Thursday, August 11, 2011

More Weeds

The first cutting of hay is in the stack and now we can look around to see what else needs to be done.  The first thing I see is more weeds.
Every crop has its season: each matures at a different time.  In August I look around and see blooms on the Russian Knapweed.
Knapweed is an invasive species that was introduced from Europe in the early 1900s.  It is not palatable, and seems to be one of those plants that secrete toxins which inhibit the growth of other plants.  Many thousand (millions?) of acres of land in western Montana have already been infested by knapweed.
So I do my best to control it, and the best I know is to spot-spray each plant with a selective herbicide that kills only broad-leaf plants and does not affect the grasses, administered from a back-pack sprayer that holds four gallons of solution.
The first seeds of a new infestation are brought in by the wind and by wildlife.  When that first plant grows up and matures, it spreads dozens of new seeds.  If that plant goes un-noticed and un-controlled, it can spread hundreds – and even thousands – of new seeds.
We are always on the look-out for these invasive weeds, and usually respond quickly to any new sighting.  Every year we return to the areas of previous infestations to catch anything we missed the previous season.  But the seeds from that first plant may take several years to sprout.  And a year or two can go by without us noticing the newest infestation.
Knapweed is insidious in its early stages.  It is a rather spindly plant that can be hard to spot before it blooms.  And the early stages of the plant are hard to pick out among the grasses.  So a person is often surprised to find a new infestation. 
But once it gets ahold, it is tough to annihilate.  A guy can spray every weed he sees, but he always misses a few plants.  And whatever seeds were missed in the first years may lay dormant in the soil until after a guy lets down his guard and forgets to check back.
So I spent two full days this week carrying forty pounds of solution on my back and walking carefully through several areas where I seen knapweed.  Dye added to the solution makes it easier to see which weeds have been sprayed, and a four-wheeler makes it easier to get through the pastures searching for the weeds.  It’s a lot of work and expense that yields no positive result – but the alternative is to let the weeds grow and eventually have them crowd out the grasses – leaving us with no forage for the cows.  What’s a guy gonna do?

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