Sunday, June 23, 2013

The War of the Roses

I beg your pardon...
I never promised you a rose garden....

You may remember my apple orchard from an earlier blog entry. This year would be it's 75th birthday. Happy Birthday Apple Orchard!  It was planted by my grandfather's brother and takes up 2 acres or so on my farmland on the other side of town.  We don't do too much with it.  Sometimes I ride my horse through there.  A horse can make an apple sound so luscious.   Every couple of years the orchard pulls out all the the stops and gives us a marvelous crop of apples. But mostly, I look at it and think of all the work to be done in there. 

Apple orchards are difficult to mow.  The branches are not pruned and its hard to get a tractor under there.  If a limb falls, you either mow around it, or get out the chain saw and have a bonfire.  If you mow around it, eventually a Multiflora rose will take hold in that spot and engulf the tree.  When the tree dies and falls, you will have a brittle tree carcass in the middle of an eight foot high wall of impenetrable angry thorns, and then you have a real problem.  

Before Number 1

And that is what we had.  A real problem.  We talked about it for a few years.  We knew what had to be done.  We just hadn't worked up the gumption to do it.  My uncle or step father have gone in there and made a few passes with the brush hog so we could at least get to the producing trees.  What we needed was an all out war.

Before Number 2

It has been at least a decade since any cattle were grazed in there and in that amount of time the Multiflora Roses took off.  

Multiflora Rose History

In 1866 the rose bushes were imported as root stock for ornamental roses.  Then, someone got the idea that they would make great hedges for livestock fencing.  Yeah, well...  bad idea.  They are now a VERY invasive species throughout the eastern US.  Once they get started its hard to stop them.  Luckily, they probably do make excellent hedge row fencing for livestock, because once they take over your fence row, there ain't no way you're gettin' to the fence to fix it.  The roses owe you.  They had better keep the cows in.

Before Number 3

Above is the main gateway to the orchard.  The gate would be that large dark mound in the lower left and beyond that is an invisible drainage ditch four feet deep by twelve feet wide with a barbed wire fence on the other side of it.

My Friday day off dawned bright and early.  The first day of Summer.  A beautiful day to work outside.    Temperatures in the mid eighties and sunny skies were forecasted.  I put on a long sleeve denim shirt, some heavy leather gloves, nearly ruined blue jeans and some stiff leather boots.  Ahhh...  summertime.   My stepdad started early in the morning and mowed the high grass up to the worst of it so Tim could get in close and assess the situation.  Assessment:  The rose bushes dwarfed the tractor.  Where would we ever start?  Was this a futile effort?  What were we thinking?

Tim lowered the front end loader and began driving at the wall o' roses from various directions, pushing and crushing the fallen apple trees in their midst.  Within half an hour he had a 50 foot long angry windrow of thorns aimed at a break in the fence out to a small field we had designated for the burn pile.

We were going to win this war.

Some of the roses were three or more inches thick at the roots.  Tim took the time to backhoe these spots out along with what was left of the tree stumps to make the area mowable in the future.

An hour and a half later the front corner was cleared.  in the meantime, Stepdad Richard was mowing.  When the worst of that was done, they both attacked the rose bushes.  They would drive up along a tree trunk and scoop the roots of the rose bush out and then mash it into a ball to be pushed to the pile.  Dead  limbs were chainsawed into manageable pieces and pushed along with.

The white blossoms in this tree are NOT apple blossoms.  They are roses.

In some cases, the rose vines reached 30 feet or more into the trees.  It was my job to pull any of these out by hand.  It was then I discovered a rose pollen allergy that kept me sneezing all afternoon.

After Number 1
The 10 foot wall of roses is history!

After Number 2
Note the dark pink roses along the bank which are leftover from a house that stood here before our family came to the farm over a hundred years ago.  We call them the "Stoddard Roses" after the housewife who likely planted them,

After Number 3  The gate has been pulled out and the deep drainage ditch uncovered.
Halfway through the day we attacked the gateway.  It didn't take long for me to decided that a weak pipe gate, an undermined gatepost, and three decent strands of barbed wire were not worth the hassle to salvage.  I wrenched the gate off it's hinges, Tim reached in with the back hoe and scooped out a grand daddy rose bush, gate, gatepost, wire and all.  Some things are just not worth the trouble.  We can put all that back later after the roses are gone.

Seven hours later, we had an orchard again.  A neighbor on her way to feed calves at the dairy next door stopped and came walking out grinning from ear to ear "Now that's what I call a good day's work!"

The Part We Saved for Later

We did stop about a hundred feet short of the back fence leaving about a fifth of the orchard untouched. We told ourselves we were leaving "habitat" for the birds and the rabbits, but really, we were just darn tired.  And we have enough fuel for a pretty good bonfire, the pile is almost 30 feet square and 10 feet high without adding the large limbs we set aside to cut for campfire wood..  We can always come back and have another go.

Neither Tim nor I, nor my Stepdad want to see any rose bushes for a long time.  

1 comment:

  1. Very impressive before and after pictures. I know all too well that was a hard day's work!!