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.
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.
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.
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!
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