Friday, February 6, 2015

Final Field Mowing of the Season

This field was on the schedule to be mowed in November, but the mowing was postponed until I could remove the small army of tiny cedars that had sprung up in the tall grass.  Cedar removal was completed on January 31, just ahead of an approaching storm front.  Four days later, the temperatures climbed above 40F and the last trace of snow melted away.  I hurried out to mow the field before the next storm, forecast for that night, could recover the field with snow.

I had several reasons for wanting to mow the field this year.  One reason was to knock back several small stands of sumac.  These are Winged Sumac, Rhus copallinum, and may get as tall as 20 feet if left to grow.  I maintain a couple of stands of the tall specimens, but most of the sumac is periodically cut to maintain it in a younger growth stage.  Two or three years after being cut, the plants flower profusely and develop a generous load of fruit.  The fruit remains uneaten during most winters, but during severe weather the fruit stands high above the snow and becomes an excellent survival food for the birds.  These plants have not yet reached that stage, but I’m trying to set up a rotation where there are always a few stands of sumac bearing fruit during the years when other sumacs are recovering from being cut.  Maintaining the sumac in an early stage of growth also allows them to grow as part of the open field environment without negatively impacting the tall grasses.

Several clumps of invasive Johnson Grass in this field were treated with herbicide last spring.  Having the field mowed will allow me to identify any other Johnson Grass infestations and treat them early next year.

This shallow four foot diameter crater was once the site of a thriving ant colony.  The mound peaked at 18 inches until Wild Turkeys selected it as a prime dust bath site.  During the course of three summer months, the turkeys turned the mound into a pit and then stopped using the site.  That was two years ago and vegetation has yet to reclaim the bare ground.

The site after mowing.  Mowing with JR is easiest when you are dealing with long, relatively straight runs.  Under those conditions you can shift into high speed and move along at a fast walk.  Unfortunately, this field doesn’t have any straight sections.  Most of the time I was weaving in and out of small corners and pockets or slowing down to maneuver around large cedars, small trees, ant hills and a number of other obstacles to my progress.  This will be the last mowing I do this year.  Besides having already mowed everything that was planned for this winter, I always stop mowing when the Woodcocks begin calling in the field.  I’m betting that will be in the next couple of days.

There is no shortage of ant mounds in this field.  In the acre and a half that I mowed, there were close to 20 large mounds.

The tall grass tends to shade the lower branches of the Eastern Red Cedars and those branches die.  This allows enough sunlight to get beneath the tree to maintain the grass that grows there.  If excess shade threatens the survival of the grass beneath the trees, manually trimming the lower branches should open things up enough for the grass to survive right up to the base of the tree.

There were only a few unwelcome woody invaders that had to be marked for cutting and herbicide treatment in the spring.  Most were Tuliptree seedlings, a species that is easily killed by a cut stump treatment of glyphosate.

A half dozen large Flowering Dogwoods survive along the lower slope of this field.  The trees thrive in this open, but sheltered area.

It appears that the dogwoods are set to put on a magnificent flower show this spring.  Each one of those large buds will open to produce a flower cluster surrounded by four brilliant white bracts.  Severe winter weather conditions commonly damage those buds and diminish the quality of the spring show.  Hopefully, this will be a year where each bud flowers to its full potential.

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