Why is it a weed?
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