The barley grass blight
I’VE BEEN BLESSED with a few emails from NZ Lifestyle Block readers over the last month. Keep them coming folks – my wife says I need them to feed my ravenous ego – as I’m only too happy to help out with any questions you have on weeds, fertiliser, agrichemicals and everything in between.
A couple of the emails asked about barley grass, a weed that is near and dear to me. It’s one of the first weeds I got to grips with when I started in the agronomy industry and I can’t wait to share my pearls of wisdom.
Barley grass is a nasty little pest that is found in most parts of the country but it’s worst in the Hawke’s Bay and the dryer areas of the South Island. It is an annual grass that germinates in the autumn and early winter and sets seed in the summer months.
There are six different species of barley grass present in New Zealand, but they all look very similar and can all be treated as one species. During its vegetative growth stage barley grass looks like an off-colour (less green) grass plant that tends to form a dense, carpet-like sward. For a brief period of time this vegetative growth will be palatable to stock but pretty soon into spring they will begin to avoid it like the plague.
During summer barley grass puts out its very recognisable seed head covered in lots of little awns. As one of my sons tells me, they look like little toothbrushes. These mature quickly and the seed they drop has a very high level of germination (90%+) which explains why barley grass can spread so quickly.
The presence of barley grass in a paddock is bad for two reasons. One, it’s a rubbish grass and it takes over space that could be used to grow good grass. The second reason is even nastier: when the barley grass seeds mature their awns harden and become quite sharp. These seeds with a spear start getting stuck in everything like the eyes and mouths of grazing stock, their wool (which reduces its quality), your socks and subsequently your legs, to name a few places I’ve found them.
How to control it
Thankfully barley grass is quite easy to control so long as you are willing to take the time and plan out your approach thoughtfully. It is possible to use glyphosate to spot-spray barley grass but this doesn’t take care of the subsequent germination and can do a fair amount of damage to the surrounding pasture.
The best product to use is ethofumesate (product name Nortron). It is applied to the barley grass when it is vegetative but before the seed head has begun to develop. This timing tends to be from late May through to early August depending on the area. This kills the barley grass that is there, but it also has a residual effect that can finish off the next flush of germinating seeds.
The only real problem with this method is remembering where the barley grass patches are. The best thing to do is pop out in the summer and stake out the areas with barley grass so you can remember where they are when spraying them in the winter.
Phil Mccabe and his partner Bernadette Gavin had been eyeing the most expensive property in Raglan, perched high above Manu Bay, with its breath-taking panoramic views to the Tasman Sea.
It was on holiday in 2002 in Australia that Phil had an idea on how to get it. While Bernadette walked the beach, Phil drove to the other end.
“By the time she got there I had figured out how to make it happen.”
The couple returned to Raglan and that September took ownership of Raglan Wagon Cabins, a fairly run-down backpacker property and its 17 train cars, two cottages and a manager’s residence.
The new lifestyle appealed. It was a lot easier giving people a key and saying ‘goodnight!’ than the work Phil had cut his teeth on as an 18-year-old running his family’s restaurants.
“I was just 31 and Bernadette was 30 and people said, ‘You guys own this?’”
Fourteen years on, the accommodation options have expanded to include an eco-bach, an eco-camp and the biggest earth-bag buildings in New Zealand. The original home is now a modern reception area with massage yoga room, café and conference rooms, all built with natural