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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62



I have now to say a few words about weeds. The first comers to this glorious land of ours found a climate eminently congenial to the Anglo-Saxon race. They found a soil full of plant food, and free from the "pirates" of vegetation in the shape of noxious weeds, (with perhaps one or two exceptions). A soil ready to respond to the husbandman's rudest touch. In those days European weeds were unknown, and one would have thought that our early farmers, knowing the trouble and cost of keeping their cultivated lands free from weeds in the Old Country, would have used every precaution to rid their cereal and other seeds from their old enemies. This precaution, either from negligence or the want of proper appliances, was not taken, and now we see the pernicious weeds of Our Fatherland growing in rank luxuriance all over the Colony. There are weeds, and weeds, some of which are comparatively harmless; while, on the other hand, there are those which contest with our cultivated plants, for the complete possession of the soil: such, for instance, as "Wild Turnip (B. Campestris), Fat Hen (Chenopodium Album), Californian Thistle (so-called) (Carduus Arvensis), Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum Leucanthemum), and Cape Weed,* &c. A few years ago "Wild Turnip was comparatively a stranger. It may now be seen in some districts tinging the landscape with its yellow blossoms, in the months of November and December, covering hundreds of acres. I have this year seen paddocks of wheat inland worth £20 per acre capable of yielding 50 to 70 bushels of grain, if free from weeds, so infested with wild turnips as only to yield from 15 to 20 bushels, making up the difference in turnip seed. That old adage—that "one year's seeding makes seven years' weeding "—is so full of truth, that it should be painted in large letters at every cross road.

It would be difficult to say, which, of all our weeds, is the most pernicious. At all events, it will not be easy to find a more exhausting one than Fat Hen. There is just this to be said about it, as compared with Wild Turnip, that is, it is more fastidious in its tastes, preferring the richer soils, while the turnip will grow and thrive almost anywhere.

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The Californian Thistle is perhaps the most difficult of all to eradicate, where it once gets a firm footing. Unlike our common field thistle, which is a biennial, it is perennial. I am sorry to say that this noxious weed seems to have a wide range in the Colony. It is an insidious weed. It will be present in a pasture for years without becoming conspicuous, but, as soon as the land is broken up for crop, it speedily takes possession of the soil to the almost total exclusion of other plants. There appears to be only one sure method of getting rid of this pest, and that is, by fallowing and never allowing it to come above ground, or by growing crops in drills on infested land, using the drill grubber and hand hoe, continuing this treatment for two or three years. If it is allowed one month in the year to develop a few leaves, the previous work will be all thrown away, so far as killing the plant goes. Where it is found in small patches it may be got rid of by cutting it down, salting it, or treating it with arsenic, and covering it completely over to the depth of several feet with straw or rubbish.

Oxeye Daisy. This weed may be described as essentially a pasture weed. It is becoming very prevalent in many parts of the Colony. Its spreading radical leaves soon smother the better grasses. No animal will touch its acrid leaves. Its presence in hay renders it most unpalatable to horses and stock of all kinds.

Cape Weed has already become a most troublesome plant in light and medium soils. There seems to be no method of dealing with this pest, except by occasional breaking up and renewing the seeds, an expensive process and not always convenient. This is a case where top-dressing might so encourage the growth of other plants as to overcome the preponderance of Cape Weed.

I have made no reference to sorrel, for the reason that I have seen it covering large areas where it would be difficult to get better plants to grow, and as sheep will eat it, it must have some good points about it.

There is another class of weeds, which, if they are not so injurious as some of those I have already referred to, they are nevertheless a source of loss to farmers. I refer to worthless grasses. It is a strange thing that the grass which is considered a troublesome pest in New Zealand—Poa Pratensis, is the same grass that stands high in some parts of America as a pasture grass. It is known as "Blue Kentucky Grass." Agrostis Canina is another twitch which causes much trouble. I notice that Triticum repens, or English Couch Grass, is becoming plentiful. It is a terrible pest in the Old Country. All of these page 17 grasses are perennial. I hardly know what to say about Yorkshire Fog; it is a useful plant under some conditions, but this much may be said about it, never tolerate it on soils where better grasses will grow.

The annual weed grasses are also a source of loss. The most injurious being "Wire Grass, Goose Grass, and the worthless Fescues. The machinery for cleaning seeds is now so perfect, that with care, farmers should now be able to keep their pastures free from rubbish. Speaking to one of the shrewdest farmers in New Zealand recently, on the spread of weeds over our best lands in Canterbury, he remarked that " unless the present occupiers of the soil take active measures to oust the weeds, the day is not far distant, when the weeds will oust them." This is not pleasant to contemplate.