everything’s not perfect but some things are – uncovering the threads at Covington’s Nature Park

A hearty group assembled yesterday for a volunteer work day at the Blue Swamp Creek Nature Park in Covington to collectively peel away another layer to expose a relict pine prairie. There were about twelve or fifteen of us altogether. Some worked for a few hours, some for more.

The objective was to cut and remove the tree layer that has grown up over time. The trees have been increasingly shading out the herb layer that is a cool remnant of ancient vegetation.

Back in late summer, we did our first prescribed fire there, as a first step toward restoring this valuable botanical area. Our goal is to develop the park as a natural interpretive park for the citizens of the City of Covington, St. Tammany Parish, and beyond.

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above, Tommy Mayronne works the fire line at the Covington Nature Park on August 3, 2015. It was hot that day, ugh.

All of the parts and pieces to the prairie are there, they have just been taking a fifty year siesta, gone dormant, as the fires are absent, and the trees have grown up, shading out the precious sunlight which the herbs on the ground need in order to grow.

That’s what happens here on the Gulf Coastal rim. If you neglect your land, it will grow up in forest.

Nothing wrong with forest. In fact, I find forest interesting, but give me more prairie, thank you. We have lots of forest at the Park and need the prairie to fully explain our story of natural succession and natural history and fire here in southeastern Louisiana.

Spent time last week rescuing and then replanting Pitcher Plants for the Nature Park bog. Through that I learned how out-of-shape I am. Was sore for days after ha. But we gotter done!

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step 1 – find a bog about to be mitigated (decimated)

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step 2 – rescue bog plants (disclaimer: only dig from areas where you are sure are “rescuing”. The rescue site I dug from is adjacent to a giant Wal-Mart store, where ten acres of awesome bog was destroyed in order to build a giant parking lot and the store. Back in the 1990’s before the Wal-Mart was built, we organized volunteers to recue many many clumps of bog plants and planted them at the Crosby Arboretum-Picayune, Mississippi. Only imminently threatened sites should be considered for digging and only after all hope is lost in preserving the site).

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step 3 – replant bog plants into a cool bog space at a local public park

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above, on the right is where we’ve just removed trees. on the left is where we are still a-workin’ – notice the trees are toasty from the summer burn. Yes!! Also check out the central area in the photo. This area is managed by the local electric co-op – mowed occasionally to keep trees from growing into the power lines – as the grassiness there testifies – click to enlarge the photo and you can see the busy bees workin’

The tree removing task yesterday was grand, as we got about 75 per cent of the targeted area cleared. We will cut the rest of the trees this week so that our Covington High School Future Farmers of America group can remove them from the prairie garden site.

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This is an “upland” area (with trees before we cut them out), created when the pond for the park was built, where we’ll plant awesome prairie seed this week, seed that I collected back in October at the Sandy Hollow Wildlife Management Area – with permission from the Louisiana Fish and Wildlife Service folks, of course.

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Sandy Hollow is divine, above, September 18, 2015, Liatris squarosa/ Black Swallowtail

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above – The northern-most area of the prairie-bog is generally here, where the electric service line for the Park comes through. You can see my friend – Landscape Architect Johnny Mayronne just past the trees…

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above – this is the same photo but without the trees, an hour later – all cleaned up!

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We made a giant “habitat windrow” to designate to the mower crew where there line is to stop with their prairie eating mowing machines. This will be a permanent interpretive structure for the park, designed to raise wildlife and questions. We’ll collect brush there and watch it turn to dust over time. Perfectly natural!

 

a progression of tree growth 2006 – 2015 via satellite imagery 

click to enlarge ’em

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Covington Nature Park February 28 2006

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March 22, 2010

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March 5, 2013

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October 3, 2014

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August 25, 2015 just after our burn on August 3 – nice!

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above  – take a closer gander at our far’ handiwork

Happy Day it was for my niece Megan and her new hubby Chris. Not every wedding party in New Orleans steps out of the Cathedral to a second line but this’n did. saweet.

 

Guys and gals – if you haven’t been, check out the Camellia Garden Stroll at the way-awesome old camellia garden at Hammond Research Station – Its the bomb – an amazing collection of plants all blooming their little asses off.

contact  Dr. Owings @ AOwings@agcenter.lsu.edu

 

meadowmaker’s farm

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an out-of-the-ordinary Prairie Phlox was blooming at the farm yesterday – nyum-yumIMG_3490

nice grasses!

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perty farm sculpture – steel, copper – Marc Pastorek/ Ricky Martin, 1996

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prairie bling!!! Happy Birthday Candi!!

 

 

converting a 15 year old Chinese Privet, Japanese Honeysuckle and Sweet Gum forest into a magical flowery prairie lawn

Well, from what I hear, everybody wants to know how to change from a mega-shrub-scrub patch to a high quality natural grassland-wildflower area. Okay, well not everybody wants to know but there are a few of you out there in left field who do.

First thing to know is that it aint easy-peazy.

The project can be a little easier if you’re changing from herb vegetation to herb vegetation, rather than from forested, woody vegetation to herb vegetation. Trees can be much more difficult to deal with than herbage, so the labor requirements can be more intensive, more laborious. Hauling off trees is tuff stuff.

But that didn’t stop me.

I’m like, up to the challenge. I’m Prairie Dog, after all. Defender of the Prairie.

I planted Long Leaf pines on much of my new twelve-acre property that I bought back in 1997. The intent was to plant scattered pines with a ground cover of fine fuels, or pine prairie. I wanted to create a beautiful landscape. There’s one area, about 80 feet by 80 feet that I never got a chance to plant. I figured I’d get to it later. The pines have grown to be awesome and giant. Seeing them brings back memories of pleasant days when my two boys were still boys, helping Pop plant little pine seedling plugs. Joel was 13 and Cale was ten.

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above: Some of the pines are now twenty and twenty five feet tall and I am now finding an occasional seedling in the “grass” stage, generated from the Momma trees.

So on this 80 by 80 piece of land, I started two years ago, working on killing Chinese Privet, Japanese Honeysuckle, and Gum and salvaging the Pines. I began the process of changing the landscape from overrun scrub to pine prairie.

I got out the big guns on the big Gums. Say that really fast ten times.

My buddy and neighbor Terry Johnson, a great guy who grew up on a farm in Iowa and can engineer anything, helped me re-rig my old tree sprayer. He and I worked to change the power plant on the rig from running via two-cycle lawn mower-type engine to being powered via the PTO on my tractor. I got a new PTO pump and we changed it out and built a new platform out of treated lumber to mount the rig onto. We built it so all of this hooked up to the tractor via a three point hitch. I then had a 150 gallon water tank sparyer, ready to go. I would use it for controlled burns and for spraying herbicide. I was now armed and dangerous.

Last summer (2013), I experimented by spraying Round-up on the Privet, Gum and Wax Myrtle. I was careful not to hit the Pines.

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above: last winter, I burned and seeded the area with a Low-Mow seed mixture dominant in low-growing native grasses; Narrow Leaf Bluestem, Pine Land Dropseed, with a tab bit of Elliot’s Bluestem and Split Beard Bluestem. As soon as I finished burning, I sowed the awesome collection of seed.

My friend, Jim McGee, and I cut the trees and scrub off of one area about fifty by thirty feet and planted a sweet mix of No-Mow native lawn there. Most of the stumps regenerated this summer, growing about a foot or so tall. I sprayed 2-4-d and Remedy (trichlopyr) on these regenerated stumps and on the not-fully killed Privet, Gum and Waxes this past summer. This herbicide mix kills everything but the grasses. I killed a lot of plants that day. It left a bunch of standing scrub carcasses baking in the sun like old bones in the desert.

Yesterday, I got busy cutting a new 35 by 30 foot square out of the dead, standing carcasses so I could plant another section of my new Wonderland No-Mow lawn seed mix (for details on this mix, see our blog home page section titled “About Our Local Eco-Type Seed”). I started about 10:00 in the morning and cut and I whacked and I cut and whacked again and by 1:00, I had finished whacking. There was leaf litter on the ground surface so I raked it up to expose bare soil. I got that done and was ready for seed. Folks, it takes two full years of patience, of killing, to get to a point where you are seeding when you’re dealing with beasts like these.

Whoo-hoo! Its a happy day when its done!

I got the area seeded and then stabilized the seed with wheat hay so that the seed wouldn’t go bye-bye in the next rain (its planted on a nice sloped hillside). This hay cover also makes for a more moist condition for seed germination than bare, exposed seed and soil does. Careful: too much hay, not good.

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This is what the biomass looked like before I got a’cuttin’. click on the photos and enlarge to see ’em better. Look at the pines for scale/reference.

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Got the biomass cut and gone, I left the Yaupons because they are nice.

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I raked all of the leaf cover from the ground to expose soil, hauled it off, and then seeded just by dispersing seed onto the ground.

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All done with seeding, I mulched sufficiently to stabilize seed on the slope.

It should be easy going from here. Presto!! Change-o!!! I pull a rabbit from my prairie dog hat!!!!

Come see the progress of this and other cool experiments, old and new, at the annual May field trip at the Farm next year. There aint nuthin’ like it.

Get busy and build a pine prairie No-Mow lawn, folks!! Time’s a’waistin’.