Thursday, October 20, 2011

Two Articles and a Dare

It took me a second look to make sure of what this Gene Logsdon blog post was saying:  that the Achilles heel of pasture farming is not an Achilles heel to pasture farming itself but the Achilles heel of industrial pasture farming.  Long to short, he’s run into an unwanted grass that needs to be eliminated by hand and very early in its invasive process which, put together, means by a farmer with a hand tool walking his pastures very regularly.  An individual farmer can’t walk but, what, maybe 20 acres, maybe forty?  And even that might be stretching it.  Not so much for a farmer farming, but for the farmer with a town job to boot, a stretch for sure.  A hired hand can’t usually be counted on to do such work, not well, and besides would cost a lot to do it.

Then there was a local article about a local invasive that I happen to know we have on ancestral land of my husband’s family.  And the only thing in this article is how much these town job farmers are spending to eradicate this tree . . . and that it isn’t working.  Now, true enough it is an invasive that was brought in to ameliorate surface mining (strip job) damage, which was when people were concerned about erosion and acid slag heaps instead of invasive plants.  Anything that would grow there seemed to be a good thing.  But the farmers now seem to think that, well, they shouldn’t have to deal with it.

So my first comment is, get over it, sh*t happens and life ain’t fair.

But my deeper meditation is on how these two article fit together and compliment each other.  I’d pretty much guarantee that this shrub, taken on regularly in hand to hand combat, probably aided by goats, would fall to a controlled status.  Or find a useful niche.

I will out of habit pull out my pocket knife and cut off two inches under the ground any blessed thistle that I see anywhere.  Because I know how invasive these can be, and how nothing can eat it (although I've seen the donkey give it a go).  But we had some, and I know I didn’t control them all, and seasons come and go, and we don’t have many anymore.  For some years our bottom back field was nearly overtaken by iron weed, although this latest herd of goats, combined with cows that browse, has largely gotten it under control.  Both iron weed and thistle are gorgeous flowers, and I know at least the thistle makes wonderful honey, so particularly in rehabbing waste places and on fringes, there is a place for every plant.  I don’t believe in monoculture anywhere and especially not in a pasture (or hayfield).  Animals and the ground need variety.

Like so many other things, it is almost a dare -- dare to live smaller, have less and live more, dare to be a nobody, dare to pass without leaving a mark except in the wild tales your children's children will still tell about you.


el said...

Small is beautiful!

We have autumn olive like crazy on our land (and on the land adjacent, the other part of the old farm) and it's of pretty recent vintage: maybe 20 years or so? Frankly my goats are mad for the stuff and the chickens can be found under the bushes right about now, going nuts for the berries. I have made jam and chutney out of the berries: it's quite tasty. I'd say this falls into the category of "useful niche."

Sour dock and thistle, check. The way dock can spread...! At least the goats will eat that too.

I am with you: if you look hard enough there's value to be found in most "invasives." Perhaps part of the dare is to find them useful, as part of the new reality. Change isn't always bad.

Alecto said...

I gave up on trying to chase the thistle out. It's my own fault for inviting the mother plant into my garden in the first place a couple of years ago. Sure, every spring I pull up the babies and periodically I'll go down two inches or pull up what I can but when I look out there at that jungle that used to be a back yard it's really just some kind of beautiful. I think, feel, something, that in the next few years or so the thistle will move on and it will be something else as the groundwaters change and everything else changes with it. Doesn't seem worth fighting anyway except for where I want my vegetables to grow instead.

CG said...

when I found out that earthworms were invasives . . .

Wendy said...

I've learned to be very careful about simply dismissing an invasive as unwelcome. We have Norway Maples - which are a non-native species - in my yard, and every year, we tap them and make maple syrup. It's not "producer-grade" by any means, but it makes a tasty enough syrup for us to use and enjoy.

There's also this incredibly invasive plant that has plagued landowners around here for years. Once it takes root, it's all but impossible to get rid of. It grows on a rhizome and the roots are really deep. People around here call it "bamboo", but it's not.

We also have ticks - LOTS and LOTS of ticks - and many of these ticks carry a pretty hardcore disease called Lyme disease. If not treated early, it can be debilitating, and potentially, fatal.

The invasive "bamboo" plant is Japanese Knotweed, and its highly medicinal properties have made it an effective treatment for Lyme disease. It's also edible in the spring ;).

I wouldn't replant knotweed in my yard, but I will harvest it when I find it, and be thankful that it's here.

Amish Stories said...

I'm spending a little time checking out new blogs, so i thought id stop and say hello to you folks. Richard from the Amish community of Lebanon Pennsylvania.

lostinthewoods said...

We have had an invasion of spotted knapweed come into disturbed soils, especially roadside. What we've experienced over the decades is that, especially with broken sod, beaver dams, etc...there is a transition period where these plants are doing something beneficial to the soils. A new beaver dam went, over the years from Canada Thistles to wild raspberries to fiddle head ferns, which is the current dominant on the dam. Each of them pull something from somewhere below and leave something beneficial for the next species, which in turn does the same. Eventually the balance is returned. Thanks for you blog, CG.