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Blackberry Addendum

February 15, 2012

Humans are passionate about weeds for sure, if the comments on my previous blackberry post is any indication.  I have come to view weeds differently than I used to.  I was taught that weeds were a nuisance, and some are.  Pretty much now though, I have looked to “weeds” as my teacher.  They make me ask the question, “just what is going on here?”  Did I cause this?  Did an ancestor cause this?  Or you weed, are you just an opportunistic fellow that makes yourself at home where ever your spawn lights?

The comments on that post are amazing in that they reveal that we all have our battles with weeds, depending on where we live.  And that we all put sweat and ingenuity to work to fight the battle.  The array of tools and methods listed in the comments is worthy of a post in itself, let alone a botany lesson.

I have resigned myself to the brat that is the Himalayan blackberry.  The positives are yes, they make killer human and wildlife food, (including the late bloom that feeds so many hummingbirds and other pollinators) but they sure are experts at sidling up to a building or fence post and with dogged determination they really take root.  The unintended consequence of MiG on our farm has been an explosion of brambles where previously the cows were able to keep them at bay.  Now with the cows confined, so to speak, and not free-ranging in the forest, our park-like forest land is being taken over by the monster.  Yes, they are a little weaker in the shade, not able to reach the 15′ high canopy and put out 20′ runners in a single bound season.  But, alas, they are there.  Just one of things, where you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.  Time will tell if stopping the translocation of nutrients to the forest via the cows, where it isn’t needed in the fungi-rich environment to where it can do more good in the bacteria hungry pastures is a good thing.  I think it is… .

Meanwhile, I will work at keeping the blackberries where they are manageable, and enjoy a cobbler or two.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Racquel permalink
    February 15, 2012 6:04 pm

    Maybe some goats in those forested areas would help keep the berries under control. I have borrowed goats but then didn’t want to give them back. Just a thought.

    • February 15, 2012 7:41 pm

      Racquel, that would be nice if there wasn’t goat eating cougars lurking in those woods 😦

      • February 15, 2012 11:19 pm

        And there goes another huge dilemma of farmers, when does wildlife become a nuisance and how much damage should we tolerate? I am currently researching a project for a Masters and my thesis is entitled “Wild boar: friend or foe? Examining the conflict of wild boar management in Erglu Novads (Latvia).” The problem seems to be that hunters love them and feed them and then shoot the ones they want to, while the farmers endure big holes being dug and pasture degraded. But they are there naturally and damage will happen, but how much is acceptable?

  2. February 16, 2012 3:20 am

    I suppose the goat eating cougars would also be pig eating cougars…. Was thinking of the rooting the pigs would do….

    One of my dreams has been to be able to by the woods north of us, and run the pigs in there. Now I wonder if the mountain lion we’ve seen twice here would return, or if it would be the bears or coyotes after the pigs…

    • February 16, 2012 5:37 am

      Pam R., pigs would be good if they were large enough to not be a meal for a cougar. Coyotes and bears here are not such a problem with livestock, or I should say coyotes don’t bother our cattle, and the sheep are in Electronet. We’ve lost enough cattle and sheep to cougars, I have to be careful who I send into the woods 😦 And the voting populace in charge in our area of the US are sympathetic to the wildlife, not ranchers and farmers. Heaven forbid someone sees a coyote in town or the evidence that one has eaten a cat or dog. Then it makes the news, and it’s kind of comical really.

  3. February 16, 2012 5:56 am

    Joanna, I know, it’s hard to weigh the benefits vs damages. It’s quite a controversy here too, where city people dictate what happens in rural areas. A common view is that what is the big deal if a cow, pig, sheep, or goat gets eaten because the callous farmer/rancher is going to kill the animal anyway for economic gain. OK, so my view is yes, I will kill my steers when it is time and sell the meat for money. That’s what I do, that’s my living. So in the economic vein, if a person has a business and after hours after the workers have gone home and someone repeatedly breaks in and takes a laptop or two a week, and then maybe comes back in about month and does the same thing, how does that business person feel? Is it hard to keep going and make a profit in your business? Should you quit your business, move to a different location, or should you just stay there and sleep and catch the thugs, that are doing what is in their nature. Of course, in town, you call the cops, you call your insurance company and then you get reimbursed, and everyone goes on their merry way. There is not much recourse for ranchers and farmers. Too bad…

    If a cougar or bear is sighted in the towns it makes the news…and parks are shut down until the animal is trapped and transported and or shot and killed. So wildlife is a good thing for most people as long as they don’t have to see it, I think they should try living with real wildlife every day. On a personal note, I do not go into the woods without my dogs…and we time our calving for late spring so the cougars can eat deer and elk babies instead.

    • Head Farm Steward permalink
      February 16, 2012 8:12 am

      In response to Joanna, I heard an interview with the owner of the Paicines Ranch on the Agroinnovations Podcast. She indicated the feral pigs damaged the annual grasses on her ranch but the native perennial grasses were strengthened by the disturbance. The rooting is intense but not damaging because the hogs move on allowing rapid and full recovery of the sward. Preserving native perennial grasses is high on her list so the pigs stay.

      I have seen my own hogs line up side by side and roll up the sod in my pasture after a heavy rain. Talk about disturbance! They rolled the sod right over the hog netting and trotted over to where I was working. Recovery was rapid in spite of this damage(?). A heavy sow, a herd of cattle or buffalo, a buck making a ground rub, mice, groundhogs, moles, bears all cause intense disturbance. This can be inconvenient for farmers who love schedules, flat ground and square fence corners but is normal, natural and beneficial to the ecology.

      The title “Friend or Foe” suggests the pigs are somehow responsible and that the disturbance they cause is somehow bad. Animals have no responsibility. Management (stewardship) falls on our shoulders, here or in Latvia. Was the now “degraded” pasture already weakened by overgrazing? Should the farmer and the hunter partner in limiting the feral herd? Are there low-tech, inexpensive, sustainable ways to keep hogs out of certain areas while still respecting their daily and seasonal forage needs? Are there people out there willing to work this problem cooperatively but not coercively?

      MoH understands her various roles; business woman, property steward, cattle steward, predator and prey animal. Paicines Ranch sees the feral hogs as a part of their holistic vision, as MoH sees cougars. The wildlife is outside of direct control but can be accounted for in the management plan. Rather than seeking to place blame on hogs, hunters, farmers, city-people, sun spots or global climate change, we should be building forgiveness into our land management.

      • February 16, 2012 10:44 pm

        Thank you for your comments and the podcast Head Farm Steward. The title was actually a provocative title and you are quite right that the animals are not responsible for the problems, it is a man-made problem. The problems we are dealing with in my area of Latvia is farmers with 60-90% damage of lands and that is not easy to recover from. Turning of the turf is not the biggest problem but the sheer scale of the damage and the depth of holes that are often dug, sometimes and not infrequently up to 20 inches deep which are difficult to see when the grass is high for cutting hay. In our case too, the turning of the ground leads to ground elder (herb gerard, bishop’s weed, goutweed, and snow-in-the-mountain) invasion and that is very difficult to get rid of – plough it and small roots regenerate. The problem appears to lie with the power relationships of large and rich hunting organisations compared to the poorer and smaller farmers, fortunately a system that is being examined and hopefully rectified.

        The other issue that the farmer from Paicines Ranch may have to think long and hard about is the ability of these feral hogs to reproduce, populations are exploding here in Europe and across America. And from my research the only effective means of reducing damage is to manage the numbers by not feeding them and to hunt them. Farmers I have talked to have mentioned that there are now no forest or ground nesting birds in their area, the forest vegetation is suffering because there are too many and the ecosystem doesn’t have time to recover. Forgiveness indeed would be good, but sometimes dealing with the consequences of uneven power relationships is needed. Sorry MoH that is a long reply.

        • Head Farm Steward permalink
          February 19, 2012 4:08 am

          Thank you for taking time to respond. I now have a better understanding of the situation you are studying and appreciate your perspective.

          The next question they may be forced to ask is, “What do we do with all this fresh pork?” I hope they can utilize it locally.

    • February 16, 2012 11:48 am

      If only towns folk realised half the decisions that have to be made as a farmer.

      I go into our woods without a dog but it isn’t deep but I have a feeling this year I might have to think twice as the winter has been kind to the wild boar this year and they can be just as dangerous. They are not domestic pigs that’s for sure.

  4. February 16, 2012 6:58 am

    I do not have the Bramble problems you do. The land I purchased 4 years ago was an old crop field and the Farmers that worked the land before were not very kind to the land!
    Not much grows here except Weeds! And one of them is both Good and Bad! I’m not sure what weed it is, But it has to be a part of the potato family! Same kind of flowers when it blooms and the potato bugs love it! They will set up house on this weed before they will on the potatoes in the garden!
    So I dig out the plant (Large tap root!) when I find it in the garden, But leave the ones in the outlying areas for the Bugs! The potatoes get much less damage that way!

    • Head Farm Steward permalink
      February 16, 2012 8:15 am


  5. February 16, 2012 7:31 am

    Matron, there were indeed a lot of good replies. I enjoyed them all. 🙂

  6. Spring permalink
    February 16, 2012 10:33 am

    We’ve lived in this house (we’re renting) for a year and a half and the five acres are nearly covered with blackberries. At first we were a bit overwhelmed with clearing them away, trying to reclaim a bit of the land back (there’s an old and completely overgrown apple orchard here) and I’ve been amazed at what we’ve found hidden underneath the vines: tires, unused lumber, baskets and pottery, and my personal favorite – an entire one stall barn. Yes, a *barn* underneath the vines. Our landlord didn’t even realize it was there.

    I’ve been telling my friends down south that blackberries are the kudzu of the PNW. At least they’re edible. I’ve canned for the first time last summer and they are yummy. But… yeah, a barn.

  7. February 16, 2012 1:31 pm

    We had beautiful blackberries when we first moved to the farm,they were big,wild, ever so yummy berries.
    Our Highland cows thought so to….the patch has been destroyed over the past 3 years,not a blackberry to sample in sight.

  8. February 16, 2012 11:10 pm

    You have some great conversations and thoughts on this topic. In Southern Oregon, we are also affected by the votes and perspective from the greater metropolitan area. The “no hunting with dogs for cougar and bear” laws were passed and have continued to have a big impact both in rural schools and on farms.
    The country down here is rugged and full of a diversity not seen anywhere else. There is some very unique vegetation.
    As far as the domestic weed nuisance, I think the ‘goat head thistle’ is the worst. They need to be burned and burned and burned. The next best defense is to hoe them if they have sprouted, pull them before the spikey head turn up, and to work diligently to prevent the spread of them. Ouch!

  9. February 19, 2012 7:35 am

    Head Farm Steward. I am glad you can see the situation, some hunters around here still don’t get it regarding the sheer level of damage. As for all that “pork,” one farmer joked the only good thing to do with wild boar (wild hogs) was to open up a processing factory – maybe they have a good point 🙂 Seriously though, it does indeed provide some much needed meat in some very hard times here – Latvia has been in crisis since 2008

  10. February 20, 2012 4:57 pm

    One of the big perks of being a beekeeper is I can enjoy the blackberry monsters in every alley and industrial back lot knowing that the bees will turn that bonanza into honey in my backyard. Of course, they are pollinating the flowers and helping to spread the problem….our best revenge is feeding blackberry canes to the rabbits, who enjoy them as much as any goat.

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