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Indiana, United States
Debt free empty nesters...ready to stretch our wings. Life is good and we plan on making it even better. This blog is mostly about our trips to Vieques Puerto Rico, with a few odds and ends thrown in about our life after the mortgage.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Overcast Sunday morning....

This weekend has been another one of those Paynes Grey sort of times. We've had what is the polar opposite of last summer, wet and cool. Great for the vegetation (maybe too good for the grass by all the mowing I've been doing). This morning while I was in the kitchen I looked out onto the back deck and noticed something on one of the chairs. At first I just thought it was a bird and didn't pay much attention. When I took a closer look I saw it was a red-spotted-purple. I grabbed the camera and got of shot of it sitting on a beach towel that was flung over the  chair:



This was the first one I had seen so far this summer. It had seemed to me that there were not nearly as many butterflies this year. I didn't know exactly what to attribute it to, but seeing this guy on the deck motivated me to grab the video and take a walk out in the prairie.

  I've not talked much about our prairie and how it came to be.  It's an interesting story. When we bought the property, the front part was in crops, as was all the property around us. Corn and beans, beans and corn.  We actually had to pay the farmer for the corn when we began building the house, that way we were able to begin construction. I think I bought two acres of corn.  After  the house was finished and we moved I  let him  continue farming the front.  But after a few winters of having the soil all bare and naked,  we opted to turn it into a hay field.  A few years into haying I happened upon a prairie near our place. It was owned by an entomologist that did research work at a nearby university. I spent  that  summer getting to know him and learning about how he created his prairie and why. The thing that struck me about it was all the diversity of insect life and just how many butterflies there were. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.  I learned about how beneficial the prairie plants are to the soil, even to the point of creating an underground environment for specific fungi that help to create the loam typical of prairies.

The next year I  made the decision to turn our fields into prairie. My bible for the project was The Tallgrass Prairie Restoration Hanbook.   My plan was to  enroll in what was called a WHIP  program (wildlife habitat improvement program), ran by the state. Basically what they did was cost share the price of the prairie seeds (which can get as high as $2000 and acre), they paid 1/2. For that I could only cut it at certain times of the year and couldn't hay it. Not a problem since I was tired of haying it anyway.  My new entomologist friend allowed me to collect any and all forb (flower) seeds I wanted from his place. Given the cost to buy bulk prairie seed this was a windfall.  But first we had to prepare our land for the prairie and this would take some time.  Our biggest problem was the years of farming that had occurred on it. Because of the way modern farming depends upon herbicides to control weeds our soil was filthy with noxious weed seed just ready to germinate.  The prairie plants can't tolerate hardly any herbicide. My plan  was  to grow no-till soybeans for two years. This way the ground never got turned over and we could exhaust the top seed bed by spraying twice a year with round-up (even though I hated that fact that I was having to rely on a modern herbicide, it was really my only choice).

Two years later I had collected more than enough seeds from my friends prairie and we had all our paperwork in order for the state program. I had bought a harrow plow  for my ATV and used it to lightly scar the 5 acres. I then gridded the property off with flags and divided all the seed into plastic grocery sacks. We then invited family and friends to our "Prairie Planting Party".  The seeds where divided equally between each person and we walked in a line casting the seeds by hand. It took a while but we got the whole parcel seeded. I used a water roller to pack the soil. Now we prayed for rain.

I've got to say the first few years our prairie looked like nothing more than a big weed patch. I ended up borrowing a herbicide wick that I mounted onto a long boom attached to my atv. The wick had a series of ropes that hung down just above my young prairie plants. I was able to brush the faster growing weeds with the herbicide while staying away from  the prairie plants. That method worked for the first year. The next few years Lorrie and I went out into the fields with small bottles filed with round-up, placing drops on the weeds individually. It took  years but we eradicated all the noxious weeds. The last one to finally give up was the Johnson grass. Johnson grass seed can stay viable for over 10 years, so I'm sure there's plenty just waiting in our soil. For now the prairie is so thick that nothing much else grows. It's doing what it's suppose to do.

You can find in our prairie: Big Bluesteam, Little Bluesteam, Side Oats Gramma, Indian Grass (my favorite), Canadian Wild Rye, Rattlesnake Master, Compass Plant, Lead Plant, Wild Quinine, Blazing Star, Grey Headed Cone flower, Echinacea, Royal Cathfly, Prairie Dock, Black eyed Susan, Purple Sage, Monarda Fistulosa, Rosin Weed, Cup Plant, Culvers Root, Swamp Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Smooth Penstemon, False Indigo, Baptisia Australias, Illinois Bundleflower, Wild Asters, Round Headed Prairie Clover and a lot of others that I just can't think of right now.

So that's our story about the prairie. We've had plenty of local farmers ask "Why would anyone in their right mind turn good farm land into a weed patch?"

I guess so you can take a Sunday morning walk and see what I did:

 


:-)

2 comments:

  1. Beautiful! This project shows your love of nature and respect for God's creation which I share. It wasn't easy and took time and effort but you saw value in the outcome - I love your prairie Curt and Lorrie :) Thanks for sharing it with me...Jenni

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  2. Well hi Jenni. We enjoy our prairie and all things natural. We had a DNR officer stop by our place. He said our little 5 acre prairie was one of the best he's seen in the state! We burn it off every 3 or 4 years. Keep the multiflora rose and the occasional blackberry/raspberry at bay, that's about it. It's not much bother now that it's established. I wish I would have waited one more week to video it because the monarda is now nearing peak and there are triple the butterflies, it's almost surreal. The hummingbirds are also really hitting the monarda. We'll have color right up to frost, then everything will turn a nice warm copper color.

    Glad you like the video and hope all is well.
    take care
    Curt

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