Saturday, June 11, 2011

Planting Native Grasses

I was warned: there is virtually no time to write in the Spring and Summer on a farm.

Still, I am an archivist by nature, so at least I documented the process of planting the warm-season native grasses with pictures. Establishing these grasses is expensive and elaborate; that is especially daunting for someone like me, who thought grass was grass until just under a year ago. They say that during the first few years, the grasses are establishing strong root systems and may not grow very much above ground.

This translates to: your field might be very ugly for three years, and only then will you know for sure whether the grass was a success. That's partly why the practice typically involves adding legumes and native wildflowers into the mix. Thankfully, it rained an inch and a half two days after drilling, and one day after broadcasting the remainder seed by hand. This is perfect to pack down the seeds.

One plants these warm season grasses both to control erosion (they have massive root systems) and provide critical wildlife habitat. This album shows the critical two days of planting the grass seeds, mostly Little Bluestem. We started spraying the field two months before (in this case, chemicals are the ecologist-recommended route). Despite all the spraying, the field still looks very grassy in places. Just looking at the unevenness of the field, it's hard to believe the no-till drill will work. The fluffy seeds can't be planted more than about 1/8 inch deep, and one should be able to see 30% of the seed on the surface after planting.

Dad (our neighbor!) supplied the tractor. We rented the drill. The ideal drill in this situation is a Truax, but because there are so few rangeland drills in the state and it was getting close to too-late-to-plant, we ended up with a Great Plains. We were not able to calibrate it like we would have liked. (I had a great video on calibration--free from the US Forestry Service, but this drill was missing the parts to do it right).

Insights about life on this farm will be better after a few years of perspective. At least I've got a few pictures in a Picasa album. I even had time to add a few captions.