Gardening · Invasive Species

Battling Thistles

Today I bid farewell to an old friend: my shovel. I bought this shovel back in 2008 when I first moved to Portland and had my first little garden. It moved out to the coast with me a few years ago where it ended up as part of the common toolkit, being particularly good for shoveling wood chips.

Sadly it met its end today while I was digging up a particularly large thistle; as I pushed down on the handle to try to lever the thistle out of the ground, the handle broke where it met the spade. I shouldn’t be surprised; it was the cheapest shovel Fred Meyer had when I bought it, and wooden handles just don’t hold up as well as steel or fiberglass. But it was still a bit of a shock as the crack vibrated up my forearms.

Not to be deterred, I headed back to the greenhouse to get a more robust backup, and the thistle was soon uprooted and put on the burn pile with the rest. Unfortunately the dunes and shore pines part of the property is absolutely rife with invasive species, from bull thistle to common hawksbeard to hairy bittercress. I spent a bunch of time over the past few weeks removing the bittercress, known as popweed since it shoots its seeds several feet away. And today since my martial arts class was canceled I decided digging up thistles was a good workout.

Bull thistle is a class C noxious weed in the state of Washington; like many invasives it was introduced from Europe some years ago. While it’s not required to remove it as a general rule, the state can decide that larger infestations must be dealt with by the landowner. Last year I dug up all the thistles I could find, and this year we definitely had fewer, so I’m hoping in the next couple of years we can eradicate them entirely. They don’t offer anything for local wildlife, they’re painful to step on, and they crowd out what native plants do exist in their vicinity, like beach strawberry and yarrow.

Guess I’ll have to get myself a new shovel to help with the ongoing battle!

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