Honeysuckle and Ticks

16.Apr.2010 by Lauren Jacobs

I came to Maine for the month of April with the intention of helping my Dad move. Packing up boxes and going through old stuff has kept me occupied, but I also got a temporary job working for the Kennebec Land Trust. The KLT has many conservation properties all over Kennebec County and my task for the month of April is to pull invasive honeysuckle at a property in Vassalboro. Apparently pulling invasive species is my calling in life…

For those not in the know, pulling invasive plants is really hard work. Yesterday I actually counted how many individual plants I pulled and it came to over 400 in a 6 1/2 hour work day. I’m getting so good at spotting honeysuckle that I can pick out little 2 inch high seedlings tucked among the fallen leaves. I’ve been looking for honeysuckle so much that when I close my eyes I still see it. Seriously. Some honeysuckle plants are little ones like this:

Just a little guy

Just a little guy

And then there are huge patches:

Before pulling

Before pulling

After pulling

After pulling

Some of the plants are way over my head and have a really solid root system. If I can’t get it out by myself using a shovel, I mark it with surveying tape so that I can come back next week and attack it with some help. After pulling the plants I hang them over the branch of a tree so the roots will dry out and die. I try to hang them away from the trail so no one can see them but it’s really hard to find enough trees with branches low enough for me to reach, so now the property looks like some weird fungal growth has attacked a lot of the trees. I like to think that I hang the dead plants up as a warning to potential honeysuckle seedlings. “Stop! Do not grow anymore or you’ll end up like these poor souls!”

One reason this property is a high priority for invasive work is that it is home to an extremely rare hybrid of white oak and swamp oak. Apparently it is the only place in the entire state of Maine that this hybrid has been found. I’m not much of a botanist, but the special oaks do look pretty cool. They are kind of creepy without leaves on them.

scary oak tree

scary oak tree

As I said above, my record so far is 400 individual plants in one day and each plant requires you to bend down a minimum of one time. But about 1 in 3 plants require you to bend down 2 or 3 times because inevitably a root breaks off and you have to go fish around for it in the dirt. For the bigger plants it’s necessary to really squat down and pull with all your might. Needless to say, I’m really tired by the end of the day!

Despite the hard work, it’s great to be outside in the woods all day. The only real downside to this job is ticks. Ticks are disgusting, foul, disease-carrying insects and I am pretty sure they serve no useful or necessary purpose in the ecosystem. I’m also pretty sure they are the only living things that would survive a nuclear attack. My tick evasion methods are extensive. First, I tuck my Carhartts into knee-high boots and then I put duct tape around the top of the boots. My shirts get tucked into my Carhartts. Then I put a bandanna around my hair and a bug spray covered hat on top of that. You might say that this is ridiculous, and you would be correct. But I’d rather look ridiculous than have ticks crawling on me. I really hate ticks. However, my interest in country music has increased dramatically lately and Brad Paisley came to the rescue with this lovely song. I’ve had it stuck in my head for days. It’s great.

So my primary thoughts these days are about honeysuckle and ticks, but I have also managed to have some more vacation-like fun. I had a great trip to Boston last weekend to visit some family and friends. And I’ve been out riding my bike in the nice spring weather. It’s lots of fun here but I’m looking forward to getting back to Craftsbury soon and getting to work in the garden!