Property Restoration using Forestry Mulching in East Tennessee

property renovationIt was in the early Spring of 2009 when we first visited John and Judi Hromco, recently retired environmental science teachers who had bought their dream property in Morristown, East Tennessee.  They had a strong vision for what they wanted to achieve with the restoration of their 25 acres.  They wanted to create a park-like property, encompassing orchards, fertile gardens, stands of hardwoods with walking trails, and pasture for grazing the five horses they inherited!

The area had been a productive pasture some 60 or 70 years prior, but had been allowed to deteriorate into an impenetrable tangle, mostly hardwoods like locust, cherry, poplar and walnut, but then invaded by an underbrush of bittersweet vines, privet, wild roses, and the like.  The hardwoods were suffering by being choked off from sunlight and nutrients, and the entire area could barely be accessed on foot.

Planning the Forestry Mulching Property Restoration

Our approach to the Hromco’s property restoration was multi-step, due to both the differing vegetative areas and outcomes they had in mind.

Initially, we reduced all unwanted biomass via forestry mulching, opening up the acreage and allowing them to plan out the proposed orchard according to the most suitable orientation for sunlight.  This area was cleared of all underbrush and trees, and left entirely in mulch.  The Hromco property was blessed with a good stand of mature field grown cherry, too short for the sawmill and not appropriate for a farm that had grazing horses due to its potential for toxicity.  All standing cherry was harvested and stacked, and then sawn on site by Dan Mayer of Asheville Slab for use in the building of new kitchen cabinets and trim.

property renovation
Loading locust logs

We also harvested mature locust for fencing, forestry mulching the tree crowns and stumps.  The Hromcos’ were able to sell this wood as fence posts, and firewood too.

The property layout lent itself to maximizing edge habitat for wildlife with fully cleared areas for pasture meandering between stands of hardwood, and what would become a gorgeous section of cleanly under-brushed woodlands sown with a mix of shade tolerant grasses for a fabulous gladed effect, with walking trails.

How the Landowners Viewed the Forestry Mulching Project

Judi and John were fully aware that the transformation of their property would be a long-term commitment, with seeding and mowing over the course of a number of years.  Here is how they viewed the project in their own words:

When we first considered clearing some of our land we knew, as former environmental science teachers, we wanted to do it sustainably.  It was important to us to preserve and enhance the quality of the soil and soil profile of the area that had been a part of a pasture two generations ago.  After more than sixty years of neglect, we wanted our densely overgrown, vine-infested forest to be transformed into a park-like setting with usable pasture, an orchard, and an extension of our yard and gardens.  We wanted walking paths through the woods, sitting areas, and picnic areas.  Clearing the biomass sustainably gave us a thick layer of coarse mulch.  We let this mulch sit through the summer, fall and winter (as it turned out) so that the lower layers could break down into a finer mulch, eventually to become topsoil.

In spring, we used our small tractor to rake most of the remaining coarse mulch off the top of the soil in the orchard and a portion of the pasture.  We seeded both and have already cut the grass in the orchard.  We used a mixture of coarse and finer mulch around the fruit trees.

Clearing the trees and brush was relatively fast, but the rest of the process of creating pasture is a longer-term commitment.  We still have to do weed control on two thirds of the new pasture, rake it and prepare it for fall (or next spring) grass planting.  It has been an exciting labor of love.  We enjoy our walks, gardens, and the sitting areas that have been established thus far.