Cappers Farmer Blogs > Old Dog, New Tricks

The Weed Commissioner

Dear reader, If you have been following the story of our farm, you may be thinking,”Why did they buy such a mess?” It is true that we knew the buildings were in bad shape, and we knew about most of the junk. Then, something nasty happened to us that we didn’t deserve and weren’t prepared for. Something I want to tell you about. 

Although our farm has been in drought condition the last couple years, we had plenty of rain that first year. In fact, we had so much, every time we came, we spent the first few hours mowing what we just mowed the weekend before. We only had an old lawn mower, and we started our mowing in the house yard, and worked our way outwards, always needing to check and pick up junk ahead of the mower when claiming a new area. 

We never had time to venture very far, and before we knew it, the whole place was very thick with tall weeds. Larry started noticing thistles along the edges, cut a few, and brought them back in a wheel barrel for me to see. It was only springtime and they were already like tall, skinny bushes.


Quote: “Even the richest soil, if left uncultivated will produce the rankest weeds.” Leonardo da Vinci

One day, the weed commissioner called us at our city home. He was pleasant, but his message was that we needed to take care of the thistles as they are a noxious weed, or we would be fined. Furthermore, if we didn’t, he would need to send someone out to take care of them for us and we would also be charged for that.  

Now, we were already feeling sorry for ourselves about the thistles. We were working hard to clean the place up. Why were we being picked on? His explanation was that no one had complained to him before. We didn’t blame anyone for complaining; we just wished they had done it to the previous owner! In hindsight, it is fortunate that it worked out this way, as the land hadn’t been used for many years and was free of chemicals. We certainly didn’t want them spraying the whole place, so I pleaded for time. When he realized we didn’t want to use spray, he suggested we ask a neighbor to mow, but we couldn’t ask a stranger to risk his equipment in all that mess. 

So, you can guess what we did every weekend the rest of the summer. Straight through Father’s Day, Larry’s birthday, and our anniversary. Thistles and more thistles. A wide swath wrapped around the backside of all the buildings, and when we got down into the lower pasture, there were thick areas the size of large rooms hiding in the tall weeds. We first dug them out just below ground, but later chopped them off at ground level. Burning them changed to leaving them in piles in the lower pasture where they were already starting to shed their zillions of seeds. They were endless.

Smelling the Thistles

Smelling the rose - ah - thistles! The thistle blooms are really quite beautiful.

Larry has always been able to work hard, but he was surprised that I could continue this type of labor through the long, hot days. I really enjoyed working side by side with him, plus there is something about trying to save a good piece of land when it is your very own property. So, we continued cutting thistles from dawn to dusk those many, many weekends. I told him that if I died of heat exhaustion, he and the kids needed to know that the work was my choice and I had had a wonderful time doing it. 

Larry and I are both 71 now, and have slowed down a bit. Time passes quickly at this age, and we marvel at how that first summer on the farm is already five summers ago. When we reminisce about it, we wonder where we got the extra strength. It amazes us. We worked so hard, too hard, and yet it was an experience we’ll never forget. It was OUR farm.

11/21/2013 9:36:44 PM

Thanks for chatting back, Dave and Pamela! Good to hear from you. Dave, I've heard of goats cleaning up the place, but not sheep! Pamela, yes, I guess we all have our problems. I mentioned to Larry that after writing a few stories, it seemed like all we had were problems, but I guess the many benefits kept us from being deterred. Either that or we are just stubborn! We'll all hang in there together, OK?!

pamela tinnin
11/14/2013 9:07:59 AM

Mary, I've really enjoyed reading about your trials and tribulations very similar to some of ours. You have weed control authorities - we're too remote for that thank goodness. However, we do a lot of weed whacking for fire control. We live in an area where there is high fire danger especially during a drought year like this one, Northern California on oak woodlands which is dry all summer and into fall until first rains. One of our biggest challenges is living a mile up a shared private dirt road, meaning four other places, one of which has a 56-acre vineyard that means semi trucks/trailers during grape harvest. Then when it comes time for annual maintenance, it's hard to get people to agree as to what needs to be done or to pay their fair share. Oh, well, these are part of country living! Keep writing - I like to read other people's country experiences.

11/13/2013 4:51:23 PM

Mary, Canadian thistles. Oh boy they are tough to overcome without chemicals. My Dad solved the problem by purchasing a herd of sheep. He said they will go crazy over thistles. It's just like candy to them. When he first turned them out in the pasture, even he was surprised that was the first thing the gobbled up. Of course your field of thistle is terribly out of control. The unfortunate thing about thistle is that it can spread from the roots as well as the seed. It's a nasty weed but as you say it does have beautiful purple flower. It's unfortunate that you inherited such a mess. It would be difficult to find some one to agree to mow down the thistles because of the fear of bringing seeds to the next place they mow down. Good luck on your thistle control. ***** Have a great farm cleanup day.