Just about everyone cringes when they see it, never mind stepping on it. Thistle. Dreaded, icky, the yard is ruined, thistle.
It's ok, I used to hate it too. Then, I recently (like this week) discovered that it's really not so bad.
Ugh. Kinda hard to love that. It looks horrible. Or does it?
Thistle is actually a rather pretty plant and when the gold finch perch to eat seed it's absolutely stunning. Still, it has a bad rap....especially when you let it get as big as I did last year.
I remember looking at the purple blooms last summer and thinking to myself,"Katie, you should go out there and snip off those blooms."
**Thistle trivia: thistle stores all of its energy for the bloom, snip off the bloom and the plant collapses. Snip off the plant and it regrows. So if you're trying to eradicate it, you should really snip blooms. I read that in my favorite cattle book; Grass Fed Cattle, by Julius Ruechel.
Anyway, back to last summer. Yes, I thought it. I even snipped off a feed bag's worth of blooms. Then the heat and humidity changed my mind. So then I thought, it's not so bad.
Good thing I changed my mind about it, because my soil needed attention....but I was still learning....not thistle, it was working.
The thing is, if you have a lot of thistle, it means your soil is in trouble. Maybe it needs minerals or amending.
In this particular area, I already knew our pasture soil needed a boost. The towering thistle just drove it home.
I let the ponies graze it too low. When it's grazed too low, the roots start shrinking and aeration isn't happening. Compacting from heavy animals quickly follows.
Now you're just robbing from the soil, you're not giving anything back. Sad face.
Thistle arrives, like an army.
This is actually a good thing. No really. Stay with me.
What happens when there's thistle? You go somewhere else and the soil gets to rest.
Thistle is the ultimate soil guardian. It stands as a protector of the earth, keeping people and critters off the dirt. Its roots aerate the soil, and its dried up stalks easily crumble, offering organic matter back to the ground. Which, when it decomposes, is an invitation for earth worms to return. Who knew?
Thistle offers recovery. Look again at the new life springing up in its former shadow....
Last year, when the thistle was in its full glory, this grass could barely break ground. Today, just a week into spring, it's the first area to sprout grass with vigor.
Reflecting back to last summer, I confess that I came dangerously close to tilling up the whole thing. I can't even imagine the damage I would have done.
Poor thistle. I didn't know enough to give you so much credit. I'll never speak ill of you again. I know now that you're just the messenger between me and the dirt.
I'm listening now.