Questions about our meadow management: Why do we mow our meadows?
If we don’t mow or burn a meadow, in our region the field will eventually turn into forest (or much worse, a thicket of invasive autumn olive, multiflora rose, and bittersweet). The areas that we maintain as meadow have been chosen as appropriate habitat for meadow, or there are significant sun-loving meadow plants we want to conserve present, or the meadows preserve an open vista or historic pattern of land use. Mowing or burning once a year sets back the woody plants that would otherwise take over.
If the ground never freezes enough in the winter to get the meadows mowed, what else can be done? There is a second window of opportunity to mow meadows in early July, after ground-nesting birds finish with the habitat, to mow meadows. It is usually drier then, and though desirable meadow plants are set back by this mowing, they come back strong before the end of summer. Late winter mowing is my first choice, though, since the plants are dormant and mowing can be accomplished with minimal negative impact.
We also try to burn a couple meadows each spring. Burning more closely replicates a natural process; fire removes excess nutrients from the meadow and stimulates many native fire-adapted species. But the meadows still need to be dry enough to be able to access them, and the weather absolutely has to cooperate (called being within “prescription”).
I was able to get away to northern New Hampshire this weekend and stayed in a cabin I have been going to for over a decade, at the Dartmouth Second College Land Grant, a 27,000-acre preserve used for sustainable forestry and education (thereby answering the question, where does a manager of a 600-acre preserve go on vacation? to a 27,000 acre one). We spend the days X-C skiing and snowshoeing, chopping a hole in the river ice for water and gathering around the woodstove with friends.
This trip “resets my clock” and I don’t mean in a temporal sense. It shows me again how diverse a world we live in, how different a place can be than where I live, even close by. We’ve had winters there colder than -25 F, and it is an amazing place to experience.