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When we purchased our home, around 4 acres had been allowed to grow wild for years – although the rapid growth rate of willows makes it hard to determine exactly how long. A little back story on willows: they suck. They grow incredibly fast and their cuttings are all it takes to start a new sapling. You couldn’t tell where one tree ended and another started. The field almost looked like one massive organism. Weeping willows may have their place, but this was straight garbage brush and I couldn’t wait to see it go. 

The boggy conditions at the bottom of the valley were perfect for willow and farther up the hill was a mix of briers, native grasses, some invasive weeds and wild parsnips. By the time we moved in in mid-summer of ‘14, it was nearly impossible to walk through field and absolutely impossible to walk where the willow was. The same was true this year by June:

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Before any clearing was done. The willows are thick and have taken over the valley bottom.

Despite the overgrowth, the land was promising for a future pasture and we decided not to delay in clearing it. It had been a pasture for 50 plus years before the prior owners stopped farming in the 80s. The brush was so dense we soon realized we needed a little professional help. We hired an arborist to clear what he could with a machine on the cheap(ish) and we’d do the finish work with chainsaws and other implements of destruction. The man rented a machine (conceived in a nightmare had by the Lorax) and was able to clear the majority of the willow brush in the open field. Still, he avoided the creek bed and several other areas he referred to as “hell holes.” He had to leave more than I expected for fear of sinking of his machine in the soft ground, so we had our work cut out for us.

Additionally, professional rentals are apparently no different than consumer ones. The blades were dull and the machine had been neglected. A broken gas gauge brought productivity to a standstill for a few hours and the blades were like butter knives. The dull machine head mixed with the stringy willow wood didn’t make the saw dust we were promised as much as it did piles of ripped wood. So, when they were all done, we were left with this:

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What looks like a hay stack on the left hand side is raked up “wood chips.” That’s one of about 6 piles. Not planned and was very difficult to burn, but we made do.

That’s when the fun began. Until we got into the brush, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I worked in landscaping through high school and college, but the job seemed intimidating. Kate and I went at it and I was surprised at the speed we made. There were plenty of willow that were close to 6 inches in diameter and required the chainsaw. A strong pruner, machete and sturdy weed whip were the MVPs, though. The lopping shears took out a good deal of the smaller willows and the machete was amazing on the rest of the … shit… that was growing everywhere.  The work was tiring but it was rewarding to see what could be done with hand tools.

The creek bed in particular needed attention:

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I finally finished the haircut during this unseasonable mild December by taking the chainsaw into the “hell holes” and getting out the last of the large willows. As you can see, there will be a lot of burning in late winter. We already burned a lot this fall to get rid of the mulch piles. We quickly added about 7 large brush piles of our own:

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With all the rain and warm temperatures, the field has greened up and stayed that way. Should be good forage this summer, if we can keep the willow down.

And burning really is the only option. Seedlings have sprouted all over from the wood chips left behind by the clearing team and grew to 10 inches in just 8 weeks, so letting it sit on the ground is not an option. The wood is very green, about 90 percent water and burns almost cold, so it’s useless as firewood – even when seasoned. I suppose the wispy offshoots could make a nice snare for catching a squirrel…

Still it’s great to have it done. We believe we have the area to a point that it will be manageable with more traditional landscaping tools– mainly goats…

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