This is a serialization of the new book written by Carl Flowers, owner of Silveus Plantation, the subject of "Groton's Anonymous Mistress." The 300-year-old home is accessed by Kemp Street near the boundary of Groton and Dunstable.

Part 24

By Carl Flowers

In some fields where the soil is poor, (the Christmas) trees have been growing for 16 to 17 years to reach their ideal height. A rotation this long is unacceptable. In just the last couple of years, I've been bringing in manure to enrich the soil to shorten the growing time. On every newly cleared field and all the old fields that have been harvested, I have been composting with manure and then planting with 100 percent Dutch white clover, which doesn't grow more than five inches tall. This reduces the need for gasoline to cut grass and the need to herbicide for weed control.

(The Dutch white) clover produces nitrogen which should reduce the need for fertilizer. Only time will tell if this works. At least the clover will be good for the honey bees that are kept at the Mistress. They love clover and it makes great honey. Clover is specially important at this time when the existence of the honey bee is being challenged. Urban sprawl and eradication of certain flowering plants such as purple loosestrife are among two of the contributors.

In fact, Massachusetts has introduced beetles to eradicate the loosestrife. Because nothing is being planted to replace the loosestrife, phragmites are taking control of the wetlands.


Advertisement

They are just as invasive as the loosestrife and provide no useful function to honey bees. The lack of plants on which pollinators can thrive has become so critical, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is giving grants for planting vegetation that will attract pollinators. Money is also being made available to control the phragmites that have replaced the loosestrife.

Problems with the honey bee are just one challenge farmers face. Land clearing is another issue. Its cost can't be deducted from one's income as an ordinary expense, but has to be capitalized. In other words, the only way to get the money back from clearing land is to sell the land. Because of old age, many farmers are forced into selling their farms. Young people looking to farm can't afford to buy the land. The cost of a house and student loans all work against a young person looking to go into farming.

Besides clearing land to produce a salable crop, I've identified certain areas to encourage timber growth. To do this, I've participated in cost sharing programs sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, where I put up a thousand dollars and the department matches my thousand dollars. The money I received was used for thinning and pruning. Tree branches are removed and poor quality trees are girdled so that they die without abruptly cluttering the ground. This allows the best trees to grow without competition from those that are less desirable. The result is quality timber with few or no knots.

One area where this was done was subsequently flooded by beavers. The water rose so high that a stone wall disappeared. Not a whole lot can be done about the beavers because they're protected. The result is this. I threw away a thousand dollars, paid taxes on the thousand dollars from the Department of Agriculture, and now pay taxes on land I can't use. The beavers can't cut down trees in the area they flooded. Instead, they cut down trees on dry land and drag them into the water. That's more trees I can't have for an income on land for which taxes are paid.

Even produce farmers can have problems with beavers. Depending on how close beavers are to a corn field, they can clear a quarter of an acre or more in a night. Then, there's the methane gas problem the beaver population can cause. If I produced as much methane gas as the beavers, the penalties would be significant. By selling out to a developer, everyone would cry, "The farms, the farms, they're disappearing."

Beavers aren't the only problem. In bringing the Mistress's domain back to a working farm on which a living can be made, I have discovered serious conflicts. Divergence exists between people who farm for a living and people who move from a metropolitan area to a significantly less populated region. People from the city want to save everything they couldn't see on a daily basis in the city. They wear blinders when it comes to individual agendas. Everyone needs to take a look at the whole picture when it comes to farming.

In the mid or late 1990s a woman on the Groton Conservation Commission wanted permission to look over the Mistress's domain.