A maintained pasture is an exceedingly pleasant thing to behold, and a mature forest is also highly rewarding. Its the places in between (a fantastic book if you haven’t had the pleasure) that present our greatest land challenge: the abandoned pastures and the scrub forest that replaced what was logged 15 years ago and is presently impassable in some places.
We have been doing the groundwork to (re)establish pasture on several acres. Its hot work at this time of year, and I am amazed at how slow the progress can be at times. The pastures were abandoned a few years ago, so they are a mixture of patches of grasses, vines (lots of vines, including much poison ivy), and fast-growing trees such as sweet gum. So the first priority is removal of the invasive and unwanted volunteers, some of which have climbed to 20 feet in just 3 or 4 years!
The work is mostly using loppers and a chainsaw at ground level to remove the trees, and in some areas stubble left over from previous bush-hoggings. Back-breaking work to be sure; for my part, I vastly prefer removing the scrub tree growth to the stubble work – at least then you can look back and see progress! We will leave the felled plant matter for several months to dry out, then remove it to windrows around the edges of the pastures. In the old days (a few hundred years ago) when there were less neighbors to worry about, we might have set a controlled burn to clear out the undergrowth and rejuvenate the area. I had the good fortune to meet Johnny Randall at NC Botanical Garden recently, and this is exactly what they are doing at Mason Farm and we look forward to incorporating the learnings (though sadly not the burnings) from that project. Both the NC Botanical Garden and Mason Farm are just a few miles from Dogwood Farms.
We are fortunate in some places to have oak, ash, maple, poplar and other valuable hardwoods and are taking care to preserve those in many places to create shade oases in the pasture, and to preserve the biodiversity of the land and provide nesting for birds and other smaller creatures. Taking the long view, I can envision how it will look in 20 years, a wonderful Piedmont savanna.
Of course, we look forward to supplementing this very manual method with goats, and perhaps more pigs. They will help greatly especially with the woody vines which are virtually impossible to remove by hand. But for now, the larger trees and shrubs we will continue to remove manually to afford the grasses, such as they exist, the best access to sunshine, rainfall and nutrients before we can bring in the goats and other ruminants to help clear and fertilize.