Saving Sad Longleaf 4

We discovered Sad Longleaf the first time we walked on the east side of the property we would later purchase and call Longleaf Breeze. It was love at first sight.

Just up the hill from the long-neglected pond, Sad Longleaf had scratched and clawed his way into life, and a hard life it promised to be. Only about six inches tall, he was bent nearly double under the weight of an oak branch that had fallen on him. That distinctive shape peculiar to grass stage longleaf pines was hardly recognizable, distorted by the punishment he had endured. He hovered near death.

Amanda carefully, tenderly removed the fallen branch and talked in soothing words to Sad Longleaf, reassuring him that he was going to be okay now. You probably think I’m making that up, but honestly, I’m not. And as in so many other things related to people and plants, she was right. Sad Longleaf is indeed okay now. He has grown into a robust 36″ adolescent, and we have adopted him as the farm mascot.

So even in our first conversation about the orchard expansion in the area where Sad Longleaf is growing, we committed to each other that we would protect him, even as all the trees around him (including a couple of much larger longleafs) would have to come down. I can tell from searching the Farm Log that we settled on the plan for expanding the orchard here in mid-September of last year, but we intentionally held off on the physical work of it while we were completing Master Gardener classes.

Our formal work began with the new year, primarily focused on cutting down trees, bucking them for firewood, and mulching the branches that were too small for firewood. I am proud that we have found a way to use virtually all of any tree we must cut down. If it’s too small for firewood, it’s plenty small to make it through our Wallenstein BX-42 mulcher, so we end up with almost no waste. And that mulch is just wonderful on Veg Hill!

I had suggested we simply cut the trees down to the ground and allow the stumps to rot over time, both because their roots could help hold the soil and because it was the easiest way to deal with them. Amanda initially accepted this but became more and more concerned that we would regret leaving so many obstacles on the orchard floor. She was right, of course. The stumps needed to go. I am blessed in many ways, not the least of which is the resources and generosity of my brother Dave Gray, who volunteered to bring his bulldozer to the farm to push out the stumps.

As the date for the arrival of the bulldozer (Friday, Jan 28) approached, my pride at our good stewardship of God’s precious resources gave way to panic that I wouldn’t be ready. Forsaking Amanda’s and my careful, deliberate use of every part of every tree we cut down, I simply hitched a chain to them and dragging them to whatever empty spot I could find. We’ll go back later and cut them up for firewood and mulch. Here in the short term, I just needed them out of the way.

All four Borden boys were due to work at our lake place on Saturday, Jan 29, and I had assumed it would be an all-day affair. Dave Gray, ever the optimist, thought we would be able to begin working at the farm Saturday afternoon. He was right. After a brief detour for me to buy six blueberry plants from George Brown in Equality, Dave Gray followed me to the farm. While he made a phone call, I brought the bulldozer across the property to the core campus.

It’s a shame that I don’t have good video of Dave Gray’s work on the stumps, because he’s a master. The small stumps came out with a gentle straight push; to attack the larger ones, he carefully cut on either side to separate as many of their roots as possible, and then pushed them out. After pushing them up, he rolled them several times to loosen most of the dirt. Then I picked them up with Tractor’s pallet forks and shook them again to remove more of the dirt. Our timing matched up pretty well. It took Dave Gray and his bulldozer about the same time to remove a stump as it took me to pick it up, take it away, and return for the next one. I built a couple of piles of stumps just west of the lodge site, handy for Tractor but enough out of the way that they don’t mar the look of the core campus too badly. I’ll let them sit over most of the summer and build a fire for them in the fall. In the meantime, we may find a place or two where they can be useful to fill in a hole or slow down water in a ditch.

By nightfall Saturday, it was apparent we were going to be able to finish Sunday. I missed church to cut down the rest of the trees, and Dave Gray was here and working by 1:00. It was a long afternoon but a good one. We had time to get almost all the stumps out, clear out an area immediately south of the orchard expansion, and then contour the orchard expansion so that the lines cut across the terrain to slow down erosion. Amanda and I seeded the freshly cut area with annual ryegrass (about the only thing you can ask to grow in February) just before a gentle rain began to fall. She bought another two bags of ryegrass Monday and used all of one and part of another making sure the seeding was complete. As I write this, the rain is coming down hard Tuesday night. Here’s hoping the ryegrass takes root quickly!

And about Sad Longleaf. Dave Gray and I both were always careful to protect Sad Longleaf despite all the destruction and disruption all around him. Our mascot is secure. The video runs four minutes.

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