Saturday, March 1, 2014

Small Nook by the Road

Ice and snow storms have made it difficult to work on any large projects this winter, so I’ve been using the intermittent periods of decent weather to finish some small jobs that have been cluttering up my to do list.  This is one of those odd areas that I’ve been meaning to get to for the past couple of years.  Bluehearts, Buchnera americana, one of the rarer plants in this area, have developed an expanding population in the shallow soil that formed over shale bedrock at this site.  This is the only Blue Jay Barrens population of Bluehearts growing on low pH soil.

The work area was a tenth of an acre in size and required about an hour and a half to clear out the young Eastern Red Cedars and Virginia Pines that were invading.  I keep records of my management activities by identifying the work areas on an aerial photo and noting date, type of work, time spent and interesting observations.  This particular site sits between the township road on the right and a four acre field that I mowed back in November.  The green spot in the center of the work boundary is a mature Virginia Pine, the seed source for the little guys I cleared out.

While cedar seeds are typically spread by birds, pine seeds are more likely to be moved by wind.  Prevailing wind direction is predominately from the south-west.  Few pines are found on the south-west side of the tree.

On the other side of the tree, the down-wind side, pines far outnumber the cedars.

Virginia Pines are fast growing and can easily outperform the cedars.  They are also highly attractive to deer and suffer a lot of damage from the actions of territorial bucks.

The surrounding area is composed primarily of mixed oaks.  When I originally cleared the large cedars from this area 15 years ago, I thought of letting it all grow up in oaks.  The appearance of the Bluehearts a few years later caused me to change my mind in favor of the rarer plant.

This piece of ground was historically plowed and cropped.  The ground inclines steeply to the right at a point that marks an earlier field edge.  At some point, probably when the plow began bringing up the underlying shale, the farmer moved the field edge farther down the hill.  The mowed area seen in the left middle of the photo indicates the field as last cropped.

Weather conditions have been rough on the cedars.  Most of the small individuals have lost their green coloration and are brown enough to effectively hide in the long grass.

The completed job.

After the sun tracks farther north, these openings between the trees will be fully illuminated for most of the day.  The Bluehearts have been slowly making their way downhill and are just beginning to show up in the most recently cropped areas.

The township road can just be seen crossing the center of the photo.  An unexpected hazard for these plants is a vehicle failing to negotiate the 90 degree turn in the road and tearing down through the field.  Fortunately, the most likely place for someone to lose control runs them right into a large tree.  The tree bears many scars, old and new, and has a collection of headlight glass at its base.  So far, the only person to miss the tree failed to break through my fence.  The fence was a mess, but the field suffered no damage.  The mishaps have yet to inflict any damage to the vehicle passengers.

The most labor intensive part of the job was carrying all of the cut material 250 feet across the adjoining field to the brush pile.  With each trip to the brush pile, I thought about how nice the weather was and how relaxing it was to be out working.  With each trip back, I thought about the winter storm predicted for Sunday and Monday and the arctic air moving in for the rest of the week.  I wonder how long it’ll be before I have another day like this.

The old brush pile had almost rotted down to nothing.  An infusion of new cuttings is evidence that I’m still around and working.

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