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Need advice on natural control of overgrown property  RSS feed

 
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We have 20 acres in E. OK which we bought in 2008. Since we don't live on the property yet and we have to travel 5 hours to get there, we are not able to keep up on the growth. As a result the land was resorting back to forest. Our plans are to use this property for many permaculture projects in the future once we can move up there permanently. So we want to be very careful how we treat it.

Recently we had a neighbor clear some of the land of many honey locusts, blackberry brambles and some smaller trees. This was part of the land that we needed cleared so that we could walk around, evaluate, and start on projects needed to move up there. So now that the land has been cleared in those areas, our neighbors suggested using some kind of growth deterrent (to them that means something like Roundup, etc). We are very concerned to not do this by poisoning the earth there. But don't know how to deal with the fast growth of the plant life, especially honey locusts. I know these trees are nitrogen fixers but there were just too many of them! Any recommendations? We have had some grazers such as horses, alpacas and cattle but that didn't seem to handle those honey locusts, etc. Would appreciate help in this!
 
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Location: Porter, Indiana
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Cleared land doesn't stay cleared land for very long. Probably the easiest thing to do would be to find a neighbor with a bush hog attachment on their tractor and pay them to go over your property once a year (in the late spring/early summer).
 
Ellen Upton
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Thanks John. Will look into that!
 
gardener
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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It takes the most energy to maintain cleared land as it is against natures tendency. I would just let it go until you are ready to move, then use a machine once to clear the areas as needed. Once you are there full time then you can maintain it. Cleared land erodes, loses moisture, and as a result tough pioneers take over and start succession.

I don't see a way to work with nature, if you are going against it. Some people would plant fast growing crops they want so they will out compete the plants they don't want, but even then if you are not present to observe and tend then the end result is still maybe not going to be what you want.
 
Ellen Upton
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Thanks Zach. I think we may have to at least get someone to brush hog those areas that we use when we go up there to work on our future home and some paths throughout the acreage. But probably will just have to leave alone some of what has just been recently cut to prevent erosion. We are hoping to move there this coming fall so probably it won't overgrow much until then. The growth we had to just cut had been accumulating since 2008 when we first took over the property and lately there were so many thorns from the honey locusts that we couldn't even walk anywhere except in the area where we have our barn on the plateau!
 
gardener
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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First a tiny niggle: There is controversy over whether Honey Locusts actually fix nitrogen. Some say no, some say yes, nobody seems very sure. So I do not count on that. Honey locust trees are still extremely useful at providing dappled sunlight that many plants prefer to the direct glare of the summer sun.

I live on forty acres of former pasture with an awful lot of honey locust, osage orange, wild rose brambles, and smilax-species "greenbriar" thorns. So many thorns! But there are also wild pecans, plums, persimmons, mulberries, and blackberries. If I had a brush hog there would be certain areas I'd use it on, but I could never hire that work done because if I did, there would be no way to protect the young seedlings of beneficial fruit and nut species. Basically your desire to keep the land clear is in tension with the land's desire to grow trees, many of which you may ultimately want.

If your notion of permaculture includes "food forest", my advice in Oklahoma would be to never do any kind of mass clearing. Let it all grow, cut individual trees you do not want, and brush hog only in select areas where you've already decided that trees will never be part of the design. Yes, that means the parts you haven't developed yet will be a difficult-to-navigate bramble. But within that bramble, useful species will be growing, that you would never see if you kept everything cleared.
 
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Personally I would be thrilled if things grew that fast here - hardly anything gets a chance because we have so many deer! I agree with the idea of leaving most of it alone until you know for certain which parts you want cleared, and just clear as much as you need for specific purposes. You can always clear more later. Honeylocust might be good tree to coppice in the future for woody mulch or feed for herbivores.

http://tcpermaculture.com/site/2013/08/01/permaculture-plants-honey-locust/
 
Posts: 91
Location: Saskatchewan
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I see you have already tried some grazers, but the ones you listed are not considered brush clearing animals, and I don't know if those are the only grazers you have tried. Cattle and horses eat grass which can encourage brush growth, alpacas are one of the lightest, gentlest grazers. That you have tried this suggests to me that you already have fences in place? If you're willing to try some more grazers goats are supposed to prefer trees and bush to grass or weeds.
 
pollinator
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Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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I don't know of any plant that can survive for very long with a herd of goats. Add a flock of chickens and that is a prescription for bare dirt. The problem that I foresee is predators.
 
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau Ellen, Since you are not present on this land full time your talking about fighting a battle with nature you can not hope to actually win.

Bush hogging will, at this stage of your journey, create more plants that will later on need to be removed or incorporated into your plan.
As Dan Boone mentions, the current trees and so on can be addressed once you are full time on the land, until then it is easiest to let the earth mother do her magic.

If you already have selected the home site, then removal of some items might be a good thing to do, but these will need to be dug out, not just chopped off by a bush hog.
If you have not really settled into a home site, then I would wait till I was living on the land to make these decisions.

I can give you the example of our journey on Asnikiye Heca.

We purchased the land in 2012 and spent the summer going up for weekends the first year. During this time we walked all the land several times trying to get a vision of what would do best where.
The land came with a previous house's footing intact, a septic system in place and the Electric poles already in place. The previous house had burned down seven years before we bought the place.
Since we determined it would be wisest to use the already there concrete footing, we knew where the house would go. From there, it was determined where our zones 0,1,2 and 3 would best fit.
Our second summer of ownership we started clearing the thousands of bitter black berry canes and many sumacs, these were all in our zones 0 and 1.
Once we had these areas cleared by pulling roots or digging up roots, we installed the electric pole with meter and breaker boxes, moved our 20 ft. trailer to be able to hookup to the new pole and hookup to the septic system.
We then started constructing a shed that would eventually be used as the chicken coop (still is a shed at this point), we still were not living full time on the land.
This last summer, our move onto the land happened by necessity and we have worked on continuing our building of; gardens, orchards, hog producing pastures and structures for them, designing our permanent house.
This next spring we will begin constructing the house, it will go up in three construction phases.
We have decided to use the Post and Beam construction method, which will allow us to build in three phases as well as have 6" thick walls for insulation so we are cool in our summer heat and warm in the winter cold.
This is after we investigated cob, earth bag, cordwood and earth ship types of construction, each had merits but what we ended up deciding on was for ease of building by ourselves, my construction knowledge, and the ability to live in the structure as it was built.

We will also be fencing and planting more pastures, building a second chicken coop, putting in more garden spaces. While we are constructing the sections of the house.
It is a lot of work, you will come to the point of thinking it will not all get done. Don't worry, if you keep plugging along, everything will be accomplished, perhaps not on the schedule you wanted, but it will come.

Wolf still says I'm crazy doing this at the age of 64 but it is something I had a vision of doing long ago and if I don't act out this vision my medicine can't continue to grow.
She is fully beside me on this journey and every time she looks at what we are building, she sees that it will work out, just not as quickly as she would like.
We are not going into debt to build Asnikiye Heca, everything is paid for as it is built and all our animals are well cared for.
It is a slow process for two people but it will be where we retire to in two more years and it is good to finally be living on the land shown us by wakantanka.

I wish you many blessings along your journey and the wisdom to know when you receive each of them.

 
Ellen Upton
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Thanks to all who responded! Your advice is accepted & I will keep it in mind as we progress. We bought this land in 2008 as a place to retire and we have many dreams & plans (not only for us but our children & their families). Since my husband will be 75 & I will be 61 this fall (when we decide to move to this property), we are fortunate that we will have help from our children. We are excited about permaculture & determined to practice those principles!
 
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Don't underestimate how much work it is to clear land. I would certainly be tempted, as Dan suggested, to save trees that are already growing and might be useful, particularly as rootstock (if you might realistically ever do any grafting), but perhaps you could identify some of these trees beforehand, flag them, maybe place 6' T-posts around them, and then get somebody to bush hog for you (and around those trees). If I weren't ever going to do any grafting, I wouldn't value such trees nearly as highly, though. Perhaps there are trees that would be valuable for timber or wind breaks or other uses, but those sorts of trees could probably be marked off in large areas not to bush hog.

As far as erosion, I don't know how Oklahoma would differ from North Carolina (where I am), but I wouldn't be concerned about erosion if there's a halfway decent stand of grass. I'd be much more concerned about erosion if your land grows up in trees and then you need to bring a bull dozer in to clear it.
 
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