Hi! I'm new to the forum. My husband and I just closed on 20 acres of land in central VA, zone 7a/b. The land is a shallow bowl with a year round creek/swamp at the bottom. The land was logged about five years ago and has grown back in pine saplings, briar, grasses, and hard wood saplings. Where we can get to the soil it seems rocky, thin, with lots of clay. The logging company left slash everywhere as well as rutted the land.
We want to clear some trails and eventually all the scrub so we can plant cover crops and grow the soil while we are figuring out the long-term plan (hugelkulture with the slash in the ruts, silvaculture, etc). We do not live on the land so livestock is not possible. There are no fences, mostly ribbons marking property lines. We have been using Sthil weed wackers with brush heads to cut down the pine saplings along the drive, power line, well, orchard, and cleared home site. It's slow going. We realized that is not an option for remaining 15 acres. I've called two people for quotes to bush hog and got push back...too rough for their equipment, I need to scrap the whole site, etc. We have been poking around YouTube and came across ATVs pulling gas brush cutters. DRs seem to be the top of the line but Northern Tool has some cheaper options. Has anyone used this method for keeping brush down? On 15 acres with trash logs? Some of the trash wood is 5" D, most smaller, some of it very rotted. With that said, we have walked very little of the land due to the briers so I really don't know what's out there.
Some of the saplings as pushing 3" and are growing out of stumps. I don't mind leaving these trees to create biomass. Mostly I'd like to walk the land and get this done soon so we can get a green manure crop on. Also, we don't have anywhere to store equipment bigger than an ATV. We can pick up a tractor and bush hog for ~5K but then it sits outside until we get something built to store it.
Why do you want to remove all the scrub? If the soil is thin and rocky, it is not suitable for crops or pasture, so I'm not sure of the purpose of clearing it except specific areas for gardens, building, trails, etc.
So an opening question here, is all 20 of the acres presently in scrubland?
I will proceed assuming that it is. I do know what it is like to do land maintenance on land that has lots of tall grass and scrubby growth. And you are correct, using a weed eater is really not an option for clearing large swaths of land. The brush can grow back faster than you can clear it.
One option would be to buy/rent a small tractor with a bush hog. Even a 4’ model will work vastly faster than the trimmer. I once had to help clean up a woods devastated by a terrible wind storm. The fallen trees let in plenty of light and the scrub and wild blackberries grew like mad. A small tractor with a 4’ bush hog will chew through the brambles with ease and take a few larger branches (1”) with them. A flail mower will accomplish the same but will be easier to maneuver through they can be hard to find.
Another alternative is to get a dedicated walk behind field and brush mower. Dr makes a good collection, though other brands are very good as well.
Finally, there is a device you may consider called a forestry mulched/shredder. Typically these are an implement mounted to the forks of a skid steer and will clear brush, brambles, branches and even trees. If you really, really need to clear everything, then the forestry shredder is the ultimate machine.
Personally, I would want to save some of the growth. I love the idea of trails, so the first three options work pretty well there, but the forestry shredder might be overkil.
One last option is goats. I have neighbors who wanted to clear their undergrowth but leave trees so they rented some goats that came out and over the course of a few days picked the underbrush completely clean, but left the larger trees. This has the added benefit of requiring the least physical work and probably disturbed the ground the least.
So there you have my thoughts. Please tell me what you think!
Welcome to the forum, M! I'm Q, and 007 is on assignment.
Just kidding. I'm not Q. I just try to emulate him in a permacultural fashion. I have no knowledge of 007's whereabouts.
I have to second both the forestry mulcher/shredder idea, and the goat idea. I think these are your best options. You did mention that you aren't on the land presently, which means that the goats would happen when you move onto the land, or if you have neighbours that have goats that would benefit from grazing on your partially cleared land.
If you have no real soil, I would definitely not remove anything from the property. I would go with the forestry mulcher/shredder first if you can find one to rent, as it's not necessarily the type of thing you'd be doing more than once in a while, if ever again after. The mulch from that will give you something to seed into, and something to not only retain water but to also feed your soil life, from soil bacteria to fungi and all the macrobiota that eat them and make soil.
Speaking of soil life, I would suggest in the strongest terms that you look into actively aerated compost extracts and fungal slurries. It sounds labourious, but honestly, it's like adding a kick of nitrogen to a largely carbon-dominant compost; suddenly, all the soil life explodes. You'd be brewing up the correct soil microbiota to add to your mulched slash, which they would begin to decompose, thriving as they did, and then either native fungi would come in and do all the good mycelial things, or you could add a fungal slurry of desired culinary or medicinalmushrooms.
The clay in your soil suggests that you need all that organic matter to decompose in place. I recommend a soil test to see where you stand. Especially if deficient in calcium, I would get some gypsum grit of a couple different grades and add that. It will not only solve any calcium issues without affecting the pH, but it will give the fine clay particles something besides themselves to stick to, along with the organic matter, such that the soil structure opens up.
After this, I would suggest identifying the plants that grew up by themselves, specifically the grasses and whatever you think might coexist with the green manures and supportive guilds that will build your soil. I would get something like alfalfa in there, or else some other pastoral plant that drops deep root zones and/or likes to open up soils. Dandelions might work a treat if you have them locally, and mangelwurtzel beets and daikon or tillage radishes would drop serious organic matter down through the subsoil, to rot there and deepen your soil even if nothing but soil life touches it. Usually people like to add clovers and cowpeas, too, plants that can host bacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen, making it bioavailable for plant use.
If you don't anticipate being able to have animals for a while, I would suggest you think about seeding with things that will draw wildlife to do the work the goats aren't there to do.
The great thing that mulching everything down will do is it will give you an accurate idea of the terrain features, and what you have to do to repair the hydrology on your property that the loggers may have destroyed. Your creek might have been just a creek, for instance, without the swampy bits, and you might be able to improve that somewhat with some careful earthworks.
In any case, please keep us posted, with pics, if you're so inclined, and good luck.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
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Hi Neighbor! I know exactly what you are facing. I think the key issue for you will be the stumps. They prevent, or make very difficult, use of a tractor/bush hog or pull behind mower. It can be done in some spots, but it will do a number on your gear, and can be dangerous ~ definitely want to do it in winter when you can actually see the stumps, logs, rocks, ruts, holes, etc...
I don’t think there is an easy or cheap answer here. Hiring a forestry mulcher will run you about $2 - 3k per acre. Likewise an excavator or dozer.
It is a big and expensive project to tackle all at once. Maybe an interim approach would be to get a forestry mulcher in to do a 20 foot strip around the property line, then an acre or two where you want to start your homestead/gardens, and a trail system through the interior? That would be a good start for around $5k or so, maybe less? Then you can keep that mowed, and also enjoy the property and can get around it, and eventually get a perimeter fence up as time/money permits. Letting the rest grow back in will be fun to watch as the explosion of diversity occurs ~ birds, wildflowers, butterflies, and every sort of critter. As your need for more cleared land increases, you can clear an acre or two at a time to slowly expand your footprint.
For clearing, after trying all 3 methods, I highly recommend hiring an excavator to pop those stumps. You lose too much of your already thin topsoil with a dozer, and a mulcher, while very good for the soil long term, either spends a lot of time (and your money) grinding the stumps down to ground level (and even then, you still have the stump in the ground to work around for years to come) or leaves the stumps, and then you still need to pay to get them out.
Sorry if this is discouraging - yes, it is expensive, but take it slow, clear what you need when you can, and enjoy watching nature heal itself and regenerate! It will look completely different in 5 years, and completely different again 5 years after that. Enjoy!
“All good things are wild, and free.” Henry David Thoreau
Just a quick update....we spent a few days on the land this weekend. We found an old road that is mostly bramble free which allows us access to a portion of the interior. Just as several of you suggested, the stumps will be a problem as will the giant holes filling with water. Not sure what the giant holes are from but there were quite a few. There was a very heavy downpour on Saturday night so it was easy to see where the biggest problem areas are.
I have read through an older post thread started by Artie about land clearing options. I think a week with a trackhoe to gently reshape the major piles and holes will be necessary as will popping the stumps out. I also got an insane quote for bush hogging where by the end the guy was offering to scrap everything and burn it. That's not the gentle approach I was hoping for. So we are getting a Honda ATV and a Swisher 44 in to make access trails. Hopefully this will help us identify the really rough areas that will need the most smoothing. I'll let you all know how it handles this terrain.
I think most permaculture enthusiasts are looking for alternatives to machines and the cost to bulldoze a farm is beyond what most people can afford, not to mention the damage and erosion that follows. You will still need the animals to keep the land clear or you will be right back where you started in a few years.
Ideally any trees removed would be mulched to create new soils or placed in areas to prevent erosion and neither practice would prevent water from soaking into the ground, in fact quite the opposite. Mulch retains the moisture in the soil and trees placed perpendicular to a slope will prevent water runoff and force it into the ground.
I realise is an older topic, but I think it is worth reviving for this focused week on woodlands. Here are some ideas for dealing the issues described by the original poster.
We have a BCS two-wheeled tractor and a variety of attachments. When we aren't there, the beast and attachments live in a locked 20' sea container. For anyone needing to do serious work on property while still an absentee owner, a sea container is a MUST and can be obtained and delivered for around $5K. Don't use cheap locks though - there are specially made sea container locks that will foil even a fairly determined thief. The ones I have don't seem to be sold any more but there is plenty of choice if you google sea container locks. We have a lock on each of the 4 levers. Strength and quality don't come cheap though.
For that matter a small tractor, like the smallest real tractor from Kubota, would also live handily in a sea container. BCS and secondary vendors make a huge selection of attachments from snowblowers, to plows, to rotary plows, to generators, to water pumps, to log trailers - even a hay baler. One useful attachment is a brush mower (for brambles), but we found that the sicklebar mower will go through most bramble type brush and has the advantage of leaving stems that can be gathered into a burn pile. My personal preference is to burn anything with thorns - which seem to persist forever in the soil. Everything else we would compost or leave on the ground to rot, but thorny shrubs is an exception in my book.
Anything that you need to do on the land can be achieved with a two-wheeled tractor and one attachment or another. I would also note, however, that one needs a certain amount of fitness and a 4-wheeled tractor might be a better choice for elderly retirees.
We have been using a DR tow behind and ATV for a lot of the maintenance on our property. Luckily we have a small engine equipment repair shop about 15 miles away. Some of our land is as rough as you've described - and if you play in rough ground, the DR toy WILL get broken and need fixing.
One of our fields was appropriately named "Stump Field". When those trees were cut, many of the stumps left were about 2" taller than the highest setting on the DR brush mower (one of several ways we found to break the DR toy). We also have a 4-wheeled tractor with a brush hog, so that's been the go-to for maintaining that field, but its just a whole lot slower and means putting on an implement that's not usually in use. What to do - if you go to the Fungi Perfecti website (fungi.com), you can buy a spawn plug kit, sealing wax and any of a variety of fungi spawn. I can't remember now what we inoculated our stumps with, that was around 2014 or 2015. We were only interested in breaking down the stumps, (not trying to grow mushrooms). In 2021, we had some trackhoe work done and threw in a few hours to have the stumps demolished. We could have saved some costs because those stumps were rotten enough in those 5 or 6 years to have bashed in by hand with a sledgehammer. I would suggest having a conversation with the experts at Fungi Perfecti as to the best innoculant to use on your stumps for your area. Its a slower method, but has some great advantages.
On rocky ground, we found that picking up the larger cobbles to use for other projects is worth the effort. Finding ways to 'grow soil' is also worthwhile. One of those ways is to use roundwood logs - can be smaller diameter logs not worth the trouble for a wood stove - to create upward opening arcs to capture and sink runoff. We pegged the outline of the arcs and then filled with finer slash - which also filtered and captured slit from the runoff. Its a lot of handwork, but is a 'one and done' kind of task that can be maintained with a weed wacker for a couple of years. Adding some manure speeds the process. Then plant lower growing cover crop and whatever tree or shrub you prefer into the moon shaped soil wedge. If you have a source of manure or rotten hay/straw bales, spreading that out over rocky ground can grow soil faster, BUT building low berms on contour from spare logs or stones is pretty much needed so it doesn't all wash away. Your ground may be rocky because any soil washes away, so that needs to be addressed at the same time. A proto Hugelbed might also be an idea for holding soil.
The best advice I can give is to work with what the land is rather than trying to impose on the land a vision of what you want it to be. You’ve got places that want to be ponds, which are a valuable feature for a permaculture design, work with them, rather than thinking in terms of leveling them.
Woodland is valuable in its own right, you might want to think about what parts of your site should be encouraged to regrow as woodland. Windbreaks, habitat, water retention And water transpiration. Integrate some human productive species in there, like chestnut, persimmon, mulberry, walnut and the woodland helps feed you as well ;)
Think about how much land you actually need to be “cleared” and for what purposes?
What are your goals and how do you want to pursue them?
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