In the last four years that we have lived here on this property, the summer’s have brought with them hordes of this nasty, prickly weed. The first few years, it was hard to squat and work in the veggie field without getting poked, and if we tried to work in our regular, thin gardening gloves, we were constantly wincing through our weedings. Each year has gotten better, with fewer and fewer of these beasts in the main field that we have been working since the beginning, and virtually none in our lower field which is just too fertile for thistles. Our one pasture, which had the largest patch of thistle and queen anne’s lace where the previous owner’s horses spent a lot time, is finally recovering thanks to the beauty of goats in just such cases. And the ground we tried to work for the last two years but decided not to grow on again was luckily mostly covered back up with grasses and queen anne’s lace. All in all, we have so many fewer thistles this year that this in itself is enough to be happy about.
But there is this patch where we had last year’s burn pile, covered in purple flowers right now, and a new field where we have potatoes growing where all the weeding is prickly and a pain…not to mention the rogue thistle, here and there. We have been pretty diligent with what thistle’s we have, keeping most of them from flowering. But this one patch is all in bloom. And this year, this actually makes us a little happy.
The thing is, we can’t help but notice how many of the things that we classify as weeds are just the things we have that are covered with bees. And since we haven’t taken much time to specifically plant a season’s worth of bee food flowering plants on our property, we find a small bit of joy in seeing how our sometimes “wild” farm really is benefiting the “wild” creatures that find refuge here. Granted, many of the bees on our property traveled here from a large honey bee keeper just up the road. Still, we now have large populations of native mason and bumble bees. Early in the spring, they cover the dandelion flowers, then a bit later our flowering cherry trees, then on to the orchard trees. Then later, the lamb’s ear (which I almost classify as a weed) is covered. Having a lot of ground clover in the lawn that we do cut helps a bunch too, and they love the mint, blackberries, and raspberries too.
But right now, they love the thistle flowers. Later when these seed heads dry up, these same flowers will be covered with birds. Now, we love and revere and worry about the bees tremendously, but we like the birds quite a lot too, so this is another benefit to be found in one of nature’s most unfriendly weeds. And all of this is above and beyond the real reason these thistles are here anyways…to improve the disturbed and less than fertile soil they have taken root on. In these lights, seeing all these purple heads can’t be too bad. We have suffered through the worst of it already as we slowly turn bad soil to good all over this misused old farm. Even as we continually refine how we are going to make a good living off of this land, we never lose sight of the underlying reason we are even living out here on this piece of ground in the first place: to build a healthy, natural ecosystem for us and the wildlings to thrive on and enjoy. The thistles are as much helpers in this journey as they are headaches. As with most things, really, there is more good in them than bad, more beauty than we at first imagine.