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Fall mowing

Posted by Ethan Gouge 
Fall mowing
September 11, 2017 03:18AM
I haven't heard anything mentioned about a fall mowing similar to the one advocated for in the spring where you lay the grass down for a mulching effect. Assuming winter voles aren't a problem, why not scythe or sickle mow again in the fall? The material should last long enough the help mulch in the spring, help create/keep the fungal dominated understory, and create some underground space for the apple tree's fall root flush. What other Cons are out there? Also, what would be some surrounding ecosystem clues of a good time for this mowing? It would probably need to be done pre- harvest, and we'd want the understory material to be nearly at it's peak of growth for the most fiber. Anything else?

Roan Highlands Farm 6b, Roan Mountain, TN elevation: 3200 ft.
Re: Fall mowing
September 11, 2017 04:55PM
Each grower approaches mowing with an idea of when there's time to do it and capacity of the equipment at hand. The scythe serves me well in laying down a "dripline mulch" right after petal fall with all the inherent advantages tied to the spring feeder root flush at that time. I go with the Bellon brush mower attachment for my BCS walking tractor after that . . . so the following ideas are very much tied to terrain and hand-scale equipment options.

The places where I mow in midsummer -- principally, aisle ways and access swaths beneath the canopies of early varieties -- are now in full vigor, including red clover just starting to bloom for bumbles. This actually ties to mycorrhizal advantage in the early part of fall, as the plants in a neighboring understory engaged in actively renewing growth do not compete for fungal nutrients as readily. Grasses and such are using carbon sugars in-house rather than trading with the fungal networks thereby giving the fruit tree an early edge. Similarly, overgrown sections that have successfully seeded are also withdrawing from active trade in the underground economy by late summer, and this in turn grants nutrient priority to orchard trees just initiating the fall feeder root flush. Repeating the dripline mulch plan could make sense, Ethan, if you indeed have an understory at the seed-initiation stage once again. Read Mycorrhizal Planet to get these pulsing notions down!

Come fall in all its glory, lessening vole cover is high on the list. (Are there really places without some sort of rodent issue?) I couple this with enhanced leaf decomposition . . . and thereby do the majority of mowing after harvest once a third or so of the orchard leaf canopy has fallen. In truth, I have started mowing already, principally widening aisles and cleaning up under picked trees, just because there's so much mowing to be done later. But there will be less of this now for a while as picking and marketing takes up all the hours in the day these next 4 to 6 weeks. I will note my friend Ike's observation about "delayed aisle cover" being a good way to direct vole populations away from the tree zone after harvest, into the as-yet-unmowed center strips, then coming through at full speed a few days later to mow more than just grass.

Many variations on these themes!

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/11/2017 06:15PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Fall mowing
September 12, 2017 03:06AM
Makes sense. I'm hoping to add your newest book to my winter reading list. My thinking was trying to fit a scything style mow in pre harvest and then coming back in with a mulching mow in late fall for vole habitat and scab abatement. Snow rarely sticks around for more than a few days here and there always seems to be a second flush of green grass in early fall when temps cool and we get a little rain. This extra work might not be worth the benefit though.
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