other brush thickets used to an advantage.
Grazing abuse caused most
of the cedar thickets in the lower and more level lands. There have
always been cedar trees in the steep rocky out crops where nature
needed them. Not in the deeper soils the thick grass kept them smothered
out. But, when we penned our domestic animals in pastures and allowed
them to wipe out the best grasses, they then went after lesser and
lesser forges until the soil started to become bare.
Nature never wants bare
exposed soil. Bare soil is highly subject to erosion. That is why
Nature lets the weedy, poison and thorny plants take over. Insects,
and animals don't eat them, they are allowed to cover, protect
and rebuild the soil. Cedar is one of these re-builder plants, if
given enough time cedar will do it. However, we can speed up the process.
Seldom have ranchers had
the opportunity to mulch marginal and poor pastureland as they have
today. Junipers or cedars as most ranchers call them, cover over 3
million acres of Texas. In some locations so thick you can't
ride a horse or walk through them. Their shade is so dense no other
plant gets enough light to grow. Unless the annual rains comes in
3-inch showers or more, little if any water ever gets past their roots.
The green needles and mulch of dead needles under the trees hold the
first inch. Then the roots take the next half-inch or more.
In my own pastures I have
never seen drought kill cedars. They have roots like a cactus. After
a long dry spell the cedar get their share of the water first. It
takes big rains to feed the aquifers or make the creeks flow in cedar
The junipers or cedars
are immune to herbicides, which I consider a blessing. Other control
methods must be found. Few, if any of our modern generation laborers
know how to use a grubbing hoe, if they did; I doubt that minimum
wage would get them to the pastures. Our only choice of control is
Chopped up cedar branches
and stumps make an excellent mulch. The whole tree, stump and all
is acetic, the ph is around 5 and below. When chopped up and used
as a mulch over the alkaline soil of the Edwards Plateau it quickly
makes topsoil out of the caliches and lime stone they grew in.
Big machines called “cedar
eaters” can chop large junipers, stump and all, right down to
the soil and lay it out as beautiful mulch. These machines are large
articulated, rubber-tired tractors equipped with big, heavy duty flail
mowers that can reach high up in a tree and chop it right down to
These machines can work
on some pretty steep grades and fairly rough terrain. They can snake
around and between big rocks and/or desirable trees to be saved. Where
the terrain is too steep or rough the cedars are best left alone.
They are needed in those locations. They help decay rock into soil
that can eventually erode into the lower and more level terrains to
help build good pasture soils.
The Blueberry Juniper will
not re-sprout from the stump like the Redberry and the One-Seeded
junipers do. However, they can all pop up from seed. But the seedlings
can easily be controlled with brush hogs or flail mowers on small
farm tractors if shredded before they get too big. But, you may want
to let them get big before shredding so you can create more mulch
for soil protection, water saving and soil building.
Juniper is a high-energy
wood and because of the low ph it makes very good mulch in the central
Texas high ph soils. Because of it’s slow decay rate, the mulching
affect lasts for years.
I have been visiting and
watching some of the first cedar thicket pastures reclaimed with the
Cedar Eaters. Within 12 to 16 weeks there were good stands of native
grasses coming through the thinner spots of the mulch. The mulch protected
the small grass plants from being tromped or eaten down until a good
root was established. The mulch held the heavy rain in place; it soaked
in instead of running off and eroding soil with it. The soil temperature
under the mulch is cooler in hot weather and warmer in cool weather.
I have found moisture under the mulch weeks after a rain while un-mulched
soil, near by, was dry inches deep.
Within three years you
could see a change in the soil under the thicker mulched (1 to 3 inch)
spots. The soil was much darker. The white limestone was beginning
to turn into soil. The top ¼ inch was dark brown but it slowly
faded lighter and lighter to original white at about three inches.
There were all types of micro and macro life forms living, eating,
reproducing, dying and decaying under that energy rich protective
cedar mulch cover. This will continue and continue to build fertile
soil as long as the mulch lasts.
It is not cheap; in fact
it is expensive to mulch down a cedar thicket. But, when all the benefits
of grazing land re-claimed, soil saved and water saved for future
use, not just for the rancher but near by cities that draw from the
replenished aquifers, the cost can quickly be justified.
Mulched down cedar thickets
may even be of greater value to the nearby communities than to the
ranchers themselves. Costs of mulching should be divided proportionally.
Mesquite covers about 15
million acres of Texas. I never heard the old timers complaining about
mesquite. My dad always looked forward to a good mesquite bean crop.
Mesquite beans kept the horses and mules fat. My grandpa’s pasture
was a small part post oak and the rest mesquite pasture. The post
oak pasture was in a red soil, the trees were thick, no grass grew
there but dad and grandpa both made some money cutting oak fire wood
and shipping it to the big cities.
Mesquite land was considered
better land for farming or pasture. I remember in their conversations
often talking about “sorry post oak land and good mesquite land”.
In early boyhood my favorite dove and rabbit hunting pastures were
mesquite savannas with big mesquite trees spaced 50 to a 100 feet
apart. There were a few bushes of different types and scattered clumps
of prickle pare cactus that the cottontail and jack rabbits hid under.
Ninety percent of the ground was covered with good forage grasses
right up to and under the big mesquites. There was no mesquite brush
in these pastures.
The Cedar Eater type machines
do a good job of mulching up mesquite brush. Grind it low to the ground.
When it sprouts back use a root plow or big disc plow to pull the
stumps out by the roots. Mesquites are very persistent. If you don't
do a good job of getting all the roots out the first try they come
back with more, bigger and sharper thorns.
DO NOT poison or chop down
the big mesquite trees. If you do, numerous small mesquites will sprout
up in their place. Old timers told me about this and I have seen it
happen but didn't know the cause. Modern science has now un-covered
Natures secrets of how this works. The big trees give off some substance
in the soil that keeps the mesquite beans from sprouting. If the big
trees are destroyed this substance is no longer produced. Also, when
big mesquites are chopped down buds from the remaining tree roots
will also sprout up.
A naturalist once told
me mesquite roots go very deep. A mesquite tree may pump up more water
than it uses. Many times while resting in the light but cool shade
I noticed the good forage grass under the canopy of big mesquites
is as good and sometimes better than out in the open. Mesquites as
cedars in their right place are beautiful, productive and beneficial
as is every other creation in Nature.
Mulching brush and trees
is much preferred over piling and burning. Burning destroys the soil
building, soil protecting and water collecting mulch. Burning causes
the carbon and nitrogen and other elements in the wood to go up and
pollute the atmosphere. The atmosphere is already overloaded with
CO2 and other greenhouse gases.