It's a Jungle Out There

Most people in Oklahoma consume poke weed. Here on Oak Hill, I think the poke weed is trying to consume us.

Poke weed, also called poke salad and polk salat, is a wild plant with poison berries. When the plant is small, folks around here gather the young leaves and go through a certain process to render it edible as a pot green. I'm told that the best way to eat it is a springtime dish that combines poke weed, wild onions and eggs.

We're transplanted northerners so we didn't grow up eating poke, and the poisonous nature of the plant is enough to keep me from giving it a try. So we consider it a weed to be controlled. This year the grass and the weeds have gone wild with all the rain we've had. The population of poke has exploded, and it and the curly dock plants are nearly as tall as I am. Hubby realized the other day that we can no longer see down the hill because of this wall of monster vegetation on the hillside.

Let's face it, when it rains for six days out of seven, there are things that have to be done on that one dry day: mowing the grass, repairing fences and shelter roofs, digging out the drain ditches that are supposed to divert water out of animal pens. Digging up the weeds is lower on the list. Then, to add insult to injury, all that rain just makes it all grow even faster.

So I've been pulling up the curly dock plants with their long spikes of seed clusters and feeding them to the goats and the pigs. The goats like the seeds; the pigs eat the whole plant. The weeds come up pretty easily after all the rain. Every weed I pull right now is one I won't have to battle later when the ground is dry and as hard as a rock, hanging on to those wild roots. I pull a variety of weeds, enough to fill the wheelbarrow a couple of times, and the pigs squeal as I push it over to their fence and dole out the goodies. They've long ago eaten all the vegetation in their pen so they are happy to see me.

I'm not sure that poke is safe for the livestock to eat though, so I haven't added it to the daily menu. Plus they aren't easy to pull no matter how much rain we've had. The thick red stalks are attached to large tuber-like roots. To truly eradicate them, I'd have to dig them out, root and all. For now I'm using my giant loppers to cut them down. If I let them go to seed we'll have even more of them next year.

Saturday between rain storms I worked on the forest behind the house. Besides the poke weed there are curly dock plants, ragweed, bitterweed, Virginia creeper, and vines that weave through the poke and reach from the ground up into the trees. Birds resting in the trees have deposited the seeds below and the rain has encouraged them to grow like crazy. While I worked on this patch, hubby worked on a newly-formed blackberry thicket that threatens to swallow several pieces of farm equipment. This must be what it's like to live in a rain forest. You can almost watch things grow.

I saved these plants though. It's ironweed, which will bloom with purple flowers later this summer. The bees and butterflies love the flowers.

If this area was fenced appropriately, I'd definitely be letting the goats do the work for me, but it's surrounded by barbed wire which won't keep them in. On days that the weather is on my side, I've taken them on walks so that they can at least help me in the war against the giant weeds. Still, the poke weed needs to be removed before the goats have access to the jungle, so I keep working on that.

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