Watching the Grass Grow

Buster 1999-2003: Outstanding in His Field

If you know of anyone who can help us manage our five acres of pasture now, please let me know. Here’s the story–you’ve heard some of it before…

The second summer after we began work on this place back in 1999, our neighbor stopped by to introduce himself. He was pleased to discover the pine tangle in our pasture was beginning to disappear, one burned pile at a time as we saved up money for this huge incremental field restoration project.

He and his father had been caring for this pasture since the 70s, mowing hay twice a year for their small cattle farm about two miles up the road. They were horrified to come in the spring of 1985 with the fertilizer spreader and discover the absentee owners in the prior fall had paid (seemingly by the tree) to have the five acres planted far too densely in white pine–ostensibly to sell for a profit as Christmas trees.

That business early on proved too labor intensive and the trees were neglected, left to grow tall and spindly, three feet apart, 20 feet tall and dead save for the top three feet that could reach the light. Worthless for any purpose and a fire hazard, we paid to take them out (by dozing and burning) over the first two years, and since then, our level floodplain between Goose Creek and Nameless Creek has gradually returned (with no small investment on our neighbor’s part in seed, lime and labor) to a beautiful, lush pasture.

Now, after the first summer cutting, he’s told us he will not be able to make hay in our pasture any longer for a variety of reasons, and we’re left not knowing quite where to go from here.

We are in an out-of-the-way place, to be sure, but you CAN get here from there, granted not easily hauling extra-wide farming equipment. We can pay somebody a reasonable free to come bush-hog and leave it lay twice a year and waste 17 to 23 (depending on the season) large round bales of very nice hay if nobody will take it for free.

What we can’t bear to do is let it come back in brambles, thistles and ragtag volunteer forest.

We’ll contact some local folks first, but if you know of anybody in northeastern Floyd County who might be interested, sing out, won’t you?

Come for the hay, stay and watch the clouds
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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Why not just get yourself a sturdy pair of nippers and make the rounds once a year pruning out all the new tree seedlings? That’s what we do. A meadow gets much more interesting when you stop mowing it. You can also try controlled burns.

  2. I like the idea of the 5 acre natural meadow, of course, but think we’d only be able to “control” tree of heaven, oriental bittersweet, japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, bull thistle etc etc by hand for a short period of a few years before needing to have it taken back to scratch. But this year, we may let it live out the season, and see how things appear this time next year. The spider web photography potential will certainly go way UP!

  3. It’s wonderful that you reclaimed this old field before it completely returned to mature forest. Having different habitat types and “edge” or “ecotone” greatly benefits wildlife and the wildlife observer. What a nice contribution to your local ecosystem!

  4. Hello again, old friend! Good to see you’re keeping up… Stop by sometime!

    As a native grass lover in a current battle with orchardgrass, I’m just curious what constitutes seed for pasture in your neck of the woods… Our lush mtn meadows around here are all in smooth brome, it seems. To stumble on a patch of Parry oatgrass is sheer delight.


  5. Buster !!

    Now there’s a photo, and a story I remember. I am glad to see the photo of Buster.

    Can’t help you with the grass, but I can talk about your dogs!!

    What has Tsuga been up to?