The prairie gardens at Meadowmakers’ farm were planted twelve to fourteen years ago: in the early winter of 1999, 2000, and 2001. Very little has been done in these areas except to burn them about every third year since that time.
above: a general design of the planted areas at Meadomakers’ Farm
When I planted the gardens, I was focused on the attempt to create blocks of individual species and combinations of a few species or more. At the time, the only means to collect seed was by hand-collection, just stripping seed from the plant. I had no interest in including grasses because I didn’t realize at the time how necessary they were to incorporating fire into the management program. What I’ve learned since is that you have to have grasses to get good burns. The controlled burns are the tool that levels the playing field, reducing intense competition and increasing chances that the planting with succeed. Fire brings forth beauty and ecological function.
This idea was proven in the last planting of this three year span of planting. The last one I did was in November 2001. I remember it clearly because it was right after the World Trade Center bombings in New York when I was tilling soil. The seed I was collected with a brand new hand-held motorized seed collector from Prairie Habitats, Manitoba Canada (eh?). The collection site was Frey Prairie remnant, just south of Eunice. I collected for about three or so hours and got about two or three pounds of seed at most. The seed went out into the newly tilled ground and for many years I thought this spot had failed to produce anything of substance.
Not until five or so years later did I start to see the real result of my work. It became clear over time that this patch of ground turned out to be something particularly significant. Today its pretty obvious when you contrast this planting to any of the other plantings, you’ll see a clear difference in the number of woody plants present. There are very few woody plants here as compared to most of the other non-grass plantings. Grasses, through their connection with fire, obviously weed-out the Chinese Privet, Wax Myrtle and Callery Pear through the benefit of intense heat.
This year is the first year I am working on woody plant control at the farm. And its the first year that I will introduce seed to the original plantings since they were first intalled. I haven’t done anything before this year simply because the rule of law was to keep my paws out of the picture. Charles Allen had told me early on to “do nothing and be patient”, so I did and I was. N
From the beginning, I had decided two things regarding maintenance. 1. that no woody plant eradication would be done and 2. No additional seeding was to be added to the fields until time had passed sufficiently to determine an outcome. Decisions could then be made according to what had occurred. I never determined when I would start with these efforts, but fire would be used as often as possible, once per year was my hope.
So this year has become the year of woody eradication at the Farm (or at least trials of different approaches to woody eradication). And its the year of interseeding: the act of introducing new seed to an already established planting. I have seeded different seed using different seeding approaches as well. This should change the way the fields look in the future and it will change how they respond when it comes to controlled burns.
In November, I started with an acre planting that had been fairly well encroached-upon by privet. Here, I used a chain saw to cut the privet at the soil line and then mowed the entire area thoroughly. No herbicide was applied. I then seeded into it, a diverse mix of grasses and wildflowers. Existing here already is mix of Silphium gracile, Baptisias, Marshallia trinerva, Gailardia aestivalus var Winklerii and dominated mostly by Monarda fistulosa and Monarda lindhiemeri, and dominant with large pink drifts of Bee Balm, Monarda.
In early March I was able, with the help of a friend, to do a burn in a patch of about two and a half acres. This one had been planted back in November 2000. The area is one of the most the most garden-like of all the plantings with really robust stands (individual planting blocks) of Eryngium, Penstemon, Baptisia alba, Helianthus mollis, Monarda, Coreopsis pubescens, Sium suave, Pycnanthemum tenuifolia, Marshallia trinerva, Phlox pilosa and the awesome spearmint scented Mountian Mint, Pycnanthemum albescens var. ‘Malcolm Vidrine’. After the fire, I then seeded with a wonderful mix of Little Bluestem and Virginia Bluestem grass.
Tuesday this week we burned another four acre patch of ground that holds 22 experiments. Most of these were single-species plantings but a few were diverse seed mixes and fewer still were two or three-species-plantings. This area was the most daunting of all with lots of Privet and Wax Myrtle. We timed this burn so that the most substantial injury to the woody plants was inflicted. We wanted them to hurt! They’re most vulnerable to fire just after leaf flush and in the case of the Privet, just after flowers are produced. We got a pretty nice fire to go through and much of the woody stuff was obviously effected. I will probably follow-up with a chainsaw and lay down the woody plants that weren’t effected by flame. After the fire, I immediately started seeding with a very diverse mix, dominant in Little Blue and Indian grass. Hopefully this will be beneficial to the cause.
before fire click to enlarge photos
Terry “Burn-man” Johnson walks out of the smoke during the fire…
Silphium, Rosenweed, before the fire…
Rudbeckia grandiflora in the foreground and coreopsis in bloom above… before…
…and after the fire.
Yesterday I burned another area (about 1200 square feet) that I had sprayed a few times with herbicide last summer. This patch of ground joins another area (about 1000 square feet) that had become fully engulfed in old Privet. Ten-year-old Privet stacked one on top of the other here, completely covered the area. Last January, my friend Jim McGee and I cut the Privet from the site and burned it. I recently sprayed the area with herbicide. Yesterday was a big day for me because it was seeding day for what I consider to be the most promising blend of grasses designed to be a low-mow lawn for the Central Gulf Coastal states. These two areas were covered in seed and hopefully we’ll see some results soon.
preparing the Low-Mow lawn seeding area
Along with Farm’s wildflower bling, the management comparisons we’ve executed this year should be beneficial to the group that shows up for our annual Field Day on May 17th. That’s the day! Be there or be square, man.
Botanist Heather Sullivan is expected make the scene and we will all certainly benefit from her unique botanical perspective and her ever-pleasant disposition.
Ya’ll should come! We welcome you!
my way-cool prairie garden as it changes through the year 2013……
above: A Mississippi Kite, Ictinia mississippiensis, flew right over my head yesterday at the Farm, I caught it on camera as it went past, sweeping the fields for dinner.