Rednecks love to set things on fire.
I have some friends who tend to the landscaping of their trailer park using a can of gasoline and a match. When the flames dwindle, they find some cool stuff, like the transmission to a 1967 Trans-Am, a few pet chickens and mama’s collection of stolen road signs. Once all the land is burned bare, the native weeds can grow back thicker, taller and even better so you can store your cars, moonshine stills and undocumented livestock under better cover. It really isn’t all that different from the prescribed burning we do at Foxworthy Farm.
Around the time of late winter and early spring we like to burn at the farm. By fall, the areas have had enough time to regrow; wildlife—especially deer—will use the new growth for cover. But this year, all the rain we’re having is causing us to wait longer than we’d like.
At the farm, we’re on a 3-year burn rotation and we try to burn about a third of the farm a year in a checkerboard pattern so there’s not a huge area of barren land. This leaves plenty of cover for the deer and wildlife to use while the burning and regrowth takes place. Obviously, you don’t want to do it all at once, unless you want to watch all the wildlife mass-migrate to your neighbor’s land.
Prescribed burning achieves several goals at the farm: It recycles nutrients back into the soil, cuts down on timber competition, and promotes a lot of young, tender, native habitat that all species utilize. A 3-year burn rotation creates a plant community made up of more native perennial and woody plants that provide thick bedding cover.
One of the most prominent woody plants in the south is a wonderful tree called a sweetgum, or Liquidambar styraciflua for those of you who are taxonomically inclined. I know that every plant and critter on this earth was created for a reason, but I have yet to figure out what a sweetgum has to offer! I guess that’s a little harsh. Sweetgums do provide thick bedding cover. But, if you let it get big enough that it can’t be controlled with fire, it can do more damage than good by shading out the more beneficial plant communities. On the other hand, if you’re managing your land for American goldfinches, they love sweetgum seeds, so I guess it does have some use … but I digress.
Of course, when kids like us play with fire, safety needs to be addressed. My farm manager, Glenn Garner, knows what he’s doing and if you’re going to set land on fire, you need to as well. Be in touch with the authorities and get all the permits needed, and only burn under optimal wind and humidity conditions. We don’t want to be opening the morning paper and see “Deer Hunter Creating Bedding Areas Burns Down the Whole Town” as the headline.