A Good Summer for Thistle

Willowtrail Wild RoseGrowing conditions have been ideal for thistle this summer, which isn’t good news, at least here, because most thistle are considered noxious weeds.  We’ve had lots of long, hot days, which Canada thistle especially like.  And we haven’t had a frost yet, which is unusual.  Many years we will have our first snow the last week of August.  We’re not even close to that sort of weather.

In a normal year, frost keeps most of the thistle from going to seed.  This year, without that controlling frost, we’re on the verge of a major thistle seed release.  I’ve made a ritual of pulling thistle for a half hour each night before dusk, prioritizing which patch I harvest by how close the seeds are to being released.  I was disappointed yesterday to find a patch I hadn’t noticed before that was well along, so I spent extra time lessening its size. 

Of course what makes thistle pulling a bearable job is feeding out the pile of pulled thistle to the ponies on dry lot.  They have come to expect my appearance and eagerly pull stems out of my arms if I let them.  It would of course be much easier if the ponies would just eat the thistle in situ, but they will only occasionally bite the tops off.  I’m fairly certain a change occurs in the plant when it is pulled that make the plants more palatable.  (See for instance “On maximizing the nutrients in lettuce” at this website.) It’s certainly the case that the roots are as interesting as the rest of the plant, unlike grasses.  The ponies judiciously sever grass root wads from the stems if they end up with a complete plant for some reason, leaving the roots behind.  With thistle, the roots disappear along with the rest of the plant.

The weather forecast suggests that I have at least another week of trying to stay ahead of thistle going to seed.  Fortunately that means an equivalent period of the ponies being extra glad to see me at dusk.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013

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About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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