Friday, 04 September 2020 12:25

COLUMN: Watch out for those stumps

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COLUMN: Watch out for those stumps J.A. Bolton


Clearing land of stumps in today’s world is much easier than in years past. Backhoes, trackhoes, and large bulldozers can clear acres of land in days, compared to months or years to clear by hand.

The task of clearing fields of trees and stumps was very difficult for our forefathers. According to one early settler, the “first clearing was done in a hurry-up-and-get-in-a-crop style.” Sometimes underbrush and smaller trees were cut and piled around larger trees and stumps for burning.

Our ancestors would wait till the winter months to start cutting and clearing stumps for their new grounds. Grub axes, 4 by 8 inches wide and flat on one side, were used to dig around stumps and cut off smaller roots. A pickaxe was used to cut the larger roots.

Oxen, mules and horses were used to pull logs and help dislodge stumps. Along with trees that could not be used, the stumps were piled up and burnt in a big bonfire. Why, that fire might burn for days.

As time went on, black powder —and later, dynamite — was used to blow the stumps out of the ground. Back then, a farmer or construction worker could go to most any hardware or general store and buy a case of dynamite. Why, they also used bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil to get the big jobs done. You best know what you are doing, be behind something, or a long ways off when any of these explosives are used.

The definition of a tree stump is an embedded, sometimes rotted wood, that is not serving any purpose. I’m sure some of us, at one time or the other, have had to deal with stumps on our property.

Stumps usually take anywhere from three to seven years to decompose on their own. It depends on the type of tree and the local environment. Why, I’ve seen heart pine stumps stay in the ground much longer.

So, how do you get a stump to rot faster without using a stump grinder? First, you cut the stump off even with the ground as possible. Then, drill holes in the top of the stump, fill the holes with water, and pour any brand of fertilizer that has a lot of nitrogen in it in the holes. Old folks used cow manure.

In some cases, it is illegal to bury tree stumps. Seems when the stump is buried, the wood continues to decompose. This slow deterioration of wood within the soil causes changes to the surrounding soil.

If you live in the country and have several acres of stumps and are not in a hurry to get rid of them, get you some pigs. Yes sir, just fence the area in, put corn or grain on each stump, and it won’t be long, them pigs will have them stumps rooted right up. 

Back when I was growing up on the farm, my granddad always said, “Boy, watch out for them stumps. It makes life a little easier.” He was right, but when them stumps are covered with weeds and bushes, it’s hard to see them.

This past week I thought I would bush-hog my garden spots, disc them, and plant some winter rye. Oh, did I tell you that I had the timber cut around my farm this summer? The timber crew did a great job, but stumps were left everywhere. Some were cut off even with the ground while some were left four or five foot high.

Thinking I knew where the former trees had been around my five garden spots, I lowered the bush-hog, put it in gear, revved up the tractor motor, and took off mowing the smallest garden. 

Won’t long, I had finished mowing all but the largest garden spot. Now, we’re talking a good half-acre of high weeds. Starting at what I thought was the lower edge of the garden, I revved the RPMs up on my old International, lowered the bush hog and took off. Why, I hadn’t gone 20 yards and Bam! I had run over one of them stumps and choked my tractor down! 

My battery being a little low, the tractor would not crank back up. What was I going to do now? My tractor was on the lower end of the field, just about hidden by high weeds, and it wouldn’t crank. When all else fails, go get your wife, right?

We got my other tractor and she got on the International. I hooked up the chain to the front of the International and commenced to pulling. It didn’t budge. I thought my wife might have accidently put it into gear, but it wasn’t. I tried again, but still no luck.

I got off my tractor to see what the problem was. Low and behold, there was another stump right in front of the bush hog and won’t no way to pull that tractor and bush hog forward.  

I unhooked the chain and pulled my tractor in behind the bush hog. With a steady pull that International and bush hog came over both stumps and I was able to get both out of the field without any damage to either one.

I considered myself very lucky that day not to have sustained any damage to my equipment. But, from now on, I’ll try my best to take Granddad’s advice and “Watch out for those stumps.”

 J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and just released a new book called “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories.” Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Last modified on Friday, 04 September 2020 13:16