My favorite scene from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was when Thorin Oakenshield spotted Bilbo Baggins intently gazing at the Arkenstone. Confronted by the deranged king of the dwarfs, who was desperate to posses the stone, the wily Bilbo produced an Acorn from his pocket instead, and he soothed the savage beast with tales of The Shire and his dream to plant the Acorn there.
In Middle-Earth, they called those who were skilled at building with oak: Oakitects, and there were many fine examples of their Oakitecture in The Shire. For me this mythical place is a touchstone in my dreams: a place of beauty and harmony, love and peace.
I can say with all honesty and sincerity that the closest place I’ve ever been to The Shire is The Holtz Farm. It all started when Lindsay Knudsvig and I received the Land Steward of the Year award from the Oak Savanna Alliance back in 2012 in the form of an Acorn, beautifully carved by retired DNR Wildlife Biologist Brian Glenzinski.
Years passed by and I never got the call saying it was time to return the Acorn so, finally, I contacted Barb Holtz, and asked if I could return the award to her for save-keeping until the next Oak Savanna Alliance workshop. Now, I’m not making this up… literally a few days later I got an email from Eric Tarman-Ramcheck (TR Natural Enterprises, LLC) saying that he had just received a grant from Camp Timber-Lee to hold another OSA workshop, which is scheduled for May 16th.
I had heard a lot about the work Andy and Barb have done removing invasive plants from their 360 acre farm and I was very impressed with the presentation Barb made at the Oak Savanna Alliance Workshop back in 2012, so Pati and I were excited when Barb graciously agreed to give us a tour when we dropped off the Acorn. The homestead is in the upper right, or northeast corner, of the map below. Their oak savanna encompasses 140 acres on the west and south ends of their property. That is Jericho Creek, a Class II Trout stream, flowing on the west edge of the property and they have a perfect, picnic, pond on the south end.
Their homestead is so cozy, it would make Bilbo Baggins jealous.
And the outbuildings? They rival anything you would see in The Shire: neat as pins.
Before we ventured out, Barb gave us an overview of their restoration efforts over the last 5 years, describing how they got started using funds from the grants they received from the DNR’s Landowner Incentive Program.
Barb got hands-on experience working for three months with famed Oakitect, Jason Dare (Dare Ecosystem Management), whom they hired to get them started on the right track.
In contrast to the The Buckthorn Man‘s hyper-aggressive slash and poison technique, Barb has been very successful using a slower, calmer, basal bark spraying approach to killing buckthorn, which you can learn more about here. You can’t argue with her results.
We survey the landscape below before starting off.
Let’s take a look at the classic, pre-settlement, Oakitecture on The Holtz Farm. We made our way west to the ridge overlooking Jericho Creek.
And there we saw this ingenious contraption that they use to apply insecticide to their cattle as they lick mineral salts. A reservoir of bug dope and oil soaks the sleeve that surrounds the lick and also permeates fabric enclosed by gnarly chain extending to the ground on the right side. As the cattle push under the sleeve to get at the mineral lick, or rub their bodies against the chain, they get a light coating of sanity preserving insecticide.
Barb and Andy’s daughter, Helen, explained that they have learned the value of allowing their sheep and cattle to graze in the oak savanna to help keep the invasive plants down. Ben Johnson has been bugging me to do the same at The Springs, with goats, and I’m going to investigate that possibility.
This is the largest Oak Savanna remnant on private land in Southeastern Wisconsin. Barb is quick to point out however, that at this point, the “structure” is there, but they still have work to do to re-establish the native plant community in the understory. Check out this stunning Oakitecture!
Here is the pond on the south side of their property.
While we frolicked amongst the oaks, Andy was hard at work clearing brush. Below, Helen works the pile.
I’ve been a vegetarian for 3 years now, but when Barb said she had made a lamb stew for us, I had to make an exception. It was delicious!
We hated to see the visit end, but we had to go and they had work to do as well. Thanks again Andy, Barb and Helen for welcoming us into your home and little slice of heaven, we had a great time! Stay tuned for more updates on the Oak Savanna Alliance Workshop scheduled for May 16th. Who will win the Land Steward of the Year award this time?
See you at The Springs!