Sunday, June 21, 2009

At War With My Musk Thistle

Above: A six-foot stalk of musk thistle,
surrounded by baby thistles.

It's been two weeks since our friend Dave stopped by for dinner, and following a walk around our "garden," he pointed out to me that the front "lawn" area had been taken over by the noxious weed called Musk Thistle. Apparently this tough, prickly stalk-like plant could take over the lawn, crowd out real flowers and other plant growth and generally make it impossible to walk barefoot in one's own grass (and that's really what any Citiot really wants to do at their country place).

Looking around and thinking he might be over-stating any real cause for concern, I realized that we were actually surrounded by hundreds (hundreds!!) of these plants. They were everywhere, hiding in plain sight. Suddenly I felt like my lawn had been invaded by alien beings and needed to be stopped....immediately.

But how?

Nothing like a round of Googling to make make me seriously hysterical about whatever situation I'm facing (whether it's an invasion of musk thistle or a papercut that might lead to lockjaw, I'm always convinced I'm gonna die) and put getting rid of my musk thistle problem at the top of my list of things to get obsessive-compulsive about.

Within hours, I learned that musk thistle weevils would be the easiest and most biologically-correct way to control my musk thistle problem. Then thinking that I could spend 25 bucks for a box of weevils to be delivered to my door via Fed Ex, I made a few weevil jokes, then logged onto to e-bay, and a couple of gardening web sites to take care of business.

But it wasn't as simple as just throwing money at the problem and releasing a few bugs into the yard. Poking around and not seeing any weevils for sale, I finally read the fine print on various State thistle-control web sites (Kansas, Missouri, Idaho and Colorado are active users of weevils for thistle control) and learned that weevils could only be obtained through the Federal government to State agencies. Hmmmm...

Musk Thistle Close Up.

So the next option was to mow down the thistle. But mowing thistle would require mowing down all the other, less invasive weeds, that make our garden actually look like a garden, so I took out my pruning shears and set to work -- snipping each musk thistle stalk that I could find, one by one. I snipped stalks both large and small at their base and gathered them together to clear the land. In the end, I gathered about 4 large wheelbarrows full of musk thistle stalks (in about a 1/8 acre section of land).

Above: Winner of this Years' Miss Musk Thistle Pageant.

According to the folks on the Internet, I'm now supposed to either set my pile of musk thistle on fire (which I'm scared to do) or cover it with black plastic so that it suffocates and dies without blooming -- though I still run the risk of the seeds getting planted and turning our gravel driveway into a hazard area for tire punctures next spring. Step two, apparently, will come this fall, when I'll have to use pesticide to kill off any re-growth before the winter. I'm not sure I want to go this route (see 'It's Not Easy Going Green), I'm just going to see how strong they come back over the summer.

Anyway, I'm taking the rest of the day off after the thistle attack. I read that what makes musk thistle "noxious" is that it can cause severe hayfever symptoms for people -- which is definitely what John has been dealing with here for awhile (though again, this could be a Google-effect -- the grass and tree pollen counts are off the charts right now, too). But to be honest, I feel a bit wheezy and itchy and I now completely understand why the Vikings put up such a fuss when faced with this menace as they invaded Scotland.

Above: My musk thistle pile, ready for weevils.


kbs said...

i can't believe you didn't call it "mid-fight in the garden of good and weevil"

Christine H. said...

I actually almost titled this "Musk Thistle in the Garden of Good and Weevil," so close!