Conditions were almost perfect (moderate temperature, dry leaf litter, light winds) for fires at The Quarry Gardens this week. Blazes swept over the three parking lot islands—which surveys have found to be extremely biodiverse—and over the prairie beneath the platform overlook between the two quarry pools. These prescribed burns have been planned for awhile and are likely to be repeated every few years.   

If successful, they will help us manage such overabundant natives as blackberry, greenbrier, Virginia pine, red cedar, and beech, and non-natives such as fescue and Japanese honeysuckle. At the same time, burning may encourage some long-dormant and rare plants to wake up and grow—all while preserving our fire-adapted and fire-tolerant species such as oaks and hickories.

Devin Floyd and his properly certified Center for Urban Habitats  team coordinated the burn, led by Ryan Lepsch, a Crozet Volunteer Firefighter who arranged for the required permits, assisted by Jessie Wingo and Rachel Floyd.

After leaf litter was raked from vulnerable plants, Ryan outlined  burn areas using a flame-dripping torch filled with corn-based eco-fuel. The thin layer of natural fuel on the ground, plus higher than ideal humidity at 60%, kept the flames low. These areas are Piedmont Ultramafic Woodland and Southern Piedmont Hardpan Forest, about which more information may be found at quarrygardensatschuyler.org/gardens.

There is such a thing as too many trees, a condition common in today’s forests where many young saplings share nutrients. This condition contributes to stress and disease and prevents the best trees from growing healthier and larger. Small fires like these can help to create more dynamic forests with stronger, healthier trees.

And then the wind shifted…and some of our young spectators went home smelling like country hams.
This prairie sits atop a depth of some 150 feet of discarded soapstone boulders between the two quarry pools. Trash was removed from the surface, a skin of soil applied and 70 species of locally native sun plants added in 2015-16. The North Quarry pool is visible to the right of Devin.

We’re looking forward to fresh new growth in coming weeks.

 

 

 

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