The Thorn War

Cue the theme from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"

Field of dreams….NOT.

They don’t look so bad until you get up close and personal. If you’ve ever had to pull a Russian olive thorn out of a horse, you probably share my general feelings about these evil, nasty excuse-for-trees.

I have been trying to figure out a way to deal with these lovelies. Cutting them down does not solve the problem, in large part because instead of a tree with dangerous thorns on it, you get a pile of dead wood with dangerous thorns on it.

And cutting them down doesn’t kill them–in fact, usually you’ll get three or four sites around the tree that will sucker vigorously–three new problems instead of one.  Apparently R. olives fix nitrogen, so they grow like crazy even in our sand poor excuse for soil.

And my reluctance to handle this project is due to a couple of major challenges:  A) I refuse to learn how to use a chainsaw (more on that in a minute), and  B) this is a nine-acre pasture, so dragging large tree parts to a centralized burning area does not appeal much to me either.

The approved Russian Olive Killing Method around here is to cut the trees down in the fall (when the tree is sending all the energy back down to the roots) and then spray the stumps with Banvel as if you’re hosing down a house fire.

There are some problems with this particular slash-and chemical-burn method, however. The biggest issue is that these trees generally grow more like shrubs than trees, so to even get at the trunk with a chainsaw, you’ve got to hack your way in like Dr. Livingstone. The other part is that you have to lock your horses up for days to make sure they don’t ingest any grass around the stumps that’s been treated.

Two years ago we were in the middle of our Banvel campaign  when my husband ripped his knee open with the chainsaw. We left the kids picking shreds of his jeans and flesh out of the chainsaw blade while I drove him up to Moses Lake for stitches. Never mind that this is like the fourth time in his life that he’s done this (he’s been handling chainsaws since he was eight years old). When the boys were little, they assumed that the scars on Daddy’s knees were from “where he’d been over with a truck.” Well, he has some fresh “tire tracks” now.

I figure that if someone is still sawing themselves open with a piece of equipment they’ve operated for 40 years, then my chances of learning how to use a chainsaw without cutting off a limb are pretty close to zero.

Out of the seven trees we cut down that day (and doused liberally with Banvel), four survived and have been suckering vigorously ever since.  Given that the cost of that project also included medical bills and a couple dozen stitches, I think the olives definitely won that round.

Then last year my brother-in-law rented a big backhoe for another project, and knocked over the big central tree (which was seeding the whole pasture) and he knocked down several of the baby trees. Then we burned off the dead grass, which burned parts of the knocked-over baby trees, the trees we cut down two years ago, and half-fried numerous baby trees that were not knocked down.

So in addition to a gazillion half-fried baby trees, I have dead black thorny branch pieces hidden in the reeds to deal with. And you should see the suckering going on around the parent tree.

Fun times.

I hit on the idea of a cheap metal garbage can a few days ago. I could easily drag the can around to different trees,  and use it to burn the dead branches that now flank the baby trees that survived the fires. At least I’d get the leg-high thorns out of the way of the horses, and then the living olives would be pruned up in preparation for another round with the chainsaw and Banvel this fall (Husband-Man got a pair of canvas chainsaw chaps for Christmas after the accident).

I’ll also use the can to burn the dead and unburned branches hiding in the weeds.

Friday pays a little lip service

The shiny new can immediately attracted the fillies. (Can I still call them fillies if they’re four years old now? Someone let me know. They still act like toddlers most of the time, so I think they qualify.)

Friday is much, much braver than Dove, and she really enjoys “helping” with projects.  Even though I was hacking at long branches buried in the grass (which any normal horse would spook at), Fry immediately figured out that my limb-removal meant she had access to the tall grass they’ve been avoiding thanks to said buried branches. I had to shoo her out of the way a bunch of times today.

Look how Dove’s feet are planted here–she’s still not sure the can is OK, even though Fry figured it out ten minutes ago:

Ready to run either direction, if necessary....

So I was all ready to go today, except I didn’t plan on the hay haulers just south of the pasture, who got their jollies watching me stagger around bleeding this morning while they loaded a trailer with a boom truck.  But I got a kick out of watching them, too.  One of them had his shirt off and was wearing a cowboy hat.  Ahem. I’m no Susan Sarandon, but I ain’t dead.

One of the first things I figured out this morning is that when you have a nice hot fire made of dead, thorny branches that it’s really not so easy to cram more dead, thorny branches on top of them. The thorns easily get snagged on work gloves, and so I got a little burned a couple of times when I couldn’t get the branches to let me go.  I have blood on my shirt, on my jeans, and my arms look like I’ve been in a fight with a weed-whacker.  And when I  took the chance to rest under one of the pruned-up olives, Friday wandered over to take a look at my phone (I was playing a word game). One flap of her nostrils and my phone, my arms, and my jeans were blasted with a generous portion of horse snot.

Then I managed to accidentally drop my pruners into the Can O’ Flames.  Goodbye, pruners.

I tell you, the human race better watch out–evolutionarily speaking, these trees have it figured out.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Thorn War

  1. CRIMINY! As I read along I was musing that these trees are *evil* and out to get the human and equine species and that’s pretty much what you summed up. The answer to everything around here is burning and generous applications of Round Up. The problem with that is the earth is scorched, but hey, you just want to get rid of the trees and what’s bare earth for a spell? Eventually, something will grow there.

    Good luck.

    And oh, you are wise to avoid chainsaws.

  2. This is why I don’t garden. Plants scare me.

    I think I’d rent a bob cat and a flame thrower. 🙂

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