LOST IN THE GRASS

After the drought ended in February last year we were so excited to see the green tinge creeping across the landscape.  But of course, a lot of that was weeds that had been allowed to germinate in bare ground – left bare by the drought. 

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Because the ground cover was still fragile, it was necessary to keep them even though they’re weeds.  So during the planting season (May to September) we slogged through chest high mallow in some places. Later there was a spectacular season with purple hills (Paterson’s Curse) and yellow valleys (capeweed).   We started calling Paterson’s Curse (echium plantagineum) by one of its other common names – “Riverina Bluebell”, since there was nothing to be done but enjoy the colour show.

Among our successes was the spot-spray treatment of African Lovegrass where it is invading from next door’s paddocks into our Cockatoo 2 plot. We cut and removed the seed heads, marked and sprayed the tussocks with glyphosate in the autumn, and came back in the spring to find all of them gone. Yay. We had a bonfire of seedheads and other weeds, with a glass of wine for essential relaxation.

We also had a fun couple of days burning (with a permit) barley grass (hordeum sp) which is an annual pasture grass that crowds out others and has seeds that get into the eyes of grazing sheep. My plan is to experiment with promoting perennial grasses and break us out of the ugly cycle of barley grass – bare ground- caterpillar weed and bathurst burr- bare ground – barley grass. I’ve been accused of liking my drip torch too much, but on this occasion it was Craig who went too far and burned one of my trees. Grr. I’m taking my drip torch back…

Craig is mostly in charge of spraying the new African lovegrass and other weeds along the riverbank. Last year my wonderful assistant Priya also helped me pull giant noogoora burr (xanthium occidentale) and poisonous datura. Not only did I lose Priya among the huge plants, but at one point I dropped my phone and had to hunt around for half an hour to find it again.

Invisible allocasuarina

In my tree plots the wild oats grew tall and when I was out checking on trees and pulling covers, Priya could once again disappear within moments.  Unfortunately, the allocasuarinas also disappear which is a bit unsatisfying.  Craig calls them “invisible trees”.  Finally, some of the ones that were planted in the first Glossy Black Cockatoo plot can be seen waving their needles at us from the top of the far ridge.

More weeds followed, with blue thistles (onopardum) reigning on the sheep camps at the high point in every paddock.   These I am not worried about because the weevils are doing a good job controlling their ability to flower.  Such a good job that they wiped out our globe artichokes, a close relative, in the veggie garden. Craig was delighted, because he hates artichokes.

One of our neighbours was horrified to see all the blue thistles, however.  “My Dad,” she said “if he saw one on our land, he would take off a sock and stuff the flowering head inside, then throw it in the dam to get rid of it.   If he’d run out of socks, we’d have to give up ours.” She wasn’t impressed by the idea that they will break up compacted soil, which is a thought I console myself with when I see them.    It would definitely take a lot of socks to completely eradicate them from our hills. I’m leaving it to the weevils.

Along with the blue thistles, all the rough slopes that had not been sprayed by MCPA in late autumn, were by late spring green with saffron thistle (carthamus lanatus).  These I do hate, because they’re horribly spiky and very difficult to discourage. 

I was pretty upset to see them in great numbers in the Box Gum reserve, where the understorey of chocolate lilies, New Holland Daisies, and native grasses was topped with a vicious layer of sharp thorns.  In previous years we have worked hard to rid the area of horehound and St John’s Wort in particular, as well as the saffrons.  That’s been gradually successful (only three St John’s Wort plants visible this year), but nothing has worked against the saffron thistle.  Sheep were allowed to graze during the winter, but to protect the desirable lower layer, couldn’t come in during the spring and summer which might have helped.   I don’t want to spot spray or wipe MCPA if I can avoid it, because it also affects all the native forbs.   But next year it’s going to have to happen.

In the meantime, I took out my rage vicariously by employing young Patrick to visit from Newcastle and slash them for several days with a brushcutter.  Slashing does work to stop the seeding if you can catch them just as they begin to flower.  However the area was so huge that it would have taken months and far more workers than I could obtain to complete.

We ordered our own tow-along slasher to use on the level, non-rocky areas (there are a few of those) but it still hasn’t arrived, due to Covid disruptions in the supply chain, supposedly. 

 In the end Patrick managed to reinstate the track through the Box Gum and cut around another area where we were doing erosion control. 

Next year I’ll get them…

2 thoughts on “LOST IN THE GRASS

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  1. So interesting to read. What acreage (hectarage?) are you managing again? I cannot remember. Does it ever feel completely overwhelming? I imagine farm life is a good training in “change the things I can, and don’t stress about what I can’t change”

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    1. Hi Miriam
      It’s what used to be a standard sheep farm size around here (750ha), but now most need to be larger to be profitable. I’ve been amazed at all the different things I need to know to be effective – botany, fencing, car mechanics, wildlife behaviour, how a septic tank works, business planning, what to do in an emergency, and more. And that’s without having to clean sheep’s butts from fly strike. On the other hand, it’s so beautiful and I wake up each morning knowing how lucky I am to live here.

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