When we closed in December, our 20 acres included 1 solid acre of kudzu.
If you’re from the South, you know kudzu, and if you know kudzu, the appropriate reaction to an acre of it ranges from a defeated sigh to, “YES! We get to have goats!”
Kudzu gets an awful rap as “the plant that ate the South,” and like any invasive, it’s guilty of bullying the native ecosystem. But it’s far from all bad. Kudzu is edible – and gluten free. It tastes like green beans. Livestock adores it. It does amazing things to the soil (after it smothers the other plants on that soil, of course); kudzu is a nitrogen-fixer.
However, while I’m secretly excited about kudzu tea and baskets and blossom jelly – and un-secretly excited about the tribe of goats we’ll have to graze it and other invasives – I’m also on board with Chris’ perspective: we need the kudzu under control, now.
Kudzu is pwning a full, beautiful, southern-facing acre of our homestead. We want that acre back. Not to mention that there are threatening little hairy tendrils popping up as much as a quarter mile away in all directions.
Only one method is proven to control kudzu: overgrazing by livestock, like goats, who love-love-love kudzu. No pesticide is even close to as effective. That’s fine with us, but since we can’t have goats until we live there full time – too many yodel dogs – we’re testing our own kind of overgrazing.
Last weekend, Chris rented a Billy Goat brush mower from the local hardware store. For 2 days, we alternated pushing this lawnmower-on-steroids over the field and using my birthday chainsaw to level saplings that the Billy Goat couldn’t run over.
By the end of the weekend, we were recovering from heat exhaustion, have a new respect for the heat index, and the Billy Goat had “grazed” last winter’s kudzu vines low enough to run a regular lawnmower over the field. Chris threw down a livestock-safe fescue-blend seed from the Farmers Co-op, and now we’ll mow regularly.
We don’t expect the kudzu to be gone in any real way, but we do expect to be able to keep it mowed and have access to the ground it’s growing on. We expect that by depriving the kudzu’s leaves of sun, we’ll begin the process of weakening its “crowns” (big roots) underground until the real goats can take over.
This is part 1 of an ongoing-forever journey with an interesting plant that was brought here intentionally but that doesn’t play well with others. Here are a few other thoughts about the process we just undertook, and why we’re glad we did it now instead of a month, or even a week, from now.
- Mow when vines are still dead and dry in late spring at the latest, before too much new growth has appeared. Your main target is the mass of dried vines that shed their leaves over the winter so you’ll have access to mow the ground underneath when new vines try to emerge. New vines are rubbery, semi-woody, and can be much harder to mow.
- Mow before the heat. Safety gear like chainsaw chaps only magnify the heat index.
- Mow before the bees get mad. Bugs, including wasps and hornets, make homes in kudzu, but in the cooler weather, they haven’t re-established their hives enough to defend them aggressively.
- Mow before the spring babies are born. Turtle babies. If angry bees aren’t enough to deter you, know that adorable baby box turtles hatch in late spring/early summer and are probably going to be hanging in your kudzu field to eat all the bugs and earthworms there.
We’ll keep you posted on our future progress and welcome your kudzu-related comments below.