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Somebody sent me this interesting article about a way of getting rid of ailanthus without chemicals.  It involves debarking the tree in the winter time.  I have actually rid my farm  of the thousands of ailanthus, so I have no trees left to try this on.  You can read about it here –

I finally got the house contractor to move the last of his stuff out of the field right in front of the house last week, and spent the time since then clearing, grading, spreading a dump-truck load of topsoil, and clearing it of rocks as best as I could.


The soil type right here is called “Braddock cobbly loam”.  The “cobbly” refers to the fact that its almost as much rock as it is loam.  Every time I disced this small area, just more rocks like this above came to the surface.  This is only maybe a fifth of an acre, but I manually picked up five bucketloads of rock like this above before just giving up.

Today I seeded it all with annual rye before the rains tomorrow, Annual rye is a fantastic cover crop for fall seeding.  It germinates in cool soil, and grows even in cool temperatures.  It outcompetes weeds, picks up excess nitrogen, and is a terrific soil builder. It will provide cover for the timothy, red and white clover, and orchard grass I’ll broadcast in the next couple of days.  It’s questionable how much the rye will germinate this late in the year, although I’ve had good success in the past spreading pretty late.  But all the seed should be there for germination in the spring if not now.  And with this last little project, I can pretty well put the farm, and other outside tasks, to bed for the winter and head south.

I noticed some Ailanthus trees dead by the side of the highway, and wrote asking my local paper what was up with them – was the highway department killing them?  They actually wrote an article about it –

Of course he mispelled basal bark treatment and neglected to mention triclopyr, the herbicide used (mentioned elsewhere in this blog).  But those problems are easily forgiven, with the note about “nonalfalfae”, a natural occuring fungus that is killing the trees.  And that it has been found at milepost 125 on I81, which is exactly where I saw the dead trees.  Poking around on the interwebs, I found that this was the very first place that this was discovered in VA. I’m sure it was noticed there, as it is close to VA Tech.

Further poking around finds that the fungus is actually called Verticillium nonalfalfae.  In a scientific article published only a couple of weeks ago by VA Tech and University of PA researchers, in the field, 100 canopy Ailanthus trees were inoculated across 12 stands with VnAa140 (verticillium nonalfalfae) from 2006 to 2009. By 2011, natural spread of the fungus had resulted in the mortality of >14,000 additional canopy Ailanthus, 10,000 to 15,000 Ailanthus sprouts, and nearly complete eradication of Ailanthus from several smaller inoculated stands, with the exception of a few scattered vegetative sprouts that persisted in the understory for several years before succumbing.

The article concludes: Our results indicate that V. nonalfalfae is host-adapted and highly efficacious against Ailanthus and is thus a strong candidate for use as a biocontrol agent.  I’ve written to the VA Tech researcher to see if I can get the fungus to innoculate some trees here.

So, like rose-rosette disease killing off the invasive multlflora, we now have potential biocontrol of ailanthus.  Next up, something for autumn olive?

The brown marmorated stink bug, one of our newest and most insidious and invasive pests, has a symbiotic relationship with the ailanthus tree according to a recent article in the Staunton News Leader.  Dr. Ames Herbert, an extension entomologist from VA Tech, says

“Heavy infestations seem to be associated with fields with wooded borders, especially if there are concentrations of the invasive weed Tree of Heaven,” Herbert said. “Both are native to China and the (stink bug) seems to be strongly attracted to that host, especially when the trees are putting out their seed clusters. It’s like a happy reunion.”

The highest concentrations of the stink bugs have been found where the invasive plant is also found in high numbers, Herbert noted.

The article does not offer the best advice for getting rid of ailanthus, but it makes an additional case to do so.

If you google “ailanthus eradication”, this blog is ranked #1.  That, and “multiflora rose eradication” are the two biggest reasons people find this blog on their own (over 20,000 hits so far).  So over the next few months I will try to increase the information available on this blog about eradicating these invasive exotics.  VA Tech and Penn State have both done some research on using Verticillium wilt as a natural control of ailanthus, with the main disadvantage being that it also kills mimosa trees.  I will try to post more on that soon.

After a very cool and wet spring, we haven’t had any rain for almost 10 days now.  Local gardeners are starting to worry and complain, while grass-farmers like myself are rejoicing.  It’s been about as perfect a hay-growing year here in Floyd as we can imagine.  The early rains brought all the green stuff along just great, and then quit entirely just in time to bring in the crop.  Many, many years we can get exactly the opposite, resulting in a poor or spoiled crop.

Mowed, raked and baled ’till after dark all week, and finally got the last of it up on the 150 acres or so tonite just as we heard thunder in the distance.  Couldn’t ask for anything more.  Great crop this year.  Floyd cows will eat well this winter.

Hay Bales

Hay Bales

The 20 acres or so of bottomland that were just 12′ high in multiflora rose and other undesirable species when I bought the farm 3 years ago are coming along very nicely in the grass, forbs and the clovers I planted, but given their previous state, I decided to once again just mow and lay it down to feed the soil, rather than baling it.  It takes several years to “establish” a grassland, where all the biota are working in harmony to build true fertility and sustainability.  We’ll start harvesting when we actually get to that point.  But I’m not in a hurry – it’s immensely satisfying just to watch the fields get richer and richer without taking anything from them.  If I were any happier, I would have to be two people!

All of the hard work over the past couple of years on the hayfields is starting to really pay off.  Over a hundred tons of lime, overseeding clover, and twice-annual mowing and just laying it down to feed the soil is resulting this year in a very thick and rich clover stand amongst an every-increasing grass stand, and ever-decreasing weed stand on the long-neglected pastures.  I already have all the hay sold on the 150 acres, and what a great crop it should be!  Of course, it hasn’t hurt that we’ve had copious amounts of rain this spring, too.

The red, white, and yellow clover that we have overseeded over the past couple of years, plus the proper management of it has resulted in just thick, thick, thick masses of it everywhere now where it was hardly seen before.  Having too much clover in your field is like having too much money in the bank – the clover provides a free nitrogen supply to the grasses and forbs, and provides more protein than the grass itself.  I couldn’t be more pleased with the progress.

Mixed Clovers

Mixed Clovers

Proper management of grasslands builds true, longlasting, soil fertility faster and better than anything in the world.  The whole success of mid-west croplands has been entirely dependent on the deep, rich topsoil, (now almost entirely depleted) created by centuries of previously being grassland.  Grassland has in the past built empires, and the loss of them have caused empires to fail.  We’ll continue to maintain our grassland, and continue to build the natural soil fertility of it as best we can.  And clover plays a BIG part.

Now let’s hope that the weather cooperates for the harvesting of this years crop.

Absolutely gorgeous spring day on Sat – perfect for a massacre.  Garlic mustard is the latest invasive exotic threatening the woodlands in Floyd (and throughout half the US). I’ve seen pictures where the entire forest floor has been taken over by it.  Right now it’s blooming and easy to see – I pulled up thousands of them yesterday.  The Ailanthus is also starting to leaf out, identifying those that I haven’t killed in the past two years.  The good news is that every single one of them larger than a pinky are now dead.  The bad news is that they are now already falling over everywhere – into pastures and paths which will require serious work to clean up.  And there are still thousands of sprouts smaller than a pinky.  Did the “hack and squirt” on hundreds of them on Sat.  It was a good day.

Below an aggravating sight – garlic mustard, ailanthus, and multiflora rose all in a 2 square ft area.  Sometimes the task seems overwhelming….

Unholy Trinity

Unholy Trinity

One of the many ecological problems with the farm was that there are a lot of steep hills that had previously been used for pasture  that maybe shouldn’t have been.  Last year, I mowed every inch of the farm I could with the tractor – about 150 acres.  I then met with our local forester, Dennis Anderson, and worked out with him what to plant on everything else.  We both agreed that white pine would be best for much of it – white pine grows GREAT in Floyd (witness some of the big WP trees we used to build the garages).  White pine can also act as a “pioneer species” around here, encouraging a true long-term mature hardwood forest to eventually develop on these steep hillsides, protecting the precious soil and providing more habitat for indigenous flora and fauna on the farm.

We hired a crew to plant these trees just about this time last year, and Dennis just now sent me pictures of them doing it.  Good job guys – thanks!  Thousands and thousands of trees planted.

Tree Planting

Tree Planting



It’s been COLD here at Crooked River Farm the past few weeks.  Cold enough that the river has frozen.  Mark, the mason, said that he walked all the way across it a week or two ago.  He’s been held up with his work as it’s just been too cold – 5 degrees F at times, and you just can’t lay block/brick in that kind of weather.  Rather unusual for this time of year – we’re on track for this to be the coldest December on record.  And the forecast for the rest of the winter is no better.  I was told today that all of last miserable snowy winter the temperature never dropped below 10 degrees.  Lawd’a mercy!

Frozen River

Frozen River

Well, fall colors pretty much peaked here in the Blue Ridge Mountains and are starting their way down around the farm.  Absolutely gorgeous day today.  I just bought a new DSLR and it came with a photostitch application, so I thought I would give it a try today and take some pictures from the highest knob on the farm to capture the whole 360 degree view.  It took twelve pictures to make these panoramas.  I tried to merge all three into one, but it was just too big for the software.

Mostly West

West and North

Panorama 2

Mostly East

Mostly South

Mostly South

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