Our land had sat dormant for 5 or 6 years since we had purchased it. Interestingly, the climate and soil conditions in western Michigan generated a good deal of natural growth and what the landscape guy called “invasive” and “volunteer” plants. There were trees that had reached 10-12 foot heights and huge swaths of wild raspberry brambles that we could barely hack our way through. We had to be cautious tromping through the field to avoid sprained ankles from stepping into animal burrows or worse yet, disturbing nests of yellow jackets!
Joe had recently bought a used Jeep and we spent several long weekends wrapping chains around the bigger trees and yanking them out of the ground. We tossed the uprooted trees onto brush piles till they were too high for us to throw any more, then would move on to the next section of the field. Eventually, we hired a local farmer to “brush hog” the entire field. A brush hog is like a giant lawnmower that is pulled behind a tractor. It is so powerful it can mow down whole trees in the blink of an eye. We felt a bit foolish when he was done, realizing that all our hard work could have been avoided by brush-hogging in the first place. In fact we had to pay him extra to haul away all those gigantic brush piles as well.
In a few weeks, the sad-looking barren field began to green up as the sunshine was finally able to reach the soil. The next step – hold your judgment, organic fans – was to spray the whole field with Round-up. We knew we wanted to plant native grasses and wildflowers, and before we could do that we had to kill off the remaining vegetation down to the roots so the new stuff could have a chance of taking over. The field would later get planted in a “cover crop” of oats and rye to hold the soil till the spring.