Yesterday, the kids and I spent a couple hours pulling weeds. However, these weeds weren’t crabgrass, dandelions or Johnson grass. We were pulling superweeds.
Spiny Amaranth, a.k.a. Pigweed, has been a thorn (literally!) in our sides (and hands and bare feet!) for about three years.
The first year, we noticed a few small, prickly weeds with pinky-red stems. The second year they were everywhere. After doing some research, we learned that they were Spiny Amaranth. Nothing, not even goats, eats this stuff. Roundup won’t kill it, nor will any other herbicide. They release thousands of seeds each year, which will sprout in open ground. Cows sometimes eat the seed heads, but the seeds pass intact into a cow’s manure and will sprout later.
The field in which they have taken hold is our poorest pasture. The cows hang out in this field all winter. We’re pulling these awful weeds by hand with thick leather gloves. We pile them in the wheelbarrow and burn them. Our hope is that by diligent work, we will significantly reduce or eliminate the pigweed. Then we can plow and overseed that field.
What does Monsanto have to do with this?
Well, by inventing and pushing seeds that are “Roundup Ready,” Monsanto encourages the development of weeds that are so hardy that nothing will kill them, short of being uprooted. Farmers spray whole fields with Roundup instead of mechanically cultivating to kill weeds. While farmers may save time and money with this method in the short term, in the long run, the development of superweeds costs them much more. The pigweed can grow 6 to 8 feet tall and smother out other crops. It damages equipment as well. Some farmers are working their fields just like we are, hand weeding this noxious plant from their fields. Monsanto advises farmers to simply spray more, perhaps mixing in a 24D-type herbicide, in the attempt to manage the pigweed.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that we occasionally use Roundup to keep our electric fence clear and our paved driveway from growing up. On our farm, however, Roundup is used extremely sparingly. There is no wide scale spraying of herbicides. We do what we need to do with the minimum of chemical sprays. I don’t believe that the stuff should be banned altogether. However, spraying acres and acres of herbicides is leading to the development of weeds like this awful pigweed.
I have a feeling that the seeds for this pest came from hay that was cut on other properties. To get rid of it is going to take lots of work and special management of our fields. Pigweed can’t thrive in places where there’s lots of thick grass growing. We’re going to be wrestling with this weed for several years, but if we’re diligent, I am hopeful that we can get the upper hand.