This tenacious plant is our nemisis.
We can not conquer it.
Nemesis was the Greek goddess of vengeance, a deity who doled out rewards for noble acts and punishment for evil ones. We wonder which deed brought us this ongoing challenge - perhaps the clearing of wooded land 180 years ago.
Iron Weed can grow to ten feet in height, sporting a beautiful purple bloom, and is majestic in stature. It is typical to the eastern priairie system, is prolific and tenacious, and spawns plants every three feet or so. Managing livestock among a sea of Iron Weed is fraught with challenge. We tried ignoring it at the outset of our journey, but finally conceded we couldn't see the sheep or cows we were trying to manage, which quickly became problematic! Deep roots of the plant also consume precious moisture, and its many leaves shade-out grass plants below.
Cattle won't eat it at all, sheep will only if desperately hungry, but goats find it appetizing. Goats are the most difficult of all livestock to contain, because of their ability to climb, and present other management challenges, such as: susceptibility to foot-rot and parasites, males that smell to high-heaven, and finding a market for the meat... So, they are not yet a ready solution for us in terms of addressing Iron Weed.
We have assumed a fairly conventional solution to-date, which is to mow it. Our new 15-foot "batwing" mower allows us to do so at 2/3rds the time it used to take with the 10 ft. mower. We typically have to mow twice in a summer to keep Iron Weed at bay. This is a considerable investment of time and fossil fuel, but stands as the best of alternatives at the moment.
We have heard of cows being taught to eat weeds they do not favor, by cutting the weed, drenching it in molasses, and then feeding it to them in a controlled situation. Cows can apparently "unlearn" their negative dispoition toward a weed, and then supposedly start grazing it in pastures. This form of bribery is similarly employed on young children in our own kitchens. I was sharing this strategy with a local farmer, and he suggested, rather than cutting and hauling, just spraying molasses upon the weed in the field. That might work and we might try it.
It certainly would be great to turn such a large menace into an asset. If molasses doesn't work, then maybe we have to make peace with entering the goat-business to produce milk, cheese, or meat. Just what we need - one more enterprise to manage. But we are already in the Iron-Weed business, and wouldn't we rather produce another food than burn more fuel? Probably so.
Allan Savory's decision-making model will help us ponder this further. Stay tuned, and help us think!
Below on the left is a picture of ideal pasture - lots of clover and leaves of grass in the understory and plentiful seed-heads above. This offers a range of nutrition, from energy up high to protein down below, for animals to choose from - a full buffet. (Note the Iron Weed in the back sneaking into the dining room.)
On the right is a picture of pasture nearly as good. It has been mowed once, so there aren't as many seed-heads available, but the understory is about 12 inches deep with a rich assortment of warm and cool-season grasses, clovers, and forbs.
Wildlife keeps showing itself, when we are quiet enough to perceive... Below are a Monarch Butterfly, soliciting the nector of the Butterfly Weed, and a Soft Shell Turtle heading toward the creek.
Piglets are growing rapidly, by dint of mudholes and tubs of grain...
Below are Roma Meatballs, anchoring tomato sauce and spaghetti. So basic and so rewarding. Half beef, half pork, and full of deep flavor.
We look forward to seeing you at Hyde Park this Sunday, Blue Ash on Wednesday, and Bexley on Thursday. Bob will be at Findlay Market on Saturday, June 30. If you would like smoked chickens or smoked pork chops for July 4th, let us know.
In the weeds,
Drausin & Susan
Shortly after this evening's rain, from view of our front porch.