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Canada Thistle

 
pollinator
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I have a ton of it. Can anyone suggest good uses for it? Or techniques to get rid of it?
 
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At my old place, I was in an endless battle with this invasive plant that was accidentally imported from the Russian steppes.

If you're in a sandy soil, you can dig and pull out enough of the roots and rhizomes to make a difference. Eventually you will harass it to death.

If you're in a clay soil, I wish you better luck than I had. Backhoe operators report the roots can sometimes be found six feet deep in a mature patch. All you can do is control them by chopping, digging, mowing, etc. Most people here don't want to use chemical controls; I did sometimes, sparingly, as a last desperate option.

It's important to chop off all the seed heads before they open and are pollinated. They do this in stages, so you have to stay on top of them.

Pollinated seed heads can be destroyed by burning or placing in a rot barrel for a year; after that, they are not viable.

And naturally, someone a mile away will fail to control their patch, and you'll watch the seeds lazily drift all over your property.
 
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Black plastic for a minimum of 2 years or dig dig dig. I actually find it helps to rotovate it, yes it makes more bits, but they are smaller so weaker and very easy to pull out of the loose soil as soon as you see them stick their horrible heads up.

As to uses, butterflies and bees like it.. but there are other things them and I can agree on liking!
 
pollinator
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They allegedly are there because the ground is compacted or too low in organic matter. In theory they will fix those problems and pioneer out of the system.  I have never seen them do that, unless you both attack the plant and fix the problem(s) that give them advantage.  I do think comfrey may out compete it in many environments and it it's at least useful, although equally problematic if left unchecked.
 
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If you choose the digging route, consider putting the leaves, stalks, and first year roots to use in your diet.

http://www.eattheweeds.com/thistle-touch-me-not-but-add-butter-2/
 
Leora Laforge
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Thanks Douglas, I have been working at harasing it to death. I am not usually averse to using chemical either. But the thistle problem has been caused by chemical use, when sprayed the thistles just take a nap, but all the competition is killed off. I know I will never totally win, because there are fields 50 meters away.

Thanks Joylynn, that link is exactly what I was hoping for. Something to do with the plants as I endlessly dig them up
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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CT is certainly a difficult problem, and there is no "slam-dunk" solution. Quite simply, this plant should not be here; it's a human-created problem. We can only try to manage it so it doesn't dominate everything.

For those who haven't had the pleasure, this plant has no problem competing with quackgrass, mature stands of trees, or well-established lawn turf.

Herbicides were never completely effective, tending to kill the annual growth but not completely destroying the root/rhizome. Repeated use has increased resistance. Farmers now use suppressant chemicals. These are not readily available to non-registered landholders. I just discovered that iron-based herbicides may be effective in controlling or suppressing CT; rather less nasty than the alternatives.

The comfrey angle sounds interesting. I wonder if anyone has actually tried it. If it's Alien vs. Predator, though, does it replace one problem with another?

I also wonder: would goats eat this stuff?

 
pollinator
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Canada thistle looks and acts tough but it's a wussy.  It hates it when something stands up to it.
We found that buckwheat and field peas made it run away like Scut Farkus in "A Christmas Story".
Your results may vary but I was pleasantly surprised.
Good luck.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Keith Odell wrote: ...We found that buckwheat and field peas made it run away ...


That's very interesting!

May I ask what sort of soil you have? Sand vs. clay? It seems to matter. At my old property, highly fertile with clay subsoil, CT was the devil incarnate. On my new property, on a sand hill, it has no traction at all (replaced by other invaders that torment me, but that's life).
 
Keith Odell
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Clay, very hard clay.  This was in a community garden.  
Prior to this, we had another 20' x 20' plot that we had 2 layers of tarps down with the seams nowhere near each other for a year.
Still had spindly plants ready to take off the next spring when we took the tarps off.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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As an aside: some of the posts here (while thoughtful and lovely) refer to different species. Here stands the accused that is on trial for prickly behaviour and spreading vexatious mischief:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cirsium_arvense

 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Keith Odell wrote:Clay, very hard clay.  This was in a community garden.


Details please! Did the thistles ever get the the flowering stage previously? And tell me about how you planted and maintained the peas and buckwheat. Interspered? How intensively were they arranged?

I'm very interested in how this might be applied to much larger areas (the size of city lots).
 
Keith Odell
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We had 1-acre out of a 10-acre restorative prairie in Central Indiana - sizes are guesses.  We had very old thistle -flowering and fluffy - but it wasn't mature.  In fact it was very naughty.
We were using wood chips and compost to improve the soil, hoes, sickles and weedwhackers to fight the weeds and only tilled/mowed lightly.
We talked with the prairie experts who said chemicals, lots and lots of chemicals.  But we were a no chemical community garden.
Two large plots were completely overrun and that is where we mowed low and double-tarped for a year.  We still had runners reaching for the sun.
We started using cover crops on the active plots in the fall and noticed a lot less thistle pressure throughout.
Somebody suggested using them (buckwheat and peas) the next spring on some fallow, weed-infested plots.  
Picture knee-high, lawn thickness weeds - no bare patches to start with.
It looked like somebody put thistle in our spreader instead of alfalfa.
By the time the buckwheat flowered, most of the thistle was gone.
At this point we had a thistle or other unwanted weed every ten feet or so but we were amazed at the difference.

This was a one-off experiment and we never did plant the main area.  It was our seventh year and it seems like most non-profits get the 7-year itch.

If my memory serves (and it might not) we sowed about twice the recommended amount.  
Partly because we hated the thistle but also because that is what we had leftover from fall.
I don't think we had any inoculate (?) for the peas either.

Again, this was several years ago and I am recalling the best I can.  I do know that I hate thistle and the buckwheat/pea mix almost eliminated it in one season.

Hopefully, it can work for others.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Keith, thank you. This is why I hang out here: somebody out there has a three-dimensional view of my two-dimensional problem.

I do not have apple powers, but from all of us in the CT zone, I think you deserve three at least. But I do have pie powers, so I gave you pie. If you were close by, I would buy you a beer as well. Cheers!
 
Keith Odell
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Doug - thanks.  Until somebody recreates it, it is just a cool story.  Hopefully, you or Leora or can try it and be successful.
Good luck all.
 
Leora Laforge
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Thank you Keith . This is why I like permies. There is always someone who has found an unusual solution to a common problem. As soon as I can get field pea and buckwheat seed I will be trying this.
 
Skandi Rogers
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I'm afraid my thistles grow straight through peas, potatoes, pumpkins, rye, barley.. they get tall like 6ft tall so no amount of ground cover does anything to them and they have enough energy in the roots to grow up through my compost pile which is over 4ft tall! They are indeed pushed out of the succession in time, but only by trees and the shade they cast. where I am it goes nettles/thistles/goosegrass, to elder bushes to sycamore trees.
We also have very light sandy soil about 30cm deep on top of chalk, unploughed for over 30 years but heavily grazed in the past. (not in the last 5 years)
 
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Lots of good advice. I'll be trying the buckwheat and peas next year. Too late to plant this year.

I just cleared a bunch of thistle by hand from a corner of my yard. I didn't know I had raspberries and rhubarb until I started pulling the thistle.

I wonder if just adding peas to the rhubarb patch will be enough since it is in the same family as buckwheat.

I'm letting the thistle dry in the sun for a week or so then it will go on my hugelkultur as mulch. I'm being careful not to have any seed heads in there.

Also, the only thing less fun than pulling thistle by hand is pulling thistle by hand around raspberries and roses...
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Leora Laforge wrote:I have a ton of it. Can anyone suggest good uses for it? Or techniques to get rid of it?



Bees love it, so honey.
 
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As with so many things, one's precise ecosystem makes a big difference.

Yes - I have heard that goats will eat it. Haven't tried it though because our fencing's not good enough. That said, the neighbor used to, and it seemed to me that the goats only ate the flowers.

Yes - I have heard that some plants will out-compete it. I've had mixed results from that. I try to pull the thistle, but leave the plants around it, even if the surrounding plants would also be considered weeds. If done as we're going into the dry season, this is more effective from what I can see.

Yes - it definitely seems to like disturbed soil and heavy clay! I try to see it as a helper rather than a blight as just maybe it's breaking up that compacted clay.

Yes - trying to smother it with mulch/cardboard/newspaper hasn't worked terribly well, although in the right spot, it seems to bring the root to the surface which allows me to pull out more of it. I'd go for trying the buckwheat/pea combo to improve the soil, but I'd also try to hand weed out the thistle while the other plants are tall so it has to try to re-sprout in a shaded environment.

Yes - I've had it in smoothies with apple and lemon before, but there's no way I could eat that much of it!!
 
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Keith Odell wrote:Doug - thanks.  Until somebody recreates it, it is just a cool story.  Hopefully, you or Leora or can try it and be successful.
Good luck all.


So interesting! I just happened to plant a bunch of buckwheat in an area that I typically have a ton of thistle and there was definitely less thistle in the area with the buckwheat than in the surrounding area. I was weeding thistle all summer in that area trying to keep the seed heads from forming but never had to walk into the buckwheat patch to pull any thistles. It was not a very thick patch by any means because I wasn't watering it so it wasn't like the buckwheat was smothering it. I will definitely have to try it again.
 
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You can eat Canada Thistle:

Although leaves, stems and flowers are edible needless to say you must wear protective gloves and clothing when harvesting. The barbs must be removed from the leaves and the stems are to be shaved with a knife. This plant has a nice flavour. The stems can be prepared as crudites, added to vegetable dishes or roasted.



https://www.ediblewildfood.com/canada-thistle.aspx
 
Jenny Wright
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Anne Miller wrote:You can eat Canada Thistle:

Although leaves, stems and flowers are edible needless to say you must wear protective gloves and clothing when harvesting. The barbs must be removed from the leaves and the stems are to be shaved with a knife. This plant has a nice flavour. The stems can be prepared as crudites, added to vegetable dishes or roasted.



https://www.ediblewildfood.com/canada-thistle.aspx



Have you eaten them? If so, I'm curious how they were prepared. I tried it raw and thought it was really unpalatable. I could only try a nibble and I don't have a terribly picky palate. I've been wondering if it's a lot better cooked. I find a lot of people know they are edible but don't actually eat them.

It had to get quite big in order to be big enough to peel it so maybe it tastes better when it's younger but then I don't know how to peel the stalks without destroying them when they are small. Maybe there's a sweet spot I'm missing...
 
Jenny Wright
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I've also tried eating the flowers because I read that you can chew on the flower head and it has a nice sweet taste but it just tasted like chewing on a bundle of fibrous cotton.
 
Anne Miller
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I have not eaten them. Though I have not eaten their relative the artichoke either.

I have bull thistle and sow thistle for sure.

I make flower arrangements out of the flowers.  The dry flowers last for years.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Even though they're not known to be poisonous, it seems like an incredible amount of work to prep them as food. Spines everywhere! To my mind, they are best barbecued -- on the biochar burning pile.
 
Leora Laforge
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Well, I never got around to trying the buckwheat/pea combo. I did however throw mulch on top of the thistle patch which allowed some wild oats to grow well. The wild oats are pretty good at competing with thistles, and I go in with leather gloves and pull thistles, they have a tough time regrowing while shaded out by wild oats. I also planted a bunch of pumpkins in this spot, about a month after planting I pulled weeds close to my pumpkins after that they competed just fine with the thistles and wild oats.
 
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