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Re: [permaculture] weeds? (Star thistle)

--- stephan leimroth <slimerote@yahoo.com> wrote:
> greetings!
> i have a weed problem. 
> not just with our local, demonic weed being highly
> invasive and difficult to control but with controlling
> them in the first place.  on our site, heavily
> miss-grazed in the past, star thistle is insiduous. 
> but it grows so well and thrives where nothing else
> will (not even mustard), that i just hate to pull it. 
> it seems so crucial to the development (and recovery)
> of the soil, to getting the nutrient cycle going.  

It's definitely a pioneer species, growing on disturbed soils and low
rainfall.  On our property, we have some areas that are thick with it.

If you want to control it, I know of the following options (and welcome

- Sheet mulch:  We covered about 300 sf. of heavy star thistle last
June with cardboard and hay as an experiment.  So far it hasn't come
back or grown through in this area.  We're looking to expand this to
other areas as time and materials permit.

- Succession planting:  I hear repeated sowings of buckwheat will
eventually choke it out; so far we've had no success at all with this
strategy.  If you're in a fire/flood ecology, you could try (carefully)
burning it out in the summertime, right about the time the seed heads
form.  The native vegetation will be stimulated by the heat but the
star thistle won't, so next season you get native vegetation coming in

- Peaceful Valley Farm Supply offers "star thistle weevils", which are
supposed to assist in controlling the plant.  We haven't tried them;
they're fairly expensive.

- Sow other plants (clovers, vetch, etc.) to attempt to choke out the
star thistle and cover the otherwise unbroken soil it seems to prefer.

- Mow frequently during flowering season.  (Yeah, I know it's not a Pc
solution, but it helps, especially if you time it right so that you
catch the plant before the seed matures and after the plant has used
most of its energy creating the stalk.)

OTOH, we've also been looking at ways in which the star thistle
participates in our ecosystem, since we're never going to eradicate it

- Star thistle honey is exceptionally delicate and flavorful.  Star
thistle blooms (in the Sierra foothills of northern California) at a
time after most other blooming things have given up for the summer, so
it provides food for the honeybees (and other potentially beneficial
insects) during that time.

- We have a very small species of bird (finch or junco or similar;
haven't been able to identify it) which perches on the seed heads and
eats the contents thereof.  If this bird eats other things that we need
to keep under control (pest insects, for example), the star thistle is
habitat that helps us with this.

Of course, by looking for the positives of star thistle, I may be
exhibiting "hostage syndrome" - identifying with our tormentors. :)

I'd be interested in hearing other uses/controls for this extremely
hardy plant.

Loren Davidson       Permaculturist, poet, philosopher
Please reply to loren@wombat.net or loren@earthspring.org
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