Verge is an old word, usually defined as a transitional border between two larger, contrasting areas or as a threat to cross over a line. In our greater New England biome, verges provide important wildlife habitat and brakes on soil erosion. Farming has always involved reckoning with the benefits and challenges of verges.
Native and non-native invasive species have overgrown the fences at Thistlebloom. That’s provided abundant wildlife habitat, but impeded necessary access to managing the land. The lush green of uninvited covering is undeniably beautiful. It can attract birds, beneficial insects and small mammals. But it ruins fencing that keeps people and farm animals safe.
At Thistlebloom, invasive plants aren’t just choking out most of the native species that would once have flourished there. They’ve begun to swallow up the barns and silos. Even the farmhouse, already in need of repair, is on the verge of succumbing to the moisture and darkness that wreck buildings. Little forests of volunteer Norway maples are thriving just inches from the foundation. Those baby trees are easy to pull when they’re an inch high, but at five or six feet, their roots are taking hold of the foundation.
It’s sad to see the squirrels and barn swallows mourning the loss of habitat and food so close to where they’ve long nested. Both those critters present their own problems, but they’re fun to watch and swallows wolf down mosquitoes with gusto! But if we don’t remove the most severe overgrowth, the buildings will collapse and the farm will die. And opening up a few of the voluntary verges that hid broken, rusty wire in thorns and poison ivy will help those who work on the land to stay safe.
Sooner than I think, though, wilder areas will grow again, close enough for the swallows to find food easily and still nest there. But this time they’ll be far enough from the buildings to let them breathe and function as they were meant to. The squirrels will find their way to the trees a few dozen yards away.
Or maybe they’ll take up residence in the the milk barn’s rafters where they can pelt us with butternut shells.