Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Things not to Mow Over

The most frequent comment I get from people seeing my newly mowed fields is “Hey, you missed something.”  My conversational skills are almost nonexistent, so I’m never quite sure how to respond to that kind of comment.  Since it’s not a question, I don’t think I’m obligated to respond.  I usually just acknowledge the accuracy of their statement and stare at them until they walk away.  Do they honestly believe that I’m unaware of the fact that there are things in the field left unmowed?  Of course I missed something.  I meant to.

If I intended mow everything in the field, I could just grind it all down with a ten foot Bush Hog.  My primary objective is to remove unwanted features from the field and I do all that is necessary to achieve that objective.  Beyond that, I also wish certain features to remain untouched, so the mower is carefully guided to avoid key items.  I made earlier mention of my desire to avoid destruction of the ant mounds, but there are many other things that I hope to keep intact.  I doubt that anyone would question why I failed to mow down the bird boxes.

Flowering Dogwoods are thriving in the field.  About 20 years ago, disease eliminated the Flowering Dogwoods from my woodland understory.  That left a few young sprouts in the old crop fields as the only living dogwoods on the property.  I selected about 25 sprouts and allowed them to grow to maturity.  They now flower heavily and provide an abundance of fruit each year.  I keep hoping to find some young dogwoods recolonizing the woods, but that has yet to happen.

I’m allowing a few Blackjack Oaks, Quercus marilandica, to grow near some of the ant mounds.  Where the Allegheny Mound Ants live in close proximity to the Blackjack Oaks, there is a chance of encountering the uncommon Edwards’ Hairstreak butterfly.  The butterflies lay their eggs on the oak and the ants provide protection to the butterfly during its early stages of life.  This wonderful association exists on other parts of the property and I am encouraging it to spread.

Small shrubs and trees growing in association with the tall prairie grasses provide ideal structure for the placement of bird nests.  Deerberry is an ideal species for this activity.  So far, Deerberry has been slow to establish in the fields and slow to expand its clumps.  If it becomes a problem in the future, it is easy to eliminate by cutting and stump spraying.

I’ve been watching this patch of native rose for several years.  It has been slowly spreading, but has not produced any blooms.

Native roses have thorns, but the thorns are generally less of a threat than those of the invasive Multiflora.  I like to think of the bite of native rose thorns as a nip from a playful puppy.  By comparison, the bite of the Multiflora Rose is more like a mauling by a mad dog.

I don’t plan to allow any of these White Pine seedlings to remain in the field.  My plan is to transplant a few of them as replacements for deer damaged trees planted in a double line beside my established White Pine windbreak along the side of the yard.  Those trees in the background are the seed source for the seedlings.  The fact that these little trees have been able to survive for two or three years in the field, suggests that they are ideally suited to grow in their planned location.

The field is full of these Cut-leaved Grape Ferns, Botrychium dissectum.  They are short enough that the mower blades do no more than shave a bit off the leaf.  I’m amazed at how well these plants do in association with the tall grasses.  Even though there is just the one species growing here, the natural variation in leaf shape makes for an unending variety.

Some things I avoid, not because they are to be saved, but because an encounter might damage both me and the mower.  Seasonal wet spots in the field still hold deep tire tracks made at the time the last crop was harvested.  Most ruts have mellowed down and filled in, but a few of the worst persist.

Another freshly dropped balloon.  This is number eight for the year, making this an above average year for balloon fallout.  It wouldn’t be tragic to mow over this bit of litter, but having the ribbon wrap around the mower shaft and wedge between the shaft and blade can create a mess that I’d rather not deal with.  I believe my 2014 mowing struck a good balance between cutting what needed to be cut and avoiding those things best left untouched.


  1. Your first paragraph above had me in stitches. Too funny! I wonder what the story is about the flowering dogwoods and them still not being found in your woods. Given how many balloons I've found this year in very remote places (7 so far), I'm thinking of keeping an annual count, too.

  2. Hi, Katie. The Dogwood diseases are still here and are most vigorous in wet, shaded areas such as the woods. Dogwoods trying to grow there are quickly infected and destroyed.