St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pine Plantation

Google image of the Hanson 40 acre farm.  In the far upper left corner (NW) is a red outlined small hillside -- The Pine Plantation. It is along Evergreen Av and was planted with pines in the 1960s and untouched since.  
Back about 53 years ago, brother Marvin was in the St Croix Falls High School FFA.  The FFA was for boys in those days, boys who planned to be farmers.  Along with all sorts of practical skills for dairying, crops growing and other farming skills, the FFA emphasized conservation and wildlife, encouraging wild life and wood lot planting on pieces of land not suitable for crops or pasture. 

The home 40 acres on the farm was intensively used for crops and pasture, so very little land was available for tree planting.  So when Marvin got 100 redpines and spruce, he asked Dad where he could plant them.  

"The NW corner of the 40 along Evergreen, next to Bert's land -- there is a little brushy area I don't pasture, and as it is a hillside and across the swamp, it is unaccessible for anything else.  Back when Nelson owned the whole 80, it was part of the cow pasture, but when the boys split it, this corner has been left idle."
A few years ago, this is the google drive by view of the pine plantation on the left.  In front of it are lots of small ash trees and larger box elders and ash at the end of the corn field.  Much of that has been cleaned out as the farm field has been extended back to its original size after 15 years of being in CRP.  
Dad and we 4 boys took a weekend and cleaned it out.  There were some miscellaneous trees, box elders, elms, pople and lots of brush.  We managed to get it all cleaned off, bare, probably 1/2 acre at the most, next to the Bert's field.  We fixed the fenceline there as Bert sometimes let his cattle into the field, and the FFA said no cows could get in or it would be ruined. 

In April the trees came.  By then we had the patch cleaned off, open, although with some stumps and lots of roots.  We all helped plant the 100 trees in north-south rows on the hillside.  

For the next several years, each year we did a brushing day to clean out everything except the pines.  The soil there was good quality clay loam slanting down to the drain for the swamp, headed north into Leonard and Raymond Noyes barnyard.  The swamp was mostly filled with cattails, having been drained some years earlier by the Nelsons.  

When Dad first bought it, Grandpa Pearl Hanson (Pearl Herbert Hanson--P.H. Hanson was what he went by), came over to re-open the drain to empty it completely, as there was enough drop to the north it seemed that it could be fully drained.  In the old days, swamps were idle land, and every farmer ditched or tiled them out as best he could to either plow them up or at least turn them into cow pasture.  

When Bert saw P.H. starting to dig to drain it, he asked him to stop.  The swamp was partially on Bert's land, although mostly on Dad's side.  "I pasture my young stock there, and on my side is a small pond that keeps water all summer so I don't have to pump water most years.  If it is all right with you, would you leave it."  Being a good neighbor is important in the country, so of course, P.H. let it stay.  
The field ends, a bunch of box elders and then the plantation.  The low area between field and trees is the drain for the cattail swamp.  It could be filled a little and make the cattail swamp a marsh.  Once upon a time, the beaver had plugged it and made it into a small pond, capturing the spring run off on its way to Wolf Creek and the St Croix River. 

53 year old pine plantation, never thinned, grew slowly and no longer give much wildlife cover.  Should Margo get the chainsaw out and thin them for lumber to build her a greenhouse?

P. H. had a big Rumely Oil Pull and in the old days used it to pull the township road grader (in Maple Grove Township).  He was used to grading roads, and making ditches with his machinery, and draining swamps with a tractor and road grader was not a problem.  He would have had to cut through the road and lower the culvert, but it was just a dirt road with an inch or two of gravel, so wouldn't have been much of a problem.  Of course, he wouldn't have needed a permit to do it until many years later. 

So, the swamp stayed semi-dry filled with cattails and watered Bert's Angus and sheep.  Each year the trees grew taller, until in about 10 years, they no longer needed brushing out as they crowded out all else.  

When Everett suggested he thin them to get faster growth (they were very crowded as almost all the trees grew), Dad said, "No, I don't care if I get lumber out of them, they make a great wildlife corner on the farm, and I'd rather have a spot for the grouse, deer, pheasants and birds than a few logs for our sawmill.  So, for 53 years they have been left alone.  We never hunted this 40 acres, nor even went there for any reason.  

A dense redpine plantation can become almost a desert as the shade and fallen needles kill out everything under them, and gradually open up.  That is where it is now.  The question is whether I should take some logs out now or ignore it for another 20 years. 

It being such a beautiful day, sunny, 20 degrees and no wind, I strapped on the skis and plowed my way across the field to the pines and studied them up close.  

On the way out, I decided to follow a deer trail along the west side of the swamp--where the snow has drifted into the cattails and built up 4 feet deep with places even higher.   Staying on the deer track went fine until my left ski went off, and sunk 3 feet down while the other stayed up, tilting me into the deep snow.   

I understand what avalanche survivors must feel like, as I lay there down in a hole four feet deep with soft snow all around, my skis buried, and still strapped on.   After wallowing around (the right word is wallowing), I managed to get my skis up in the air, lying on my back and with the ski poles unsnapped the bindings.   I rolled back and forth a while to flatten out a launching pad, and then rolled on to my stomach, braced with the poles got my self up on my good knee and looked around.  I had been so deep in the snow, I couldn't see out, and had been wondering if I might put my red handkerchief on a pole and stick it up and wave it, hoping someone might drive by on the road and see me signalling.

The snow was so soft and unsupportive, that I finally dug down to the ice underneath to give my poles a firm bottom, and then was able to get up, put on my skis and move along.  Sort of reminds a person that when you get old and fat, things that seemed minor once upon a time, can be major now.  I backtracked my way to the field where it is easier going and continued the survey. 

 The crumpled remains of the top of the 1953 Ford that brother Ev got from Uncle Chan to make into a convertible/bug.  As on many farms, the edge of a swamp was the dump.  Archaeologists will someday dig here and find 150 years of Norwegian and Swedish heritage.   
The cattail swamp looking south from the pine plantation.  Another mostly dry swamp as it has been drained somewhat back in the olden days--just waiting for a beaver to plug it back up.

Below--the one wet spot on the west side that neighbor Bert's cattle could get water.  Still enough to support a duck family each summer. Looking Southeast--to my field edge with a row of box elders along the edge that was used as a dump for 150 years of farmers.  I stopped that when I bought it 10 years ago.