Sunday, 8 July 2012

Ragwort and Thistles - Poisonous and Prickly

Sunday 8th July 2012

More wildlife at first light.
This leveret relies on sitting tight for protection.
At some point last night Daisy and Gerald must have sorted out their sleeping arrangements. All was sleepy under dramatic skies this morning.

As I said in yesterday's post, I took a bit of a battering yesterday. So my aching body would appeciate a day of leisure today, with a certain Wimbledon final scheduled at the heart of it (and, less historically, a manure collection). I spent the early morning taking in some of the details in the garden. 

There was too much dew to venture back into the meadow.
But it looked beautiful as it bejewelled the drooping asparagus ferns.

The chickens gained height
to avoid getting their
feathers drenched
and Cocky fluffed himself up big.

Back in the spring, Sue peppered Weasel Ridge
with poppy seeds.
Her efforts are now being handsomely rewarded.

And so it was that I pottered around for a while, browsing on dew-covered raspberries and strawberries, delightfully crunchy sugarsnap peas and the freshest of garden peas plucked straight from the pod.

All a far cry from yesterday's exertions. Reward for my efforts.

Ragwort and Thistles.

I actually happen to like both of these plants. The deep cut leaves of ragwort topped by sunny explosions of yellow florets. And the stark, sharp outlines of thistles supporting those wonderful globes opening into deep purple tufts so beloved of bees and butterflies.

Cut in May, they'll grow back in a day.
Cut in June is much too soon
Cut in July, sure to die
(or say goodbye)
That's the old rhyme about thistles. So it's time for action! In fact I'm still in two minds about the thistles. They're so very good for wildlife, but the problem is that if I let them flower and seed they end up everywhere. They're a complete pain to clear though. So spiky I can't even pick up the cut stems with gloves on. Instead I have to pick them up using the shears. Leave them on the ground and months later those needle like thorns come back to haunt.
Maybe I should just leave one patch, far enough away from the bare soil of the veg patches to not cause too much of a problem. 
No. Those seeds get blown everywhere. Better, I think, to replace them with something less invasive. Probably teasel, so good for the bees in the summer and the goldfinches in the winter.
There'll always be a few thistles that get through the net. But I'm going to learn from my mistakes of the past. Whenever I have selectively allowed certain 'weeds' to grow because I liked them, they have invariably betrayed my trust and ended up swamping everything around!

As for the ragwort. Well, if everything I read were true it would surely have taken over the Earth by now, wiping out all wildlife that stood in its way.
True, it's a complete pain to eradicate. Let it flower and, as a biennial, it should die. But how many seedlings will pop up elsewhere? Cut it and it just resprouts stronger, even changing it's growth habit to behave like a perennial. Try pulling it and invariably it snaps at the base, leaving the roots to sprout new growth. Even digging it out would leave fragments of root, each reportedly giving rise to a new plant.

Now, this would not be a problem if it weren't for the fact that ragwort is one of only five plants which landowners are obliged to control. For it is poisonous to livestock, particularly horses. Again, if you believe everything you read it would seem that a horse or a cow only has to look at a ragwort plant and it will drop dead.
Of course, all of the above dire warnings come from the chemical companies, who'd just love you to feel you had no option but to use their products. It might be easier, but my experience tells me that with persistence and hard work I can get on top of the problem. But it is a problem I need to keep on top of, for if I let it get out of control I will never be able to sell hay from the meadow should I wish.

And now is the perfect time for the job. The ground is waterlogged, even with patches of standing water. It's hard to remember we're in July! The plants are towering up and their disks of yellow flowers announce their presence.
So, with a trowel to loosen the soil I set to work prowling around the meadow pulling and digging every plant I could see. Every plant I pulled was carefully collected for burning.
Most plants yielded their long tapering roots and even the largest came out with most of their rootballs intact. OK, so some of the tiny bits of root will regrow, but there is no way that inflicting so much damage on a plant can result in it coming back stronger.

Of course, if I am eating my words in a couple of years, I can always give up my principles. Though even then I'll spot treat each individual plant rather than blithely wiping out every broadleaf herb in the meadow.

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