On Friday we seeded three different sites with native prairie grasses!!! Planting is the most exciting part of any restoration project for me, so I get really excited when I physically help to put seed in the ground. After all the blowing and raking by hand, Bruce (one of the field laborers) let us know that there was a machine called a lawn sweeper that could do the stuff that took us 20 minutes in about 2. YAY! Basically, the machine has metal brushes under it and kicks the mowed clippings up into a bin, which you can then dump when it fills up. I'm wondering if there's anything useful we could do with the clippings, such as feed them to animals as hay or use them for erosion control. The second option might introduce things we don't want to new areas though.
Once we had the sites prepped to seed, Bruce came over with his tractor and used a no-till drill native grass seeder to plant the native mix. The machine is actually designed for the fluffy texture of native prairie grasses! We planted a mix of western wheat grass, side oats gramma, blue gramma, switchgrass, indian grass, little bluestem, and big bluestem. Seven species isn't bad in terms of an initial planting, but a real prairie would also have non grass herbaceous species like wildflowers and such. John's methodology is to get these grass species established first, choke out the invasives, and then figure out what to do about other native plants. We tossed around ideas on how to do that, everything from planting wildflowers after a prescribed burn to just hand seeding in open patches.
I asked John about how prescribed burns have gone over on base, and he told me a story about the first meeting between him, the fire marshal, some commanders, and an expert on prescribed burns that John had brought in. As the expert was setting up his powerpoint, the fire marshal said "Before you start, I just want to make it clear that we are completely opposed to this. We're here to put out fires, not start them." The quote basically sums up the attitude that people usually face when they try to do prescribed burns. After the presentation and a bit of wrangling, John was able to convince the commanders to do some burns. He said it was one of the most fun projects he'd ever undertaken!
We also viewed one of the most unmanaged portions of the greenway, a 50 meter stretch of the trail that is dominated by invasive and exotic trees. John thinks that these particular trees took a much bigger hit from an ice storm we had earlier in the year because they were exotic, an argument he's using to convince the base that only native trees should be planted from now on. If native trees are more resistant to storms, they're easier to maintain and will last longer. He asked us what we thought he should do with the area, and I half jokingly suggested that he simply burn it and start over. I guess the half joking part was lost on John and Justin, because they actually considered it seriously! Its true the the place had so many exotics that cutting them all out would involve cutting almost all the trees, so maybe its not such a crazy idea. I'd hate to see so much wood go to waste, but the base isn't really allowed to sell anything, so its not like they can gain anything from it. After that we had a relaxing three day weekend, with an air show, a party and a cookout all lined up! Until next time, peace and plants people, peace and plants.