Update on the Battle of the Rattle, my ongoing campaign to wipe out yellow rattle in my hayfields: the scales are tipping in my favor. After mowing the entire hayfield with the rotary mower in mid-June, I hoped the rattle would be defeated for this year. Surveillance proved otherwise.
Plentiful rains after the mowing encouraged regrowth from the cut stems. Rattle sprang up and rejoined the fray. By last week, the parasitic plant was blooming all over the field. I have a new tactic, this one will be the decisive move of the war. Methodically, by quadrant, I am sweeping the entire field and pulling the parasites by hand.
The work is long, hard, hot and grim. Deer flies and mosquitoes buzz my head and attack any exposed flesh. The burning July sun beats down. My back aches from bending to pull the endless plants. I fill bags with the plant bodies and throw the casualties deep in the dark woods where they will never be seen again.
So far I’ve cleared about one-third of the field. I’m not sure how big the entire area is, several acres, at least. Yellow rattle is a rigid, brittle plant. To remove it from the ground, a gentle, steady pressure is applied. Pull too hard and the stem snaps. Pull just right and the entire puny root system comes loose. Rattle does not require a lot of roots since it gets nourishment by tapping into the roots of other plants.
I use great care not to drop a single seed pod. Each pod contains twenty or more seeds. A dropped green pod will mature to papery-gray with loose seeds rattling around inside, ready to start a new generation of the weed.
Removing rattle by hand will defeat the plant. The only threat that remains is seeds that got into the field in the last couple years. They can still germinate next year. I will be ever vigilant. If more plants show their miserable yellow heads next spring, I will be all over them, yanking them from the ground. Next year, I will not lose my hay crop.