Forest visit on a perfect June day

2018 at this time at this link

I feel much better now. I was feeling anxious, what with the covid-19, all the protests and the general political malaise. Then I recalled that I needed to separate the urgent (news, about which I can do nothing much) from the important.

I spent a long day on the farms, enjoying a perfect June day and doing some useful work, while letting the rest of the world go by. I have been cutting around the longleaf and oaks. I believe if I did not do it this year, they would be badly compromises, maybe killed by the brambles. The brambles not only shade them out and compete for water. They also physically cut them to piece when the wind blows and the little trees hit the thorns.
My ATV was a good investment. It lets me get to parts of the farms I did not before, since I could not drive on the rutted paths and it was too far to schlep all my equipment and fuel. The ATV can get there. I am much less exhausted and I think it will help me work longer when I get even older.

My first picture is my path between burning areas. Some local kids drive their ATVs on our land. They are well behaved and keep to the paths. I like to be a good neighbor and let them have fun. They also perform a useful task of keeping my paths from overgrowing.
Next is my ATV and cutter. I went through six tanks of gas with the cutter and finished an audio book, “The Dream Universe: How Fundamental Physics Lost its Way.” Most importantly I “found and freed” several dozen desirable trees. The ones in picture #3 are white oaks. They are natural regeneration, but I am helping them out. I also trimmed the brambles off lots of longleaf, and decided to add hickory (picture #4) to the “favored’ list. I found a bunch 6-8 feet high. I think they are pignut hickory, but I cannot say for sure. Look in back of the hickory and you can see one of the longleaf.

This part of our forest will be oak-hickory and pine (longleaf, loblolly and shortleaf.) It might be a little while before that develops, however.

Freeman in June

For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. This is the time for the first big flush of wildflowers in Virginia. Many will bloom throughout the summer and some will come into season periodically until fall.

Flower seeds cost a lot when you have to cover a lot of acres, so my strategy was to plant patches and expect that they would be crucibles for the rest. I have been doing this for almost ten years now. I think it is working some, but it is hard to tell. I am coming to understand that if you just burn and wait, many of the flowers come back by themselves. The seeds are still there, waiting the chance.  

Fire is the key. The pictures you see with the longleaf is from an area burned in 2012 (my friend Eric Goodman did that for me; I was in Brazil), February 2017 and November 2019. I worked on those two. I compare this place to those not burned and the difference is remarkable.

I have been interested in prescribed fire for a long time. But my involvement was academic. I took the Virginia certified burning course in January 2009, and have been certified since then, but did not put my first fire on the ground until 2017. I have done five on my land since, including the first. The theory is important, but doing it different. Better to do both and have a long time to look at the results.  

The wonder of the longleaf pine ecology is that it combines the grass and forbs with the pine trees, and that combination exists only because of fire.

The longleaf ecology is man-made. It is true that lightning started some fires, but it was the Native Americans who brought the regular fires. They had the right idea, and we need to learn, relearn.


I have been doing a lot of walking lately. Weather is nice and I have a lot of audio books. My book now is “The Open Society and its Enemies”, a classic of the philosopher of science Karl Popper. It is maybe too detailed, but well worth it. My method is to walk to Navy Federal, where I met CJ.

Spring has turned to summer in Virginia, but it is still not too hot.

The lindens are blooming. I love the scent of them. It is elusive. If you get too close, you cannot smell them as well as when you catch the wonderful smell at a distance in the wind. Linden are the European version of basswood. Our American basswood is bigger, but with less prominent flowers. Bees love both. There is even a special kind of honey, called basswood honey from the pollen they gather this time of year.

Linden are common in Germany and Poland. In German they call them linde and in Poland Lipa and they are loved in both places. There is great cultural significance. One of the most iconic boulevards in Berlin is called Unter den Linden – Under the Linden. When I was in Poland, I visited an ancient linden tree, under which the Polish (and American) patriot Thaddeus Kosciusko rested after defeating the Russians with his peasant army at Racławice. I am not sure of those details and ask Iwona Sadecka and Elżbieta Konarska to confirm my ageing memory.

In central Europe lindens bloom a little later than they do in Virginia, more in July than in June. The Poles even named their month we call July after it – Lipiec.

Each year the linden blooms bring back wonderful memories. Our sense of smell is very primal. It goes right to the soul. I think I am even more fond of them because scent is so elusive and ephemeral.

My first picture is Chrissy and me on Ward’s Walk at Navy Federal. Next are those linden blooms. Picture #3 shows a couple American elms, probably the “Princeton” variety, resistant to Dutch elm. After that is the picnic area at Navy Federal. Chrissy and I had a picnic lunch there. Last are some ash tree near my house. They have treated those trees to prevent the emerald ash borer and they are some of the few still extant.

Cutting among the longleaf

I had the option of staying home and watching TV of rioters robbing liquor stores, or doing something useful on the farms.

I spent the day on the farms, mostly cutting around longleaf on Brodnax, but also just enjoying the beauty of the developing longleaf meadows on Freeman.

My first picture is me and my cutter. Next is how I make the rows and after that is what they look like before I get at them. Next two pictures are the longleaf meadows on Freeman. Picture #6 (you have to click) are the cardboard protectors I made for my cypress. I get a lot of boxes from Amazon, and may as well use them. The cardboard dissolves by next year. The last picture illustrates this. When I planted the prickly pear and rattlesnake master in the picture, I laid cardboard around and in back to control competing plants. It worked for a year but you see all those plants behind and around. Evidently the cardboard is now overtaken by the elements.

Spring walk

Wonderful spring day. I went for a long walk and listened to audio books, a good combination. I also got to observe changing nature and took some pictures.

I have been thinking about lawns. We have too many “perfect” lawns around here. They are maintained by chemicals and are more like green deserts than living communities. I took pictures of three sorts of lawns. The first is not really a lawn in the traditional sense.
It is Japanese stilt grass a beautiful, but destructive invasive species. It produces a wonderful green “lawn” that prevents the reproduction of forest trees. Normally, a hardwood forest floor like this would not be so green and it certainly would not be such a complete cover.

Next two pictures are the two sort of lawns. One is the chemically maintained one. It looks like a carpet and that is not only a superficial one. The roots do not go down far. There is nothing for pollinators and little for anything else. I hate these lawns. Next is a still neat but less controlled lawn. It features at lot of clover and other low growing “weeds.” Some people do not like clover, since it is non-native. I like clover and so do bees. Its roots go deeper than the turf grass and it does not require the use of any chemicals to maintain it.
Next photos show different sorts of trees common in Northern Virginia. The first is a southern red oak. I started to pay attention to southern red oaks only a few years ago. I thought of it as a variation of the northern red oak. It is, in fact, a significantly different tree. It seems to grow faster than northern red oak, and produces a longer trunk. After that is a white oak. There are lots of big trees in the Virginia suburbs. The last tree is a catalpa. These are fairly common in Virginia, but are not from around here. They are native only to a small area of southern centered on southern Illinois.

Cutting around longleaf pine in Brodnax

Down on the farms cutting around the longleaf planted in 2016. They should soon be above the competition, but not yet. I would burn under them, but they are planted near loblolly that I cannot yet burn. So I cut.

It is labor intensive, but I do not mind doing it. It is good exercise and kind of fun the grub up the briars and brambles.

I can listen to audio books, put the earbuds under the ear protectors.
I just finished “How Innovation Happens,” that I discussed elsewhere. Now I am listening to “Rightful Heritage” about FDR’s commitment to the environment. It is a good book. FDR was a tree farmer, called himself that sometimes. He loved trees and nature, which is one of the things I admire about him.

Interesting too, however, is how yesterday’s solution is today’s problem, or at least needs different solutions. FDR managed a heroic age of conservation. It was exciting and often needed at the time, but some was wrong.

For example, FDR wanted to make it illegal to harvest trees below a certain diameter. He was applying the kind of reason you might use in fishing. It is all wrong for forestry. They call it “high grading” and it gradually ruins the genetics of a forest stand. The biggest trees are not always the oldest and the small ones might just be runts.
Another one is just an example of how science has advanced. FDR wanted to conserve longleaf pine. Great. The way they wanted to do that back then was to exclude fire, exactly the wrong thing to do with a fire dependent species.

But I should not be churlish. I know much of what I do today will be shown wrong. It is the way of all human endeavor.

The big deal was the CCC. I have always loved the CCC and I brag that my father was in CCC. It changed his life and so changed mine, for the better. Thanks for that FDR.
Pictures are from the farm. First shows my cutting around the longleaf. Next are the pines planted in 2012 and the meadow. Last is a coneflower. I just liked it.

Brodnax in May 2020

Videos of Brodnax

We burned on this place four separate times, clear cut 45 acres, thinned another 45 acres to 50 BA, planted longleaf and loblolly pine and are now managing part for oak regeneration.  It is probably our most intensively managed unit (just have been more      things to do), but since we have had it for only eight years, it still seems a little less mine than the others.

I went down to do some brush control, but mostly to look around and make some videos.  They are linked and self-explanatory, but since I do not expect most people to watch most of them (or any) I will explain a little more in print.

In #1 I talk about the results of a May 2018 fire. It got a little too hot and killed a couple dozen good trees. We left the trees standing, although some have crashed down. Standing dead trees like that are called “snags” and they are good for wildlife. We now have a kind of ghost forest.  It is interesting to see the development.  A few lessons learned about fire.  More than anything else, the timing counts. You need the right season, the right wind and the right moisture. If you do this right, any “idiot” (I include myself) can be successful. When conditions are wrong, even the best will fail.

#2 is biochar.  Biochar is simply charcoal mixed with soil. It results naturally from fires, since the fire chars but does not consume all the wood. In this case, we have a bit more, since we piled soil to control that too hot fire I mentioned in #1. Biochar is an interesting thing. The char means that wood does not decay. It holds the carbon. The char itself has no real fertility value, but it acts as a catalyst for other nutrients and helps the soil hold water but not become saturated.  Indians in the Amazon used char to develop soils, called “terra preta” or black earth.  These areas can grow crops, unlike most other Amazon soils.  These people “made” this soil hundreds of years ago, yet it persists to this day.#3, #5 and #11 show the effects of different fire regimes and how they change the landscapes.#4 is a comparison of growth rates for longleaf and loblolly planted in 2016.
#6-#9 are about the challenges & joys of establishing longleaf pine on the Virginia piedmont.#10 shows a gas pipeline.  I am not against pipelines or power lines. If properly managed, they can provide a great conservation of grasslands and pollinator habitat. You can see what I mean on the pictures.#11-13 Are about stream management zones and protection of water resources. I think Virginia forests do a good job of this.
#14 & 15 are musings along the trail.
#16 is me talking about oak regeneration plans.
#17 is my tired but content end of the day
#18-20 shows that I did not really end the day, but took advantage of the dying light to take a look at the meadows and SMZ on nearby Diamond Grove. Also looked at the old homestead place, no longer extant.

Bottomland forest

Took part in this seminar on bottomland forests. I call it a success because I came away with two ideas I can use.

First regards planting cherry bark oak. I didn’t even know what they were until today. They look like southern red oak, and I just always thought I was looking at that. the cherry bark is like the southern red oak, but it likes to have wet feet. I am planning to plant a bottomland on Diamond Grove 2021 springtime, and now will add cherry bark oak to the mix. I already called Arborgen and ordered 100 of them. Since I plan to plant them by hand and do it myself, I can choose the micro-biome. According to the webinar, a difference of a few feet make the difference, i.e. if I plant on the little humps, the oak trees will be okay. I can go with cypress when it is a foot lower.

Second is more a curiosity than actionable information. The presenter was talking about cherry bark oak competing with sweet gum. The sweet gum grow faster and more profusely, but after 30-40 years, the oaks win out. How?

It is physics. The gum grow in a more conical way, so they spread out at lower levels. The oaks spread higher. Over the years, the oaks shade out the gum. Beyond that is the effect of wind. When the wind blows, the branches bang up against each other. The oaks are stronger and denser and they break off twigs and buds from the gum. Who knew? But it makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Anyway, my webinar participation will result in a small, but interesting change in the bottomland along little red-bottomed Genito Creek.