Tom's Blog

Monday, November 16, 2009

Planting the East Basin

On Saturday we planted the East Basin, a major job and a satisfying end to a lot of hard work this fall. We had 18 volunteers and we could not have done it without them.

If you have been following these blogs, you know that the East Basin is the final area at Pleasant Valley Conservancy to be restored. It is a 4.5 acre basin that historically was completely open and probably a prairie remnant. During many years of neglect, it gradually filled in with weed trees and invasive shrubs, and when we started restoration it was completely impenetrable. Trees included elm, box elder, cherry, and black walnut, all of which were removed. In addition, there was a large clone of about 100 aspen, which had to be girdled and allowed to die.

We started the restoration work in the early winter of 2007, which unfortunately turned out to be a very heavy snow year. We finished the restoration work about 2 weeks ago, when we burned a large number of piles of now-dead aspen logs.

We have been collecting seeds for planting in the East Basin for the past two years. These seeds are now on the ground!

Planting the East Basin was not your ordinary prairie planting. This is hilly terrain, with a rather complicated topography. Parts of the basin face east, parts south, and parts southwest. There is also an erosion gully in the middle, and an area at the bottom of the gully which is flat and has a wet mesic character.

We had three separate seed mixes, dry mesic, mesic, and wet mesic. Each of these mixes had upwards of 100 species of forbs. The dry mesic mix had a lots of little bluestem and side oats, with smaller amounts of Indian grass. The mesic mix had more Indian grass and less of the other two grasses. The wet mesic mix had Indian grass plus other grasses that prefer wetter habitats, such as bluejoint grass.

Kathie, Susan, and I spent several days laying out the area for planting. Because of the complex topography, we could not simply have rectangular planting areas, such as used when ag fields are being planted to prairie. Once we had the area laid out, Kathie and I then used a GPS to measure the acreages. The GPS Tracks were then uploaded to my computer and ArcGIS was used to create a map of the whole planting area. Each person was given a copy of this map with their planting unit marked. (I'd be happy to send a copy of the final map to anyone interested.)

On the day of the planting, the weather was fortunately relatively warm and partly sunny. Our PVC crew arrived early and distributed the buckets of seeds to the various planting units. (Each unit had 2 or 3 buckets.) At 10 AM the volunteers arrived, and we transported them to the top of the hill with our pick-up truck. Planting started at about 10:15 and finished at 11:45 AM. After the planting, we had a "debriefing" at which the details of the project were discussed. This was followed by lunch at our cabin.

The photo above shows part of the area being planted.

A lot of "prep" work was done before planting. In 2008 members of the PVC crew covered the whole area with backpack sprayers, treating any woody resprouts with herbicide. Also, dozens of mullein plants were sprayed, as well as patches of Canada goldenrod. Also, there were two patches of garlic mustard (the only serious garlic mustard infestations at PVC), which have been sprayed two separate years. This past summer, the whole area was sprayed with glyphosate twice, to eliminate annual and perennial weeds. (See the photo at the end of this post.) Finally, a couple of weeks ago I walked over the whole area and sprayed motherwort and other fall-growing perennials with glyphosate.

When we burned the aspen piles, we also picked up all of the larger sticks and logs and threw them on the piles. The goal was to create as much bare ground as possible, so that the seeds would find homes.

Our final task before winter is to put out some hay bales in the erosion-prone areas to keep the soil from washing away during winter or spring rains. We'll get this job done in the next few days.

I look at the restoration of the East Basin as a "pilot" project for what might be done in other former prairie areas that have become wooded and brushed in. Hopefully, there will be a prairie here in a few years!

The photo below shows what the East Basin looked like last summer (at the time of spraying, and before the dead aspens were cut).


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home