Every year around this time, the fescue pastures surrounding my home become suddenly colorful, as the purple heads of nodding thistles (Carduus nutans) break through the waves of green. As lovely as they are—and as much as the goldfinches love them—this is not good news, since it means that next fall’s hay will be full of thorns. Feeding a horse a square of sweet-smelling hay with thistles in it is at least as bad as serving a dinner guest Coquilles St. Jacques with grits. It is a failure of hospitality, and a preventable one at that.
So every year around this time, I gird myself for battle. First I put on the thickest long-sleeved shirt I own, to protect my arms from prickles. My Dickies overalls go over that, with the legs tucked into knee-high rubber boots. Most important of all are my gauntlets—heavy-duty leather gloves that reach halfway up my forearms—since my combat with the thistles will be hand-to-hand.