Mow The Field, Mind The Blueberries

– Posted in: Fruit, Garden chores, Tools and Equipment

Sometimes, it’s better not to think about certain things. Sometimes it’s better to pretend you didn’t see, to not think about it. Sometimes one might wonder how there can be such moral quandaries about mowing a field.
image of a man operating a walk behind field mower - photo taken by Cadie on May 28, 2006
We have a back field of about five acres that runs up the hill to the edge of the woods. I try to mow the field with the DR Brush Mower every year to keep the field from going back to scrub. Normally I mow in the fall when other work around the house is at a minimum, but last year I was working on a house renovation project in the fall. Rather than let all the nasty scrub in the field get another free year to grow I decided I should mow the field this spring.

I mowed the field over the course of mid- and late May. I discovered that mowing in spring when everything is coming alive is much more psychologically difficult than mowing in fall when everything is dead. You see, it would be so much easier if I were just some blase suburbanite who thought everything “out back” was just so much to be casually mowed down. But no. I have at least a bit of a discerning eye and so I discover myself in the uncomfortable position of only wanting to mow some things down.

The problem with wanting to save “some” things in the field is that the gardener half of me turns “some” into a few more, then into more, then a lot . . . while the logical and laboring side of me is screaming “Will you just shut up! We’re trying to mow this stupid field. If you want to mow around every third cotton-pickin’ plant we’ll wear ourselves out and never get done.” Driving the DR Brush Mower in a straight line is pretty easy. Carefully mowing around things you want to save isn’t.

Every time I mow the field I end up engaged in some type of bi-polar war where half of me is trying to look at everything I might mow so that I can stop and avoid anything that might be “good” or “interesting,” while the other half of me is fuming that I am being stupid and I should just mow the field, not turn it into a wild/cultivated garden of 5 acres! In the end I reach some type of middle ground where I save some things and so assuage my conscience somewhat, while at the same time feeling stupid for being so impractical that I saved even so much.

During the fall this was easier. When things are died back it’s a little harder to see different plants, and what might be interesting or unusual. When I first mowed the field there were a lot of wild apple trees. I mowed down many of them, but to appease my conscience I engaged in a very labor intensive exercise of moving many of them into a neat orchard up on one hill. This was a very stupid activity because they were wild apple trees and thus it was probable their apples wouldn’t taste good and further the trees were large enough that it was unlikely they could be successfully moved. This latter point has proven true, and most of them have died so I wasted a lot of time and effort moving trees so I wouldn’t feel guilty mowing down other trees.

After the apple tree episode there was the issue of wild blueberries. Our field is dotted with clusters of wild low bush blueberries. The berries taste good. The brush mower, which cuts at 4 inches, would brutally scalp these plants. So . . . mow them all down, save them all, or save only some? The practical part of my mind said mow the field and forget the blueberry plants. They serve no necessary function. The other part of me said wild blueberry bushes are heirlooms and produce a wonderful tasting fruit and I should save every last one. I eventually bargained myself to the position where I saved the larger patches but the very small patches I mowed over and reasoned it away to myself.

That was when I mowed in the fall and nothing actually had any fruit on it. This May I mowed when the blueberries and the strawberries were in full bloom. Now every blueberry bush could hold up its promise of fruit and say, “See? Do you really want to mow over me?” And what about the strawberries? And what about the blackberries? And what about currants? What about honeysuckle? And what about those other flowering things?

Stop. Stop. If I give everyone a free pass from being mowed I might as well take the mower home and forget about having a field. I had to draw the line somewhere. What about blackberries? I stood behind the running DR Brush Mower and looked at the patch of blackberry canes that had sprouted up in the field. I love blackberries. I could see in front of me the beginnings of a very large blackberry patch. But a brambly blackberry thicket was the very antithesis of a field. Was I going to have a blackberry patch or a field? One or the other.

Hard choice. I finally decided my mandate was keeping the field, not cultivating wild blackberries, and thus duly plunged forward. With every mowed down cane it was, “There goes blackberry pies! There goes blackberry jam!” Drive fast and don’t think about it.

Then what about strawberries? The field was covered with strawberry flowers. Some of the flowers were cut off when I mowed, while others were low enough that they escaped. Since approximately half the flowers survived when I mowed over them, I convinced myself mowing them was an acceptable “thinning.”

Finally, the blueberries. I found my previous decision to mow some and save others impossible. It seemed every blueberry bush I saw was laden with flowers promising a great blueberry harvest. Would I dare to mow any of them down? No, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Wild low bush blueberries are not the thorny brambly thicket of wild blackberries. The blueberry bushes were like a low ground cover and I was willing to have a whole field of them, especially when they promised a harvest.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of blueberry patches. They popped up everywhere, sprawling across the field and making me take large detours. Round one patch I would go, and then round another. Pulling the DR Brush Mower around in a turn is many times harder than letting it continue forward and by the time I reached the top of the field it felt like I was doing nothing but driving around in circles, simply mowing the little bits of grass and weeds in between the large blueberry patches. And I was exhausted. Instead of field mower I should just call myself blueberry cultivator.

The idea of tending wild blueberries brought up interesting questions. The most pressing (as I continued to carefully mow around every darn patch) was whether mowing over the wild bushes every few years was like pruning and would actually encourage better fruit production. I sure wished I knew because if true I would have mowed over a third of the patches right then and saved myself a lot of shoulder strain.

I also wondered what the different colored blueberry bushes meant. As I was carefully watching the field for every possible blueberry patch I noticed the plants had distinctly different characteristics. Some bushes had almost reddish leaves, others had dark green leaves, and still others had light green leaves. Then some of the bushes were very close to the ground while others were closer to knee height. Were all those differences merely indicative of plant health (if so, which could I guiltlessly mow down under the verdict of “unhealthy plant”?) or were all these variations a sign that I have a vast collection of different plant types? In that case I was obligated to save all of this disparate botanical treasure. In the end I peered at them all, wondered, and saved them all whilst fuming at my stupidity. (Why am I spending so much effort saving all these plants? They’re just plants!)

And what of the honeysuckle and currants you ask? Don’t ask. Sacrifices must be made for the greater good. The white and purple flower went beneath the churning blades of the mower and only pulp came out. I winced. I felt guilty. But I did it.

The field is mowed. I told everyone they had better really love the blueberries this year after all the work I went through to save them. And I told myself I have to come up with a better way of dealing with the blueberries. Driving my giant mowing machine around every little patch is fanatical and something I can’t keep up long term. The problem with compulsive behavior is that it’s so hard to escape.

This entry was originally published at Rundy’s blog, Letters From a Silverware Thief. After you read his blog, you will never think of chickens in the same way.

About the Author

At age fifteen, Rundy decided he wanted to write for his living. He is currently working on a novel, although it is not the novel he started at fifteen. When not working on the novel, he might be riding his bike, feeding his chickens, helping his neighbors, messing around with web design and computers in general, or writing on his blog, which discusses other topics in addition to gardening. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 AHS Heat Zone: 3 Location: rural; Southern Tier of NY Geographic type: foothills of Appalachian Mountains Soil Type: acid clay Experience level: advanced beginner Particular interests: fruits, vegetables, major landscaping, chickens and other poultry

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

James Tyree II July 19, 2009, 10:58 am

As a certified Permaculturalist I empathize with your plight. Good for you for having an ecological conscience. I wish more did and wrote about it. Then we would all see the value of ALL plants

M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) June 14, 2006, 2:17 pm

I feel just the same way when I try to clear any area. On the one hand is the gardener who knows I should just clear the patch at once if the job is going remain manageable, if the result is going to look like a garden. On the other hand is the steward who can’t stand to see any plant who has the will to survive in Central Texas plucked out before its time.

If I had a field of wild berries, I’d haven’t the heart to destroy a single one.

Kim June 14, 2006, 10:54 am

Nice article… I felt like I was along for the mowing! I am very jealous that you have all of those wild blueberries to enjoy. 🙂

Speaking of blueberries, I’ve noticed that most of the leaves on my highbush garden blueberry shrubs come out with a red tinge. Maybe the different leaf coloration just has to do with which growth is new?

Kathy Purdy June 13, 2006, 8:54 pm

Don’t worry about the honeysuckle. That’s Tartarian honeysuckle and it’s considered invasive. You’re supposed to mow that down. Actually, you’re probably supposed to uproot it. At any rate, don’t keep that on your conscience–it was a good deed.