I’ve had to re-adjust how I do everything, due to some recent complications. Day-jobs are cool and steady, but even they tend to go squirrelly sometimes. The summer heat on its own can toss a monkey wrench into the fray, but I’m still making progress.
Today, I mowed. This was the result from in front of my tiny cabin:
When I talk about mowing, I’m not referring to crabgrass and dandelions. My “grasses” are a variety of perennials, some of which grow taller than me. Joel Salatin wrote in one of his books (or possibly all of them) an obscure reference to The Little House on the Prairie when discussing grass.
Grass, to most people, is the green stuff in front of city and suburban homes that’s kept trimmed to a couple of inches. In the show, he references a passing quote about the worry that a little girl could be lost in the prairie grass. And it’s true. The thickest stuff, which you can see in the above picture surrounding that big brush pile at the center, stands as tall as my chest. The thickest brush is actually growths of sapling trees that are taking advantage of my previous cedar clearing to carve out their own space and propagate, as part of the natural sequestration process. It’s all tall, from waist to chest high on me (and I’m over six feet tall) while a few of the saplings are taller than I am.
After clearing cedars from the area a couple years ago, it’s been allowed to do its thing, and nature has taken her course. I didn’t have a place to protect a mower from the elements, so it grew while I was getting sick with the tick disease and trying to get my pole barn up. Even though the barn isn’t really complete, it’s protective enough to keep the elements off my implements, and I can store them out there without worry of harsh conditions attacking them.
When people comment that “nature will revert” to anything, I have to chuckle. One thing nature doesn’t do is “revert” to anything. She sequesters. She evolves. Like penning a first draft, she keeps her story moving forward in time, never back.
Cedar forests are the natural sequestration of hay fields and prairie in this part of Missouri. They take over, grow like weeds, and eventually starve out everything in the area, including themselves. They steal rainwater before it gets a chance to reach the water table. They suck every natural resource out of the soil until the dense thicket can no longer survive on it’s own. This was the situation, fifteen years in the making, when I bought the property.
The sequestration process right now is a little more complex. I’m not letting the cedar forest evolve completely to the “tinder box” stage, where it waits on a lightning strike to set it ablaze. I’m select cutting the area to open up the ground.
That picture above is after mowing today. After clearing the area, the ground beneath those same trees looked like a wasteland littered in orange and brown juniper needles. Nothing could grow. But seeds laying in wait over the last fifteen years finally had their chance to sprout, and everything came up.
What happens if I leave it?
Every species that can is currently competing to earn their dominant spot. It’s a scramble between grape vines, wild roses, briars, blackberries, mints, daisies, grasses, and anything else that was able to sprout, including a new batch of trees. Normally, this happens after a forest fire, and the next steps will determine the evolution.
If a large herd of herbivores were to inhabit the area, it would tend toward a major reduction in growth. They would eat, fertilize, and abandon it, at least until it had grown up enough to catch their attention again. Without something to tread over the ground, the trees eventually keep growing, and form a canopy over the underbrush and prairie grasses, as well as all the diverse perennials. This would evolve into a mixed forest, where red cedar had a few competitors this go round.
My goal is to be that grazer, even if I don’t have the resources in place to put animals straight on the pasture areas yet. My mower will chomp everything down, literally leveling the playing field between various plant varieties. If saplings must continue to compete, year after year, they will eventually run out of steam (though in this area, there will ALWAYS be cedar saplings).
I might not have the goats yet, but I can still nurture the sequestration process, working with nature to ensure that certain species will remain as others die back.
Destruction and Micro Climate
I saw one field mouse hopping through the freshly cut field, scurrying toward a safer spot. Rodents and insects need cover, or they’ll get eaten. Snakes are the same, but there aren’t many on this part of the property. In fact, I’ve never seen one in this area.
I’ve found that after changing an area, after intervening, there’s an immediate sequestration which takes hold. By mowing the cover for smaller critters, I exposed an abundant food supply for birds and dragonflies. Butterflies are driven to other areas with more wildflowers in bloom (back to the older forest around the hilltop in this case), and new predators and prey will be showing up shortly.
Needless to say, the songbirds and finches love me right now. The mice and crickets, not so much. I’m not sure how the frogs feel about all this.
A New Realization
I’ve read that mowed lawns keep tick populations down, because the little monsters hate the sunlight. Today I wondered if it actually has anything to do with sunlight. I saw one of the red critters crawling across the naked topsoil of my herb garden the other day.
I think the birds are what really keep them at bay, and without tall grasses and shrubs to hide in, the birds get a free meal, and my tick problem is reduced.
I have this crazy idea. It needs to be researched more, and of course will require a financial investment. My idea is to get a dozen guineas and turn them loose on the hilltop. They’ll have to roost in the trees to avoid predation, but they are tick killing machines. There are more than enough bugs to keep them fed, and with wild ground fruits like blackberries popping up everywhere, as well as the mixture of other types of grasses and plants, they’ll have plenty to eat. The only real worry is coyotes.
Turns out, this idea isn’t as insane as I first thought, and other people in the area have done just this, specifically to reduce the number of ticks. They aren’t raising the birds, the birds raise themselves, roost, and give birth to a plethora of game foul. The only major downside I can see is that this will be a dinner bell to packs of wild dogs. As the birds multiply, so will the predators, which could cause problems down the road when I finally do get my goats and egg laying hens.
It’s all contemplative. It’s all speculation. What works on one patch of dirt doesn’t apply directly to another, even if it’s across the street. Hell, the rain doesn’t even cooperate from one parcel to the next. Sometimes I get it all, and sometimes my neighbors get flooded while I get nothing.
In the end, if I have the means, I’ll probably try this with a dozen young birds. If the yotes become a problem, well, I have a solution for that, too 😉