Garlic mustard crusaders








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Occasionally something rises to the top of the "to do" list that simply can't wait.

In this case that meant pulling an acre or more of garlic mustard that sprung up seemingly overnight in one section of our woods. They had already flowered and were threatening to set seed, so it was now or never. (Perhaps literally.) 

Garlic mustard is an invasive species. Throughout much of the US it is in the midst of a decades-long forest forest floor and forest edge takeover. It chokes out the ephemeral wildflowers and understory and threatens forest diversity. So when we found this patch in full bloom (the seeds washed in on a flood two years ago) we knew we had to deal with it – and fast.

The crazy thing about garlic mustard, however, is that once it has gone to flower it will set seeds even after it's pulled. That means you have to bag it or burn it. Since we were dealing with an acre, bagging was an unreasonable prospect. So the kids each grabbed their fire starter pocket knives and some fire-starting supplies. (Because it's way more fun to pull an acre of invasives if you get to light a flint and steel fire, don't you think?) (I promise not to make a habit of this afflink business, but honestly. We're crazy about these. Each of us has one and loves it.)

I packed a picnic, and off we set. 

I thought we'd pull weeds for an hour or so before the complaining kicked in, but those campfires – and seeing the progress as our happy, healthy woods slowly reemerged - spun some magic. Before I knew it all of us were wet and muddy (with a few too many nettle burns and bramble scratches) and still working. We'd been at it for four hours. The kids took a break to swim in the creek and cool off, and we pulled and burned, pulled and burned all afternoon long.

Bizarrely, Lupine loved it. As in: was in her bliss. Garlic mustard is surprisingly satisfying to pull, with one tug yielding a huge clump of shoots, and she felt like every jack-in-the-pulpit she found beneath the garlic mustard was whispering it's thanks to her. I could hardly get her to stop to head back home for dinner. Sage enjoyed starting one of the fires and helping tend both, feeding it with fallen branches and plenty of garlic mustard. He brought a huge bag of leaves home and plans to spend today making a giant batch of pesto. 

This morning my body is sore, from my shoulders and back to my arms and my legs. But it's a satisfying soreness. It's satisfying to know that the work we did yesterday will protect not only our woods, but the forests and farmyards downstream. There's more work yet to be done, for sure (starting with looking upstream and figure out where the seeds are coming from), but for now I'll just be satisfied in a half-acre cleared and burned, and – at least for the moment – restored to what it was meant to be.

I wrote more about garlic mustard (including some recipes) here.


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