We now have confirmed natives in all three planting sites (The dry prairie planted in 2016, the dry prairie planted in 2017, and the wetland planted in 2017), and we received our payments from NRCS. Now our job is to make sure ha the weeds don't take over fr the next few years as the natives put energy into growing roots. We will brush cut as the weeds get tall. Looking forward to see how our sites grow and become established in the future, and to find more places to restore!
A holiday walk brought lots of full blooms. Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan), and Monarda fistulosa (Bee balm) are in bloom all over!
We've been waiting on this day for what feels like an eternity. It is really unnerving to have thousands of dollars of seeds in your freezer for months on end. When we pulled them out, they were dry, with no sign of damage, so I was happy. As an extra bonus a friend gave us a bunch of starts to put in from seeds collected from a nearby prairie - Thanks, Julia!
We loaded the truck with all the seeds, and spread over the entire 16 acre wetland. Some of the seeds (Silphium perfoliatum and Asclepias incarnata) were too big for the spreader, so we put them in by hand - walking and letting the wind take them.
It is finally dry enough to get back to the wetland. Of course by now, the weeds are thigh high, and are completely filled in. We had to spray, wait a week for burn down, and then disc, but the soil looks great! I think we are the only people hoping that it doesn't rain so that we can get the tractor back to plant. No one got stuck when we were prepping the soil, but there are some big trenches.
While it is frustrating to wait on them, I know they are there, putting down roots. I have seen a lot more than just mares tail now - pretty sure these are rudbekia and Zizia aurea. Lots of other things too, that I can't recognize yet.
Right now, most of my mating nucs are up around our house. Very convenient, but they have to fly over the bean field to get to food, and there are a lot of bees around the yard. The nucs at the house are all on bricks and landscape timbers - hard on the back. I designed some stands that would allow me to stand when I pull queens, and that are sturdy enough for the sandy hill. Ben bought the steel and welded them up, and we put the bees out on the Sand Hill.
I'm confirming my guess of Monarda fistulosa - just look at that square stem! So far this is the only one that I recognize, but it makes us happy to know that some seeds worked!
I'm pretty sure we have some native seedlings! I saw 3 little clumps of this plant at the very top of the hill. I'm pretty sure that it is Monarda fistulosa - the native bee balm. Let's hope that more will follow!
I think that only the dogs are happy about this. Don't think I can get a tractor in here to plant anytime soon.
Our pollinator habitat is effectively split into 3 parts: 1) The dry part that was planted last year, 2) the dry part that wasn't planted last year, because it was accidentally planted in corn, and 3) the wet part. Parts 2 and 3 still need to get planted, and it is driving us nuts not having the seeds in the ground. First, they can't grow if they aren't planted, and second, it is really unnerving having thousands of dollars of seeds in a freezer in your garage. They have made it thus far, but I am not confident that the mice and moisture will be held at bay forever.
We haven't been able to plant the part with corn, because the stubble is too thick - the seeds need to have good contact with the soil. The plan is now to plow that in the spring, and then try to get the seeds in between April and June. That section is really dry, so rain shouldn't be an issue.
The wet site was all prepped, and we were waiting for the right conditions to do winter planting - we were going to spread the seed on frozen ground right before a snow, during in a cycle of freeze thaw. We would drive when the ground was frozen, the snow would protect the seeds from foraging birds, and when it thawed/melted, the seeds would be drawn into the ground. It would have worked just fine if it hadn't been a year where we got thunderstorms in February, rather than a nice snow with frozen ground. There just wasn't a period where we could drive the tractor through the wet muck. The land became saturated, and a few acres have been fully underwater almost all winter. The ducks have been plentiful, and the dogs have loved running through the new 'ponds', but we can't plant into water. The current plan is to get seed in around the wet areas, and plant where we can. The concern is that if we leave it all, and wait until it is dry to do the whole site, there will be too many weeds this year. Then, as the water recedes, we will go back through and hand spread through the areas where there is standing water. Why plant once, when you can plant 4 times?
A long warm fall has kept all the weeds green - hard on the bees, because they are still flying, but there is no food, but great for getting one more weed control measure in. Most of the wetland area is not too bad in terms of weeds - a lot of mustards, dock, and other things that won't be competitive in the long run. However, there are a few places, especially along the edges that have reed canary grass and canada thistle - two pretty worthy opponents. We had been just working up the soil to keep weeds down, but since we had the time and the resources, we decided to break out the big guns. I've worked in prairies before that have had reed canary grass and canada thistle, and they are really hard to rid of once they are established. We are going to have a constant issue, since the property to the west of our restoration parcel is full of them, so I want to give everything the best chance that it has of getting established.
We have used a lot of resources - our NRCS biologists and field staff have helped a lot, as well as advice from the seed company.
This document is a great resource - NRCS Michigan Biology Technical Note NO. 20 (April 2013) - Pollinator Biology and Habitat.
Also, the Xerces Society (www.xerces.org) Pollinator Meadow Upper Midwest Installation Guide and Checklist
Finally, we have had rain. It is hard to tell if there are any natives, but the weeds are sure loving it. The dry weather kept them from growing until the rain from the last few weeks. On our last walk we realized that the velvet leaf was tall enough that it would be shading out any baby prairie plants, and that the fox tail was about to go to seed. We took the brush hog out and cut it down to about 8 inches. We had to be really careful while driving - with the sand so fragile, there is a chance that we can bury or damage the seedlings when turning. Hopefully we will all be okay, and they are still putting their little roots down.
We ordered the wetland seeds!
We went with plants that either had to be in wet lands, or that could handle having their feet wet. The land is still pretty wet, even with the dry summer that we have been having.
Grasses/Sedges/Rushes - 68% of the mix
- Carex comosa (Bearded Sedge)
- Carex lurida (Shallow Sedge)
- Carex tribuloides (Blunt Broom Sedge)
- Carex vulpinoidea (Fox Sedge)
- Juncus effusus (Soft Rush)
- Leersia oryzoides (Rice Cut Grass)
- Panicum virgatum (Switch Grass)
- Scirpus atrovirens (Dark Green Bulrush)
- Scirpus cyperinus (Woolgrass)
- Scirpus validus (Softstem Bulrush)
Forbs - 32% of the mix
- Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed)
- Aster umbellatus (Flat-Top White Aster)
- Eryngium yuccifolium (Rattlesnake Master)
- Eupatorium perfoliatum (Common Boneset)
- Eupatorium purpureum (Purple Joe Pye Weed)
- Helenium autumnale (Common Sneezeweed)
- Hibiscus palustris (Marsh Rose Mallow)
- Lobelia siphilitica (Great Blue Lobelia)
- Pycnanthemum virginianum (Common Mountain Mint)
- Silphium perfoliaum (Cup Plant)
- Solidago riddellii (Riddell's Goldenrod)
- Verbna hastata (Blue Vervain)
We won't be able to plant until the ground is dry - probably will do a frost seeding, so the seeds will go into the chest freezer until it is ready.
Right after we planted the first week of June, we had a lovely rain. And that was the last moisture we were to see for weeks. We went for a walk to check to see if anything had come up, and we saw a whole lot of.... Nothing. Even the oats couldn't make it. We called the seed company and the NRCS, and were told not to worry. The native plants spend their first year or two putting energy into their roots, so it makes sense that we wouldn't really see anything. It doesn't make it any less nerve wracking though! At least the weeds are also held back...
Planting Day! We planted the sand hill with our dry land mix. The whole process took the good portion of the day, but the seeds are officially in the ground. Here is the process (thanks Julia Brokaw for the pictures):
1. Cultipack - we drove over once with the cultipacker to make sure that the ground was firm. One of the biggest risks to prairie seeds is that they are too deep, so we first packed the soil to make sure that they don't get driven in too deeply in the soft, sandy soil.
Our dry site is just over 8 acres, but the farmer accidentally put a bit (about 2 acres) of it into corn (just kept driving out of habit). It isn't a problem, because you can plant prairie seeds in the fall. We held some back until the corn comes off. It will probably be better to have some diverse planting plans anyway, because different plants will respond differently.
We made one pass over everything with the oats, spreading them pretty thick. We then added all the prairie seeds to the hopper, and re-calibrated it to account for the smaller seeds.
The seeds have been ordered for the dry site, and the flowers are on their way! The process of picking out the plants for the restoration was a highlight of the project. I worked with Earth Source and Heartland Restoration Services. They are located in Fort Wayne, IN, and collect a lot of seed stock in MI. I contacted many native plant producers - some never returned my calls/emails, some didn't sell seeds (only starts), some didn't have local genotypes. Earth Source was the first company that fit all my criteria - have local genotypes, and indulge my need to discuss all the plant options and hand pick my pollinator mix. There are a lot of pre-mixed 'pollinator habitat' seeds that are fine, but none fit my needs exactly. Mainly, that some are collected from far away, and they were not designed for the incredibly dry, sandy soil of the Sand Hill.
The NRCS gave me job sheets that had suggestions for species, but the requirements were really flexible. Their top concerns were 1) there were at least 4 flower types, and 2) they were appropriate for the site. I spoke with Dan Zay at NRCS, and friends who do restoration work, and put together a wish list. I spent over an hour on the phone with Eric at Heartland Restoration - picking out a mix that would thrive in our sandy soil, and that would provide bloom all season long, and that was used by pollinators. Here is the mix we finally decided on - 3lbs/ acre grass to keep it all together, and 2lbs/ acre of an amazing mix of flowers. Because of the incredibly sandy soil of the dry site, we went for a short grass/ scrub prairie. At $550/ acre, they were really expensive, but within the budget provided from NRCS. I emailed the list to our NRCS office, and got the official stamp of approval, so the check has been written, and the seeds are on their way!
Mesic - Dry Prairie Seed Mix
Pure Live Seed (PLS)/Acre: 18,000,000
Number of seeds/square foot (Native Seed): 42
Percent native grasses: 37.08%
Percent native forbs: 62.92%
Weight/acre Unit Price/LB Extension
- 1.0000 LB Bouteloua curtipendula Side-Oats Grama $24.00 $24.00
- 2.0000 LB Schizachyrium scoparium Little Bluestem $27.00 $54.00
Totals 3.0000 LB $78.00
- 0.1250 LB Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed $800.00 $100.00
- 0.0625 LB Aster novae-angliae New England Aster $450.00 $28.13
- 0.1250 LB Coreopsis lanceolata Sand Coreopsis $192.00 $24.00
- 0.1250 LB Echinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower $105.00 $13.13
- 0.1250 LB Helianthus mollis Downy Sunflower $160.00 $20.00
- 0.1875 LB Lespedeza capitata Round-Head Bushclover $300.00 $56.25
- 0.0625 LB Monarda fistulosa Wild Bergamot $150.00 $9.38
- 0.1250 LB Petalostemum purpureum Purple Prairie Clover $192.00 $24.00
- 0.1250 LB Ratibida pinnata Yellow Coneflower $105.00 $13.13
- 0.1875 LB Rudbeckia hirta Black-Eyed Susan $80.00 $15.00
- 0.1875 LB Silphium laciniatum Compass Plant $200.00 $37.50
- 0.1250 LB Silphium integrifolium Rosin-Weed $110.00 $13.75
- 0.0625 LB Solidago nemoralis Gray Goldenrod $528.00 $33.00
- 0.1250 LB Solidago rigida Stiff Goldenrod $150.00 $18.75
- 0.0625 LB Solidago speciosa Showy Goldenrod $480.00 $30.00
- 0.1250 LB Zizia aurea Golden Alexander $270.00 $33.75
Totals 1.9375 LB $469.75
Grand Totals 4.9375 LB $547.75
We haven't planted anything yet in our pollinator habitat - as we wait for permission from the NRCS to plant outside of their approved windows. Even so, we were thrilled to see that bees had taken up residence in the sand hill. Hundreds of native miner bees were digging little homes through the hill. I'm thinking of blocking off their area to hand broadcast seed so as to not disturb the new inhabitants!
March 29th was a beautiful day for a burn! We had a gentle north wind and low humidity, so we called the fire department and took the torches to the area around the pollinator planting site. We got a nice burn through the tree line leading back to the sand hill - lots of burdock and brambles were cleared, keeping weeds down, but also clearing the way so we can get equipment back to clear it out (so we can get more equipment back to plant). There is a tree island that is in the middle of the proposed restoration area (not technically part of the NRCS project, but it will get attention just the same. We burned dried grasses around the edge of the wood lot, and targeted spots of reed canary grass that had crept in.