Land Management: Burning the North Field

Flames leap high over the North field at Lily Springs. Facing W/SW. Photo by Bruce Foss.

Flames leap high over the North field at Lily Springs. Facing W/SW. Photo by Bruce Foss.

The end of March brought with it the first warm weather of the season. At that time, the  eagles started breaking through the ice and the herons entered the cold water at the edge of the lake for the first time in half a year. Melting, warming, sprouting, starting: spring is the time for beginnings, time for the renewal of this land; it is time to engage our hands, our heads, and our hearts in welcoming the abundance of the warm seasons.

About a month and a half ago, we control-burned the North field. Controlled-burning is an ancient form of land management, a tool to build soil organic matter and catalyze new growth, especially in ecosystems that have been left fallow. Our fields were harvested for hay only three times in the 30 years our family has owned this land. Now, as we begin the process of restoration, holistic land-management at Lily Springs Farm has quickly become the active state of affairs.

We began by control-burning the fields to mitigate the potential for wildfires and to deposit the burned grasses and shrubs as carbon “investments” in our very sandy soil. The reason that burning is seen as an investment in the soil is because carbon, in the form of ash, is critical fuel to the function of plants. Carbon is food/building-material for our perennial pasture cover crops (vetch, cowpea, oats, buckwheat, sunn hemp), meaning that it provides the necessary food to support the lifecycle of these plants. Over time, the decomposition of the cover crops deposits additional organic matter in our soil, increasing the overall health of our fields and providing food for future plants.

The field is burned slowly by the local fire department. Each 'burn line' is controlled by a crewman with a fuel canister in hand and water nearby for safety. Photo by Bruce Foss.

The field is burned slowly by the local fire department. Each 'burn line' is controlled by a crewman with a fuel canister in hand and water nearby for safety. Photo by Bruce Foss.

Now, as the fields have begun to recover from the initial burning, we are planting the fields for the first time in 30 years. The cycle of renewal has begun again, this time with the encouragement of flames and the aid of new seedlings. As we continue to learn from this restoration project, we will return to the fields with updates of their condition. Each step in the process of restoration returns to the source of life, carbon; just as the indigenous populations of this area did before the arrival of Europeans, we intentionally brought fire to the fields to start anew, to refresh the cycle carbon sequestration, and to begin dreaming of abundance.