Friday, July 27, 2018

trail building

About 15 acres (6 hectares) of our land is a brushy, sloped, rather poor quality woods. I am told that is used to be nearly all clear, and used for pasture, with a few trees sprinkled around. The few large trees are elms ( which are dying from Dutch Elm Disease), black cherry, and just a few oak, black walnut, and shagbark hickory.

 It was neglected, not used for pasture, and when we took ownership, had filled in with briars, prickly ash, grey dogwood, and sumacs. These are all early succession plants, a bit invasive, but over time would be replaced by the eventual climax vegetation.

The thing is, I would like to hurry that process up a bit, and maybe encourage those plants that are also of use to us. Looking at the dense stands of brush, I wasn't sure where to start, or what the best direction was. Then I got advice from a nearby homesteader who is also a forestry worker. He showed us how he was cutting in trails on contour through his steep wooded lot, and was using that as a beachhead to thin, plant, and improve the overall health of his woods. The contour trails made it much easier to bring tools and materials in and out, and if well built, will minimize erosion and would last for years.

So now it all became a lot clearer what to do, and we have started a multiyear project to create these incursions, and plant trees all along the new paths. I don't need to cut all the brush out, just enough to clear a spot of sunlight for each new sapling to take off and eventually shade out the brush species.

Her are a couple photos of the trail.

I should point out that while these photos were in June, the work was done in late winter/early spring. It's so much easier to see the lay of the land and rough out the route when the leaves are off, and also, it's not hot and buggy. An occasional run through here with a mower or weed wacker will keep the woody plants from filling back in ( and they will do it so quickly!).

A glimpse of the casa. By chance, one good trail route is the same elevation  as the house, so will be quite easy to access, maybe even when the time comes I'm using a walker.

(current) end of the trail. This is what most of the woods looks like before we cut in the trail. This is as far as we got this spring. As you can see, dense stands of young trees, and since much of it is prickly ash, very painful to walk through.

A close up of the prickly ash. You might be able to see a couple of the thorns, but I'm sharing this photo so you can see the clusters of small, reddish tinged berries that they are producing this time of year. To me, plant taxonomy is confusing, and the plants that are related to each other but look nothing alike is bizarre. Turns out these are in the citrus family, and I can tell you that these berries smell wonderful when rolled around in your fingers. A bright, flowery citrus smell, mostly of lemon or lime. They are used in some alternative medicines as supplements, but I'll pass till I see more science on what exactly they do to you.

Here is a new young oak in one of the small clearings we've made alongside our trail. Soil minerals and soil biota are important for tree health, but the absolute first things are sun and water. Once the saplings are tall enough to reach the top of the tree tube, and the growing tip is out of the reach of deer, the tree will be fine on its own without our help.

In times past, each farm had its own dump. They would dump things into the least useful land, like the ravine. The elm in this photo has been dead a couple years, but grew up through the old coil of discarded fencing. No telling how old the fence is. The tree is probably around 30-40 years old.

Next post will hopefully cover the terraces we've been building, as soon as the current section is done.