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Clearing Raw Land & Healing Soil

 
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Hello, all!

My husband and I just purchased our land last weekend! Hooray! While we will not be able to live out there until probably this time next year, we want to begin healing and clearing our land as quickly as possible.

Half of the land is heavily wooded and the other half is pasture with a few hardwoods throughout. The pasture is extremely overgrown with “trash trees” (our neighbors term), greenbrier, poison ivy and some very tall, woody weeds that I don’t know the name of.

We want to begin clearing the land now, but another concern of ours is that the soil appears to be very unhealthy. We’ve been advised that some of the “trash trees” (and shrubs) are so dense that the only way to clear them is to bulldoze the area. From what I’ve read, it seems like that would greatly disrupt the soil and potentially cause more of a problem that we already have.

Not being an expert and not knowing my options, I stumbled upon this site and am hopeful y’all can share some wisdom! (By the way, our next step is to work with our local ag extension to determine the exact state of our soil around the property.)

Any insight appreciated,
Morgan
 
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Posts: 3782
Location: southern Illinois.
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A picture would help.    I also am not clear on how much land needs to be cleared. Yes, heavy equipment can do serious damage.   I would not rule it out, but it would no be my first choice.   Consider renting a brush cutter. But a better choice might be to rent someone with a brush cutter ...  especially as a tractor attachment.  Very often someone who has the equipment and knows how to use it can do the work cheaper.  

Now, for your intentions.  Are you considering tilling the pasture and planting a cover crop. ... or are you just trying to cut back the growth to use as is ?  This will impact your approach.  I would still lean toward someone with a tractor and a brush cutter ... I would just ask about the cost of tilling/plowing  as well.
 
John F Dean
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Location: southern Illinois.
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Oh yes, welcome to Permies!!
 
Morgan Bun
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The plan right now is to cut it back so that is can be used to graze the animals in rotation. We are talking about 8-10 acres that need to be cleared (keeping the handful of hardwoods though)

Eventually, we may want to use it for crops, but that’s probably a minimum of 5 years away! I’ll text my husband — he’s the one with the photos! I’ll post those once I have them.

Last weekend, we rented a self-propelled brush hog (the type that’s a glorified push mower). Using that I was able to clear probably 2-3 acres of the woody weeds. (And I have the blisters to prove it!) our neighbor came over with his pull behind brush cutter and WOW in about 30 minutes made some the same amount of progress that I made over 1.5 days! He is the one that said that he thinks the “trash trees” are too thick in diameter for anyone to get back there with a brush hog and too dense for it to make sense to try doing it with a chainsaw.
 
John F Dean
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It sounds as if you are well ahead of the game. As I said,  I would not rule out the heavy equipment ....but wait a few days for other posts. There are many excellent and highly experienced people on this site.
 
gardener
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Location: Beavercreek, OR
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Welcone!

I'll build upon John's response ... pause.  Don't do anything immediately.  Don't listen to the first people who tell you what you "must" or "have to " do.  On of the big precepts of permaculture is observation and its generally recommended to observe for a year before making any big decisions.  The key here is that in a year or two those "trash" trees will be bigger, but still vulnerable to chainsaws and bulldozers, yet a tree can take 40+ years to replace. The pasture might be degraded ... but doing nothing will not degrade it further and nature will start to heal on its own.

I understand the desire/need to "do something" , try to divert that into learning and planning.  I look back at the things I wanted to dive into and I think that more than half of those would now be considered mistakes, and there are things I should have done that I only know with hindsight.

What I've found in 3+ years of owning 40 acres is that most people with advice are actually selling me something ... if only trying to get me to validate their decisions and values (and yes, that includes this post...). What you'll find on this site are ideas (and experiences!) of people who found better ways ... don't spray herbicides, get pigs and remove nuisance plants AND get food AND improve the soil.  Don't clear trees and then build shade structures for animals - just keep the tree and the time and dollars you'd otherwise spend.

So get soil tests (better, get a soil organics test), watch what happens to water

There are a LOT of details for your situation that are relevant.  We look forward to helping you reflect on those details and find a path forward!
 
gardener
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An alternative to a dozer is a forestry mulcher, which will make short work of the brush without disturbing the soil.

Check YouTube for videos on how they work. They are pricey though - can run $250 per hour, and take about 8 hours per acre, but that of course depends how thick/how much it is grown in, whether there are big stumps, etc...

And welcome to Permies!  Great to have you here.
 
gardener
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1) Welcome!
2) one person`s trash is another`s treasure- find out what these trees are and if they have some use. you may find out they are something good!
3) what is the soil like, what is it like in your region, and what would you like it to be?
4) what region are you in?

none of these necessarily to be answered, as nobody deserves the Spanish Inquisition, but all are little bits of the puzzle that will help people give you good ideas.
 
Morgan Bun
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You are all so full of insight! Thank you!

I’m attaching the best picture I have of the “trash trees”. They are very skinny (only inches thick at the thickest parts), very tall (20-25ft) and very dense (you can’t walk between the trees through this area).

In the photo you sort of get a picture of how dense they are. You can also catch a glimpse of a few of our larger hardwoods. I definitely want to clear as few trees as possible! We are tree people! We were just under the impression that these trees would never be able to be healthy/grow large. Like I said, we are newbies and just trying to gather facts and wisdom before making a decision! If anyone knows that type of trees these are, that would be helpful too!

(I’ll post a better picture of this specific area once we get back out there. This isn’t a great photo, but it’s the closest I have to showing what the area looks like)
EC3105AD-1F40-48DA-90CD-28EBAE2F3B23.png
[Thumbnail for EC3105AD-1F40-48DA-90CD-28EBAE2F3B23.png]
 
pollinator
Posts: 174
Location: Zone 7a, 42", Fairfax VA Piedmont (clay, acidic, shady)
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I would identify the trees before cutting down too much; I don't recommend a bulldozer, but cutting down stumps to build terraces on contour perhaps.  Brush hogs and mowers are ok.  Maybe you can keep some of the taller trees as shade and possible mast production, while clearing out the understory to make room for desirable plants and raised beds.

In VA, I've found that white clover grows very well in poor/acidic soil that is prior forest.
 
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Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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Your picture is a bit blurry and distant for definitive answer. They do look much like something in the poplar family of trees. For exact tree ID pictures of the bark, and both sides of the leaf are helpful. There are sure to be additional types of trees as well. Quick, get back out there before all the leaves drop!😃

Welcome to Permies!
 
pollinator
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Location: Appalachian Foothills-Zone 7
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Welcome!

I concur with those that suggest slowing down!  I try not to cut anything unless I know what it is.  I was just talking to a neighbor last night that regularly laments bushogging everything when he bought his property.  Even on my place, our goats probably ate untold numbers of hardwood sapling I wish I had now. You never know, you may be mowing off some very valuble medicinal herb.

Please share your location, that'll give everyone a better idea of what plants and soil you may have.
 
John F Dean
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I am embarrassed  not to have asked sooner; what are your long term plans for the pasture?
 
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Location: West Fork, AR
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If goats are on your list of animals you want to rotationally graze then it might be best to let them do the work.

You can also top graft improved varieties on to native edible trees already growing on your property.  This saves you the money and the labor to plant trees.  You are also starting with a very established undisturbed root system to give you grafts a jump start. This has worked well on my land in the Ozarks on persimmon, mulberries, walnuts, and hickories.  I identify the trees in the spring and summer (its easier to ID the trees with leaves on them).  I mark them with different color flagging tape depending on the species so that I can graft them late winter/ early spring.  Look up the optimum temperature for graft callus formation to determine when to graft onto each species.

I'll also echo the advice to slow down as much as you can stand.
 
pollinator
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What kind of livestock were you planning to put in this area? Would it be possible to put in your fence first and let your critters do a cleanup for a year or two before deciding on tree removal? That looks like a habitat goats would enjoy a lot in its present form. If you aren't at a point where you want to take on your own livestock maybe there is someone in your area who would like to run their critters there for a while.
 
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