'Controlling' Weeds

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'Controlling' Weeds

Post by mondo45 » Mon Apr 16, 2007 8:14 am

I have read Back from the Brink (twice) and given another three copies to friends who have an interest in the land. I am also in touch with several other people with an interest who have read the book. Also, our local LandCare group is showing great interest (though the Land Care rep who comes to the meetings is clearly dismissive).

I have advised our Land Care group chairman of the Bungendore Field Day on 5 May, and I am sure that quite a few of our group will come along.

I have also printed off and read the "Weeds - Guardians of the Soil" by Joseph Coccanouer, a marvellous book. These wonderful books have transformed the way I look at the land, and my understanding (still developing) of the role of weeds in the landscape.

Turning to the nature of my interest. We own a property (city-slicker's retreat) which has around 80 acres of pasture and (fortunately) 240 acres of bush. Over the 12 years that we have been there, we have been battling weeds. We have been successful in controlling blackberry (Grazon), serrated tussock (Frenock), St John's Wort (Grazon) and nodding thistle (pulling out using a fork and burning).

We have a rich population of weeds. In addition to the above, we have a lot of Patersons Curse (PC), hedge mustard, fleabane (invaded over the past couple of years), scotch thistle, black thistle, saffron thistle. In addition, we have less pervasive outbreaks of goosefoot (chenopodium...), red sorrel, apple of sodom, skeleton weed, horehound, nettles, deadly nightshade, mallows, amaranthus, caper spurge, mullein, purpletop(squareweed), hawthorn, briar, evening primrose, fathen, dock etc. We even have what I now know to be a desirable weed - purslane.

The pastures have been left fallow for the past 12 years, with only neighbour's cattle grazing (when they break the fences down to get at our feed), two horses, and 100 kangaroos, plus wombats. There are numerous different grasses and clovers and medics as well.

It seems that we are close to having the very wide range of biodiversity in our pastures that Peter refers to. And it is very noticeable that our pastures are much more vigorous this season than neighbouring monoculture pastures. We have wonderful strike of clover and medics and the grasses are thriving as well. The main issue and question that I have is how to control the more vigorous weeds, especially PC.

Our main battle over the past few years has been Paterson's Curse. I have largely prevented flowering for the past 5 years or so, and I thought that I had been on top of it - none at all last season for example. However, with the wonderful rains that we have had since February, our pastures have flourished, along with most of the weeds I have discussed above. Most vigorous of all is PC. They have really thrived, and grown very fast. Some now are 18 inches across and as big as I have seen them. These will clearly be very difficult to control with sprays, and I am looking at biological control methods, and slashing as a way to control them.

It seems clear that the conditions this year have been ideal to encourage germination of seed bank left in the soil.

One of the points that Peter makes is that when nature's processes have advanced sufficiently far, the biodiversity creates intense competition and no one weed can get away. He also says that controlling weeds is important until you get to that point.

I had felt it important to prevent any PC flowering, since PC is a prolific seeder. Does 'control' mean achieving this level of seed prevention, or is it sufficient merely to reduce the population of PC plant?

Another question relates to what happens if you just let PC go? It is clear that it is very invasive if conditions are right. However, what happens after a few years? Does nature somehow use the PC to prepare the ground for other more desirable species? Will nature look after it itself?

Another question is how to deal with neighbours who are addicted to mono-cultures and superphosphate as the way to run their properties. I am expecting them to be concerned about the prolific weeds on my place, and to express their indignation. I am also concerned about the local weeds inspector who may not be responsive to my suggestion that he read Back from the Brink!

My conclusion is that I should continue 'controlling' the more noxious weeds such as serrated tussock, nodding thistle, blackberry and St John's wort and PC. One of the issues is that the selective sprays are very good, but they do knock down some of the other perhaps more desirable weeds.

I would appreciate any comment and guidance from others who are dealing with similar issues.

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Post by duane » Fri Apr 20, 2007 5:36 pm

Dear Mondo 45,
I would like to know what Landcare group you belong to.
If you want you can contact me via email at duane@nsfarming.com

The subject of weeds in the landscape is a very controversial one. With climate change now accepted the very things that can help restore the CO2 balance are being eradicated. Every year in this country farmers are spending $4 billion a year to spray so called weeds. The chemical companies dont want to lose that market share.

Many of these weeds can sequest more carbon in their short growing seasons than tree seedlings and saplings, In fact tree planting now is not going to help the so called greenhouse problem for another 20-50 years.

Peter would be very proud to hear of the biodiversity of plant material that you have. The paradigm of what is a weed needs to be changed. A Weed is simply any plant growing where it is not wanted. An oak tree growing in the middle of George Street could be considered a weed.

In England Peter cites an example in his book of the top thoroughbreed trainer saying that there needed to be at least 75 species of plants presented in the pasture to provide all the necessary minerals needed for good health. Biodiversity of forage is the key to animal health.

PC need not be a problem and indeed is a vital source of Omega 3 for stock and animals. Peter's suggestion for control would be to cut the PC and gather it up as mulch. Put it on the high side of PC so that when it breaks down water can carry the broken down organic matter to the PC. It will not grow in its own waste according to Peter.

If there was ever a plant that was not edible at some stage in its lifecycle, surely by now it would have overtaken the Earth.

Your doing all the right things...and your results compared to your neighburs prove it . Slash your weeds, dont spray them and work with Nature not against her and you will see the value of all plants that sustain all life here on Earth...and that a weed is really a plant sequesting carbon and pulling nutrients to the surface.

Peter last year had a Weeds Inspector come to the farm and asked the farm manager if he could see Peter. Peter thought "S*!x, oh yes I'll see him". The weeds inspector said to Peter he had been one for 40 years and often wondered was there a better way than spraying with all these chemicals to control weeds. He said to Peter could he bring a bunch of his colleagues to look at Peter's ideas.
I think this story says a lot.

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Post by duane » Fri Apr 20, 2007 6:47 pm

Mondo 45,
You may wish to go the the following to see a paper published in the USA called Biodiversity of Forage Click on www.nsfarming.com/references.htm
to view the article

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Post by tantawangalo » Sat May 05, 2007 2:43 pm

PC need not be a problem and indeed is a vital source of Omega 3 for stock and animals. Peter's suggestion for control would be to cut the PC and gather it up as mulch. Put it on the high side of PC so that when it breaks down water can carry the broken down organic matter to the PC. It will not grow in its own waste according to Peter.
Do you think the same is true with fireweed?

I live on the far South Coast of NSW and fireweed is a big problem ...

We try to slash it but are seeing little improvement. We have just started to remineralise and I believe that will ease the problem ....

Every day is a school day

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Post by duane » Mon May 07, 2007 8:53 pm

Peter believes that if you are able to slash the fireweed and put it at the top of the hydrology, above the infestation, then allow water/rain to pulse thru the fireweed mulch,it will rot down and the resultant waste will travel down tothe remaining inground fireweed,killing it, because it will not grow in its own waste.

As to the mineralisation it may not be necessary.

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Post by duane » Mon May 07, 2007 10:48 pm

Hi Victoria,

I spoke later with Peter Andrews and he said that the fireweed is more likely to be indicative of the end of a prolonged period of degradation and the fireweed plant is trying to rebuild an exhausted soil.

The solution that I gave earlier was too simplistic.

Peter suggested that you needed to improve both the biodiversity of vegetation as well as the fertility in the soil by using mulch and whatever sort of inexpensive organic matter.

Again, providing that this is done at the top of the hydrology water and gravity will do the rest. Once this has been achieved and fertility is restored the fireweed should no longer be a major problem.

I hope this helps.

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Post by tantawangalo » Fri May 18, 2007 7:21 am

duane, thanks for that,

Its what I thought myself.

My place is x-dairy (20 or more years ago) and the soil looks so 'tired' ... I have started mulching/ slashing and am going to meet with a local 'compost guru'.

I will do my best!

Every day is a school day

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Weeds...Radio National broadcast

Post by duane » Sat Jun 30, 2007 3:06 pm

Hear Peter Andrews' views in the weed debate this sunday on ABC Radio National.

On ABC Radio National this sunday 1st July a program entitled "Weeds: Enemy or Ally" will be heard all around Australia.
"There's an invasion of noxious weeds on the way as the planet heats up and dries out. Invasive plants could flatten Australia's native vegetation, blowing out current costs of about $8 billion a year. Warnings abound that we don't understand these plants - including from people who say that some weeds can do a good job". from http://www.abc.net.au

Reporter Diane Martin.

A Transcript of the program will be available from: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/backgroundbriefing and a podcast is also available from the same link

The transcript was typed from a recording of the program. The ABC cannot guarantee its complete accuracy because of the possibility of mishearing and occasional difficulty in identifying speakers.

Transcripts are usually available by the Thursday after broadcast.

You can hear the program at 9am on
Adelaide 729AM | Brisbane 792AM | Canberra 846AM Darwin 657AM |
Gold Coast 90.1FM | Hobart 585AM Melbourne 621AM | Newcastle 1512AM
Perth 810AM | Sydney 576AM and via satellite to over 220 regional centres
Last edited by duane on Fri Oct 19, 2018 8:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by duane » Thu Jul 05, 2007 11:59 am

This is an excerpt from the recent Radio National "Background Briefing' program heard on ABC Radio National on the 1st July 2007. The host was Di Martin and here (in transcript) she speaks to Peter Andrews and others.....

Di Martin: When Vince Heffernan took over the family farm five years ago, he moved from conventional to biodynamic production. He didn't know what would happen when he didn't spray his weeds. But it wasn't as bad as he expected. Vince Heffernan says the more fertile his soil is, the less weeds he grows.

Vince Heffernan: We're finding with our grazing management as our soil's coming into balance more with the use of the biodynamic preparations that we're putting out on the soil, the thistles are becoming less of an issue for us. I'm quite convinced of that.

Di Martin: Vince Heffernan also freely admits his weeds have been kept at bay by historically low rainfall, and the release of a successful biocontrol bug that burrows into thistles.

The end of the drought holds mixed blessings for Vince Heffernan. It might revive his parched land, but it will also kick off some astonishing thistle growth.

Vince Heffernan: The variegated thistles the blue thistles, the scotch thistles, saffron thistles, these are the things that you'll see particularly up on these sheep camps on the richer basalt country, and if you can imagine a small plant that might be say the size of the palm of your hand, can spread out and cover something very quickly in a matter of a couple of weeks out to a dinner plate, and eventually out to something as wide as a car tyre, and then as they grow they grow up as well. So you can quite easily drive through a paddock in a car and you can't see the vehicle. They're phenomenally good growers.

Di Martin: Thistles are the weed bane of Vince Heffernan's farming life. But there's one man who says Vince should be grateful for every thistle on his property.

That's Hunter Valley farmer and horse breeder, Peter Andrews.

Now prepare yourselves. Everything you've heard so far about weeds is that they're negative. But Peter Andrews says weeds, in a managed ecosystem like a farm, can be an ally, not an enemy. And his ideas have attracted praise from top scientists, and high political office.


Di Martin: You might remember Peter Andrews from a double episode of the ABC's 'Australian Story' program, how he turned a degraded horse stud into the envy of the Hunter Valley.

Peter Andrews: I realised 30 years ago that there was a major threat. We've failed to recognise in this country that it had some unique qualities that made it sustainable in its own right. Biodiversity, and the ability to prevent water evaporating, they were the really simple things.

Di Martin: Central to Peter Andrews' ideas are that Australia's ancient and fragile soils are very low in carbon, and need plant cover all the time.

Weeds grow in degraded or disturbed soil. Their thorns or unpalatable taste keep stock from doing more damage to that soil. Weeds stabilise the soil. And because they're not eaten, 100% of their plant residue returns to the soil when they die.

One of Peter Andrews' supporters is a member of the Wentworth Group of scientists and a former CSIRO Head of Land and Water. His name is John Williams, and he explains a weed is like nature's paramedic.

John Williams: What Peter Andrews often talks about, and I think ecologically, in my judgement, is very well founded, that the weed species can actually begin the healing process. Weeds can be a sign of a wound in the landscape being repaired, and it's a matter of, just like when we look at a scab on a wound. We don't want the scab there forever, but that scab plays a very important role in bringing healing.

Di Martin: That's John Williams.

Peter Andrews goes much further and is full of praise for weedy plants. He says it's a good thing that many farm weeds have broad leaves and a deep tap root.

Peter Andrews: They grow a huge surface area, green surface area, pump sugars into the ground to feed bacteria to win minerals out of the soil, apart from chasing the ones that have leached, so that they're a real trigger to soil processing.

Di Martin: Peter Andrews says stock will eat some dead weeds, after the thorns have softened and the tannins broken down. And there's more. Through decades of observation, he's convinced that weeds naturally progress to pasture.

Peter Andrews says many farm weeds grow a tremendous amount in a short life cycle. That means a lot of organic matter or carbon, returned to the soil for free, and very quickly. The more carbon, the more fertility. The higher the fertility, the less weeds.

He suggests an experiment for sceptical farmers.

Peter Andrews: If he's frightened about his paddock, go to an area where a lot of weeds already exist. It need only be 12 feet square or less. Tell him to put every weed that he's got and a handful of his pasture seed in there, and then conduct an experiment. He can do whatever he likes, fertilise it, water it, but he only recycles it, in other words, mows it and keeps the residue in situ.

Di Martin: That organic matter forms a mulch, which Peter Andrews says only grass can pierce.

Peter Andrews: Because grass in that mulch that's been created, is much more competitive than any weed can be. See a weed comes up first with two big broad leaves and as soon as you've got mulch on the ground, they can't push through. But grass, with a little fine blade like it's got, can come through mulch. And that's very basic.

Di Martin: There are two more things to keep in mind. You've got to make sure this increased fertility is not being leached away, which would keep the weed cycle going.

So Peter Andrews says get as much carbon as you can to whatever high ground you have, so inground water movement will feed that fertility downhill.

His ideas are challenging. But Peter Andrews says if we can send a rocket to the moon, then we must have the know-how to mulch gorse in Tasmania, or lantana in Queensland, and return desperately needed carbon to the soil


An hour's drive out of Canberra, there's a major trial of Peter Andrews' ideas.

Tony Coote: Welcome to Mulloon Creek Natural Farms, I'm Tony Coote. And what this is, is to efficiently and effectively provide a practical learning experience in the Peter Andrews' method, clarifying the Australian landscape functions ...

Di Martin: A capacity crowd is here to learn about the system of 'Natural Sequence Farming'.

Here, Peter Andrews listens to a question from a man who fenced off his spring, and watched an explosion of blackberries set in.

Man: This particular area is a spring area, a natural spring, that's why we locked it up, to keep the cattle out of the spring because it flows perpetually, and it's just getting overrun with blackberries.

Peter Andrews: You said the cattle were going to wreck the spring, you know, and you're exactly right, no question. What the blackberry did back in Europe where the spring situation occurred, was occupy exactly that area and keep the cattle off it and stop wrecking the spring. So it's actually doing what it was intended to do, and it's now moved into this landscape to protect areas that it would have normally been protecting in Europe.

Di Martin: Blackberries are such a persistent and difficult problem in Australia, it's hard to think they can do anything worthwhile. But Peter Andrews says these plants out of place not only protect the soil, but fertilise it with leaves and other plant residue. Then the increased fertility is fed by the spring further downhill.

He argues in a managed ecosystem like a farm, you can use the blackberry, while stopping it from getting away.

Peter Andrews: Keep the blackberry mulched and so on into its heap, and the more blackberry mulch you get in that area, the less it will grow.

Di Martin: Peter Andrews is often asked whether there's a native plant that can do the same thing. He says rather than incur the cost and effort of finding the right plant, buying it, planting it out, and then waiting for it to slowly do the same service, farmers should use what's already growing on their land for free, and then manage the weed to stop it spreading.

Peter Andrews: The first thing, stop the landscape dying, most of the things we can then do once plants have stopped it dying, can be adjusted. It's not a big deal. These plants that we're carrying on about, produce millions of seeds n a couple of years, they've been here for 100 years. You're never going to get rid of them. So what we need to know is how cheaply and how effectively we can use a management strategy. I'm not saying not to manage them, ever.

Di Martin: Background Briefing put Peter Andrews' ideas to the acid test, and went and asked two local farmers at the Field Day whether they were persuaded by what he had to say.

This is Ann Synnot and her neighbour, Peter White.

Peter White: I can't say that I would just go home and if I see a Paterson's Curse growing just inside the gate that I won't kick it out, I can guarantee you.

Di Martin: Is anything he's saying now persuading you?

Ann Synott: Yes, it's more what I'm seeing as well, I mean the fact that there is grass growing in the gully and that he says it will come up the banks, it probably will because the thistles are not growing in the gully. That's a proof to me.

Di Martin: And so is it something that you think Australian farmers should be having a listen to?

Ann Synott: Oh, definitely, but it will take a lot of persuading a lot of them.

Di Martin: The Mulloon Creek trial is being sponsored by a government land management agency in New South Wales, known as the Catchment Management Authority.

Noel Kesby is General Manager of the Southern Rivers CMA.

Noel Kesby: Obviously there are some issues with certain types of weeds that the community are not ready to accept. But I think the issue is, we've had most of these weeds in our landscape for nearly 200 years, and we've been throwing repairs and chemicals and controls at them for 200 years, and they're still here. What we in the CMA are trying to get a grip of, is total vegetation management, total groundcover management, and if weeds are part of the colonising initial cover while we establish more beneficial plants, particularly natives, then we want to be involved and see how they work. So because this is a fully endorsed trial and it's fully scientifically managed and measured, other CMAs are looking at that.

Di Martin: So there's some interest in this experiment here?

Noel Kesby: Definitely, a lot of interest, both locally where we are and in our CMA area, plus all over the State.

Di Martin: The idea that weeds can be an ally not an enemy, is gaining ground. But what might work on a farm, might not apply in Australia's struggling bush.

Former CSIRO Head of Land and Water, John Williams, says there are many invasive exotic plants outcompeting the natives.

John Williams: We therefore recognise we've changed the system, now we've got to try and manage it, back to a system that provides the habitat for the biodiversity that we want to encourage in our National Parks.

Di Martin: So we can't rely on nature to provide the succession?

John Williams: Well not in Australia, when we've brought in something that's been no natural predator, no natural competitor for, we've suddenly got an ecosystem that's going to take quite a long time before it actually can re-establish the diversity that it once had.

Di Martin: I suppose the upshot to Peter Andrews' quite provocative thoughts and ideas, is does Australia have a reasonably undifferentiated kneejerk reaction to weeds, that they should be eradicated at any cost?

John Williams: Yes, I think that we need a more balanced and an ecological analysis of what's going on. Ecosystems have a diversity of species in there. Some of those species are weed species. They have a role in the ecosystem's dynamic nature and function. But we're in that ecosystem too. There are also some driving forces of nature that we need to work with, not against..........

Taken from http://www.abc.net.au/rn/backgroundbrie ... 962328.htm

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Controlling Weeds

Post by duane » Wed Jul 18, 2007 1:30 pm

Hear and see some of Peter Andrews views on weeds and how to use them in a benefical and cost effective way. Now on YouTube there are 2 four minute segments where Peter explains his views on weeds. Recorded at Baramul in the Upper Hunter, NSW by Martin Roids and Paul Cockram.
I recommend them to you.
Click on http://youtube.com/results?search_query ... rch=Search

Ian James
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What about the paddy melon vine.

Post by Ian James » Thu Jul 19, 2007 9:02 pm

The West Australian wheat belt covers a huge area. Farm sizes are around the 3000 to 6000 Ha. on average. Paddocks are around 100 to 300 Ha. on average.
The winter is green and the summer is brown. Yes?..........No!
In fact, most summers just about every property is spending weeks and thousands of dollars spraying most of the land to kill the melon plants.
Sheep do not find the melon vine palatable and with summer rain and warmth the plants germinate thickly on the ground and within a week or two develop into huge vines extending meters in diameter covering every inch of the land.
If unchecked they produce a mass of biomatter easily outstripping the winter crops that will be sown a few months later with their outstanding vigour.
Once mature the vines intertwine with strong rope like tenticles that take months to biodegrade to the point where they might fall apart. This makes it imposible to sow the following cash crop as the vines quickly clog up the seeding machine and can take hours to untangle and free. Often creating deep furrows where the soil is bulldozed along in front of the sowing tyne.
These plants also consume huge amounts of fertilizer reserves and moisture from the soil which is highly treasured by the farmer for the following cash crop, essential for the business survival of the farm.
Sure, leaving them to grow to their content would create a green lovely looking oasis from the perspective of a distant eye, but what about the future cash income from the paddock a few months down the track?
I think greedily of the huge biomass of organic carbon I could mulch into the soil if I left these plants to grow unchecked but this really does not seem to be an option if my farm's bank balance is to be maintained.
If I go broke surely the farmer who buys my land will not follow my methods.
This is a large scale issue.
What would Peter suggest?

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Post by duane » Sat Jul 21, 2007 4:23 pm

A good post Ian and an interesting question. Generally NSF generally takes the view that if you have your paddocks empty of vegetation there is nothing protecting the soil biota, the sun is beating down on the dry earth heating it to the point that everything in it or on it in terms of OM is oxidised, weathered and leached. The situation you have there under these conditions is one of the main causes of global warming and little if any moisture could be conserved under these conditions.

Once upon a time there were huge kauri forests in SW WA and a permanent understory of herbage plants. The kauris were the plant creditors adding C to the soil and the herbage the debitors, taking C from the soil. Now the sytem is out of balance and the melons are a symptom of that inbalance.

Everthing in Nature needs to be thought of in terms of time and space which is compensasted by biodiversity and a landscape which has good plant biodiversity provides this balance.

The short water cycle that plants produce each day that comes back down to earth at night as dew...this evapotranspiration is what cools the diurnal temperature and warms the nocturnal temperature.

We have a national program to remove willows based on how much water they remove from out streams and rivers. One willow is equivalent to 28 reverse cycle air conditioners. They absorb a tremendous amount of heat from the sun and convert it into cool moist air. At night, if the wind in not too strong all that moisture comes back down to earth and settles on the cool vegetation and warms the locasl climate. It won't happen if the ground is hot and barren....it doesn't rain too often on a desert.

Think of the simple models you made at school in the form of a terrarium. This was a self sustaining system. If the plants died so did the whole system regardless of how much fertilizer and water you applied.

As for the melons....they are a real problem...they are not really adding very much even if slashed and mulched because they are like jellyfish...all water....little C except in the seeds which the cockys and rodents love.....their control may ultimately be by getting a more biodiverse permanent cover of native herbage and direct drilling.

But I'll put it to PA.

Ian James
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Post by Ian James » Sun Jul 22, 2007 12:01 am

Your reply Duane made good reading.
Your comments really got me thinking.

It is not so much the Kari forrests that the melons have replaced, they are further south but a huge range of large hard wood trees such as the Salmon gum, the Gimlet, both heavy country trees. Also the Yorrel and the Morrel and York Gum, this is the soil that the melons really thrive on.
Here where I now farm we have the Sugar Gum and in fact, to be truthfull, the melon seems to thrive in all soil types.
An amazing plant.
It may be that the best practice is still to spray them out soon after germination and prepare a clean paddock for the winter crop.

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Post by muzza » Sun Jul 22, 2007 12:23 pm

Good luck Ian not an easy task to tackle i'm sure. Not sure what native grasses are around your area but you could do worse than also look into "pasture cropping" I dont have a link but "farming without farming" may help
Remember.... no success or failure need be necessarily final!

Ian James
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Post by Ian James » Sun Jul 22, 2007 12:38 pm

Thanks for the lead Muzza, I will have a look at farming without farming and pasture cropping.

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