Although the farm had obviously been cultivated in the past, it had last been a cattle farm, so most of the open land (about 140 acres) was currently pasture and hay land. Unfortunately, you can only get a tractor over about 100 acres of it, with the remaining so steep, you sometimes wonder how a cow grazed some of it.

We don’t plan to put critters back on the farm excepting maybe some horses in the bottomland, so these steep parts are one of the biggest problems. They are highly erodable and unsightly as well, now grown up in broomsedge, multiflora rose, hawthorne, Virginia pine, autumn olive, and other undesirable species. The plan is to plant trees over the next several years on these steep hillsides, and produce hay everywhere else. Just about everyone around here needs hay.

The previous owners had cleared about 60 acres of the big main field to make it look more attractive for sale, and had been cutting hay for the past few years, but without putting anything back on the land.

The remaining 40 acres or so of open land was all overgrown with sometimes thickets of multiflora rose that covered acres, patches of Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven, Shumace, Paradise Tree) that covered acres, and assorted scrub. We had to find innovative ways to remove these extraordinarily tenacious plants, which you can find on the sub-page related to those plants both here and on the Forest Restoration page.

Forty acres doesn’t sound like much unless you knew what it looked like. It looked mostly like this:

Some Bush

and this:

More Brush

I was able to clear some of this with my tractor and bushog, even where the multiflora rose was an 8′ hedge covering acres. But it was very slow going and difficult with every exposed piece of skin and then some getting pretty torn up. It was pretty obvious to me that it was going to take a few years to do it this way.

And much of the junk was just way too big for me even to attack with the tractor. Manual clearing was just not an option. I had a bulldozer work over a couple of acres of land, but as good as the operators were in trying to maintain the integrity of the land, bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment are not designed to do anything but change it, most often in a dramatic way. We stopped that right away.

Enter the Bull-Hog. Since even before we closed on the land I had been looking for one of these, calling the supplier and their distributors looking for someone locally, and even considered buying one myself. After having given up and resigned myself to other options, some fine folks fortuitously moved back to Floyd with one. This machine is so cool, it deserves it’s own page so if you’re interested, look to the left. Within a week, the fellers with the Bull-Hog had cleared almost all the open land we weren’t going to plant in trees, and pretty much just left nothing in their wake except chips of what they cleared.

BullHog

BullHog

The next step of the open-land restoration was to get lime on the soil. There is nothing more important to productive grasslands than to get the pH somewhere between 6.5 and 7.2 or so, as most major plant nutrients are unavailable to the grass outside that range and lime is the totally organic solution. The open land was all tested to be at around 5.8, so it would take about 2 tons of lime per acre to get it where it should be. The first week of Nov, we had GJ Ingram Farm Supply put down a total of 260 tons of lime(!) everywhere they could drive over, roughly corresponding to where a tractor could drive over.

And for the most part, that puts the open land to bed for the winter of 2008/2009. The wood chips will protect the soil in previous open land where scrub had grown up, and the lime everywhere will work it’s way into the soil over the winter, preparing it for spring planting and the next steps of open land restoration in 2009. That work will be even more challenging than getting the land prepared.