Why is it a weed?

NZ Lifestyle Block - - A Country Life -

I MIGHT HAVE said this be­fore but I re­ally do love trip­ping around the coun­try for my job. I am all over the place: one week it’s the West Coast and Kaik­oura, the next it’s Tau­ranga, af­ter that it’s Ro­torua. It seems farm­ers ev­ery­where are more in­ter­ested in what’s hap­pen­ing be­low the soil and how we can use that in­for­ma­tion to im­prove what’s hap­pen­ing above the soil.

This month we are con­tin­u­ing with our se­ries on the sim­i­lar-look­ing weeds: dan­de­lion, cat­sear, hawksbeard and hawk­bit.

Hawksbeard ( Crepis cap­il­laris) is a com­mon an­nual weed found all across New Zealand. It is pri­mar­ily a pain in peren­nial crops such as pas­ture and lucerne, and an un­sightly con­tam­i­nant of lawns and turf. About half a dozen plants are wink­ing at me from my lawn even as I type.

It is non-toxic, and some re­lated species of the genus ( Crepis) are ac­tu­ally grown and used in sal­ads or boiled in Greece.

But it can be dif­fi­cult to cor­rectly iden­tify hawksbeard as it looks so much like dan­de­lion and the oth­ers.

It be­gins its life in the spring or au­tumn as a flat rosette of strongly-lobed, al­most jagged leaves. It’s at this point you have the best chance of telling it from cat­sear and hawk­bit. Hawksbeard will have nearly hair­less smooth leaves whereas cat­sear and hawk­bit will be hairy.

In spring it pro­duces a flower stem and it will branch into mul­ti­ple flow­ers, un­like dan­de­lion and hawk­bit which only pro­duce a sin­gle flower per stem. The flower stem will also have small fine leaves com­ing off it (un­like cat­sear stems which are leaf­less). The hawksbeard’s flower is al­most iden­ti­cal to the other weeds, and pro­duces a large num­ber of seeds with um­brella-like pap­pus at­tached to them which al­lows the wind to carry the seeds far and wide. Af­ter flow­er­ing, the hawksbeard plant will die.

How to con­trol it

This can be a bit of a mixed bag. If you have a vig­or­ously grow­ing pas­ture or turf, then there won’t be bare patches of soil where hawksbeard can es­tab­lish and the prob­lem never even­tu­ates.

When bare patches ap­pear such as through poor es­tab­lish­ment of grass, graz­ing dam­age or if it’s an open crop like lucerne, then an in­fes­ta­tion can hap­pen quickly. If this oc­curs then chem­i­cal con­trol is the only op­tion as the plants are too close to the ground to be ef­fec­tively grazed and their large tap­root means they will re­cover from cul­ti­va­tion. There are a few op­tions avail­able to con­trol hawksbeard – dicamba, MCPA, 2,4 D - which work very well in lawns and turf, but in pas­ture they will be very hard on clover.

What does a fam­ily do when they move to New Zealand from Ger­many, want­ing to live in the coun­try on a small piece of land and gen­er­ate some in­come?

“Stay open to ideas and learn heaps of new things,” says Baer­bel Hack.

For the Hack fam­ily, it was an evo­lu­tion of serendip­ity, op­por­tu­ni­ties and a lot of hard work.

Thomas and Baer­bel Hack and sons Yoshi and Hen­ning were al­ready long­time vis­i­tors to NZ when they de­cided to make the move per­ma­nent in 2009.

They ini­tially rented a house near Takaka, join­ing the com­mu­nity and con­sid­er­ing var­i­ous op­tions. Would hir­ing gypsy wag­ons or yurts to vis­i­tors work? What about sell­ing so­lar bags and hats? Horse and cart rides and rid­ing horses? What part of Golden Bay? How much land? What was af­ford­able?

Thomas is an elec­tri­cian and was in the process of es­tab­lish­ing Fuse Elec­tri­cal, en­joy­ing the va­ri­ety of work in dairy sheds, party venues, house­holds and pub­lic build­ings. It was up to Baer­bel to ex­plore ideas while work­ing part time. She and hus­band Thomas knew hol­i­days on horse­back had a spe­cial al­lure so they de­cided to start a rid­ing busi­ness where vis­i­tors could ei­ther bring their own horses or ride the farm’s well-trained horses and stay in a funky old farm­house. Non-horsey fam­ily mem­bers would be able to en­joy the bush and the beach.

That meant find­ing the per­fect block, and the fam­ily searched up and down the val­leys and roads of Golden Bay. They had to move three times be­cause their rental ac­com­mo­da­tion was sold be­fore they found the per­fect 13ha block with a 140-year-old-or-so Walker Home­stead, 10 min­utes out of Takaka.

The Hack fam­ily, their friends and wwoofers swung into ac­tion.

“It was mostly a case of sand­ing and paint­ing and restor­ing the old sash windows and re­dec­o­rat­ing,” says Baer­bel. Ev­ery­one scrubbed, painted, dec­o­rated and car­peted. “It’s a work in progress, you know!”

The re­sult is a farm house with no pre­ten­sions of grandeur. It is what it is, as Baer­bel is fond of say­ing, and that is de­light­fully quirky and fun. It’s a fam­ily home so there is a pile of fresh-smelling wash­ing on the couch, books and mag­a­zines scat­tered over the ta­ble and a few dishes on the bench, all adding up to the in­for­mally wel­com­ing at­mos­phere the Hacks cre­ate for their guests.

Baer­bel says she had a clear vi­sion of how she wanted to present her horsethemed farm­stay, so the dec­o­ra­tion and dé­cor pay homage to all things horse. There are old-fash­ioned horse toys and or­na­ments, the re­sult of happy hunt­ing in sec­ond hand shops, horse paint­ings, books (fic­tion and fact) and won­der­fully painted bed­room walls. The blind pulls are old horse bits, coat hooks are horse­shoes and some blinds and chair cov­ers come in grass or hay pat­terns.

Then there are the lit­tle bits of magic given up by the house it­self. When Baer­bel and her helpers were peel­ing off tatty old wall­pa­per in a bed­room they came to a layer with horses on it. Care­ful cut­ting means there are now lit­tle views of that old paper pre­served in the new­ly­painted walls.

Out­side, in keep­ing with the work­ing horse ethic of Hack Farm, the front yard is a large turn­around with hitch­ing rails around the out­side and in the cen­tre. Within the cir­cle of rails is a new­ly­crafted tree pro­tec­tor made out of worn horse­shoes. In­side that is a young ap­ple tree, shel­tered from the in­quis­i­tive mouths of horses, which will one day pro­vide shade and juicy treats.

Then there’s the Hack Track, ini­tially an un­formed pub­lic paper road run­ning along one bound­ary and down the hill to Pa­tons Rock Beach.

“When we were ne­go­ti­at­ing to buy this prop­erty, that we all liked a lot, I saw the paper road on the map and the pos­si­bil­i­ties it of­fered made this place even more ap­peal­ing,” says Baer­bel. “Horses and roads don’t re­ally mix these days, even though I first thought I would have to take the horses down the main road to get to the beach.”

It didn’t mat­ter to Baer­bel that some of the paper road went through a deeply pugged and trashed swamp and down a steep bank, or that some neigh­bours were not that pleased. She checked out the le­gal­i­ties, sought in­for­ma­tion and sup­port from the lo­cal com­mu­nity, Walk­ing Ac­cess New Zealand, Tas­man District Coun­cil ( TDC) and the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion (DOC), and then be­gan to build the Hack Track. Open­ing the paper road for prac­ti­cal but non-mo­torised use means Thomas and Baer­bel can wel­come the gen­eral pub­lic onto their land and, like the gen­er­ous peo­ple they are, they take plea­sure in the shar­ing.

“It’s good to see peo­ple us­ing the track and we’ve set up laneways through

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