Thursday, November 26, 2009

Field Mowing - Part 2

Mowing is always slower going around the outside of the field. There are tree branches in the way, old dead furrows left from the days of plowing, odd little corners, and a greater abundance of trees and shrubs needing to be marked. My first task is to cut the irregularly shaped areas around the edges so my cutting path is all straight runs or gentle curves. Here I’ve finished the bottle neck at the north end of the field.

The point at the south end has also been cut. Now I’m left with no sharp turns to negotiate. My path is like a race track as I gradually close in on the center of the field. According to the manual, JR’s top speed is 4.4 mph. 4.4 mph is an easy walk if you’re going down a country lane. It’s a little bit different when it’s a forced march over uneven ground while trying to guide the mower and watch for obstacles.

This is where I want to end up, the middle of the field. In some really rough places I had to slow to a lower speed in order to keep my arms from being ripped off at the shoulder. Doesn’t look too rough from this angle, but the dark strip going across just in front of the lighter colored Indian Grass is a wet swale that still bears the ruts from an earlier owner’s inappropriate tractor travel during a wet time of year. I’m still learning what JR’s capabilities are.

The incidence of Autumn Olive is increasing at a discouraging rate. It’s going to be impossible to eliminate this shrub when only a tiny percentage of property owners are willing to control it.

This particular Autumn Olive did perform a valuable service this year. I found a nest tucked down in the branches.

The ant hills really stand out after a mowing. The oak trees behind have grown considerably since the last mowing. DR had no trouble weaving around these trees. JR isn’t nearly as responsive to subtle commands. I keep a little bit more room between the tree and the cutting blade, so JR doesn’t get into trouble.

Most of the trees being saved here are Flowering Dogwoods. The dogwoods are also popular locations for nest building. I usually remove old nests, just in case old nests inhibit new nest construction.

The brown area in the foreground was and will again be a thicket of Winged Sumac. They’ll now have to compete with the oak growing in the middle of the bunch. The Virginia Pine is being maintained as a single tree. I mowed dozens of pine seedlings from around the mature tree. If I let it, Virginia Pine would probably cover the whole field.

The completed field. It took me 10 hours, including travel time to and from the barn, to mow this 4.1 acre field. I marked 185 trees and shrubs with red flags. My plan is to mow about 11 acres more before the end of December. Once the temperatures drop, I have to stop mowing because I can’t stick the flag stems into the frozen soil. All I’ll need is about 30 free hours when the weather is right and the grass is dry and I’m not at work or doing family activities.

This is a shot of the same area when I finished mowing in December of 2006. With the slower DR, it took me 16 hours to mow the 4.1 acres. I marked 960 trees and shrubs for elimination. It’s encouraging to see that I’m dealing with less than 20% of the number of invasives I had three years ago. I think everyone who lived within 5 miles of me came to see what the deal was with those red flags. It would have been easier for me if I had just posted a billboard explaining what was going on. Just about everyone got the same half puzzled, half fearful expression when I started explaining native ecosystems and invasive plants and the need to eliminate one without harming the other.

1 comment:

  1. Steve- I am impressed with your dedication. Invasive species management is just that- I have such a hard time convincing people that once you've done a ton of hard work, then all it takes is steady dedication, as you've shown here. Unfortunately, I think that many of our natural systems will ever be dependent upon us, that is, if we want them to persist with the same species makeup and structure that we inherited.