Chapter 22

Cuttin' Filth

The natural plant life of these hills is hardwood, originally chestnut, oaks, hickory, poplar, and so on. When the pioneers came they cut the trees to make farmland, even on the steep hills. Today Appalachian hardwood is exported all over the world, especially to the orient. It is all second growth, a regrowth on land that has been timbered or even cleared previously.

The owner of a log buying station three miles east of Weston recently bragged he made a profit of 6 million dollars in one year. That certainly must be the most profitable, if not the largest, business in Lewis county, since the yard is less than two acres in extent. How we'd like to have some of those big trees the pioneers found for veneer logs now! Regrowth is seldom more than two and a half to three feet in diameter.

There have only been two trees I have ever seen that have been three feet or more, and both of them were stolen. There was a white oak in the southeast corner of the farm several years ago that was mentioned above. It was over three feet, and the rings showed about 240 years. We didn't get paid for any of the timber the man took out. He was past retirement, and spent all he got from the log buyer.

The other was a big tree, perhaps seven feet in diameter on the Lost Creek farm. It went to a local timber man who cut a lot of timber in Lewis and Harrison counties and is still in business. He had to transport it out of the local area, because there was no mill capable of utilizing it, and it was too large for the usual log trade. It was cut at the end of the job and we never even found out what he was paid for it.

When you cut the forest here it vigorously tries to regenerate itself. If the land is being plowed (for corn, widely used by the early settlers) regeneration is prevented. If the land is being used for pasture, which has always been a major use of the land here, the forest will regenerate in a few years if there is no pasture maintenance. The remedy for the cattle farmer is to remove woody growth - long calledcuttin' filth. This term also applies to large broadleaf weeds removed at the same time.

Dad told me how they cut filth at the group of farms on Hacker's Creek on land which once belonged to great-grandfather Booth Bond. They would go out barefoot (which was pretty impressive to me as a boy, knowing the condition of the pastures I saw regularly) with "grubbing" hoes and mattocks. I have never used a grubbing hoe, or seen anyone use one, things had gotten too mechanized by the 1940's, but I have seen them. They are relatively heavy, with the handle going through the metal, like a mattock handle. The handle was short, unlike the hoes one uses in the garden, but long enough to use one or two hands. It did not allow the upright posture one adopts with a garden hoe. The men and boys would line up and walk around the hill in a line, each taking a swath four or five feet wide. They not only dug up seedling trees, but also broadleaf plants like ironweed, burdock, plantin, etc. Great-grandfather Booth Bond liked to have four inches of grass before he turned cattle into a field. This was white clover, blue grass, red top grass and some orchard grass.

Most plants having agricultural value come from the Eurasian land mass. Timothy, orchard grass, most of the clovers, most food crops, wheat, rice, cabbage and its relatives, carrots, turnips and so on were imported. Corn is the most outstanding exception, along with potatoes,tomatoes, gourds and some kinds of beans. There is a tradition in the family that the plant we called "buck plantain" was once sarcastically called "Bond clover" because one of our ancestors sent to England for seed of a superior new clover, and had gotten seed for this weed instead.

Going over the land every year produced superior pastures. You could mow ("clip") pastures once or twice a year and control the trees quite well. This was the standard in my youth (40's and 50's). It was originally done with horse machines, which were capable of going over very steep land and later

(Illustration 22-1)

Reclaimed strip mine on John Senger's farm

with tractors. The trouble with this method was the roots and heart (the ground level part) are left and this is enough to save the plant and cause rapid regeneration. And it was difficult to get to filth cuttin' each time it should be done.

Uncle Gene Kennedy had very serious trouble with hickory shoots on his farm, and Dad's nemesis was mostly with crabapple and locust. The shuttle type mowers are particularly susceptible to damage from wood. The wood jams between the triangular knife and the wearing plate which is supposed to cut grass. You have to go over the ground frequently, a great expense of time and fuel. They recommended June and September in Vo-Ag classes.

When I left home the rotary cutter (brush hog) was coming in. It works like large a rotary lawn mower, and it is much less likely to break than a shuttle mower. The problem with it is that it cuts higher than the mowing machine.

With the arrival of multiflora rose the rotary mower wasn't useful for open pasture, because the rose grew so fast. Spray, a combination of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T herbicides was the answer. Now, in 2000, I spray some, mow broad leaf weeds, and have a rotary cutter with the back open to back into the tree line, where the forest must be contained. Our principal problem now is Autumn Olive.

The reason spray is so important is that it can be used in fence rows, which can not be cleaned by hand labor without great expense, and on land that is too steep for tractors. It kills the plant, so the trimming does not have to be done again next year. There are a few plants it will not kill, including a certain grasses, raspberries and redbud trees. The raspberries are slow to invade, and grow slowly, so they are not much of a problem, but require occasional hand labor to cut. All my adult life I have looked for a machine to clean fence rows that would be fast, would not require much maintenance, and would not be too expensive, but would be suited for steep slopes with occasional rocks and stumps.

You must maintain your pasture if you want to farm in Appalachia, but it is much easier when it is properly limed and fertilized. This encourages cattle to clean grass up right to the fence, and discourages woody growth.

Aside The delight of my (still active) old age is a tractor with a cab on it. After all the years of going out in the biting cold and sweltering heat I now have a cab with tinted windows, heater and air conditioning. On an open tractor the wind serves to carry the heat of the engine your way in summer and to freeze you in the winter. A cab confines the heat of the engine, so you don't need much heating, only removal of condensing moisture. But in summer it is like a hot house, retaining the heat of the engine and the heat from the sun. Air conditioning makes tractor work much more bearable.

Copyright © 1998, 2006, 2008, 2011 S. Tom Bond (stombond at