A much-loved ritual of spring is the burning of the fields. The Flint Hills area has some dang big pastures, and when the conditions are right, much of the entire horizon is glowing orange. It is quite a sight. Since everybody does it, common sense kinda runs a little low on dry, windy days. It makes for some interesting police and fire department scanner traffic. Heard last year from our very busy rural fire department: “Is the out of control, controlled burn, still out of control?” The answer was simply “Yup.”
This season has been a little dry. Not drouthy, like it has been for the last couple of years. It looks to be a good spring for burning. I came home, checked the wind, nice and light, from the Southwest, good. Bent some dry grass, they bent without crackling too much, we had a good dew this morning, very good. Checked the forecast, light winds dying off after dark and overcast with heavy dew tomorrow morning, where’s my torch?
We have 20 acres of mostly rocky pasture, and the horses won’t always eat everything like people think they would. The weeds tend to group up. Since we have lived here, our horses have been our 24/7 lawn crew. When the grass would start to green up, they went into overdrive. Kept our yard cropped like a golf course, well fertilized too. The outlying areas of the front pasture, kinda hit and miss. The two mares developed a rather delicate palette, declining large sections of perfectly good prairie weeds. So, each spring, we would burn it and the grass would explode out of the blackened ash.
The horses are gone now, in preparation for our move back home to Minnesota; they have found new homes here in Kansas. With heavy hearts, we realize lawn care is now our responsibility. So we do what man has always done, when stuck with keeping nature in check. We burn it.
The secret is to back-burn first. Find the wind direction and start down-wind of your desired burn area. Begin with a small fire, I use a small propane torch, and just drag it across the grass. It will start a nice line of fire, that you can keep in line with judicious use of water and shovel. Most of the time the fire will just about die out on its own in a short or green area. Any dirt trails will stop it, too.
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We have a small patch of blackberries that gets infested with Johnson grass. Johnson grass is a rhizome that spreads underground, much like the blackberries do. Since you don’t want to get in there and argue with the blackberries and Johnson grass, just burn it. The berries will love you and who cares what Johnson thinks.
If you do it right, it can be a relaxing time, walking around with your torch, encouraging shy bunches of grass to ignite. Stepping on the end flames as they creep about, and you are left with a few pieces of gently smoking horse turds to finish out the day. Kinda got teary-eyed on that last part. Happy burning.
Authors note: Just got done with the whole front pasture and we had a casualty. The green house wandered a little to close to the fire and I think we are going to have to put him down. Other than that, everything is burned that needs it. That’s a wrap for this year.