The autumnal withering is here, and has led me to discover no less than four hives of wild honeybees, one in an oak tree, two in hickories and one in a black walnut tree. Having had a small bee box donated to us, (sans bees), hopefully we can capture a swarm next spring and start providing guests with our own farm honey. The weeds and grasses that had hidden these hives only a few weeks ago are no longer succulent, full bodied and appetizing, meaning that our goats now trundle past them looking for fresher, greener fare.
The remaining green plants come in two distinct categories, ones we want the goats to eat and ones we don't want the goats to eat. Five points to the first reader to guess which the goats prefer.
As you can imagine, our goats, lovable contrarians that they are, just can't seem to resist
anything on the farm that we would like to keep. During early fall, it is the still green burr and red oak saplings that bear the brunt of the goats attention, though I have found some Eastern Wahoo (what a great name!) that took a real hammering before I remembered it was in the most recent goat paddock and moved to save it. Luckily, Wahoo is reported to be able to stand a heavy pruning.
The only way I have found to keep the goats off of our oak seedlings is to fence the trees out of the paddock or to run an especially hot electric fence wire near the the trees. So far the goats have been giving the hot wire extra wide berth and the trees are surviving.
Most of the time though, the best solution is to try to weave the fence around single and groups of small oaks to leave them outside the paddock. This can give us some pretty crazy fence configurations (gerrymandering for oaks), but keeping the young trees safe as we clear their competition is worth it. We have so many oaks and hickory seedlings that my sister, Andrea, and I have marked many to move to places on our farm that don't have oak or hickory woods. If only I could see a hundred years into the future to enjoy how all these plantings of native hardwoods look....
In the category of undesirables, we are lucky that several (namely multiflora rose, asian honeysuckle and autumn olive), are very long season plants. They green up before most native species and staying green long after everything else has gone dormant in late fall.
While this gives these plants a huge advantage over most natives, it also makes them easy targets for our little goaty wrecking crew. This late into the season, the plants are trying to put away enough energy to get them through a tough winter. Needless to say, I am very interested in seeing just how much this sort of late season punishment will set these invasive species back.
We have several areas near our house that have been, at this point, turned into veritable honeysuckle boneyards as the goats have cruised through on their prescribed tour of our newly acquired land. The question is, will the honeysuckle come back next year, or will the goats triumph, allowing the long absent natives to reappear? Stay tuned until spring to find out who will win this interspecies battle of the stars!