January 12th, 2008

woods, Elizabeth, camera, April

Mow, mow, mow your field...

Ideally, you mow big fields when the grass/forbs are at the optimum part of their life cycle to be mowed (just past seeding, still green, which reduces fire danger)  and when the soil is damp so the cut vegetation can mulch it and seal in moisture (instead of forming a hard mat that repels rain) and when the temperature, humidity, and windspeed combine for a comfortable day on the tractor and lowest-possible fire danger.

Ideal is rare.  This year we had lots of rain early, with resultant wet field conditions (can't use tractor), lush growth (stuff got tall before it seeded)  and the ground didn't dry until fall, when most of the vegetation--overaged and suddenly deprived of all that water--promptly died and dried in place.  Tall, dry grass and weeds...plus a very hot fall (well above average) and high winds makes a mower's nightmare.  The heat of the engine alone can start a fire if you're plowing through stuff tall enough to contact it, and mower blades moving at 2300 rpm (like ours) that hit an old piece of metal or a rock with flint in it (most of our rocks have flint in them)  will strike sparks and can start a fire.  People mowing their fields have started fires this winter (so have people working on cars, or target shooting, or just about anything where a spark can be generated.) 

But as the prudent wait for cooler weather, maybe a foggy day with no wind...the stuff gets dryer and dryer.  And if the long-range forecast is for dryer than normal...comes the point when you suck it up and mow anyway.  Wind and all.   I enjoy mowing (except in summer, when the extra heat from the diesel blows back on me and it goes WAY over 100 F.)   With earplugs in, the noise isn't too bad, and nobody can interrupt my thoughts...rolling down a field at  maybe 2 mph, there's time for thoughts before you have to turn at the end and start a new swathe. 

Today was a bright blue day, starting with a moderate SW wind.  I planned my mowing pattern to have the least dirt/chaff blowing onto me and set out to complete the fall mowing and add to the winter mowing something I've wanted to do for 2-3 years and never got done.  We don't mow the whole front 50 acres of grass...the idea is to retain cover for the wintering grassland birds, but open sections over overgrown non-native grass so the native grasses and forbs get some sunlight and space.   Some areas are kept as shortgrass for species that like shortgrass; a natural prairie varied in height, so we're trying to mimic that--first mechanically, with the tractor and shredder, and later (we hope) naturally, as the native plants come back in and choose their spots. 

Toward the end of my mowing spree,  the wind changed to the NW and strengthened (a lot) and since I was getting low on fuel, I elected to come in and wash the grit and sharp ends of grass out of my eyes.   I have no idea how many acres I mowed, since I worked in several different parts of what we call "the main grass."  But I was stiff getting off the tractor, which usually means I've been there more than two hours without stopping.   I really, really like our tractor, but I'm not looking forward to getting all the accumulated grass and chaff and dirt off the deck of the shredder.

However...two areas I wanted to get done in particular are done.  Now if the wind will die down, and the humidity come up...(not likely.  Not in our forecast...)