Thursday 19 December 2019

Airborne weeds: creeping thistle

Mainly about thistles

Fluffy fiend
It has been my wont to quote ‘One years seeding - seven years weeding’ in my effort to encourage gardeners into a cycle of virtue where weed control becomes easier as the years pass.

The prettiest of the dreaded epilobiums
My cosy symbiosis has now been shattered  as I suffer airborne invasions of thistles and epilobium. I have written about epilobiums extensively before but now for me personally there is a new kid on the block, the dreaded  creeping thistle.

Invading epilobiums
Come back to haunt me is the occasion when I wrote about airborne weed seeds blowing into Bolton Percy cemetery from ‘dirty neighbours’. It was in an obscure specialist magazine which unfortunately I showed to one of the newspapers that at that time descended when the churchyard was famous  One quoted me verbatim and a local villager enquired as to who those neighbours were!

I have always been aware of the minor inconvenience of airborne dandelions and its relatives and the need to spot treat them in my lawn at least once a year. 
Epilobiums have always been a curse and I wrote recently that more than half my weed control time is taken up by that pretty weed.
Peter W. recently brought to my attention how light weed seeds such as annual meadow grass just blow in from everywhere and  superficially surprising weeds are tree seedlings from such as winged sycamore seeds that cascade down.

High on the horizon now
As for thistles, they have not been on my horizon and have thought of them as agricultural weeds that invade such places as poorly managed horse paddocks or old abandoned allotments. Not any more!

Pretty self seeding plants that are NOT airborne are more of my thing
Although today I complain about two plants with natural flight capabilities, weeds can spread in other ways into our gardens; not least those carried in bird and animal droppings. Indeed many of us have acquired valuable plants such as daphne this way. I suppose in extremis most seed is capable of carriage by strong wind. When you think of it it is perhaps surprising how little some weeds actually spread.
I wonder what happens if you have a massive seed source immediately next door?
Now I know

Why my weed control is becoming harder
I have acquired a massive thistle seed source next door!
The eight acre field that borders two sides to my garden three years ago came under new management. It is now home to pheasants that are raised for shooting. I have now no need for peacocks to decorate my garden - and for that matter rabbits are even more of a nuisance (not sure about the moles).
In the last three years, parts - but not all - of the field have  been ploughed twice and also at the end of the season the coarse vegetation mown to the ground ( a temporary treat). Other than a small area of maize (pheasants love corn) no crop has been sown and weeds are given free reign and some such as fat hen  (chenopodium) are actually encouraged.
It is really interesting the ecology that is developing. There are very few pretty wild flowers but plenty of coarse ones. There is no woody intrusion as the mowing suppresses such plants.
Creeping thistle is having a field day!

Seeding everywhere for a couple of months
Epilobium girds its loins to invade from next door
To compound the deterioration of my neighbourhood environment former pasture on the other side of my garden for several years now has increasingly been taken over by prolific free seeding epilobiums.

Creeping thistle Cirsium arvensis 

Its aggressive root system might spread in at ten metres or more a year
Don’t tell me that our worst weeds are evil aliens, creeping thistle is a european native and is up there (or perhaps down) with the worst of them. Not only does it invade with vigour vegetatively it does so also by seed.
Most nasty vegetative perennials such as couch, ground elder, Japanese knotweed and bindweed set no or very little seed. Creeping thistle is not only equally vegetatively threatening but produces huge masses of seed  which is prolific and windborne. 

Once established creeping thistle spreads laterally with great vigour and its speed of travel outpaces all others. It is a long lived perennial, government certified as noxious and subject to statutory regulation (sadly unenforced these days).
A single strong plant has been shown to spread into clean land previously lacking competition up to ten metres a year. A ‘single plant’ is a bit of a contradiction as with such a rate of spread a field might contain contain several huge single clones. The only slightly good news is that half of the plants will be males (which produce prolific pollen but no seed) and some of the copious thistle-down from the females is not always fertile.
Thistle seed germinates at almost any time of year but especially in Spring.

Subtle invasion

And sneaky establishment
Thistles and me
The problem has crept up on me. Hitherto I have been complacent and although I have for two years now been stopping invading thistles in their tracks  by spraying the edge of the field their thrusting roots and rhizomes are becoming more persistent.
(The owner of the field is a lovely old man - er younger than me - and has no objection to my effort. It’s always best to tackle invading weed ‘the other side of the ‘fence’ - with the owner’s permission)

The seed is a new problem. It is only last season that I have started to notice and find thistles popping up in unusual places. My glyphosate kills it of course in open spaces but plants appear in hidden serendipity places and if I miss one it can initiate it’s vegetative spread
The strength of thistle seeding has increased almost exponentially over the last three years as it has built up its strength in the farm field. Now I watch huge masses of thistledown drift gently over my garden July to September
Epilobium is still my very worst weed  - but I wonder how long?

I am also starting to have trouble with windblown sowthistle -not to be confused with creeping thistle but a real nuisance as it is not very sensitive to glyphosate

Control of creeping thistle
Actually in a field a farmer has got a great weapon and so may you in an overgrown paddock. Just let it go rampant up to full flowering before seeding and then mow it. With all it’s energy directed into seeding it is very vulnerable. This will not completely eliminate it but this will get you well started and if repeated each year keep it under a degree of control (I chose my words carefully as I am hedging my bets)

If your thistle is in grass or lawn, standard MCPA or 24D weedkillers are effective after a few repeat treatments. Search my blog for posts about them.
I used MCPA as farm product Agritox in my post about nettles in Cathi’s field. There was also a corner of creeping thistle which I casually zapped with unused spray from my knapsack. It really hit it but as this was just a casual gesture and not repeated it is back now,

When strong intact thistles are sprayed  with glyphosate - perhaps best at 1 in 40 dilution of commercial product - it kills thistles well. Again inexperienced gardeners should search my extensive articles on how to use it.

I await germinated thistles with intrepidation next year.

Not to mention sowthistles in Lyndi's field

Sadly my anxiety is as nothing compared to the consequences of this!


Read about my 'willow herb' problem
I wrote about the nettles in Cathi's sheep paddock

Saturday 7 December 2019

Passing three million

Not so dizzy heights
Cathi, blogmeister and young Crumb who parrots the prose
I check my blog statistics from blogger every day. Sad really. Initial pride has dissolved into habit and indeed my figures have been static for several years now. It is useful to see what my readers are reading and I can try and write what might be popular but other than that my numbers do no more than satisfy my ego.
As I now approach a total of three million Cathi insists I recognise the occasion and Peter has thoughtfully suggested we go out for a celebratory meal. Fortunately a few of my friends do read me but it is very few. Isobel still promises to have a first look but she is busy and Jackie will one day get round to asking John to bring up my page. Brenda never reads me and now has the excuse that her macular won’t let her. At least that gives me the opportunity to make loving digs about her or very rarely give vent to her wisdom.

Believe it or not this was the morning of our wedding day
It’s a sort of addiction. I was originally inveigled into it by Cathi and Harry to share my gardening knowledge. Cathi as major domo for York Publishing even knowing I had never written before, set up the blog for me and Harry showed me how to work the apple computer and process the pictures. It had been thirty years since I had used a camera. Harry despaired I would ever achieve fifty readers a day and he laughed at his window when I miss-held the camera.
Apart from any element of self promotion I think there is a dearth of real horticultural knowledge in the vast amount of shallow and sometimes incorrect, amateur, endlessly recycled, gardening literature. I felt I could make a contribution injecting into gardening lore the kind of information we gave our students. There are too many myths I wanted to challenge.

A stumbling start

Harry holds a sparrow hawk
At first I thought my posts ought to be short and concise and carry relatively few pictures. Wrong. It took perhaps my first hundred posts before I strayed into a more relaxed and expansive style. Perhaps too far but Peter Williams assured me that if a post was worth reading there ought to be some meat in it.
My first 74 posts were actually posted by Cathi from my draft ‘Pages’ document. She even, poor girl, placed my selected pictures and put in the captions. (I eventually realised that the dialogue of the captions  and placement of the pictures was so much part of the story)
I of course wanted to get my message about not digging-over over (please excuse the pun). With so many individual strands to the argument not usually tackled in generic articles I wanted to be specific and I started two parallel series - reasons to dig and reasons why not. Only intrepid early readers lasted the course!
People who now come to the blog expecting to find it to be all about not digging are these days surprised to find very little about it. I do still like to throw in sly little bits of propaganda but I don’t really want to too much to repeat myself. It is still all there in the archives!

My blog got off to a great start thanks to Harry’s pictures. He was an amazingly talented photographer and gave me access to all his pictures. Without them I would have never really got going. We were lucky to get some wonderful photographs of a sparrow hawk that Harry had rescued from my garage. It was me that actually clicked the camera as he cradled the defiant bird.
With Cathi’s promotion that post was for me  a very big ‘hit’.  Cathi has always been my secret weapon and she still promotes me all over the place.

The changing blogosphere
Even in the six years since I started, I get the impression that blogs have changed. Apart from the commercially successful blockbusters that have more readers in a day than I have had in a lifetime I get the impression that as far as gardening blogs are concerned there are not so many around. It seems to me that the urgency of modern media and its multi-directional flow gives more success to sharing gardening information. Indeed most successful gardening blogs seem as a requisite be littered with links to Facebook and similar; half a dozen media platforms and more. I am afraid I cannot be bothered to supply a similar service although I must confess in the early days I did trawl Facebook sites promoting myself by making comments related to gardening and nature.
More than half of the wonderful gardening blogs that I once regularly visited are now dead or dormant.
My own reader numbers remain fairly constant and to my surprise vary little with season. No doubt many readers have left me and new ones arise. It is a bit of a dilemma how much I should repeat old information. I suppose like the gardening magazines I endlessly recycle.
One fascination is how my old posts have a life of their own and a few are read regularly and achieve astounding numbers. Some that when published were hardly looked at are now read more in a day than in the first six months!
On the other hand some that were originally popular are now never read at all.

Producing a post

Harry Poole picture of 'Piff'
It would be nice to think they were just dashed off on a whim. Not even close, my posts undergo a period of gestation. Every morning  I get up at about seven, do several kitchen chores, feed and water the bird who then alights on my shoulder. As I write now he is dictating my prose.
Still in my pyjamas I sit at the computer and blog for an hour. A post starts with a germ of an idea. Goodness knows where it comes from. Usually it is the most current bee in my bonnet.

Peter Williams provided the pictures for this popular post
Sometimes the prose flows and the verbiage appears in a couple of  sessions. More often it takes several days to get the first draft.
I allow myself another couple of sessions to assemble the pictures and carry out any editorial chores. Ever so rarely I might then give myself a day off from my obsession. The post then goes into purdah as I take the next post off my desktop. My friend Peter who produces his wonderful articles to a last minute deadline cannot believe I have four posts in stock! Perhaps that is why they are so out of date.

I next edit the new post off the desktop. By now - (on a good day) - a few new ideas have emerged and some of the old ones suddenly seem garbage. It next takes a couple of sessions to cut and paste the prose onto the blog, place the photographs, write the captions re-editing as I go.
With intrepidation I press the button to go public. Will this be the one that eventually destroys my reputation?
It takes an average of ten hours to produce each post. Why on earth do I do it?

My top posts

I was tempted to do my all time ‘top ten’. Unfortunately many  are already reflected in those at the top of the post which records the previous month. I assume many new readers just click there and keep the popularity going.
Instead I shall take samples of the most popular posts in order from the beginning. What I thought blockbusters at the time boast now seem relatively small numbers. They just did not stand the test of time as the thread of self generating publicity weakened. Unless a title brings in new readers from search engine ‘finds’ it fades out of attention.

1. The sparrow hawk came to dinner
Already mentioned today this post has only only been read 5000 times. It seemed so much more at the time. Ironically in contrast the very next post ‘corn marigolds’ has been a sleeper and accumulated 8000
2   Harry Poole pictures.
Harry was a superb photographer. Multi talented he was just as happy changing a washer or building a power station. His pictures were really what got the blog going. This very short post links to several of his very fine pictures. I has only been read 2000 times

3 An ubiquity of sparrows
This was the first real success read 178,802 times
4. Eliminating nettles. This is the first post to achieve many readers because it answers a question that many folk search for. 162,766 readers
5 A congress of corvids
Still in the top ten it is also based on Harry’s pictures 155,000 readers
6. When I wrote about Harry and Cathi’s baby rheas in the first six months it was read 63 times. It suddenly caught on and has accumulated 188,000

7 Po’s Christmas moonshine
All time winner, Po Simpson had sent me his wonderful moon pictures. 333,556 times read. We think that somehow the word ‘moonshine’ has brought in the punters.

8. Mission unaccomplished
It is difficult to know why this record of our holiday in Costa Rica topped the then current top ten for more than a year. 278,923 times read. Now no one reads it. The last reader was eight weeks ago  and was probably me!

9. Longevity in Gardeners
This is the most recent of the more popular posts and has clocked 56,000 in less than a year. I find that these days that ‘general interest’ posts like this do best 

10. Decline in bee populations
I would like to thank everyone who has helped me blog (is it a verb?). Harry and Cathi of course. Harry Kennedy for pictures of Costa Rica and worms. That lovely man Po. Alan Armitage who sends me ‘edits’ from the far north. All readers who comment and contribute their pool of knowledge. Not the spammers who never learn that their intrusions are immediately wiped.
Peter Williams has written for me the very best articles and freely provides superb quality pictures, many ‘on demand’. He is a great person to bounce ideas off, check facts and provide new ideas. The bee post which boasts 55,000 ‘reads’ is a fine example of his help.

Couch grass sprayed in December, pictured in February
11. Can you use Roundup in Winter?
Apart from not digging and soil science, I have several reoccurring themes. Glyphosate is a fundamental part of my gardening which I promote, describe and defend. My most read glyphosate post answers a question that many folk search the net for and brings them to me. 24,068


12. Significance of hybridisation 
I have an intense interest in evolution and hybridisation’s fundamental contribution. I first set out my thoughts three years ago and each new contribution to this series of posts quickly rushes to 5000. This early one has grown to 88,432

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