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Friday, June 20, 2014

Concerning knotweed

Reposted from 2010.

[Twenty-one] years ago, our family occupied this site. I'm not absolutely certain what "ownership" means; my own tribe has behaved badly, in my own opinion, and I can only plead that that was before my time. And so here we are. I can quibble that our whole species is invasive on this continent, for what that's worth. I do know we Bears gave up what was, to us, a lot of money for fifteen years in order to be able to say the place is "ours," and I know that we have to give a certain sum to the local jurisdiction -- something called a "county" -- every year, or we could be put off the place.

One of the things that was here before we got here -- was here nineteen years ago, all along the southern stretch of the seasonal creek running diagonally through the place -- among many other invasive, non-native species -- is knotweed. Our county purely hates knotweed, perhaps mostly because it can't really be kept in check and so can ruin a landscape planner's day. It seeds readily into the water and sprouts somewhere downstream; perhaps that's how it got to this spot. Once established, it spreads underground, storing food in enormous rhizomes that will resprout if the foliage is cut down. It will resprout through a brick floor with ease, by the way.

We're told the county can tell us to get rid of it -- well and good; shall we dig it up? We're in our sixties. Pigs will eat it and no doubt upend the roots, too, but they are problematical along the creek bank. Shall we spray it with herbicides? We're organic. The county can choose to declare eminent domain and spray it and bill us, I suppose. But in our two decades here we've yet to hear from them. For entirely unrelated reasons we actually kind of appreciate that.

It's, so far as we know, here to stay. How do we make a good neighbor of it? It's said, in young-shoots form, to be edible. In China and Japan there are those who are well versed in foraging for it and preparing it for dinner. All I can say to that really, is that some folks seem to me not very choosy.

Sheep and goats eat it. Seen 'em do it, right here. That's a plus. Hens, I'm told. No way our birds are gonna keep up with it, though they may nibble from time to time.

Well, the stuff is tall -- eight to ten feet. it's flimsy, but not too bad, at least for the first year. Bean poles?

So mushy when green, you can manage it with a bread knife.
Yes, some of the bigger stems do in fact make acceptable non-weight-bearing  polewood. They are bendy but if tied in bundles they will straighten over the winter. The stripped leaves can be composted. The trick with this is get it done before the flowering bits go to seed. Also, don't export any roots from the infested site.

We were nervous about the stems possibly sprouting
for the first few years and so installed the
beanpoles upside down. Apparently not necessary.
 There are lots of stems too small or bent or bashed to take part in the beanpole project. What to do with these?
Snip off each stick at the desired length by measuring against the container.
Quite by accident, we found that "sticks" cut from knotweed and dried a deep brown or red make good fire starter or kindling. Not so well as cardboard with cedar, but not bad, though with their bamboo-like structure they sure pop a lot.
About half the winter's supply. Green sticks will turn brown before then.
So every year before the flowering stage we slash the entire patch down, thus saving folks downstream some trouble, and dry it and process it into three piles: beanpoles, kindling and compost. Sometimes the dried leaves and bits are thrown over the southeast "hillside pasture" and mowed. Sometimes they are run through a shredder and spread on the gardens.

In Permaculture terms, what all did we do here?

1. Observe and Interact. We looked over the knotweed patch, and instead of attacking it with herbicides, chose to integrate it into the farm plan.
2. Catch and Store Energy. Practically all foliage is useful. It pulls sunlight into the realm of living things, and is useful to us, our livestock, and many living things. True for knotweed as much as anything else we could grow on that creek bank. Perhaps more so.
3. Obtain a yield. This stuff being prolific and invasive, you won't run out of it and so it can be thought of as a bountiful crop.
4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback. Make sure you aren't spreading it where it's not wanted. Check.
5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services. It can freeze back, but otherwise is as reliable as sunrise -- you can't get more renewable than that.
6. Produce No Waste. Compost whatever leaves are not consumed by stock, make beanpoles, make kindling, nothing left over!
7. Design From Patterns to Details. Make your poles in June, before the seeds appear. Make time in the schedule, after planting the garden, before other harvests.
8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate. Use it, don't poison it.
9. Use Small and Slow Solutions. As beanpoles, the stems are biodegradable and can become kindling after their pole life is done. Process a few at a time, between other tasks, so as not to grow tired of it.
10. Use and Value Diversity. Knotweed is a supplement to other materials. Sapling beanpoles are also good -- fatwood is better kindling. Mix.
11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal. Knotweed, for us, grows mainly in our flood zone.
12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change. It was barely there when we noticed it. It got ahead of us -- things do. So we learned to live with it.

It's nice when everybody -- and every thing -- pitches in.

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