Burn prep

Went down to the farms to talk with Virginia DoF’s Adam Smith about burning the longleaf and under the first set of loblolly on the Brodnax place. I described the plan to patch burn in other posts.

The weather offers a window tomorrow. DoF was over today to freshen the fire lines. We will set off the fires tomorrow around 11am. Predictions are for a warm and dry day. Relative humidity will be lower by mid-day and the dew will have evaporated. It is supposed to be wetter by evening, maybe even rain, so this is a good window.

The topography on Brodnax is a little hillier than on Freeman. Fire burns up hill much faster than on flat, since the oncoming flames can heat and dry ahead of them. The fire lines are around nine feet wide, which should be more than enough to contain the fires.

Anyway, I am in Emporia tonight and looking forward to being on the Brodnax place tomorrow at around 9 am. We hope to be done by dark. I will take pictures and video if I can. This is not always so easy to do, however, since being in the middle of moving fires has a way of making pictures harder to take.

The trick here is to set strips of fire so that it doesn’t get too hot. We want to burn the brush but leave the longleaf. They are still in the grass stage, so the fire should pass harmlessly over them, as long as it does not linger too long. We want a “flash fire.”
Under the loblolly we are going after the brush and fuels. This is a fuel reduction fire plus a brush control. The trees are far apart, with a basal area of around 50. This will let the heat and smoke of the fire rise and dissipate. If the trees were closer together and the canopy more closed, the fire might get hotter and smokier.

These are the theories at least. Tomorrow night I will write about what really happened.
My first picture is my usual Love’s photo. Gas prices are rising. Next is the DoF dozer they used for the fire lines today. After that is one of the fire lines. On the forth picture you can see some of the little pines. They were obscured by the vegetation before and I was a little afraid that they were not there. They are looking good. I think they have sent down their deep tap roots and after the fires will do just fine. Last picture is the land ready to burn.

Merrifield Neighborhood

We got home from Arizona a couple days ago. Arizona is nice this time of year and we much enjoy the relatives there, but it is good to be home.

I once thought that we would retire in Arizona for sure, and we may yet, but I am very fond of Virginia. I have sent down deep roots here, almost literally in the case of my forest land and also with networks of friends and colleagues related to forestry and environment.
We first came to Virginia in 1984 and bought a house here twenty years ago, but we spent most of our lives overseas. (The kids spent more total years in Poland before their eighteenth birthdays than anywhere else.) In the last years, however, I have become very attached to the Commonwealth.

Our neighborhood has also much improved. Within walking distance, we have all of what we need and most of what we want in daily life.

When I joined the FS, my plan was to stay in only for around seven years. I figured that after seven years I would have learned all that was transferable to other careers and I would move on. Each year, however, I was doing things that were fun and rewarding, so I just stayed around and it got to be more than thirty years.Virginia was also was supposed to be a temporary abode, a sojourn, a way station to someplace else, but it looks like there may be no place better.

I have a thirty year plan for my tree farms. I guess that implies a long-term commitment.
Of course, my plans tend to work out in ways that surprise me, so who knows?

My pictures are not especially representative. The first is the Japanese maple we planted when we bought the house. Next is the BBQ place near the Metro. Took the Metro back from the airport on our return from Arizona and had supper there. Next is Gallows Rd. My morning habit to ride with Chrissy when she goes to work. She drops me a couple miles from home and I walk back. It marks the start of the day. Look at the picture and notice the big oak and its odd shape. There used to be a house and some trees on the ragged side. On the trimmed side are wire and they cut it back all the time. Last is 495 not to far from my house. Since I can choose my travel times, I rarely face traffic. I was not facing it that day either, BTW. I was walking across the bridge.

Marching bands

Marching bands are a big deal in Arizona, at least among my relatives who live in Phoenix. Arizona HS have these bands and the compete statewide. The coordination is amazing. These things have their roots in military formation and you can see why it would have been needed. The many kids know what to do. Their diverse roles lead to a common desirable outcome.

We attended the 2017 Arizona State Marching Band Championships because Chrissy’s sister Diane’s daughter, Maleah, was a participant. She plays the euphonium, sort of like a little tuba.

The competition was held at Arizona State (ASU) Sun Devil Stadium. I got a few pictures to show what it looks like.

Four Peaks Brewery in Phoenix

Today’s entry in the beer tour. Chrissy and I went to Four Peaks Brewery in Phoenix. I got my picture. Chrissy looks better, so I put hers first.

Enjoying beer garden experiences, especially outdoor ones, is one of the important aspects of my gentleman of leisure profession. Tough job, but it need to be done – often.

Saguaro National Park near Tucson Arizona

Think of forests and most of the time the picture that comes to mind is shady galleries of spreading branches. But the sunny saguaro lands also are forests. One of the thickest of these is on the land of the Saguaro National Park near Tucson Arizona. There are miles of hiking trails, but we were not so rich either in ambition or time, so we took the eight-mile driving loop, stopping at the various places of interest and walking the short ecology trial. We had a nice convertible rental car, so we could enjoy the views from all angles even when moving.

When this park was established as a National Monument in 1931, the saguaro were thick and close together. That is what impressed the founders of the park, who thought that this place had been like that for centuries and should remain that way in perpetuity.

Unfortunately, there was a cold snap in 1937 and again in 1962 and the saguaro started to die off. Since the cactus did not die immediately, scientists did not immediately understand that saguaro will often die if temperatures drop below freezing for more than twenty hours and tried to figure out if some sort of unknown “cactus blight” was the cause. There were dire predictions that if current trends continued, the saguaro would be extirpated by 1990.
It was the cold and the thick cactus forest was the result of unusually warm weather in the late 1800s that had allowed greater survival. The more normal cold weather was just cutting them back. A more serious problem seemed to be recruitment of new saguaro. Scientists could find almost no young cactus among the old ones. So, even absent a “saguaro blight”, w/o new cactus the cactus forest had no future.

Saguaro have specific needs to get established. It has to be a relatively moist year and the little saguaro must be under a “nurse tree”, most often a palo verde, ironwood or mesquite tree, that protects them from drying out or from very hard rain. They also need not to be trampled. When cattle graze, they trample the young saguaro. When the authorities removed the cattle, and protected the nurse trees, the saguaro started to come back. There are now many little saguaros among the big old ones.

Saguaro grow only in the Sonoran Desert and only less than 4000 feet above sea level. They grow slowly and do not get their first “arm” until at least fifty years and maybe 100 when there is less rain. They may live to be around 200 years old. They are easily damaged and do not regenerate very easily. As the urban areas of Phoenix and Tucson expand, they are moving into saguaro country. Saguaro are icons of the old Southwest. Home owners love saguaro on their property. Let’s hope this love helps with protection.

So far, this is less a story of loss and more one of regeneration. Hope it continues.
My first picture shows some of the vistas, as does picture #4. Between is me in a “cowboy pose” and CJ in the rental car. Last picture is low density housing creeping into the saguaro. This is not all bad news. Park officials are working with home owners to maintain and enhance conditions for the survival of the saguaro ecology.

Tuscon beer

 In keeping with my beer tour activities, we stopped off at Thunder Canyon Brewery in Tucson. They have an IPA called “Sky Island”. It tasted good, but the taste came second to the name in my book. Anyway, the photos below are self explanatory, except maybe the last one. That is a left over picture from the Ramsey Canyon/Sky Island post of a couple days ago. Ramsey Canyon had people living there permanently and seasonally escaping the hot desert. This shack is typical of them and seems familiar to anybody who has watched old westerns. I could imagine the sheriff coming up to see if outlaws were holed up in a place like this.

Maricopa Agriculture Center

Visited the MAC (Maricopa Agriculture Center) today.

We saw some tractors that run on GPS. People could ride in the driverless vehicles to show how it was done.

Another interesting thing was a mechanical cotton picker. This is not a new invention. It was developed over a couple decades in the starting in the 1920s by John Rust with the later help of his brother Mack Rust. It was a kind of Wright Brothers thing. These guys just worked and improved until they got it right.

The Rust brothers grew up on a farm and picked cotton as kids. It was an unpleasant task, so John was always thinking of how it could be done by machines. Problem was that cotton comes in fiber balls, not like corn or grain. He remembered how the cotton stuck to his hands on wet days, and water is the secret of the cotton picker. It has rotating screws that are kept wet. They pull the cotton off the plant and it sticks because of the water until it is brushed off.

The machine they showed us is a relatively old and small model. It can pick 9,000 pounds a day. There are some that can do 90,000. In comparison, a reasonably fast human picker can do only around 400 pounds a day. That means that the big machines replace more than 200 field workers. This was not welcome everywhere. Since it would replace so many workers, some feared disruption and social upheaval. Besides, labor was cheap and there was a lot of it available during the Great Depression so not much interest in financing the machines.

The Rust brothers eventually did make good. Commercially viable models came out after World War II, and they soon transformed the fields of the South and West. Today, the only cotton not picked by machines in America is in a few very small experimental fields, too small for machines. Even in developing countries, where labor is still very cheap, the machines are taking over.

I wondered why mechanical cotton pickers were not developed earlier. After all, mechanical reapers for grain were developed in the 1830s, a century before the cotton pickers, and widespread within decades. The difference was probably in the type of labor employed harvesting. Grain was grown everywhere in the USA, but the big producers were in the Midwest and on the plains, grown by farmers who owned their land and/or employed free labor. For a long time, cotton was grown only in the South and by slave labor and later where labor was less mobile, less free.

Adam Smith argued that slave labor was inherently inefficient and he was right. Even setting aside the really big moral issues, free labor is in the long run better and progress is hastened when free people can innovate and benefit from the innovations. The cotton picker might have come around about the same time as the mechanical reaper, had the labor system been different.

Bisbee, Arizona

We came here to look at TNC lands with Apache pines. I will write about that in a few hours. But meanwhile we enjoyed some nice things in southern Arizona.

We drove through Bisbee, Arizona. It used to be a big mining town and there were lots of rich people there at the turn in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.They built some nice houses, often in the eclectic style of people newly in the money. But the boom did not last and prosperity moved elsewhere, leaving a smaller city with a bigger past. The funky atmosphere, pleasant climate and inexpensive real estate attracted lots of the children of the 1960s, after Haight-Ashbury got too expensive and too square. They ended up here, where they seem to have aged in place, making it a kind of new age haven. Lately, there has evidently been a boom in brewing, which is a good thing.

First picture shows Chrissy & I hoisting a couple of local beers in Bisbee. Next is Chrissy in the rental car. After that is the bar where we drank the beer and a street scene from Bisbee. Last is the pre-dawn sky from cousin Elise and Carl’s house.

November on the farms

The weather man promised sun and pleasant weather by the middle of the day. He was mistaken. It was wet and muddy at the farms.

I walked through the longleaf. Most survived the fire and they are thriving. I noticed some fairly big holes in the plantation. It seems they are mostly in places were the brambles were very thick. I think they may have killed off the little pines. I thought about an alternative explanation, that maybe the planting crew avoided the brambles, but we had burned before planting, so the brambles were not there. Of course, maybe it was something else entirely.

The fire killed a large number of loblolly in their section. I may inter-plant some longleaf there and in the empty spots, but maybe not until next year. I think we will burn again in late 2018 for the general longleaf planting among the loblolly that I will thin to 50 BA plus make the patches. Easier to plant then.

I also noticed a few shorleaf pine that came back after the fire. Shortleaf are also fire adapted. I am letting them grow. Shortleaf don’t get the respect they deserve.
The fire had a few effects besides cleaning out much of the brush. I noticed a lot of double leaders. I think the fire may have affected this, but I am not sure. I lopped off a maybe twenty double leaders. Some of the trees also developed long and almost horizontal lateral branches. I lopped many of them off too, since I fear that an ice storm would weight them down and maybe bend the trees beyond recovery. I don’t know if I am doing the right things, but it seems right.

My first picture shows my boots. The Marines gave them to me in Iraq and they are still good. I wore them every day for the year I was in Iraq, but I now use them only on the farms, so I suppose that is one reason why they are lasting so long. The Freeman farm (with the longleaf) is also related to Iraq, in that I used some of what I made there (danger pay etc) to buy this land. Next picture shows the usual longleaf panorama. They are easier to see now that the grass is yellow. After that is the Freeman lobolly that we are going to thin early next year. Next is my usual Love’s photo, prices are higher. Finally are a couple of the bur oak Espen & I planted last spring. They are just for fun. Bur oaks are cool.