When I first saw this farm, about all I saw was the menace multiflora rose everywhere, and I said no. The current small (15 acre) “farm” that I bought 30 years ago was over-run with the stuff, and it took me almost that long to get rid of it. I didn’t want to start all over again.
You can’t just cut multi-flora down – it will sprout right back up. So on our 15 acre farm, I had started by pulling it out.
Funny story about that. Multiflora rose had become such a huge problem in Floyd County 25 years ago, that the Board of Supervisors was considering an ordinance not only requiring all landowners to eliminate it on their property, but also if they didn’t the County would come in and spray herbicide on all of them, and send the landowner the bill.
Well, this didn’t sit well with a lot of folks, who have a long-standing libertarian streak, particularly when it comes to property rights and there was a rapidly growing organic movement. HUGE turnout at the next three board meetings, and discussions got heated. After one of the board members said that spraying with herbicide was the only way to get rid of them, I stood up and said that I had been getting rid of them by wrapping a chain around the base of the rose, and pulling them out with my car (I was way too poor to afford a tractor then). The board member looked a little shocked and asked what kind of car I had. I responded it was an Audi. And thus, the following was reported in the Floyd Press the following day:
“You don’t need herbicides if you have an Audi” says Chris Thompson.
The seemingly endless discussions ended when some expert from VA Tech spoke and said that rose-rosette disease (RRD) would be in Floyd County very soon, and he predicted that in five years there wouldn’t be a single multiflora rose alive in Floyd County. The Chairman of the Board wiped his brow, and declared the issue moot and moved on to the next issue.
I stopped my rose eradication program on the 15 acre farm. But five years later, they were still growing and expanding, and no RRD. By then, most of the remaining roses were in the woods, and I still didn’t have a tractor (or the Audi for that matter). So I switched to another technique – that of cutting them down and then carefully painting the stump with a brush-killing herbicide. While very labor-intensive, and a departure from my normally organic way, it was the only practical way of getting rid of them, and beat the heck out of spraying the herbicide all over the live plant and killing all the neighboring plants in the process as well.
So when I saw the thousands and thousands of multi-flora on Crooked River Farm, I got a pit in my stomach. I couldn’t even imagine spending the rest of my young life cutting rose and painting stumps. But eventually, I convinced myself to just hire a crew of farmworkers for a couple of summers to do the work for me and we got past the issue.
And then a blessed thing happened. RRD came to Floyd. In the spring of 2008, when the roses started to leaf out, several of them just didn’t look right. Growth on the tips was deformed, in some cases creating a “witches broom”.
Hallelujah! Classic RRD symptom. Nature had solved half of my problem. We could just wait. Within a few years, most if not all of these huge bushes would be dead or dying. And we decided to do just that for a great number of them off in the woods and in remote areas of the farm.
But in the precious bottomland, which we wanted to clear, we started to get rid of them. We knew that most of them would sprout back up, but also knew that instead of dying as a 30-year old bush 12′ tall, they would die as a 3-year old bush only a couple feet tall. Or less where we could keep mowing them, which we would be able to do in most of the bottomland.
So I started mowing over them with the tractor and bush-hog. It was very slow going, as to adequately cut them off and grind them up, I had to progress in the lowest gear on the tractor, which is about 10 feet per minute. And the bigger ones often broke the bushhog causing several hours or several days delay before starting again. There was also the slight disadvantage of the bush-hog being in the back of the tractor, meaning I had to go face-first into these 12′ thorny bushes, causing untold difficulty.
But then another blessed thing happened. Enter the BullHog.