On New Land and Canada Thistle

First for our biggest news ever: Last month we agreed to at least a four year lease on four acres of Boulder County Open Space land. It’s about 20 minutes from our urban, home garden (which we’ll continue to work) and comes complete with a retention pond and good ditch rights. We’re shooting to use a total of two acres this season, up from a 1/4 acre last year. Next year, if everything goes according to plan, we’ll use it all, bringing us up to 4 1/4 acres. We’ll still be a tiny farm by any sane definition, but hopefully we’ll then be big enough to be sustainable.

We’re over the moon with our news. We’ve been debating how to expand for over a year and farmland isn’t easy to find around here. It’s next to impossible to buy. In Boulder County ag land sells for at least $100k/acre, often without water. That’s way too much to ever make the nut farming. Fortunately for us, the county manages 95,000 acres of open space, much of which it leases back to local growers. This is how we got our land; through a county lease. It’s extremely affordable, has water rights and the county is there to support us through its extension office. It’s a great way to start growing on a larger scale.

All that being said, standing on the land this morning, in the freezing cold, ankle deep in snow and mud carrying a full load of t-bars was more than a bit intimidating. Four acres is a lot of dirt.  The methods and tools we used on our urban 1/4 acre aren’t up to this challenge. We need to update our system.

We also have a weed problem. The land hasn’t been actively managed in over a decade, so it’s all grass, weeds and thistle. The grass and weeds will be a hassle. The thistle, Canada Thistle to be specific, will be a huge problem. It takes many years to bring a Canada Thistle infestation under control. Their roots grow up to 40-feet deep and store enough energy to fuel many generations of re-growth. The only way to manage the thistle is to repeatedly stress the plant, forcing it to use up all it’s stored energy until it eventually dies.  We hope to get there through a two pronged program of cultural and mechanical control. First, on the land we don’t intend to farm this year we will broadcast seed some green manure grasses and irrigate the area. With water, grasses compete well against Canada Thistle and will stress their roots. Second we will mow the area every 3-4 weeks, again forcing the plant to expend energy constantly re-growing to try to get to seed. With any luck, a few years from now the land will be free from the thistle.

This is a big project for us that I’m sure will challenge both our knowledge and endurance. As I mentioned, it’s intimidating. We’d love to hear any advice you may have.

1 comment to On New Land and Canada Thistle

  • Amber

    Congratulations on the upsize :) I was excited to come across this post as my little family is hoping to do something similiar in the area someday- small organic farm on maybe an acre. I’ll be watching your progress!

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