Surprises In The Clearing

Plenty of reseeding going on here

When you see the grill on the tractor looking like this, you’ll know that I’ve been bush-hogging a field with chest-high growth.  What you see is a variety of seeds that are knocked off the seed head of the plants as the tractor passes over them.  The suction created by the diesel engine’s cooling fan causes some of the seeds to cling to the grill, which requires me to stop and brush the grill clean every once in a while to keep the engine operating at it’s proper temperature.

Now that the fall season is nearly upon us, it is time for me to begin cutting some of the clearings on our land.  I’m not really sure that “clearing” is the correct terminology to use to describe these areas.  We have hay fields used in the regular production of hay, which I believe I correctly refer to as “fields.”  We also have a series of grazing pastures for our horses, which are correctly referred to as “pastures.”  In addition, we also have many areas that were formerly cattle grazing pastures, which I have regularly cut for the past five years, but have not been grazed by domestic livestock for the past decade.  I suppose some might refer to these areas as meadows, but I usually associate the term meadow with a former wetland that has filled in over time to become a meadow, prior to it’s continued evolution into forested land as trees successfully invade the grasses of the one-time meadow.  So the most descriptive term I have been able to come up with for these former pastures is the term “clearing.”

Now that you understand my nomenclature, I can describe the type of cutting schedules that I have created.  There is one set of considerations that determine the cutting schedule for the hay fields, which are described in the previous post entitled Fescue To The Rescue.  The horse pastures have an entirely different set of considerations, which will be the subject of a future post.  The clearings have their own unique set of considerations also, base upon the use priorities we have established for our land.

The two top priorities we have set for our land usage are family recreation and wildlife preservation.  Sometimes these two priorities are in harmony with each other, and sometimes they are in conflict.  The clearings represent an area where the two priorities may conflict.  The wildlife thrive in areas of long grasses.  Deer use the long vegetation for both browsing and for cover.  Ground birds and fowl will nest in the long grasses, and the insects that are ever present in the growth are tempting morsels for a host of creatures.  On the other hand, when we humans take our dogs hiking on our land, we enjoy the ease of travel, the (relative) freedom from massive insect attacks, and the aesthetics of a freshly cut clearing.  It is also nice to be able to see some of the more nasty varieties of snakes as you walk, without having to step on them to discover their presence! 

In an attempt to strike a reasonable balance between the sometimes conflicting uses of our land, we have decided to let some clearings grow for a year at a time, for the benefit of the wildlife.  I keep the remainder of the clearings cut for our recreational purposes.  I schedule the bush-hogging so that each individual clearing is rotated into, and then out of the cutting schedule on a regular basis, which helps to control the emergence of undesirable brush in all of the clearings, be they long or short.

Yesterday morning I took the tractor (as you see above) and cut one of our clearings.  About two hours into the bush-hogging activities, I was startled to see not one large buck, not two large bucks, and not three large bucks, but FOUR large bucks emerge from the edge of the woods surrounding this particular clearing.  I was surprised on two counts.  When I see a deer while on the tractor, it is usually on the far side of a clearing, field or pasture, and it usually flees immediately upon seeing me approach.  These deer emerged very close to where I was bush-hogging, and instead of immediately bounding off back into the woods, they stood their ground and examined me closely as I guided the tractor along.  The second reason I was surprised is that when I see a large buck, it is usually a solitary animal.  These four large bucks all arrived together, and when they departed, they all ambled off in the same direction together.  It was a very nice sighting, I’m just sorry that I don’t keep a camera on the tractor with me as I work.

It was such a fine, clear day out yesterday that after my tractor work, I decided to go up to the top of the mountain to try my hand at panoramic photography (see yesterday’s post).  After taking the series of photographs that I needed for the panorama shot, and then enjoying the view for a while, I decided to return to the clearing I had just finished cutting to snap a few photos for a possible blog post for today.  As I approached the clearing, through some brush I was able to make out the form of what I thought was a coyote nosing around in the freshly cut field, probably looking for displaced rodents, or rabbits, or whatever to snack on.

With camera in hand, I mustered up all of the stealth that I could, and approached my photographic target.  There he was, at the far edge of the clearing.  Knowing that I would probably get only one chance for a decent shot, I slowly drew the camera up into viewing position, and snapped the following photo. 

Stalking the coyote

He raised his head and spotted me, turned, and trotted off into the protective cover of the nearby woods.  I shot another picture, and …DARN, DARN, DOUBLE DARN …. I saw that the camera was still set up for the low-resolution panoramic photos that I had just finished taking on the mountain top!  Oh well, the pictures aren’t as good as I would have liked, especially since I don’t see coyotes during the day too often, and particularly when I have a camera in hand, but they at least prove that I wasn’t imagining things.

He's on to me!

Anyhow, when I was finished cutting the clearing, it looked nice and neat, as shown in the following photograph.  This clearing will now stay short for the next year, while an adjacent clearing will be allowed to stay uncut during this same time period.

The clearing

On the edge of this clearing is a rocky section that all of the previous landowners (myself included) had bush-hogged in the past.  After ruining several sets of rotary cutter blades, I decided that this was a fool’s errand, and so I have left this portion to grow over with brush, as seen below.

Letting go of the difficult spots

Although I tried to be careful about leaving all of the rocky area uncut, I missed a couple of spots, which could cause equipment damage in the future.  The following photo is of one of the emerging rocks that I missed.

Rocky encounters

I will probably place marker stakes at these rocky spots this winter, so that when I cut this clearing next time, I will avoid these areas.

Another surprise

One last surprise was the discovery of a small cactus patch growing in this clearing.  I have seen this occur in a couple of other clearings and pastures, but never in this one.  Maybe I wasn’t sufficiently observant in the past, or maybe this has recently spread to this part of the property.  Who knows?  But I do know this – yesterday was a fun day!


Is That You I’m Seeing Over There?

When people talk of the Ozarks, oft times you will hear them referring to the landscape of the area as “hills and hollers.”  If you visit a local real estate brokerage and mention that you are looking for some acreage to buy, odds are that the agent will ask if you are looking for a hill, or if you prefer a holler.  We are very fortunate to have both a hill and a holler on our land.  About half of this property consists of a kidney bean shaped valley (holler), which is where our house and outbuildings, hay fields, some woods, many pastures, and most of our water sources exist.  Most all of the photographs that you may have seen on this website have been taken somewhere or another within our holler.

Today, I plan to introduce you to our hill.  For lack of a better name, we refer to this hill as the “mountain”, although that term is probably a little pretentious, as the maximum elevation of our mountain (hill, really) is only 1238′ above sea level.  There are currently no structures of any kind on the mountain, except for two gates at the base of the fire lanes that lead up the hill.  The gates (one of which is pictured below) are there to deter any intruders who might seek to disturb the peace and tranquility of the mountain in any way.

Fire lane gate

Approximately half-way up the mountain there exists a large, crescent-shaped pasture area of about 20 acres.  Additionally, the remains of an old lead-ore mining extraction operation can be found (which will be the subject of a future post).  There are a few seasonal streams to be found on the mountain, as well as two wildlife ponds (one of which is dry).

The primary value of the mountain to us is twofold.  First, it provides us with a buffer zone and sound shield against the vehicle noise that is generated along the paved road that lies about two miles from our ranch.  And second, it provides us with a wonderful location where we can relax and enjoy a grand view of the surrounding countryside.

Click here to view a large panoramic photograph of the view from atop the mountain.   (This is a 800kb file – it might take a minute to load – be sure to view it full-sized in your browser window.  It should fill the entire height of the window.)

If you take the time to load the panorama view from the mountain top, you will see that the view is too lovely to waste, so Retta and I have decided to build some type of recreational structure up at the apex of the peak.  We have not settled upon any particular plans as of yet, but we are leaning towards a large covered deck, perhaps with an outdoor fireplace and built-in stone BBQ.

Anybody out there with any other ideas?

Landscaping, My Way – Installment 2

This is the second in a small series of posts in which I share my “landscaping secrets”. I have put the term landscaping in quotes because I don’t do landscaping. Landscaping involves much work, some knowledge about plant life, physical labor, a planning ability, exertion of effort, and patience. Oh, did I mention the amount of work involved?  I included the word secrets in the quotation marks because if this stuff were secret, I certainly wouldn’t post it on the Internet.

Installment 1 of the series dealt with the Dwarf Sumac that I have allowed to establish itself in selected locations among my fields.  This post is about a grove of Silver Poplars that we have growing along a creek bed in the northern portion of our property, which we call The Terraces.

Grey Poplars viewed from above

As you drive along the unpaved road on our property that leads to the house and barn areas, you can see over the treetops of some of our woods, as shown in the picture above.  Notice that where the red arrows are pointing there appear to be trees with leaves that are lighter in color than the surrounding trees.  What you are seeing is a grove of Silver Poplars that inhabit a small section of bottom land along an intermittent creek.  When the District Forester from the Arkansas Department of Forestry visited the ranch to consult with us on various conservation and renovation projects we had in mind, he was surprised to find a large grove of these trees on the property.  The forester could not recall ever seeing poplars growing naturally in the forests of the area that he had responsibility over, and so he surmised that this large grove of Silver Poplars had been planted long ago by a homesteader who must have resided here in days past.  A closer look at the poplar grove can be seen in the following photograph-

Grey Poplar grove

The Silver Poplar is a beautiful tree with a white bark trunk and small, roundish leaves.  The name “silver” reflects the color of the underside of some leaves, as well as the bole of the tree. The Silver Poplar is also called a White Poplar.  It is closely related to the Quaking Aspen.  The influence of the Aspen on the Silver Poplar is evident by the shimmering, quaking look of the leaves as they flutter in the breeze.

Beautiful white textured bark of the Silver Poplar

The picture above shows the beautiful texture of the white bark on the trunk of the Silver Poplar.  The distinctive coloration and texture of the bark, as well as the quaking of the leaves, help to make the Silver Poplar easy for non-botanists like myself to identify.

Grey Poplar grove

In the photograph above, the utility vehicle gives some indication of the size of these stately trees, which reach 100 feet tall at maturity.  The tree will propagate through the scattering of seed, as well as by suckers that emanate from the root system of the tree.  The following photograph shows 6 month old suckers that have sprung up from the ground near the poplar grove-

Suckers pushing up out of the ground

By now you may be asking yourself what part I have played in this post entitled Landscaping, My Way.  When we purchased this property, the portion of the property that the Silver Poplars inhabited was primarily cleared, bush-hogged, cattle grazing land.  Because a good portion of this 40 acres consists of fairly steep slopes, we decided to rethink the bush-hogging plans for this area.  Since I am not trying to squeeze every last bit of grazing space out of our acreage, there is no point to my bush-hogging steep, dangerous slopes, as my predecessors had.  Instead, I decided to cut only those areas around the Silver Poplars that was somewhat level, thereby creating an area that we now call the Terraces.  There are about forty acres in this area that now consist of numerous flat, near level bush-hogged meadows, surrounded by newly growing woods. 

In order to keep the Silver Poplars from taking over the area, I have been bush-hogging the suckers that emanate from the Poplars twice a year.  But there are some area where I have wanted the Poplars to spread, so that when I encountered poplar suckers in those areas, I refrained from cutting them.  The result of this strategy can be seen in the following photo, where the red arrow points to some of the young Silver Poplars that I have allowed to grow unmolested (notice the mature, parent poplars on the left).   This is but a small sample of the Silver Poplars that I have allowed to grow along the terraces.

Spreading Silver Poplar grove

The Silver Poplar is a quick growing tree, which has made it an ideal candidate for this reforestation project.  I did not realize just how quickly they would grow, but the following photograph shows the size of the young poplars after just four years-

Four-year old Silver Poplars

For a good indication of the size of these four-year old Silver Poplars, compare their height to that of George, our full-grown Lab, as he waits for me in the middle of the trail.  The growth rate of the Silver Poplar is quite impressive, and will apparently allow us to enjoy these new additions to our woods in a relatively short time.