Mowing season begins in November for the evolving prairie developing in the former crop fields. This field represents 7.5 of the approximately 8.7 acres that will be mowed this year. The total amount is roughly a half acre more than what was mowed last season.
The Indian Grass seed produced in these fields feeds a multitude of wintering sparrows. For this reason, I try not to cut more than one third of the old crop fields in any given year. The area shown to the left of the trail was cut last year. This year’s mowing will be in the field to the right. The cut Indian Grass still yields an abundance of seed. The sparrows seem to concentrate their feeding activity in the cut areas during the fall, a time when the Indian Grass seed is still located at the top of the stalk. As the season progresses, seed begins to fall to the ground between stalks and the birds forage there. When the ground is snow covered, the sparrows land on the top of the grass stalk and ride it into the snow. There they will work on stripping the seed from the seed head, leaving behind a record of their activity in the form footprints, wing marks and scattered chaff.
Corners are mowed in such a way that the remaining field block is left with gentle curves rather than sharp angles. If I do it in just the right way, my final mow will be a long counterclockwise spiral that gradually takes me to the center of the field. When the field was last cropped, the soil in this corner was so badly compacted that a pool of water was formed that remained long enough to support cattails. Since then, the soil has restored much of its natural internal structure and water makes its way easily into the ground.
Field preparation also includes mowing around several clumps of small trees. These Redbuds remain here because they are regular hosts for the caterpillars of the uncommon Henry’s Elfin butterfly. Redbuds are common over the entire property, but the butterflies only lay their eggs in a very few areas.
It would have made my job much easier if the Indian Grass had not had such a fabulous growing year. Warm temperatures arrived earlier than normal in the spring and frequent early season rains gave the grass a tremendous boost. The tall grass, in most cases topping out a foot or two above my head, makes it difficult to see obstacles in the path of the mower.
I’ve gone around and marked known obstacles with blue flags. This field contains close to 100 ant hills and I don’t want to run any over with the mower. If they were all the size of this one, I wouldn’t have any trouble. Most are less than two feet in diameter and one foot tall. Something of that size could be pretty well leveled by the mower. Fortunately, mounds I’ve hit in the past were reconstructed by the ants and seemed not to suffer any long term consequences. If we have average weather conditions, a mound damaged in early November will have its cap back in place in just a few weeks.
Spraying might be delayed for a day or two if rain is in the forecast. The thick stand of Indian Grass means that I’ll have to run the mower at a slightly slower speed. This is to insure that I don’t miss seeing any of the plants that should be eliminated from the field, which is the reason I do the mowing. I’m looking forward to a time a few weeks from now when I can look at the field and see work completed, instead of seeing work yet to do.