Operation Pompom Weed!

26 January 2022 | Veronique |

We’re calling it the Devil’s Spawn now. Pompom weed man, that stuff is everywhere! This incredibly destructive invader got here in the 60’s, then just thrived because there are no natural predators to stop it. Half the country is a wall of pink every summer these days.

It’s got to go! However, that is easier said than done.

The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) have some programs in place for this, all have pros and cons. It can produce 300 seeds per flower which can equate to 800 million seeds per hectare! We can even see on our farm in the short time that we have been here, how fast it spreads. I reckon we have about a 20 to 30% invasion rate so far. People generally say it’s pointless doing anything unless your neighbours do too, but I honestly cannot just sit around and watch all the diversity on our farm disappear anymore. They even say it can take 7 years to eradicate, that’s fine, we’re starting now. Getting rid of the invader plants is part of our land regeneration plan. We have decided to dig them up and burn them and have learnt a few things in that process :

1. Get a team in place and dedicate them to pompom removal. We took on 2 extra people for a week to only dig up pompom weed.  If we could have, it would have been 10 extra people for 2 weeks! We have decided to budget for a dedicated pompom weed team every summer until we get rid of this stuff.

2. Buy those large shade sails and load the pulled up pompom weed onto them so you can drag them out of the bush easily. We had some lying around that came in very handy. We used the golf cart to pull them to the burn area.  Have a burn area ready!

dragging pompom weed out the bush

dragging pompom weed to the golf cart

dragging pompom weed behind the golf cart

3. Don’t under-estimate the volume of plants that come out!  We reckon we got about 500kg in the past 3 days – conservatively!

pompom weed piles

4. Start digging before the flower heads open, because once they are dug up, you cannot believe how fast they dry out and start dispersing seeds – it happens in hours! There is a very small window to get them out of the bush and into clearing to burn. They only flower from about December to March before they turn brown and scatter all over the land looking for kak!  Next year we’ll do this in December the second the buds come out to prevent accidental seed dispersion while removing them.  The flowers are all open now, so chaos has ensued. Whatever we can’t dig out, we’re going to cut and bag so those don’t all end up on the ground.

5. Trying to burn them when they are wet is a pointless exercise, they just don’t burn and there’s enough smoke to signal the international space station! Let them dry in the sun for one day then burn them.

burning pompom weed

drying out pompom weed

6. Even dryer, it doesn’t burn so easily.  Build a proper fire first then put the pompom weed on.  Don’t put on too much at a time or you’ll smother the fire. Put the seed pods and flowers in the fire first or the seeds just fall out all over the place.

burning pompom weed

7. Tip the sail over to get the last dregs out. There will be an insane amount of seeds at the bottom of the shade cloth that you definitely don’t want blowing around your farm or you’ll be defeating the whole exercise! It makes a lot of mass in the fire, so give it some air to keep going.

burning pompom weed

8. Obviously, you must also follow basic fire safety here – don’t do this on windy days, make sure it’s an open area that can’t set alight, have water on hand just in case, don’t do this alone, don’t stand downwind in case of a sudden burst of flames, etc etc. Be careful and be safe!  When it does take, it’s a big fire.

burning pompom weed

9. Have a burn plan. If you’re digging them up, you need to burn them within 24 hours or flower heads will dry out and disperse. Once the burn is complete every day, sweep around the fire area because a load of seeds end up all over the show.  Sweep them up and throw them in the embers.

burning pompom weed

10. Please, just do something, anything. This is something we all need to prioritize or we will all lose. I know we are all busy and running a farm is super intense, but think about how this ends if we do nothing. It is so overwhelming when you look out and see a wall of pink like this, (taken at the game reserve next door last month). You get despondent and think you can never get it under control. Yet the every journey starts with the first step. There are so many people looking for work, surely we can each hire a few people every year to dig up pompom weed? Let’s take back our grasslands, together.

pompom weed in dinokeng game reserve

Check out more photos on Facebook. And the follow up post of the outcome.

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