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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Thistle in the Straw

Well color me pissed off. We went over to a nearby organic farm to buy 20 bales of straw yesterday morning and got a good price at $3 a bale (most of the conventionally raised straw around here goes for $5 a bale). Took the straw back home and unloaded it in the market garden so we could start mulching the perennial beds this morning.

I got a fairly early start and broke apart a bale and started putting it down on an asparagus bed. Immediately I noticed thistle down and entire heads of thistle seed. Not good. I shook out a second flake of straw and found more thistle, lots more. Again, not good. Now I had a big handful of the stuff so I ran to the store and got a bag and put the handful of seed into the bag and continued to distribute straw over the bed and grabbing as much thistle down as I could.

Soon the winds went from fairly calm to about 15mph-nice stiff breeze, great for sailing or kite flying but not good for grabbing thistle down. After getting close to 1/2 bale on about 2/3 of the bed I gave up because I noticed thousands of tiny seeds flying to the north west. So now I have distributed lots of thistle seed to the NW section of the garden and I have a bag with about 1/4 pound of thistle seed which I figure could nicely seed a couple of acres. I still have another 19 bales of straw to deal with and because I have to seek and remove as much thistle as I can it is taking about 5x longer to do this job. But if I don't attempt to remove the seed than we will have a much worse problem of asparagus beds rife with thistle and many many hours wasted trying to control it.

In the perennial beds we cannot do a lot of hoeing (much less trying to dig up the roots) and a healthy crop of thistle could out compete the asparagus at worst, and at best make harvesting miserable.

Now I am wondering if we should continue to buy certified organic straw if there is going to be this problem (this has happened before). I mean it kind of defeats the whole purpose of getting organic inputs if they cause bad weed infestations and the possibility of having to use an herbicide to keep the problem in check.

For now I am planning on using this infested straw and will have to make a plan of attack for the thistle that will be coming up in the beds. I have found you can get rid of the thistle if you cut it down just as it goes into flower but that will not happen until next summer (2010) and so we still have to deal with this years thorny growth.

Like I said I am pissed off and mighty frustrated

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