Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Field Mowing - Part 1

I’ve mentioned earlier that I plan to mow several of the fields this winter. I’m beginning in this field of mixed grasses and forbs supported by a low pH, shale based soil. The purpose of mowing is to eliminate trees and shrubs detrimental to the continuation of healthy grassland.

I’m criticized by some because I’m destroying valuable wildlife cover. Of course, I’m also criticized by others for purposely killing plants and still others for letting the field grow up into a mess of weeds. There are neighboring fields that will maintain similar cover all winter. I think the voles probably suffer most when I mow a field. This field became a hawk magnet the last time it was mowed.

I’ve had people offer to bring their bush hog in to mow my field for me. They’re puzzled when I explain that I don’t mow in order to cut the grass. I mow because it’s the most efficient way to search every square foot of the field and find those plants that have to be removed. I can’t achieve the same results from the seat of a tractor. For me, the cut grass is only an indicator that I’ve already searched that part of the field. As I mow, I watch for those plants that I want to eliminate from the field. As I cut them down, I mark them with the red flag of death.

Growing conditions vary considerably across this field. The low areas support a tall, lush growth. These wetter areas support a lot of invading Tuliptrees.

Dry portions of the field display a sparse vegetative mix of short grasses and low growing forbs. The most likely invasive here is Multiflora Rose.

I leave several oaks growing in the field. I try to space them far enough apart that enough sunlight would make it through the mature trees to maintain the existing prairie grasses. I hope that the results will one day resemble an oak savannah. There are many special relationships between the oaks and the prairie inhabitants that I would like to see continue.

Blue flags are used to mark those features that should be spared from the mower. As I pass by, I’ll mark things like oaks, ant hills, holes or big rocks that I don’t want to hit with the mower. You may have noticed that this is not DR Brush. DR is getting old and no longer has the speed or stamina to cover whole fields. This is Doc Junior, just call him JR. JR has more muscle and more speed that DR. Too bad the operator can’t be similarly revitalized. I’ll give you a run down on JR’s performance after we’ve had more time to work together.

You can see how hard it is to see a little tree hidden in the grass. Without the blue flag it’s unlikely that I would have avoided cutting this little oak.

Not all of the oaks are worth saving. This was a nice tree until a buck deer decided to spar with it. Deer have a way of rubbing just the trees you would like to save.

Even if this tree survives, it’s doubtful that it will make it to a healthy maturity. The best option is to cut it and encourage it to produce a new sprout. This tree has a healthy root system and the energy stored there would be better spent producing new growth rather than repairing damage to the old growth.

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