Can you do anything about goathead weeds, a property owner asked Gus Keiley on Nextdoor, a social networking service for neighborhoods.
"Yes," he replied. "I relish killing them."
Keiley's lawn business, The Fairy Yardmother, kills weeds, aerates, power rakes, mows and even hauls away junk. As the business moves into its second year, its services continue to expand. "We're starting to delve into laying down rock and some of the simpler landscape jobs," Keiley said.
After a dry spring in 2018, late winter and spring storms this year brought plenty of moisture — and more business for Keiley.
"It's just been nonstop mowing. Mow, mow, mow. I'm using my equipment so much that it just keeps breaking down, so I always have to fix it or swap something out." Luckily, he said, he's a tinkerer, "So I'm pretty good at fixing things."
Keiley was born and raised in Colorado Springs. He tried college for a year — “failed at that," and then joined the U.S. Air Force. While serving in the Air Force in Florida, he met his wife, Denise.
After leaving the Air Force –- and being away a decade or so from Colorado — Keiley returned; he and Denise lived in Calhan for a year, then moved to the Falcon area in 2002. He got his start in lawn maintenance at Fort Carson, where a seasonal job turned into a full-time one.
"I've been doing this for 12 years," he said. But he got tired of the long drive from Falcon to Fort Carson and wanted to spend more time with Denise and their daughter, Sophia, now 7. "We were married for 15 years before she came along," Keiley said. “So she's our little miracle."
Thus, The Fairy Godmother was born in April of last year. Denise came up with the name for the business. "I like it,” Keiley said. “It gets a lot of comments. People remember it."
The focus of his weed-killing efforts typically is on noxious weeds, from Canada thistle to toadflax to myrtle spurge, which Keiley calls the bane of his existence.
"It’s a beautiful plant and a lot of people buy it to put into their gardens and look nice, but the milk inside is toxic," Keiley warned. That toxin can cause severe skin irritations, especially in children and people with sensitive skin. “I just hate to see it," he said.
Noxious weeds are plants not native to Colorado that endanger local crops and native plant communities and even livestock. Toadflax, for example, "Has some kind of pheromone that it excretes into the soil," Keiley said. “Basically, it sterilizes the soil so nothing can grow there except for toadflax. So it takes over large areas, and it just destroys everything else in it."
Keiley uses herbicides to attack the weeds, but you have to know what chemical to use, he said. "You can't use one product and think you'll kill everything. With dandelions, you can use lots of products. But there's only a couple that work on Canada thistle."
Timing can also play a role in the war on weeds. For example, the best time to treat Canada thistle — “one of the most prolific weeds out there" –- is the fall, he said. "If I treat it in the fall, it's much more effective than any other time."
In the winter, he said he can do "pre-emergent, which means I can come in and treat an area and prevent weeds from popping up in the spring." But demand for his services naturally drops off in the winter, so he drives a school bus for El Paso County Colorado School District 49. He could get into snow removal, but that was a chore he did not like at Fort Carson, he said. Winter also offers a chance to repair and tune up equipment, and prepare for the coming spring and summer.
In addition to promoting The Fairy Yardmother on Nextdoor, Keiley has a Facebook page. But most of his business comes from word-of-mouth.
"I think we're pretty happy," he said. "We're not making so much money that we don't know what to do with it, but we're eating, we're making our bills."
(To contact The Fairy Yardmother, look for the Gus Keiley's Facebook page. For a list of noxious weeds and control methods, go to the county website, https://elpasoco.com and type "noxious weeds" in the search box.)
Gus Keiley takes time out from his business, The Fairy Yardmother, to hang out with his daughter, Sophia. Photo by Bill Radford