keeping the plant around for their benefit! There are many other monarch-friendly plants to choose from!

Β© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 


32 thoughts on “A Sticky Situation

  1. I can readily identify with all those noxious and invasive weeds. We had cockle bur on my parents farm and the buffalo bur. Here in town, I have the stick tights and stinging nettle which is always coming up in my small garden. At any rate it’s a constant battle but I’ve made some head way by getting my pet helper to work on those weeds.

    In your situation it is very much a different ballgame and I would be very frustrated if I were in your position. I feel for you and all the work involved. Can you not hire some hands to help with the brush and weed clearing? Honestly, I think you are killing yourself while single handed trying to do the work yourself. I know FD does his part on the weekend but my gee Lori, I am afraid that one day you’ll be sorry that you put so much effort into the orchard by doing the work mostly alone.

    My dogs get the stick tights or hedge parsley on their coats and then I must take a comb or rake and remove the dang things each time they go out. It is an on-going process to eradicate the pests.

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    1. Oh Yvonne, if only there were kids that that would do field work! The previous owner did say he hired a couple of local men who did this kind of work, but they were not very reliable (could not always be found and worked when they wanted and didn’t show up sometimes). We are not really in a place to hire it done. We will probably have to confer with some experts about how to del with those grass burs. The pasture near the old river channel is full of them. I’m not stressing myself out over it. What I manage is enough… it has to be.

      I have been on the lookout for stinging nettle and have not seen any so far. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about coming in contact with that plant!!

      We got more than four inches of rain over the weekend so that will stop my work in the orchard for a while. The slough is completely filled again… good thing I got a lot of cockleburs pulled this past week!

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      1. Oh mhy goodness. Four inches of rain is an awful lot. Too bad the “water hole”s filled up again. Many mosquitoes and wow those weeds will grow sky high. I have to agree that it is difficult to find good reliable folks to do manual labor and I reckon it can be cost prohibitive as well. So, Lori just take your time and as you wrote, what you can manage is enough.

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        1. Thanks, Yvonnne! I felt kind of sad when the slough mostly dried up – especially when I found that catfish. The slough has been a draw for all sorts of wildlife. And, as we know, it’s Ronnie deer’s favorite spot to cool off at and play in! πŸ˜€

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  2. Ugh! Thistle! I feel for you. That stuff is such a bane to my existence. Like you, we don’t want to use chemicals. And pulling them so far has resulted in them simply redoubling (or quadrupling) their sprouts in other spots, no matter how long of a root I manage to pull out. We’ve taken to whacking them down with a scythe right at the purple flower bloom stage, but we can’t keep up. We literally have fields of Canada thistle. It makes me nuts! Good luck with yours!

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    1. Hi Monica! I will have to take a sample thistle in to the local extension office to identify what type of plant we are dealing with. I believe Oklahoma has six different species of thistle, three of which are native plants and not considered noxious. I am hoping for the natives… if they are noxious, I will have to get an expert out here to help us decide the best way to eradicate them. If it’s hand pulling, we can do it, but it will take a long time!

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      1. From the picture you have in this post, it doesn’t look like Canada thistle to me. Our native thistle (bull thistle) is really pretty, but not nearly as pervasive. I’d be very interested to know any strategies you learn! We read somewhere you can cook it and eat it like globe artichokes.😳

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        1. It doesn’t have the same leaf as the Canada thistle. I have ruled out some species, but I am not certain it’s the choices I’m left with. Oklahoma State University has an extension office here. I’ll have to take a plant over there for certain identification. The bull thistle is beautiful. I’ve seen photos of those. If I learn these are a native thistle I won’t make eradication a priority. πŸ™‚

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  3. It’s an endless cycle of growth, tend to the growth, then another and on and on. And like you we don’t use chemicals either, not that we have that much property (just under an acre) but lots of critters come and go in addition to the dogs and fruit we want to keep organic. The photos are once again beautiful, especially the Monarch butterfly. Reminds me of how amazing it is when a caterpillar turns to butterfly. A pure magical mystery of nature.

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    1. It is amazing how not using chemical brings even one acre to life! I am continually amazed at the wild things this bit of land supports. Despite the difficult work and long days, I would not give up this life here.

      The monarchs are beginning to move through the woodlands. Their majestic flight draws me in every time I see one. Hopefully this year I will see clusters of them hanging from the hackberry trees, warming their wings in the morning sun, awaiting flight. It’s a special season, isn’t it?

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  4. I honestly wonder at that point if a late autumn controlled burn of the infested areas might not be in order; I’m dreading finally getting in to evaluate and clear our own land for this exavt reason. What we’ve evaluated so far seems safe, but there are parts yet unexplored and Oklahoma spike plants can be so stubborn!

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    1. In attending pecan management classes through Oklahoma State University, we learned we cannot do a controlled burn. Pecan trees are very susceptible to heat and even a small fire can kill the trees. As it is, the previous owner had small brush fires too close to a few trees and they died. The surrounding farm land has a terrible infestation of all sorts of burs and thistle… so it seems the problem will be ongoing.

      How many acres of land do you have? I read on a garden forum that a guy who had forty acres hand pulled cockle burs on the entire acres for two years before he got them under control. That is doable for me, since most of our cockleburs are located along the slough. But those thistle are another… it’s overwhelming!

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      1. I’m so sorry to hear you can’t do a controlled burn! That’s horrible :/ I hope y’all get them under control soon.

        We have 40 acres, give or take πŸ˜€ Our main problem seems to be some sort of thorny tree. we know we have Locust on the property (good), but I have no idea what these little things are. Their flowers are a beautiful pink, but they’re just everywhere!

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        1. We have Honey Locust and Osage Orange trees which both have thorns. The state biologist that came to help us with Whitetail management stated we needed to get rid of the Honey Locust if possible and we have a lot of them! The Osage Orange or Bois de Arc (Bodark here) does have some nutritional value in the leaves after they fall to. The ground. Apparently the deer eat them. So this winter we will be cutting and applying chemical to kill out the roots.

          I think back in the day when the orchard was young it was nicely cared for according to some of the local old timers. But the last couple of decades it has been neglected and now we have a real mess to deal with. Still, I am thankful for the beautiful connection with nature and it certainly has provided a way for me to keep fit! πŸ™‚

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          1. Our land’s been heavily neglected, too. But in our case, we’re building from the ground up; it’s all undeveloped land that my Husband’s family owns and haven’t touched in decades, so we have a lot of work to do.

            Locust Trees, from my understanding, are great nitrogen fixers. We still have to identify what types we have on the property (though I do know some of them are Honey Locusts). But if we have some good varieties, we plan on thinning them out quite a bit and using them as spacer trees when we finally do get to the planting part (we hope to use the NAP method if possible for a portion of the Orchard).

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          2. The biologist was pretty firm about eradicating the locusts – and I can see why. They are rampant all through the property. I doubt we can ever manage to get all of them cut out. They’re like cedars… they grow everywhere! Their may be an upside to them too… he did not mention it. I like to be positive about all things that grow. Surely they are here for a reason! πŸ™‚

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          3. Yeah, having done Locust Management on the property I grew up on, they’re hard to get rid of. We’re going to have a fun (read: definitely not fun) time thinning them out on our property. But hopefully it’ll be worth it for both of us!

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    1. I remember my grandparents hand culling weeds like that – and if they could do it, I sure can! Ardys, I sure hope one of these days that place will be at “maintenance” stage where we won’t have to tackle so much at one time. πŸ™‚

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  5. Lovely post. We used to encounter these weeds at our farm back in the day, in Northern India. Over time, newer technology, better fertilizer and a dependence on mechanization have ensured this problem has been solved. The area now has flowing paddy, wheat and corn fields (depending on the season). Of late, I have not seen this kind of weed infestation anywhere.

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    1. That is good news! I like to think that with time and persistence we can eradicate the cockleburs. The thistle and grassburs will take longer but hopefully we can bring the area back to native grasses and a true wetlands. πŸ™‚

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  6. Your tenacity and hard work impress me. You are a woman determined. How well I remember the battle against cockleburs and thistles while growing up on a Minnesota crop farm. I walked beans to hoe out those invasive weeds.

    You’ve made them beautiful in your photos, though.

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    1. Most plants can be beautiful, and I try to respect them for their purpose in the ecosystem. I’m fairly sure these cockleburs were brought in by the previous owner in bad hay and set adrift by cattle and the movement of the slough filling with water. It is doable to hand pull the cockleburs, but the thistle and grassburs will require much more diligence.

      Walking crops to cull the weeds is something I remember well when I was a teenager. Another commonality we share. πŸ™‚

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    1. I have no idea how people manage to deal with burs on pets. Fortunately, deer hair doesn’t pick the cockleburs up. I used to feel sorry for the previous owners cattle. They were always stuck in their tails and forehead hair.

      I have to let a lot of other work slide when another project (like concentrating on cockleburs) takes precedence. We do what we can when weather permits. This week we had more than 4 inches of rain, so I was not able to get to the slough to pick anymore cockleburs. Instead I pulled huge weeds in the gardens.

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  7. Fascinating post, and very telling photographs. I learn so much about things I never even think about until visiting here and a couple other places. This time my favorite lines are, ” I like to be positive about all things that grow. Surely they are here for a reason!” And “I remember my grandparents hand culling weeds like that – and if they could do it, I sure can! ” You keep us in touch with basic elements in life, Lori. Also, your range of knowledge (including continued efforts to learn more), your ability to see close-up and longe range at the same time,, and your steady effort to work with nature instead of against her–these are inspirations for me. I enjoyed reading this.

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  8. Farm work, like housework is never done. There is always something to clean up. We need to burn our pasture to help get rid of all the nasty weeds that seem to thrive over the grass in the heat and humidity. And I have seen many pretty butterflies on the weed plants. But like you I am not wanting to keep them just so I can see the butterflies. πŸ™‚

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