Women vs. Weeds
The Weedinator by Susan Fluegel; in which our heroine, the Weedinator, takes on a full grown Canada thistle in a garlic field and emerges victorious.
For more on weed destruction see our sustainable weeding page.
Sammy is one of the sweetest of Jane’s fat spoiled cows, despite her impressive horns. She is a regal cow, direct descendant of Miranda, the herd mother. She and her daughter Melanie stand at the fence line eyeing Susan. They are confident that any weeds Susan tosses over the fence will be tastier, greener and better quality than any of the grass growing around their feet.
Picture: Sammy the horned cow.
For Susan the bucolic pleasure of working in the garlic field is beginning to wane. She is alone today, weeding in the hot sun. She yanks out the weeds and then separates them. The cows eagerly eat most of the weeds but there are two exceptions:
1. Chamomile, which is not good for the cows since it cause photosensitivity. Cows that eat too much camomile can get sunburned (and it is hard to convince a cow to use sunscreen lotion!).
2. Thistle, which is our special enemy. We wage war against the thistle. Every time we spy a thistle plant we dig it out, all the way down the large taproot, and remove it completely from the garlic growing area. Thistle fights back with guerrilla tactics. It pricks our fingers, blooms under the radar, and sneaks in lateral roots every year to invade a bed or two of garlic.
The chamomile and thistle buckets must be hauled completely out of the field.
Susan finishes digging out the long taproot of a particularly noxious thistle plant that nearly fills the bucket. Hot and tired, she slumps down on the path between the garlic beds. She is not eager to pack out the heavy thistles. Just then Sammy emits a gentle “moo” to remind Susan that starving animals are nearly. Susan looks up to see that Sammy and Melanie have been joined by some of their herd-mates. There is a line of white faces with big brown eyes staring imploring over the fence. Susan pleads with them: “If you were really hungry, Sammy, you and your friends would not be such picky eaters! Why won’t you eat this thistle?”
Picture: Susan offers Sammy the cow some tasty weeds.
This gives Susan an idea: maybe she can hide the thistle among the more delectable weeds and then the cows would eat them. She hides a few tender thistle leaves in some lambs quarter and chickweed and Sammy accepts them from her hand eagerly. Susan feels a thrill of victory and has found a way to amuse herself as she works in the hot field. Throughout the afternoon Susan gradually increases the ratio of thistle to weed. By late afternoon, Sammy is happily chomping down whole thistle plants top first.
Sammy has a high rank in the cow herd, and soon other cows follow her example. We no longer have to haul the thistle out of the field! By late summer any thistle invading the cow’s pasture is quickly eaten.
Susan is proud of her thistle-eating cows. And we are happy to have the cows join us in the war against thistles.
Click here for more on training your cow to eat weeds.