That Farm Life: Shared experiences to benefit the beginning farmer

Last year, I spent days cutting and painting trees while others were busy growing hay. The effort made to do things right has seen a much better result this year. I have eliminated about 90% of the elm trees on the property and continue to monitor areas of concern. This photo is the same area after much attention was given to the trees.
Renting a backhoe for a day can run a few hundred dollars, but the time saved makes it more than worthwhile. It’s also kind of fun ripping out invasive trees knowing that they will not be growing back in that spot again.
This photo shows the early stages of saplings on the left side (which are about 15 feet into the hay field), the established young trees growing in the secondary ditch (middle of photo), and the large original elms off the Bureau of Indian Affairs managed ditch on the right side.
In an area near the barns, I had a corner that had been neglected for years. You can see how the elm trees took over the land and even began to consume the frame of a hay wagon left out as early as three years ago.
Marvin Pinnecoose | Special to the Drum
Marvin Pinnecoose | Special to the Drum
Marvin Pinnecoose | Special to the Drum
Marvin Pinnecoose | Special to the Drum

Invasive trees

The world is small

 In my sophomore year of college, I remember writing a paper for my ecology class. The paper was about a devastating phenomenon happening along some of the major rivers in the United States. Somewhere along the line, people had imported Tamarisk trees in from Japan. These trees had found their way to riverbanks and the biological mix of water, nutrition, sunlight, soil, and seasonal conditions favored an accelerated growth of the species. As these trees grew, they became very dense and crowded out other vegetation along the rivers.  People began noticing that familiar water levels seemed to be dropping and it was caused by a consistent thirst from the tree.

The Tamarisk trees also expelled salt into the water.  This changed the tolerance ability of plants and animals.  In Australia, the overgrowth changed the water so much that it began to invite certain sharks to swim upstream into the rivers and salt-water fish began to inhabit inland rivers.  In the U.S., Arizona, California, and Nevada were impacted significantly from the Tamarisk tree and efforts were made to limit its growth along the water ways.  I found that research interesting, but at the time, it was purely academic.

“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamer of dreams,” Willy Wonka

 Over the years, the introduction of foreign species has jeopardized native plants in our farm habitats.  Our Southern Ute Agriculture Division hosted some Wednesday night classes over the spring and summer.  In one of these classes, they talked about weeds that were dangerous to livestock and invasive plants.  It seems that many of the attendees had issues of their own with plants and trees that hindered the quality of their crops.

In my case, I spoke about the infamous elm trees that had been growing on the property.  I’m no hater of trees.  In fact, I find much value to having shade in the field and trees add to the landscape of a farm.  The problem I have is that the trees that have started to quickly grow in my irrigation ditches are elm trees.

I’m not familiar with many types of trees so when I first saw the trees on the other side of the primary irrigation ditches, I let them be.  Over the year, I started to see smaller ones start popping up in my secondary irrigation ditches.  This is where I set my canvases.  I took some loppers out to the field to chop these and noticed that after cutting them low to the ground, they tend to sprout new branches right from the side of the stumps.  I then decided to dig them out with the shovel, only to discover that these small trees were underground branches of the bigger trees that were sometimes over 40 feet away.  Apparently, these trees grow like a spider web and when you start pulling up the roots, you’ll find that they originate from further away.  If left unchecked, these will creep into your fields and begin to take over.

So, I spent most of last summer and fall cutting down elm trees, finding their tributary branches, and locating sprouts.  These are stubborn trees to eliminate, but I was able to get rid of most of the ones in the field and along the secondary ditches.  Some of the more stubborn trees require digging out the stump to eliminate branching.  I was lucky to have someone with a backhoe come over and help dig out these stumps.  This will prove to be essential in the actual fields.  This will keep us from breaking agricultural equipment by cutting large branches or running over stumps.  I know some farmers tend to work around trees.  I would prefer to, but this species is aggressive.  Perhaps you have something similar growing on your land.


 As I am learning, it seems like fall and winter are the best times to cut down invasive trees.  In these seasons, the sap flow is dominantly running toward the roots which helps if you are using.  In the spring and summer months, the tree is busy growing and so cutting and pruning may actually be helping the tree grow or spread.

Digging Out the stumps seems to be the definite way to solve the problem.  Be careful.  Stumps are big and will be wide.  What looks like a small project will probably be deceiving.

Renting a backhoe or knowing someone who owns one is a plus.  Digging a stump with a shovel can be an all-day task. Put up the extra money to secure the right equipment and save yourself the headache and time.


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