I don’t know why, but for some reason I had been fantasising for a time about grubbing thistles, even before we got the farm. The idea of casually strolling through the paddocks laying waste to the prickly invaders excited me. I think it’s a combination of feeling like I’m defending the farm of noxious weeds and a latent masculine impulse to destroy something. You can imagine my delight then when an old rusty hoe head turned up whilst I was cleaning under the cottage. I left what I was doing and dove into the bush looking for a suitable branch to act as my grubber handle.
I’ve always had a fascination with creating things out of sticks. Spears, staves, clubs. I once fashioned a good-and-proper walking stick out of puriri wood for the five-day Tongariro Northern Circuit we hiked. It was more than just an aid; it was a kind of primeval talisman. There’s something about the simplicity of a good stick that just speaks to me. I don’t know. It’s a caveman thing.
There’s only a small group of trees near the cottage so I didn’t have much choice when it came to the handle of my makeshift grubber. I emerged with a gnarly limb and began cutting it down to size and filing it in the right way so the hoe head would hold in place as the stick widened. I cut a cleft in the end and made a wedge to put pressure on the hoe head, then jammed in a couple of screws for good measure. After I sharpened the metal edge it was ready for action.
We’re quite lucky in that our pastures are relatively free of noxious weeds. There’s a few species here and there, but as far as grazing land goes it’s in very good order. The predominant weed seems to be Scotch thistle, whose seeds have spread from neighbouring farms where they aren’t supressed. We were concerned at first that the thistles might be of the Californian variety, which can’t be chipped like their Scotch cousins. Californian thistle pop up in groups and have large interconnected root systems. If you take a grubber to them they’ll just bounce right back or sprout elsewhere. Herbicide is really the only effective method of keeping them down, and even then they’re persistent little shits.
Scotch thistle, on the other hand, has a tap root. So long as you chip below the “crown” and remove all the dormant buds they won’t regrow (I wish I had known this before I spent a couple of afternoons on my mum’s block painstakingly uprooting hundreds of the buggers). Being biennials it’s important to slaughter them when in their first year as young rosettes, before they shoot up and go to seed. Otherwise you can expect a hell of a lot more popping up about the place.
We went for a late afternoon stroll over the farm with the new makeshift thistle grubber, grubbing to our hearts’ content. It held up well, the hoe head not wiggling in the slightest after hundreds of blows. We easily spent over an hour out there and only made a dent in the ranks of the thistle army, but if we take the grubber whenever we go for a stroll we should keep on top of them. It’s surprisingly fun playing spot the thistle. You see one in the distance and race towards it, brutally hacking it out of the ground. Each kill feels like a victory for your farm – you’ve slowed the invasion. It’s quite therapeutic.