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The Art of Rewilding: Why You Don't Need to Mow EVERYTHING

The first thing our real estate agent claimed was 'imperative' when we'd bought our 5 1/2 acre farm years back was that we needed a $25K tractor to mow everything (and a pickup truck for hauling). I quietly laughed both suggestions off, and instead invested in a much more economical and sustainable electric Ryobi riding mower (while simultaneously keeping our way-more-fuel-efficient-than-a-truck Subaru Outback with its roof rack, interior space that easily held 10' 2x4s with the seats down, and tow hitch).

You see, if you're not harvesting wheat or other massive farming endeavors, you don't need a tractor. In addition, YOU DON'T NEED TO MOW EVERYTHING. The first summer on the farm, I mowed the entire large (3 acre) pasture so I could get the lay of the land. I found out where the scotch broom was hiding at the far end (which needed to be removed or mowed in spring to keep from its toxic spread), my husband discovered an infant pine tree growing, and we could easily see where the local families of deer preferred to do their business and therefore preferred to travel at night (something our pitbull would later come to appreciate in spades...ewww!). Then we took turns mowing the 'forest' area of the other end of the property with the same intentions: learning where the creek took its turns and faded out, where the lumps and bumps of the land lie, noting the property line markers and what natives grew to what invasives needed to be pulled...and the car embedded deep in the creek bank as our neighbor had given us the heads-up on.

After that, however? We had no plans to actually farm either sections of the property, so with that, why should we mow? When we'd visited a farm along the Columbia a couple years earlier, we'd noticed they had mowed paths around the property, allowing them to have their very own 'nature walks' on the land, while the native grasses, flowers and trees were free to grow and thrive. So I imitated that taking the mower into forested areas, carving gentle paths down the hill to and along the creek where the foxtail grew tall and lush, where the serviceberry tree and salmonberry fed the birds and the alders shaded the ferns, where the daffodils grew wild after the former owner (who I'd been told hated them) pulled them and tossed them, where we could sit and have a picnic and where the ducks could run down and splash to their hearts' content. In the pasture, I was even simpler in my approach - mowing a path around the entire perimeter, and crossing it down the middle so we had multiple opportunities to stretch our legs at the end of a long day, watch the dog frolic in the long grasses as she chased after the field mice, and where we could enjoy the wild daisies, lupine, clover and alfalfa waving in the breeze with the grasses.

The bonus of all of this? When you allow a portion of your land to stay wild, you leave it for the native wildlife to not only enjoy, but to stay a healthy distance from areas you DON'T want them. The eagles and hawks will take out the mice in the field, who in turn will hide in the grasses rather than in the barn. The deer can bed down for the night in your pasture or in the grasses by the creek and snack on the native berries...rather than take advantage of your garden's bounty. And along with that, when you keep invasives like scotch broom and others at bay, the native grasses and other plants will eventually crowd those out...because they are attracted to recently CUT areas.

This is a farm of course, but it can be mimicked in the city as well. Most of us know that lawns aren't doing anything positive for the environment, and leave nowhere for urban wildlife to they go for your basement, your crawlspace, your attic, and other spaces you'd rather not share. So with that, this is where you can rewild a bit of your backyard and/or front yard, doing everything from growing flowers and shrubs that will get bushy (or as my husband puts it, "plant so much you can't see the ground") which has the bonus of reducing the need for mulch and weed barriers, to planting groundcovers as grass replacement that are friendly on the bare feet (woolly thyme is a longtime favorite of mine) for those areas where you do want to have a seat and immerse yourself in your own little piece of nature. This photo below is from my first home, just before we moved to the farm, where 13 years earlier was just grass and a dilapidated white picket fence. Over the years a deck with jasmine was added, a multitude of roses, herbs, pollinator-friendly flowers and native shrubs and even a fruit tree were added to fill it in...and boy do I prefer this 'after' version...


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