When Bill and I bought our farm, the fields were being managed for hay production and were mowed a couple of time each summer. The mowing schedule made it impossible for native wildflowers, grasses, and shrubs to grow and reproduce; as a result, there was a distinct lack of diversity of plant life.
Here’s how the fields looked in June 2006 when we purchased the property. An idyllic scene to be sure, but other than the trees, there is little vegetation to protect and benefit wildlife. Fescue, a popular grass for lawns, pasture and hay, was the dominant vegetation and although spring was well underway, there are few wildflowers or shrubs to be seen.
Here’s a shot of Bill standing in the front field in 2006 (that’s our neighbor’s cabin in the upper right side of the picture). Note the lack of brush or other dense growth that provides cover for rabbits, deer, raccoons, and other wildlife for nesting, hiding, or traveling from one area to another.
It was our goal to increase the diversity of native plants to attract more wildlife, so we stopped mowing the fields and let nature take its course.
For comparison purposes, the picture below shows the same field in July 2012, six years later (again, that’s our neighbor’s cabin in the pine grove in the upper right side of the picture). Note the layers of grasses, shrubs, and young trees that benefit wildlife by providing food sources and cover.
During the last six years, I’ve inventoried the plants on our farm and found that as the fields mature, the variety of plant life has increased exponentially. Cattails are now growing in the lower part of the front field that remains wet year-round.
Native warm season grasses including little bluestem, switch grass, clover, and Indian grass are providing sources of “green browse” for wildlife. Wildflowers such as golden ragwort, birds-foot trefoil, wild bergamot, St. John’s wort, burdock, and many others appeared for the first time this year.
With the increased diversity of plant life, we have more butterflies and other insects, as well as turtles, skinks, snakes, frogs, rabbits, deer, and every other species that makes use of these plants. The reason is simple: there’s more food available and more places for wildlife to hide, rest, escape the elements, and raise their young.
At some point, we’ll have to decide when and where we want to suspend the rate of natural succession, or the fields will eventually return to woods (which would run contrary to what we’re trying to accomplish), but for now, we’re enjoying the benefits of letting nature run its course.
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.