The Universe, in case you hadn't noticed, does not always proceed as you had imagined, or hoped.  "Stuff" happens.  Whether you saw it coming, or not.  Unintended; and unforeseen consequences are a sure bet when you add a systems component.  Keep your eyes open.  And keep in mind- these things can also mean unforeseen opportunities open up also.

At the moment, we're in full "War On Burdock" mode.  Before we had horses, and sheep - we didn't have a war with burdock.  The plant was barely present on the farm.  The place I would most commonly see the burrs, wrapped in animal hair, was in the tails of deer I had shot.

Then we got dogs.  Then we got horses.  And we were just not fully aware of the threat; so we allowed an occasional burr to go unaddressed in dog tails and horse manes- and boy, was that a mistake.

Burdock was the original inspiration for Velcro; and is exceptionally good at what it does - get stuck in animal hair, and spread burdock seed all over the place.  Burdock burrs a year old (at least) are still able to stick, and shed lots of viable seed.

The horses started spreading it around in the chestnuts- then the sheep started spreading it too- and also getting so covered in the burrs that their wool became useless.  Not only unsalable; but a threat to the sheep's health, drastically cutting the insulation value of the wool if sufficiently dense, and... on and on.  It's bad stuff.  Picking burrs out of your socks- or heaven forbid a sweater- is a frustrating and fussy task.  They don't even come off whole- they'll fall apart as you pull, so removing one burr is very likely to require meticulous attention to 20 fragments.

Yes, you can eat the root- but just try digging it out.  It goes a mile deep (um, yes, hyperbole) and you cannot pull it out without digging most of the way down.  (If you would like to harvest a truckload or two- please get in touch!)  It's probably most common in Japanese cuisine, where it's called gobo.  We have yet to try it- I think besides the work involved in digging, it just generates too much antipathy.  Don't want to sit down to dinner- and have to face the darn stuff- again.

So right now we have patches of it scattered about the farm, so dense they can kill off everything underneath.  If you can cut the tall flowering stalk - before buds really form- you can deplete the biennial root to the point where there is some hope of eventually killing the plant off.  The Icelandics eat burdock leaves eagerly- but they will not make much headway on a well developed flower stalk.  And- typical of such "weedy" species; the flowers do not have to mature naturally in order to go to seed; if you cut off a burdock flower stalk with well developed buds (they don't even have to make it to full flowers) the buds will undergo emergency development, pull nutrients and water from the cut off stalk - and mature into fully functional burrs- and seeds.

There's a small window to hit when cutting.  Too soon; and the root will send up another flower stalk immediately, and robustly.  Too late- seeds anyway, and burrs that the sheep will pick up if they just bed down in the grass; ruining the fleece (most artisan wool mills can be quite rude about fleeces with lots of burdock...).

But!  If it's done on time- the flowers can't develop, and the root will be depleted to the point where a pass over the new growth with the sheep, and/or horses - will result in the second set of leaves being removed too.  And if you're lucky!  That particular plant will give up the ghost.  If you're not so lucky; this biennial may take 5 or 6 years to kill it off.

Did we know we were going to have to go to war with burdock, when we started adding the livestock?  Nope.  If we'd had an on-site grandpa or grandma; we would have.  As it is; we just make the best of if; doing other tree row chores at the same time as mowing with the sickle bar for the burdock.  The spots already grazed by the sheep - have very puny burdock plants now.  But- we don't have enough sheep to graze all the hotspots by the critical flowering time.



  1. Have you tried flame weeding? I use it on my mountain restoration site (and sometimes in the urban yard). Definitely not for drought conditions, best after a drizzle or light rain, when the raindrops are mostly off the plants.

    The idea is to pass a propane flame over the plant while it's fully invested in making viable seed but hasn't yet ripened, and "blanch" the plant. Done right there's a puff of steam as all the cells boil and pop -- then the plant turns bright, bright green as all the chlorophyll is suddenly exposed to oxygen. And a few hours later, the plant keels over.

    For annuals that's enough; for perennials, well, persistence furthers.

    We bought one when they only had one variety, the big one; there are several others now. We used it a lot right after a forest fire, keeping down the invasive grasses until the natives recovered and started to hold their own.

  2. Hm, they build one in a variety of widths, said for blueberry farms:

    And something narrower: