Tom's Blog

Monday, November 14, 2011

Turning woods into prairie: part two

This is a continuation of my story about how we turned a very degraded 5 acre hilly woods into prairie.

Refer to my previous post for part one.

In the spring of 2008 we girdled the 100 or so aspen. (The oaks and other hardwoods had been removed in the winter of 2007-2008.)

Although the site was not too bad in the summer of 2008, by the summer of 2009 the weeds were running rampant. Although most of the weeds were annuals, there were also plenty of perennials. Normally, for a degraded site like this we would call in the ag co-op to spray the whole site with glyphosate. However, our site was much too hilly and full of aspens for a truck-mounted boom sprayer. Therefore, a contractor was hired to spray on foot the whole site using a 300-foot hose operated from the back of a pick-up truck. The operator took three days to spray the whole 5-acre site.
The photo below shows what the site looked ten days after herbicide treatment. Another treatment was done in some areas of regrowth in August. By fall, most of the vegetation had dried up and blown away, so that the site was mostly bare.

In September 2009 the now-dead aspens were cut and stacked for burning. In October 2009 the contractor and our own crew spent several days burning the aspen and brush piles, and hand-clearing the site of remaining large logs.

In early November we did a prescribed burn on all parts of the site which had sufficient fuel to carry a fire.

Once we had the site cleared, and the preliminary work was done, we started to get ready for prairie planting. Because of the size of the site, we had archived seeds collected in 2008 and these were pooled with the 2009 collections. Kathie put together an extensive seed list of over 100 species. Because we were operating under NRCS rules with uncertified seed, the planting rate was 50 seeds per square foot, a high rate.

The planting itself was done by a group of volunteers on November 14, 2009.
During the first growing season (2010), we monitored the site to see what came up. In early June the following species were seen: lupine (flowering), spiked lobelia, pasteur thistle, spiderwort, venus-looking glass, fleabane, alum root, June grass (flowering), black-eyed Susan, and Canada milk vetch. Later in the summer, quite a few more species were seen, including several other grasses.

It is routine in prairie planting to mow at least once, and preferable several times, during the first growing season. Mowing prevents quite a few undesirable species (including numerous annuals) from flowering and setting seed. Also, mowing keeps the site open so that the tiny prairie plants, which are spending most of their first year establishing root systems, can get light. Again, because of the hills, we could not call in a local farmer or co-op to mow. Kathie mowed most of the site with a brush hog on the back of our Kubota tractor. (This was a potentially dangerous job which Kathie handled brilliantly!)

Amanda mowed by hand with a Stihl brush cutter those areas that were too difficult to get with the tractor.

Next post I will cover the very successful 2nd growing season and give an idea of costs.


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