The Beginning of Scotch Broom Season

Scotch broom: vanquished foes in the foreground, those yet to be pulled in the background.

This year I’ve decided to make our invasive species removal program extend all year. Thistle season can begin as early as late January and extend into August, until it can no longer be usefully pulled. But you can pull Scotch broom virtually any time of year, so I am turning to it now at the end of thistle season.

We have a large patch of it on the Overlook Trail property, at the edge of the cemetery. I will work on this patch until it is completely gone, then look for other infestations. Although most of it can be pulled by hand (some small enough that you can pull multiple plants at once), while others have gotten big enough that I need to use the special tool I bought to lever them out. Since they aren’t going to seed now, I can just drop them and let them die in place.

Let me know if you want to join me, since misery loves company!

The End of the 8-Month 2020 Thistle Removal Season

Thistle’s worst nightmare: my right hand. Thistle’s second worst nightmare? My left.

I’m calling it. Recently I finished clearing one of the last two meadows left with Yellow Star thistle (along Norrbom Road), and since it is drying out and becoming difficult to remove completely, I’m giving it up for this year. We started in mid-January. That means I’ve spent over 8 months going out nearly every day for an hour each day to clear first Italian thistle, then Yellow Star, except for the few “vacations” we’ve had in this time of shelter in place (to be clear, I was going out to pull thistle even during the shutdown of public properties, as I had permission to do so).

The good news is that we are winning. I’ve never cleared this particular meadow before, which means that other sites had been cleared so that now I can turn my attention to the two remaining meadows that still have Yellow Star thistle. Only one of them remains uncleared this season. I fully expect that within three years we will be able to state that there is no Yellow Star thistle to be found from Schocken Hill in the east (Sonoma Overlook Trail’s eastern border) to 4th St. East (the Montini Preserve’s western border). If you have recently visited other public lands in this valley perhaps you can appreciate the import of that statement.

Italian thistle remains a different matter, especially on the Montini Preserve, where it remains prevalent. We had our hands full simply pushing it back from the trail this year. Also, Italian thistle seems to be coming in where we have been clearing Yellow Star thistle, so we need to be vigilant in those areas. The essential problem is that Italian thistle will grow anywhere, whereas Yellow Star thistle prefers open meadows, which limits its coverage.

As I close out the thistle season, I will move to Scotch broom. I even bought a special tool to help pull the largest, most established broom plants. There is one rather bad patch of it on the Sonoma Overlook Trail property, but that seems to be about all of it except for the adjoining Sonoma Cemetery. The issue is that it adjoins the Overlook Trail property, so it should also be removed to protect the trail property.

One other species deserves mention, as there has been a patch of Bellardia strung out along the very top of the Overlook Trail that Richard Dale, Executive Director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, cleared out this year. These are by no means all of the invasive species, but they are some of the most problematic, and certainly those that present an existential threat to these properties if left unchecked.

Later I will provide a final report on the 2020 invasive species removal season, but I thought that the end of “thistle season,” which has so far comprised the bulk of our efforts, was worth noting.

The Last Gasp

Long about now, I get a little frenzied, as I know that the “thistle season” is drawing to a close. To be specific, as we slouch toward August, our chance to pull invasive thistle begins to wane, as it begins to go to seed and pulling can lead to seed dispersal, which we definitely don’t want. By now the Italian thistle has long since dried out, making it a dubious target, although potentially still fair game if you’re careful. But by this time our focus has shifted to the Yellow Star thistle (YST), which is blooming, and will continue into August. And there is still plenty to get, although on the main part of both the Overlook and Montini properties we are looking pretty good.

The place that isn’t so great for YST is along Norrbom Road — specifically, the water tank properties. That is where I’ve been focusing my efforts in recent weeks. Primarily, I’ve worked on two goals:

  1. Reducing the physical extent (drawing in the boundaries), and
  2. Reducing the seed load (pulling the large, most productive plants that are most likely to spread seed).

I’ve essentially cleared it along the road from the Overlook parking lot turnoff to the Rattlesnake Cutoff crossing, but north of there still needs a lot of work. This is essentially from the road to the fence. Beyond the fence is another story. There is still so much left to do there. I’m thinking of organizing a workday, which if you know me you know how desperate I’ve become. Organizing an event is one of my least favorite things to do.

A lot of what I’ve been pulling has been very small (see the picture). I know it’s because any thistle coming in this late in the season has a physical awareness that it needs to bloom right away, and not try to grow big. Nonetheless, I can’t help thinking about the Nazis, sending in their youth in a last gasp of trying to save the Third Reich from inevitable defeat. I like to think that the defeat of invasive thistle on these two properties is just as certain. The thing is, it isn’t certain until it is, and we are still a long way away from that.

 

Completely Determined. Thoroughly Implacable. Absolutely Relentless.

Before: Note the white fluffy seeds.

Doing invasive species removal work has its ups and downs. Not long ago, I was down. But the mood tends to pass, and I picked myself up and got back to work.

And when I did, it was with a renewed sense of purpose: I refuse to be defeated.

I even know exactly how that works: you must be absolutely relentless, completely determined, and thoroughly implacable.

After.

This year I even upped my game. In previous years, by now I had stopped pulling Italian thistle, as it was going to seed. I thought that pulling it would simply spread the seeds. But this year, when I kept pulling it, I realized a few things:

  • It’s possible to pull it without spreading seeds. This can be done a couple of ways: one is to push the head of the thistle into the bag before you pull it. Another is to grab the thistle at the head where the seeds are coming away, pull it out, and put it all in the bag.
  • A large number of plants went dry without yet releasing its seed. These are easy targets.
  • I’ve even begun picking up the seeds themselves. Not in all cases, but certainly at times (see the before and after photos).

I’ve learned some other things: 

  • I have more determination than I ever knew I had.
  • I can make a real difference.
  • Being absolutely relentless works — it just takes time. Thankfully, that I have.

I see you, thistle, and I’m coming for you.

Little Patches Everywhere

A little patch of thistle in a meadow.

Today was not a good day.

Nearly every day since mid-January, I have gotten out of bed, had breakfast, and headed out to either the Sonoma Overlook Trail or the Montini Preserve to pull Italian thistle. I did this even during shelter in place, as I had written permission to do trail and land maintenance activities. Today, since we had achieved our goal of pushing the thistle back away from all of the maintained trails on both properties, I decided it was time to see what the upper reaches of the Montini Preserve looked like. By “upper reaches” I specifically mean the area north of the Rattlesnake Cutoff and Valley View trails. I had already been north of Rattlesnake Cutoff, and had cleared those areas fairly well. So it was really the areas north of the Valley View trail that I wanted to explore.

So today I went off-trail up into the hills. At the very upper edge I came to a patch that I started pulling. At first it seemed rather small, but as I pulled it kept going and going until I realized I would have to come back to finish it. I moved on, following the fence line. I came to another small patch of maybe a couple-dozen plants, then walked another ten feet of so and found another. Then another. And another. I soon came to realize that the hillside was essentially covered with it, but in small, lightly covered patches.

As I came back down the hill a different way than I had gone up, I began to realize the extent of the problem. Although trails (animal as well as human) are one vector of spreading, these infestations proved that it spreads in a lot of ways. Basically every way imaginable. I began to understand that to truly rid the property of this scourge it will take walking almost the entire property multiple times in a season. I really started to finally see what we are up against, and it isn’t pretty.

I have good days and bad days. When I’m discouraged I have a custom of asking myself this question: “Did I make a difference today?” The answer has always been “Yes.” Until today. Today the answer was “I don’t know.”