Meadow restoration

All I planned to do was clean up the bee hives. But four hours later having moved on to meadow clipping, I was startled to hear Bluebirds calling, Bluebirds fighting to be exact. Two males kept flying into each other, their wings whacking, while a female looked on. From time to time, a male would land on one of my Bluebird boxes. Then they’d fight again.

“I have three boxes,” I called out, “you needn’t squabble.” But there was only one female. The fight was over her not the boxes.

Find the Bluebird?

Meanwhile the Red-bellied woodpecker was picking away for the third day at a nest its making in the old Norway maple. In between pecks, it examined the perfectly round hole it has made and screeched with satisfaction.

Even a slow circling flyby on the part of the Red-tailed hawk could not deter the mating and nesting.

(You have to take my word for all this bird activity. My camera battery was dying and the birds are too small and distant for my point-and-shoot. I wished for the camera and their operators from the Panama birding team!)

The bad news, beside the dead bees, is that lots of Bittersweet stems still have life in them. But maybe an equal number of stems snap when touched and roots shed their orange sheaths when pulled from the ground.

My scratched wrists attest to the successful overwintering of lots of Dewberry. Its red stems are easily visible in the brown debris of last year’s foliage. I snipped 3 wheelbarrow’s worth of its prickly branches in the area to the south of the bee hives. While it grows together with the Bittersweet in that sunny, dry and sandy part of the meadow, I found almost no Dewberry when I moved to the south west corner of the meadow where its shady in the morning and again by mid afternoon and the soil is loamier and retains more moisture. Maybe that’s another piece of good spring news.

Earliest image

Earliest image, before color

Henning showed me how to use Google Earth. So begins a short satellite history of my meadow. This image from 1995 shows the hedgerow of pines and spruces that i planted as seedlings no bigger than pencils in the late 1980s as small shadows along the driveway to the north of my field. The buffer I planted along the road (at the left hand edge of this image) is less visible. Not sure why. Maybe I was still clearing that area of Japanese knotweed.

With Dorie’s help (lifting, compacting and problem solving) and with Carla’s big-bed truck, 180 pounds of bittersweet, dewberry and barberry went to the dump. The dump fee was $6.30.

With more than a week of unseasonable weather, the pile of stems and roots keeps growing. The next dump run will require 2 trips. In addition to what’s in the photos, shed #1 and the back seat of the Saab are also storing bagged clippings.

In the south eastern corner where I could not spray without collateral damage to desirable plants, the stems are thick and the long. This are has been mowed annually but the stems close to the ground don’t seem to be disturbed. A good deal of thatch has built up as well. I mostly cut the stems to the ground.

A patch closer to the bee hives has been mowed more than once a year because it is mostly grasses where the bittersweet has not killed them off. Here, with the killing power of the herbicide, I could pull up some root.

In either case, it is satisfying to remove long stems or trailing roots. It is not so satisfying to realize that the ground if full of bittersweet root.

In the mid section of the meadow, to the south of the new septic field, the task of snipping bittersweet was entangled — literally — by dewberry. Dewberry roots along its stems but at a distance that is, distressingly, just longer than my reach. My wrists are dotted with thorn wounds and my back aches from the long reach that each stem requires. The dewberry leaf is colorful this time of year. And each stem is firmly rooted. I think dewberry goes on the herbicide list next year, even if the Indians did raise it for its fruit. I have not noticed that my dewberry fruits, but I’ll pay more attention in the spring.

Yesterday I cleared the bayberry heath of bittersweet and dewberry. The latter is alive and well as it ha not been a target of my spraying. The bittersweet was not thriving but is also not completely dead. I found one egg case for a mantis and a mushroom. Here are before and after photos.


In an area along the southern border of the meadow where the Monarch caterpillars had been chewing the different milkweed, I cut bittersweet. Much of it is so dead that only bear stalks remain. And of course, root. It was easier just to tug on the dead stems and sometimes root came out as well. The root I could pull easily is not healthy. This praying mantis was in the area. I have come upon 5 egg cases for mantises.

Today I worked in the switchgrass section off the path to the beehives. The switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), planted in 2006, has overrun the little bluestem although the B. Trefoil, a legume and not a native, remains in the understory. Bittersweet has not been able to get established in this section but the dewberry has. The B. Trefoil, at the same level as the dewberry, seems at risk for being choked out. So I clipped dewberry.

I also cut to the ground as many bittersweet stems as I could in an area adjacent to the switchgrass where I had pulled bittersweet by the root in the early spring before the herbicide plan took shape. Dewberry came out with the bittersweet wherever they were intertwined.

My herbicide mentor strolled around the meadow with me the day before yesterday. I showed him where I had planted Little Bluestem seed after pulling out bittersweet root and expressed concern about the disturbed soil I had created. He suggested clipping the dead bittersweet stalks and removing as much thatch as possible to give the resurgent grasses, of which there are many types, more access to light and air.

I spent 2 hours yesterday and again today clipping in the forward part of the meadow (SW). each time I generated a bag’s worth of mostly leafless stalks. Sometimes just in tracing the stem back to the ground, I would pull out a few inches of decayed root. I scratched away as much of the thatch from previous years’ mowings as well.

The grasses that are filling in seem to be bunch grasses. I can identify the velvet grass but there are others as well. Note how hard it is to spot the bittersweet.

Down at the soil level, I got many grasshoppers to jump around and was bitten by a mosquito.

On a still Sunday morning no less famous than September 11th, with a photographer in tow, I sprayed the bittersweet emerging in the paths after the mowing and some overlooked black swallow wort. I also sprayed for the first time an area in the eastern corner of the field near the bee hives. Total application: 8 gallons.

The photos show grasses, milkweed, dock, deer’s tongue, the gear involved and the herbicider. Note the absence of large patches of bittersweet!