Sunday, August 9, 2009

Oh! The horrors of vegetation

The bane of my existence, wiregrass is taking over everything here at the farm. It got a foothold in our yard and in our pastures, and now it threatens to consume all. Why is it so bad? Well, first of all, it can grow anywhere.
In the sandy driveway:

In pure pine shavings:

In the water! Anywhere..

It is extremely competitive with other plants for water and nutrients, and it spreads by both stolons and seed. So in the pastures we are seeing the change from a nice diverse mix of grasses and legumes:
To here, you can see the hazy line of an intruding mat of wiregrass:
To this-wiregrass monoculture:

So, secondly, what can you do to control it? In the pastures, we have tried many things.

1. Harrowing it when it is already stressed from drought

2. Spraying with roundup (I am sorry) when it is already stressed from drought

3. Harrowing it when it is dormant, then overseeding with smothering crops that grow at a time of year it doesn't, hoping they would out compete it

4. Mowing before it can go to seed

Result? It's worse than ever.

Four years ago, I had a vision of a beautiful, no-till, permanent raised bed garden. I mulched like crazy with composted manure, leaves and grass clippings. I amended with wood ash for potassium, calcium, and trace minerals. I mowed the weeds before they could set seed, I spent hours, whole days, pulling weeds. It was once an incredibly productive space. I felt pretty good when we got our soil test results and the "cottage garden" was juuust right!
Then the wiregrass started creeping in from the pasture, first in little clumps, then in rapidly spreading mats.

In my no chemical zealotry, I tried pulling it by hand first. Then I tried pulling it, and smother mulching it with cardboard or paper feed bags and hay or straw. Then, more desperate now, I tried spraying it with roundup. Then, I tried pulling it, spraying it, and mulching it. All to no avail.

Totally desperate now, I got some geese. I hatched these beautiful, amazing creatures about a year and a half ago.

I had read that if you feed them a certain weed as babies, they will seek out that particular weed to eat as adults. I had also read that geese will really grub down in the soil to get to roots they are after (they certainly did a number on my celeriac (: ), so I thought it might just work. I fed them chopped up wiregrass with their baby ration, then they graduated to a fenced area in our wiregrass yard. Now, I prepared the beds in the cottage garden before I sent them out there, I weeded once again, in the hopes that they could control the baby shoots just coming up.

Their first action upon being introduced to the garden was to devour my watermelons, growing on hay bales, in entirety, leaves, vines, and all. After that, sure they ate the wiregrass, but there was no way they could keep it under control. It just grows way too fast, and there is too much of it! Also, it thrives in the blasting heat of summer, when it is too hot much of the day for the little guys to work.

So, despite my best efforts, the cottage garden has become mostly an expanse of wiregrass. With geese in it.

What else can be done? This truly terrifying weed is starting to creep in everywhere on the farm. The only other option it seems, would be to spray absolutely everything with something so toxic it would kill absolutely everything. We would never do that, of course, and I honestly don't think it would work anyway. The only solution seems to be to run away! Run away, before it eats us, too!!!


KM said...


As I was out weeding in the garden the past two mornings at 6am to beat the heat, I was mentally composing a post on a few of my "favorite" weeds...

I have yet to identify all my nemeses, but after reading your post I sure hope none of them are wiregrass!

Let me know if you figure anything out!

Billie Jane said...

OMG I thought the couch grass on my allotment was bad... this is awful! What can you do? Dont stand still will you!