[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories highlighting local farms that were featured in the annual Stokes County Cooperative Extension Small Farms Tour]
Participants in the annual Stokes County Cooperative Extension Small Farms Tour learned about two types of land management in April.
At Kendall and Ruthann Harden’s farm in Francisco, participants had a chance to see how careful management of fields could help increase wildlife and benefit other crops.
“We are farming habitat for wildlife,” said Kendall, noting that the property had served as a tobacco farm for many years before being transformed into cattle pastureland in the 1990s.
When the couple purchased the farm in 2006 they added several additions to the home and existing barn on the property and then began working on the pastures around the property.
“They were all fescue and we converted them native grasses in 2009 and 2011,” he said. “The back fields were planted for wildlife habitat in little bluestem, big bluestem and Indian grass. Wildflower forbs also were planted including Mazimillian sunflower, partridge pea, coreopsis, black eye-ed susan, and purple cone flower. The roadside and front acreage was planted for forage in big bluestem and Indian grass.”
The couple first sprayed the field to kill the fescue and then conducted a major burn of the field before planting the native grasses and flower by hand.
Kendall said they still do an annual burn of each field to clear out woody material and help seed annual plants.
“It is hard work,” said Ruthann. “Originally we were doing everything by hand and then we started to learn about weed eaters.”
The Hardens also worked to remove Virginia Pines from the property through a select cut and then replanted shortleaf pines and hardwoods.
“What is glorious is we uncovered a lot of natives like spicebush,” said Ruthann. “The ferns and wildflowers we uncovered while removing invasives are now just lush. It is really gorgeous. It is just so fun to nurture those things.”
She said they had funded the land renovation through a couple of grants and the support of local experts like Micheal Hylton and forester Johnathan Young.
Today the property is also home to a thriving vegetable garden, a greenhouse, ducks and chickens, hops, blueberries, currants, raspberries, blackberries, and a variety of fruit trees including heirloom apples.
North Carolina Forest Service Ranger Johnathan Young introduced the group to another type of land management, forestry, which can help to improve wildlife management.
At the Scritchfield Farm just south of Hanging Rock State Park, Young said a couple who hopes to retire to the county have spent the last four or five years working on a number of forestry management projects to create their dream retirement property.
“They wanted to improve the wildlife habitat,” said Young. “He is an active hunter and they love wildlife viewing. There is a lot you can do to improve forestry that benefits wildlife. They wanted to improve the aesthetic quality of the farm as well as provide some hiking trails and recreation opportunities. They also wanted to provide some income from a timber harvest.”
To obtain all of those goals the Scritchfields undertook a variety of forestry projects including a hardwood select cut, a clear cut, a prescribed burn and a hack and squirt, according to Young.
“A select cut is taking out the unwanted stuff and leaving the good stuff,” he explained. “They removed all of the Virginia pine and also maples and poplars because there is no wildlife benefit to them. By doing that they are leaving better timber species and they are making it more open to allow sunlight to get in there and aid in respouting and growth. The wildlife tend to like the younger sprouts.”
Young said he also helped the couple do a controlled burn on the section they select cut, noting that the forestry service can provide that service to landowners throughout the county.
“There is a fee but we will install the fire breaks and the we line up the folks to do it,” he said. “We do a burn plan based on the weather and the types of fuel. We identify what kind of parameters we will need to do the burn.”
He said the fee is $15 per acre with a minimum contract of $350.
Young said the select cut and controlled burn were just part of a larger forestry management plan he had helped the Scritchfields create for the property.
“When these folks bought this place they set their goals for what they wanted and then they stared looking for help to do that,” said Young. “I wrote an initial forest management plan then the Wild Turkey Federation came down and wrote a management plan to give them more wildlife management.”
Young said the North Carolina Forest Service charges a $45 fee plus $3 per acre to create a forest management plan, but noted that doing so can easily pay for itself through tax benefits.
“After they got a plan in place they started looking for avenues of financial assistance,” said Young. “They reached out to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the EQUIP program and the Wildlife Resource Commission. There are a lot of resources out there to help land owners. They are getting reimbursed for the burning and the fire breaks that were put in and they have a second contract that will help establish trials and stabilize erosion on some of their trails.”
Young said the couple also used a unique way of eliminating unwanted trees call a hack and squirt.
“They went through their hardwood stand with hatchets and a squirt bottle and made hacks on some of the unwanted trees like maple and poplar,” said Young, explaining that once the trees had small hacks in their trunks the couple sprayed a chemical called Capstone into the cuts. “We had to contact a lot of people to find a chemical that we could spray that would not impact other trees. The Capstone is just for a single tree. They squirt it into the hack and it goes down and kills the roots but it will not spread to the roots of other trees.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.