Plugs and Pollinators

With more and more land being developed for one purpose or another, and more farm land being put into production, pollinator habitat has been in decline. We've been restoring our 80 acre farm to native plants for some time now, and there have always been monarchs. Like many, however, we've noticed a decline in monarch presence over the last ten years. But this year we saw an increase in monarch activity. 

 I took this photo a couple weeks ago when the Stiff Goldenrod was in full swing. Had I taken a close-up photo, you would see that these plants were not only full of monarchs, but bees as well. you can see the bees on the flower toward the bottom of the screen. 

I took this photo a couple weeks ago when the Stiff Goldenrod was in full swing. Had I taken a close-up photo, you would see that these plants were not only full of monarchs, but bees as well. you can see the bees on the flower toward the bottom of the screen. 

For the first time in a long time our grove, made up of Norway Pine and Spruce trees, was full of monarchs. By full I mean thousands of them, all flitting about as one walked through the grove. They gathered and rested about two weeks before flying south on the grand migration to Mexico.

 Though at a distance, you can see the branches of this spruce tree full of monarchs, hanging like bats in the shade of the grove. 

Though at a distance, you can see the branches of this spruce tree full of monarchs, hanging like bats in the shade of the grove. 

We have been growing wildflower and grass plugs in the greenhouse now for two years, and have been plugging them into existing prairies and into newer prairie plots. The advantage of beginning a prairie from plugs instead of seed is that we can design it , creating swaths of particular colors and transitioning into other colors. 

 This is part of a larger project in which the homeowners are restoring their property to woodland natives, all which will be done by seed. But this plot, which is highly visible, we decided to do with plugs. We put down several inches of sand to suppress weed growth and to put the plugs into. 

This is part of a larger project in which the homeowners are restoring their property to woodland natives, all which will be done by seed. But this plot, which is highly visible, we decided to do with plugs. We put down several inches of sand to suppress weed growth and to put the plugs into. 

 The homeowners know that these will need to be watered for four weeks or so. But after that the plugs will have rooted into the soil below and will do well on their own.

The homeowners know that these will need to be watered for four weeks or so. But after that the plugs will have rooted into the soil below and will do well on their own.

 Here is another project where we removed all the old landscaping and replanted the area with plugs Conventional landscaping, with its landscape fabric and mulch, is doomed to eventual renovation for two reasons: plants don't do well when their roots are covered with fabric, and cultivars (or hybridized plants) generally cannot reproduce themselves. As a result, over time, the vegetation of conventional landscapes get thinner and thinner. 

Here is another project where we removed all the old landscaping and replanted the area with plugs Conventional landscaping, with its landscape fabric and mulch, is doomed to eventual renovation for two reasons: plants don't do well when their roots are covered with fabric, and cultivars (or hybridized plants) generally cannot reproduce themselves. As a result, over time, the vegetation of conventional landscapes get thinner and thinner. 

 By inserting approximately 1.25 plugs every square foot, we saturate the area with natives, which should out-compete the weeds and will eventually reproduce themselves, filling up the area with native vegetation. 

By inserting approximately 1.25 plugs every square foot, we saturate the area with natives, which should out-compete the weeds and will eventually reproduce themselves, filling up the area with native vegetation. 

One side note: Another activity of August is checking on prairies that we seeded in the last couple years to see how they're doing. It is always very satisfying to see a plot that has come in well. The photo below is of a woodland restoration that we seeded in the spring of 2016. Here we are, in its second summer of growth, showing a flush of Brown Eyed Susans and Blue Bells, two flowers that complement each other nicely. 

Jacobson Woodland edited.jpg

A Mid-Summer Morn's Walk through the Prairie

Many apologies for the gap in posts. All I can say is that it is somewhat paradoxical that the most beautiful time of a Central Minnesota prairie is also our most busy time. When I would like to be photographing and pondering its beauty, we're busy weeding, plugging, and preparing sites for future seeding. 

Of course calling this the most beautiful time for a prairie is a matter of opinion. Like many things aesthetic, there will be disagreement as to elements that make a prairie beautiful.  To my mind, the peak of the wildflower season is when the Grey Headed Coneflower blossoms.

 Granted, part of what makes the Grey Headed Coneflower an exceptional flower is that it blooms for a long period of time. It staggers its heads so that as one fades, others come into bloom. You can see that in this photo--those that are past their bloom and those heads that are just beginning to blossom. 

Granted, part of what makes the Grey Headed Coneflower an exceptional flower is that it blooms for a long period of time. It staggers its heads so that as one fades, others come into bloom. You can see that in this photo--those that are past their bloom and those heads that are just beginning to blossom. 

But there are other elements that contribute to a beautiful prairie such as texture, variety, asymmetry, symmetry and, of course, color.

 Who could argue with the brilliance of color and the symmetry of the Meadow Blazing Star? Just as the Grey Headed Coneflowers begin to fade, the Meadow Blazing Star starts its bloom. Of course it stands out nicely from its yellow background. 

Who could argue with the brilliance of color and the symmetry of the Meadow Blazing Star? Just as the Grey Headed Coneflowers begin to fade, the Meadow Blazing Star starts its bloom. Of course it stands out nicely from its yellow background. 

 The petals of the Purple Coneflower are fading, but the seed heads endure. Their darkness, size, and symmetry (indeed mathematical symmetry) add to the visual texture of the prairie.

The petals of the Purple Coneflower are fading, but the seed heads endure. Their darkness, size, and symmetry (indeed mathematical symmetry) add to the visual texture of the prairie.

 It is hard to believe that such an exotic looking plant as the While Wild Indigo is native to our midwestern and Central Minnesotan prairies. Notice its seed pods darkening above it. 

It is hard to believe that such an exotic looking plant as the While Wild Indigo is native to our midwestern and Central Minnesotan prairies. Notice its seed pods darkening above it. 

 The height of the Compass Plant, shown here, is up to seven, sometimes even eight feet tall. Such contrast adds to the beauty of the prairie.  

The height of the Compass Plant, shown here, is up to seven, sometimes even eight feet tall. Such contrast adds to the beauty of the prairie.  

 We could use more white in the prairie this time of year. And that is what the Culver's Root flower provides. I seeded this prairie about eight years ago, and this is the first year that the Culver's Root has shown itself this dramatically. 

We could use more white in the prairie this time of year. And that is what the Culver's Root flower provides. I seeded this prairie about eight years ago, and this is the first year that the Culver's Root has shown itself this dramatically. 

 This is an elevated view of the prairie in our commons. I like the contrast between the uniformity of the turf grass, and the naturalness of the prairie.

This is an elevated view of the prairie in our commons. I like the contrast between the uniformity of the turf grass, and the naturalness of the prairie.

 The beginning of the flowering of the Goldenrod (behind the Purple Coneflower shown here) marks for me the turning point of the prairie and the seasons. Plants are mellowing, focusing less on growth and more on seed dispersal. 

The beginning of the flowering of the Goldenrod (behind the Purple Coneflower shown here) marks for me the turning point of the prairie and the seasons. Plants are mellowing, focusing less on growth and more on seed dispersal. 

 A photo and a side note: we have never done justice to this small cluster of seven Bur Oaks. I mowed and sprayed this area to begin preparing it for a reseeding of Oak Savannah grasses and wildflowers. 

A photo and a side note: we have never done justice to this small cluster of seven Bur Oaks. I mowed and sprayed this area to begin preparing it for a reseeding of Oak Savannah grasses and wildflowers. 

Meet the Usual Suspects

This is the weeding time for prairies, especially for second-year prairies. The first season, newly seeded prairies are usually mowed to keep the weeds down and let the newly germinated seedlings get sun. The second year we let things go. But that is when many weeds come up with the prairie. Our goal is to do what we can to keep these weeds from seeding out. 

In terms of weeds, the ones I photographed in the prairie below (which came in very well) are the usual suspects of this part of Minnesota. These photos were taken this past week, the week of July 1, 2018. 

 One of the more challenging weeds is Canada Thistle. It spreads through its roots and by seed, creating swaths--which can become vast, if left unchecked--of thistle. You can see some of the plants in this patch are getting ready to seed out already. The grasses you see around this patch of Canada Thistle are cool season natives that were seeded last year such as Canada Wildrye and Slender Wheatgrass. They are the first to establish themselves in a newly-seeded prairie, but eventually, over a period of several years, give way to the warm season grasses such as Little Bluestem and Blue Gramma. 

One of the more challenging weeds is Canada Thistle. It spreads through its roots and by seed, creating swaths--which can become vast, if left unchecked--of thistle. You can see some of the plants in this patch are getting ready to seed out already. The grasses you see around this patch of Canada Thistle are cool season natives that were seeded last year such as Canada Wildrye and Slender Wheatgrass. They are the first to establish themselves in a newly-seeded prairie, but eventually, over a period of several years, give way to the warm season grasses such as Little Bluestem and Blue Gramma. 

 There was some Burdock in this prairie down in the lower, wetter areas. It's a big, strong plant that puts out seeds that are the size of a marble and stick to your clothes as you walk through them. It comes by many names, but where I grew up in Southern Minnesota, it is called "Cocklebur."

There was some Burdock in this prairie down in the lower, wetter areas. It's a big, strong plant that puts out seeds that are the size of a marble and stick to your clothes as you walk through them. It comes by many names, but where I grew up in Southern Minnesota, it is called "Cocklebur."

 This is Bull Thistle. Its stem is larger and thicker than Canada thistle and its needles are longer and more menacing. One finds the solitary Bull Thistle plant in a prairie, unlike the large patches characteristic of Canada Thistle.  

This is Bull Thistle. Its stem is larger and thicker than Canada thistle and its needles are longer and more menacing. One finds the solitary Bull Thistle plant in a prairie, unlike the large patches characteristic of Canada Thistle.  

 The Mullein in this prairie was not common, but it has the potential to spread. You can see its seeds at the top of the plant. It's a strange, exotic-looking plant that came from Greece, so I recall reading. One gets a good sense of the native grasses we slogged through to get to the weeds. 

The Mullein in this prairie was not common, but it has the potential to spread. You can see its seeds at the top of the plant. It's a strange, exotic-looking plant that came from Greece, so I recall reading. One gets a good sense of the native grasses we slogged through to get to the weeds. 

 Curled Dock is also a prolific weed. It's seeds have an interesting texture and color, especially in the late summer when it's ready to seed out. It is said that one plant can put out 10,000 seeds. 

Curled Dock is also a prolific weed. It's seeds have an interesting texture and color, especially in the late summer when it's ready to seed out. It is said that one plant can put out 10,000 seeds. 

 This is Wormwood. It has a lighter color and is in the Sage family. It has a nice smell but can be very invasive and hard to get rid of. I took this photo from the cab of my tractor as I was mowing it with a flail mower. There were a couple areas that were covered with it on this project. It's very fibrous and hard to cut with a bean hook, so for the sake of efficiency, these would be areas to mow. 

This is Wormwood. It has a lighter color and is in the Sage family. It has a nice smell but can be very invasive and hard to get rid of. I took this photo from the cab of my tractor as I was mowing it with a flail mower. There were a couple areas that were covered with it on this project. It's very fibrous and hard to cut with a bean hook, so for the sake of efficiency, these would be areas to mow. 

 For the individual weeds or small patches, we use a bean hook. It's a simple tool but very effective for cutting weeds at the base with minimal strain to one's back. The blade is the curved piece of metal, so the cutting happens by pulling the tool. It allowed us to cut the weeds but leave the natives standing. 

For the individual weeds or small patches, we use a bean hook. It's a simple tool but very effective for cutting weeds at the base with minimal strain to one's back. The blade is the curved piece of metal, so the cutting happens by pulling the tool. It allowed us to cut the weeds but leave the natives standing. 

 Here we are with our bean hooks going after the small patches of individual weeds. It's hard work but quite satisfying know the weeds will not be seeding out this year.

Here we are with our bean hooks going after the small patches of individual weeds. It's hard work but quite satisfying know the weeds will not be seeding out this year.

Early Summer Flowers Begin to Bloom

We break the various wildflowers down into four seasons: spring, early summer, late summer, and fall. The spring flowers are fading and we are now in the season of early summer, and there are some great flowers that are beginning to bloom. All of these photos were taken today, June 24th, in a prairie that was seeded four years ago. 

 Perhaps the most dramatic early summer wildflower is the Butterfly Milkweed. It's one of the very few orange native wildflowers and of course is a great pollinator. With it you see the Purple Prairie Clover, another very nice early summer flower. 

Perhaps the most dramatic early summer wildflower is the Butterfly Milkweed. It's one of the very few orange native wildflowers and of course is a great pollinator. With it you see the Purple Prairie Clover, another very nice early summer flower. 

 Of the yellow flowers, the Oxe Eye Daisy has much brilliance and size. You can see some Purple Coneflowers behind them, but still pale in color. 

Of the yellow flowers, the Oxe Eye Daisy has much brilliance and size. You can see some Purple Coneflowers behind them, but still pale in color. 

 Hyssop is a very nice lavender colored flower and is a very long-blooming plant, beginning in late June and continuing until late August. 

Hyssop is a very nice lavender colored flower and is a very long-blooming plant, beginning in late June and continuing until late August. 

 Common Milkweed is in the same family as Butterfly Milkweed, but they are quite different in appearance. The Swamp Milkweed's mauve color adds something to the mix. 

Common Milkweed is in the same family as Butterfly Milkweed, but they are quite different in appearance. The Swamp Milkweed's mauve color adds something to the mix. 

 Even though it is not colorful yet, I thought I would include this photo of a Compass Plant. They are larger plants that have anise flower in later summer. 

Even though it is not colorful yet, I thought I would include this photo of a Compass Plant. They are larger plants that have anise flower in later summer. 

 I thought I would include two ubiquitous weeds of early summer: Hoary Alyssum (the white one), and Goat's Beard (the yellow one). They show up when soil is disturbed, such as when a new prairie is seeded. This prairie plot was seeded last spring. Tilling the soil brought up a host of these weeds, which we often see in first and especially second year prairies. These two plants will  decline next year in these spots as both are annuals (that is, they live for just one year).

I thought I would include two ubiquitous weeds of early summer: Hoary Alyssum (the white one), and Goat's Beard (the yellow one). They show up when soil is disturbed, such as when a new prairie is seeded. This prairie plot was seeded last spring. Tilling the soil brought up a host of these weeds, which we often see in first and especially second year prairies. These two plants will  decline next year in these spots as both are annuals (that is, they live for just one year).

Turf Grass is not the Only Option

When it comes to our residential landscapes, turf grass continues to have a firm grasp on our imagination. I remember when we first moved to our 80 acre farm some 30 years ago, our idea of domesticating these wild, weedy spaces was to till them up, seed it in turf grass and mow. I am astonished to look back and think that we had no sense of any alternative. We had no idea that there were other things one could do with open spaces, other than leave them in weeds or to convert them to turf grass. 

 Here is a photo I took two days ago of a lawn of a homeowner in the country (you can see a shadow of me photographing it). Up until now, they have been mowing some 2.5 acres, and doing so for decades. If you look closely, you can see the lighter green where the grass will be saved as paths. The rest will finally be put in pollinator, or prairie, plots. 

Here is a photo I took two days ago of a lawn of a homeowner in the country (you can see a shadow of me photographing it). Up until now, they have been mowing some 2.5 acres, and doing so for decades. If you look closely, you can see the lighter green where the grass will be saved as paths. The rest will finally be put in pollinator, or prairie, plots. 

Granted, there is something pleasing about a golf fairway, or a pristine baseball field, a well-maintained park, the mowed ditches along the freeway. Some might argue that such mowing communicates a sense of order, civilization, humanity's dominance over nature. But the problem is, it seems to me, that turf grass is the only show in town, so to speak. Like when we moved out here on our farm some 30 years ago, we could conceive of no alternative to turf grass. 

This, and yet the down side to turf grass is clear: turf grasses are high maintenance. Billions of dollars every year are spent on spraying herbicides on lawn to control weeds. Not only does one have to mow a lawn, but annoyingly we have to do things to our lawns that make it so we have to mow them more often, such as water and fertilize. As Michael Pollan has put it, the task of maintaining a lawn is truly Sysiphean (you will recall that Sysiphus is the Greek Mythological character who was sentenced for his wrongdoing was to push a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down and have to repeat the process). 

My thinking is that the two work nicely together, can complement each other. The paths and parameters of turf grass can enhance the prairie plots within them. I like to leave a bit of turf grass along a driveway, which gives the natives a give it a more intentional look. 

 

 There was a time when I mowed all of this as turf grass. After a few years, and having gone through one old tractor and mowing deck, I decided enough was enough. We seeded this in a pollinator mix on Friday, though it took a while to prepare these sites. I left a path of turf grass winding through the middle of it. 

There was a time when I mowed all of this as turf grass. After a few years, and having gone through one old tractor and mowing deck, I decided enough was enough. We seeded this in a pollinator mix on Friday, though it took a while to prepare these sites. I left a path of turf grass winding through the middle of it. 

There are often many parts of a lawn that is put to no real use. These parts can be converted to prairie which makes for a low-maintence, environmentally productive, and beautiful landscape. Some day, part of owning a residential landscape may involve the homeowners saying to themselves, "we're not using this part of our lawn for anything. Let's put it in pollinators." 

 This homeowner used to mow this, and three other equally large areas, totally over four acres of mowing. She hired us to put it in prairie and now, instead of spending half of her Saturday mowing, she now enjoys the wildflowers of her prairie. 

This homeowner used to mow this, and three other equally large areas, totally over four acres of mowing. She hired us to put it in prairie and now, instead of spending half of her Saturday mowing, she now enjoys the wildflowers of her prairie. 

FAQ: Where's My Prairie?

The most frequently asked question we get regarding prairies and their installation is this: "You seeded my prairie last fall; it's now spring and I see nothing but weeds. Where is my prairie?"

Many wonder early on how their investment can possibly become a prairie. This is in great part because the first year of growth on the part of native plants is very little, at least to the naked eye. Natives, compared to non-natives (another word for "weeds"), take their time as they grow. They play the long game, rooting as much as they can and storing nutrients for the winter. Many non-natives have a "fast and furious" strategy--get big and produce seed before winter. And by getting big fast, they get a leg up on natives by competing for the sun's rays (and moisture), while the poor natives get left in the shade to struggle (which is why we mow prairies the first year after they've been seeded--to mow the weeds so that the natives can get some sun). 

The result of this is that a newly seeded prairie looks like any other weed patch, even though that is not what they are. But it takes a trained eye, like that of our employee, Jeff Evander, to identify what's native and what's not. Here's an example:

anderson screen shot circled.png

This photo was taken last week at a prairie that was seeded last fall. Like many other customers, he looked down at this patch and asked himself how he was going to justify this investment to his wife. We then got the phone call, understandably, asking where his prairie is. In many cases, either Jeff or I will go out to save a marriage. What we see in this prairie is:

1, 2, & 7              Black-Eyed Susan (a fast growing native wildflower that was seeded)

3                        Common Ragweed (an annual weed that came up)

4                        Maximillian Sunflower (a native wildflower that was seeded)

5                        Canada Thistle (a non-native, perennial weed)

6                        Grey Headed Coneflower (a native we seeded)

8 - 11                  Side Oats Gramma (a native grass that was seeded)

12                       Black Medic (a non-native, annual weed from seed already in the soil)

We look at this site and say, "Wow, this prairie is coming in great! Sure, we'll have to manage some of that thistle, and we know there's a lot of Siberian Elm seed in here, but this prairie is on its way."

Admittedly, to the average person, it is tough to see the potential that first year. But, invariably, the second year shows a flush of the faster-growing natives, such as the Black-Eyed Susan, which gives one hope. And the third year, one might see some colors other than yellow, such as lavender (the Monarda) or white (the Yarrow). 

So, if you think you're getting the hang of it, take a look a this next photo (again, taken last week) of another prairie that was seeded last fall. What would you say to your spouse after spending a chunk of your hard-earned income on this? (By the way this, too, is a good looking first year prairie.) 

Jay Bachus 1 resized.jpg

The Parade Begins!

It's an exciting time when the first prairie flowers bloom. Around here the most consistent and dependable flowers are the Golden Alexanders, Spiderwort, Beardtongue and Lupine.

Lupines resized.jpg

My brother Tim texted me yesterday, April 26th, to say the Lupines were blooming which, to my mind, is the harbinger of the wildflower parade (though there are earlier odd blooming plants, the full-on display begins with the Lupine). I was a bit suspicious because the Lupines to the south of my house had not bloomed, or at least I didn't notice them. Surely enough, the ones near his house were in full bloom as of this morning, but the ones to the south of our house were not.  

Lupine not burned resized.jpg

The above photos were both taken this morning. So how to explain the difference? The prairie with the blooming Lupines had been burned this spring, while ours had not (we just ran out of time; things had greened up too much by the time we could get to it). The difference between the blooming Lupines and the non-blooming ones highlights the difference burning makes for the native plants. I'll be curious to see when these unbloomed Lupines get around to blooming. 

 

 Golden Alexanders are another very nice early spring flower

Golden Alexanders are another very nice early spring flower

Of the many noteworthy things this year is the seeding of the Siberian Elms. Siberian Elms are an invasive species of tree from none other than Siberia (my theory is that just as the Russians seek to corrupt our politics with cyber warfare, they also seek to corrupt our ecology with the Siberian Elm. I have been emailing special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, to include this in his investigation of Russian meddling, but so far I have not heard back from him. I'll keep you posted on this). 

Last year there was a late freeze which thwarted the seeding of the many trees, which means this year's trees are all the more determined to put out even more seeds. 

Siberian Elm 1 resized.jpg

This fuzzy, light-colored tree is a common site around central Minnesota this Memorial Day weekend. This Siberian Elm looks dead, but it's actually laden with seeds. Indeed, upon a closer look, there is hardly any foliage on the tree. It has put all--and I mean all--its energy into producing seed. The result: an invasive species. Though it looks innocuous, a closer look will reveal how successful this species is.

Sibereian Elms 2 resized.jpg

After taking that photo, I turned around to take this one. All the trees you see in this photo, including the smaller ones in the foreground, are Siberian Elms. Without management, the Siberian Elm and Buckthorn will take over disturbed sites and woodlands. 

 Here is a closeup of a Siberian Elm that has begun dropping its seeds. Its leaves look like the American Elm, only much smaller. Its seeds look like a miniature fried egg (sunny side up). 

Here is a closeup of a Siberian Elm that has begun dropping its seeds. Its leaves look like the American Elm, only much smaller. Its seeds look like a miniature fried egg (sunny side up). 

Many of the sites we are restoring have Siberian Elms next to them, and we've been either cutting them down ourselves or trying to get our future prairie managers to do the same, with mixed results. It's hard to appreciate how difficult it is to control this invasive species.

Siberian Elm in Prairie resized.jpg

I took this photo this morning. It is a Siberian Elm in the prairie to the south of our house. It is the result of a tree that we cut down over ten years ago, and yet I'm still dealing with its seeds. This little guy has survived many burns and still persists. The only way to get rid of it is to cut it and spray the stump right away. So, do your part to stop Russian meddling: cut and spray your Siberian Elms before it's too late! 

 

 

Jethro Tull: a source of Constant Inspiration

This is prairie seeding time. And when I'm out seeding prairies, I think of Jethro Tull. Or, more accurately, I think of the two Jethro Tulls.

Being 60 years old, my time with popular music was in the '70s. The band, Jethro Tull, was part of my musical diet then, and for good reason. The sound of this British rock band was complex, combining flute with rock, and narrative songwriting with complex melodies, all due to the talents of the band's frontman, Ian Anderson. They had a distinctively British folk, but yet rock sound. Our local "Album Rock" station, WXYG, plays a lot of Jethro Tull, bringing back memories as well as enhancing my appreciation of this band.

The original Jethro Tull (from which the band took its name), however, was a 17th/18th century inventor/farmer. His seed drill is one of the most socially impactful, but underrated, inventions in history (in my opinion). By metering out and drilling seed in straight rows, Tull created the machine that vastly increased efficiency and yield (as opposed to sowing seed by hand). This was the harbinger of the agricultural revolution, which fueled the mass displacement of rural peoples to urban centers, accompanying the industrial revolution, producing the modern, urbanized, industrialized world that we know today. Love it or hate it, Tull's impact is as pronounced as that of Thomas Savery (inventor of the steam engine), Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford. 

 Jethro Tull, inventor. Wikipedia

Jethro Tull, inventor. Wikipedia

My seed drill is an amazing tool for several reasons. Not only does it meter out the seed in very exact amounts, but also my "no-till" seed drill can seed without having to till (which is to say, plough and disk) the soil. Ploughing and disking is labor intensive and, because it disturbs the soil, brings up a lot of weed seeds. By not disturbing the soil, the prairie seeds can germinate and gain the upper hand on the weeds much sooner. Here's how it works.

coulter resized.jpg

The first disk, called a coultur cuts open the earth. The second set of disks you see are actually two disks that separate the soil.  

back side of disk resized.jpg

This photo was taken from the back side, an angle from which you can see how the two disks are angled to open up the earth. The seed then is dropped down into this opening, after which a wheel presses the seed in so as to increase it's contact with the soil. 

tractor seeder with field resized.jpg

From this photo you can hopefully see the nice grooves in which the seed has been sowed with minimal disturbance to the earth. 

So next time you hear WXYG play Jethro Tull, think about the agricultural revolution and our ability to drill seed prairies.

Prescribed Burn Season

We are in the burn season, which occasions some thought on that part of prairie work.

It is somehow paradoxical to think that prairies depend upon burning. It is paradoxical because we think of us, homo sapiens, as outside of nature, or at least corrupters of nature, and that pure nature would do fine, if not better, without us. And what could be more purely "nature" than the north American prairie.

But prairies languish without the occasional burn. Last year's growth dies, and the year's growth before that is dead, and stays dead. New growth has to find it's way through the old growth. But the old growth in time becomes a thick mat, making it hard to navigate for many creatures, and making it hard for the new growth to make it's way through the old growth. Many times, Jeff and I will drive past a wetland or prairie and one of us will say "that could use a good burn."

Burning removes years, sometimes, decades, of duff, or accumulated dead matter. Such removal opens up the earth, allows it to breath, allows the sun to reach the earth, and thus gives the prairie new life. I am not sure what chemical and agronomic response takes place, but I can say that it has happened many times that we burned a languishing, thinly vegetated prairie one spring, only to come back two years later to burn again to find indicators that it flourished since the last burn.

The paradox is that prairies are as natural as nature in North America can provide, but they require burning, which requires humans. Indeed, the prairie co-evolved with humans, and depends upon humans to flourish. 

 

 

 Jeff and me out on a burn. 

Jeff and me out on a burn. 

The Window is Small and Closing Quickly

The time after the ground thaws to before things green up is the time to burn prairies. Also, the time after the ground thaws and before the trees bud is the time we dig up, transplant, pot, or ball and burlap trees. The window for much of what we do this spring of 2018 is a very small one.

As of yesterday, Saturday May 5, the ground is still frozen in spots. But it's thawed enough for us to do what we need to do.

 We burn the prairie plots around the farm, and the prairies we have installed for customers. The burns enhance the soil, set back the weeds, and promote growth of the native plants.

We burn the prairie plots around the farm, and the prairies we have installed for customers. The burns enhance the soil, set back the weeds, and promote growth of the native plants.

The burns should be done before the prairie plants green up, as the burn forces them to start over. Unfortunately, during all this, the trees are beginning to bud. Their budding is a function of their activity, and It is not good to disturb tree roots when they become active, as doing so can kill the tree. So disturbing the roots should be done while they are dormant. 

 At the tip of this Bur Oak branch you can see the buds beginning to swell. That means this tree is active, and yet we have many of them that we need to ball and burlap, pot, or transplant. So we hustled on Friday, May 4th, to get this done, thinking that by Monday, it may be too late to dig up trees.

At the tip of this Bur Oak branch you can see the buds beginning to swell. That means this tree is active, and yet we have many of them that we need to ball and burlap, pot, or transplant. So we hustled on Friday, May 4th, to get this done, thinking that by Monday, it may be too late to dig up trees.

 These crooked sticks in the ground are Bur Oaks. It's hard to grow a straight one, so we plant many of them and then go through them when they get to a certain size, separating the crooked ones from the fairly straight ones. 

These crooked sticks in the ground are Bur Oaks. It's hard to grow a straight one, so we plant many of them and then go through them when they get to a certain size, separating the crooked ones from the fairly straight ones. 

 The straighter Bur Oaks get either potted for later use, or balled and burlapped, after which they can be planted at any time. Paul, an employee, is digging holes in the background where the smaller and straighter ones will be transplanted. 

The straighter Bur Oaks get either potted for later use, or balled and burlapped, after which they can be planted at any time. Paul, an employee, is digging holes in the background where the smaller and straighter ones will be transplanted. 

 We use a tree spade to cut the roots of tree roots. This allows us to keep the soil on the roots or, in effect, take the soil with the tree. 

We use a tree spade to cut the roots of tree roots. This allows us to keep the soil on the roots or, in effect, take the soil with the tree. 

 Here's a photo taken years ago of a balled and burlapped tree that we are about to plant in the yard of the house behind. Our tree spade, which allows us to ball and burlap, allows us to dig up the trees before they become active, and then plant them throughout the rest of the spring, summer, and fall.

Here's a photo taken years ago of a balled and burlapped tree that we are about to plant in the yard of the house behind. Our tree spade, which allows us to ball and burlap, allows us to dig up the trees before they become active, and then plant them throughout the rest of the spring, summer, and fall.

Spring in Full

With our mid-April snows, spring seemed to be put on hold. Funny what a difference a week can make. By the beginning of this week, we heard our first frogs, bird sounds were everywhere, trees and shrubs were budding. Here are a few things we found mucking about in the prairie yesterday.

 Here is a Purple Coneflower poking through the duff. Chances are this one germinated last year and was covered with snow in this state. Notice the bits of Bluegrass around it that are greening up. 

Here is a Purple Coneflower poking through the duff. Chances are this one germinated last year and was covered with snow in this state. Notice the bits of Bluegrass around it that are greening up. 

 Here is a Monarda plant making its way.

Here is a Monarda plant making its way.

 Here's a clump of Little Bluestem we pulled up, only to see that nothing on it is turning green. It's a warm season plant and needs warmer days and nights before it will become active.

Here's a clump of Little Bluestem we pulled up, only to see that nothing on it is turning green. It's a warm season plant and needs warmer days and nights before it will become active.

 The Yellow Coneflower (or Grey-Headed Coneflowers) are just beginning to germinate.

The Yellow Coneflower (or Grey-Headed Coneflowers) are just beginning to germinate.

 The Red and Silver Maples are budding. This is a Freeman Maple, a cross between a Red and Silver Maple.

The Red and Silver Maples are budding. This is a Freeman Maple, a cross between a Red and Silver Maple.

 Elderberry, which is a native shrub, is budding out. Notice the ice on the pond in the background. By yesterday afternoon, that ice was mostly gone. 

Elderberry, which is a native shrub, is budding out. Notice the ice on the pond in the background. By yesterday afternoon, that ice was mostly gone. 

 Usually the Bur Oak buds are beginning to swell by this time. But this year, there is not much happening with this Bur Oak. 

Usually the Bur Oak buds are beginning to swell by this time. But this year, there is not much happening with this Bur Oak. 

Shaken, Not Stirred: Pin Oaks in Spring

With the temperatures getting up into the the mid 40s, things are happening. The Willow catkins are puffing out, the Poplars are preparing to pollinate, and the Sliver Maples are beginning to bud.

But with the frost still four feet deep and lakes still frozen, some plants are finishing their winter work, such as the Pin Oak.

Pin Oaks keep their leaves through the winter and then drop them in spring. If you find a Pin Oak that is exposed to the sun and shake it this weekend, it will drop it's leaves. 

 This photo of a Pin Oak was taken yesterday, April 19th, just behind our greenhouse. Pictured under it is Jeff Evander, an employee.

This photo of a Pin Oak was taken yesterday, April 19th, just behind our greenhouse. Pictured under it is Jeff Evander, an employee.

 As you can see, after shaking the tree, 90% of its leaves are now on the ground.

As you can see, after shaking the tree, 90% of its leaves are now on the ground.

Leaves give off a lot of moisture as they photosynthesize, and the ducts that channel the moisture are there even after the tree goes dormant in the fall. So shedding leaves is a way to conserve moisture through the winter. We see this in almost all deciduous trees, except for some species of Oaks and Beech trees. 

All of this begs the question: what possible strategy might the Oak have for keeping its leaves until spring?

Some have argued that Oaks evolved and have adapted to dryer soils, and that retaining leaves in the fall and dropping them in the spring provide the trees with organic matter (which provides fertilizer and retains moisture). Others suggest that the lower leaves on the tree act like a snow fence, trapping snow and thus providing more moisture into spring. Still others have argued that the leaves provide frost protection to the buds behind the leaves. A more popular theory is that the Oaks and Beeches are evolutionarily delayed, and are on their way to shedding leaves in the fall, but need a couple thousand more years of evolution to get there. 

So remember, you only have one or two more thousand years to shake (don't stir, as with a James Bond martini) a Pin Oak in spring and see the leaves drop. 

 

 

 

Greenhouse Geekout

After a mid-April snow storm, things in the prairie may be on hold, but the greenhouse is abuzz with activity.

One of the nice things about growing native plants in the greenhouse is that the temperatures can get below freezing in there, as they are at night even in April this year, but that doesn't bother the native grasses and wildflower plugs. For most vegetables--but not all--below freezing temps means death. 

This means that I don't have to turn on the heat and worry about keeping things above freezing, which this winter and spring would be quite expensive. The greenhouse warms up nicely during the day but gets below freezing at night.

 One of the challenges of growing plants in a greenhouse in Central Minnesota is how to deal with snow. If this were a hoop house, meaning a greenhouse with just a plastic sheet cover, we would have to be running the heater so that the snow would melt and run off. Without the heat on, the snow might accumulate and collapse the roof of a hoop house.  Because this is a polycarbonate greenhouse, it can withstand a lot of snow before it would collapse, which means we don't have to run the heater. Polycarbonate is a thick plastic material, much like plexiglass, but has channels that run through it like corrugated cardboard. These channels give it strength and add insulation value.  I took this photo on Sunday, April 15, during a break in the 3-day snow storm. The temperature outside was around 32 degrees. But even though there was dense cloud cover, the temperature in the greenhouse was about 50 degrees, even without running a heater. Those temps inside the greenhouse had the effect of melting the snow that accumulated on the roof. 

One of the challenges of growing plants in a greenhouse in Central Minnesota is how to deal with snow. If this were a hoop house, meaning a greenhouse with just a plastic sheet cover, we would have to be running the heater so that the snow would melt and run off. Without the heat on, the snow might accumulate and collapse the roof of a hoop house.

Because this is a polycarbonate greenhouse, it can withstand a lot of snow before it would collapse, which means we don't have to run the heater. Polycarbonate is a thick plastic material, much like plexiglass, but has channels that run through it like corrugated cardboard. These channels give it strength and add insulation value.

I took this photo on Sunday, April 15, during a break in the 3-day snow storm. The temperature outside was around 32 degrees. But even though there was dense cloud cover, the temperature in the greenhouse was about 50 degrees, even without running a heater. Those temps inside the greenhouse had the effect of melting the snow that accumulated on the roof. 

The temperatures may get below freezing in the greenhouse at night, but they stay above freezing in the little galvanized structure you see in front of the greenhouse. That structure is where the water pump is. Pumps must not be allowed to freeze; if they do, the ice in the pump will expand and break the pump (something that's happened to more than a few of my pumps). I have a small heater in that house, which allows me to keep it from freezing, so that I can water the plugs during the day when the temps in the greenhouse can be quite high, but then close it off in the pump house so it won't freeze when the temps drop at night. 

 Each one of these pots has been filled with a potting mix, and then seeded with wildflower or native grass seeds. Even though they've been watered, some for a month now, only the cool season plants are germinating.  This time of year, with the sun getting higher, the temperature in a greenhouse will get over 100 degrees. So, we must have a thermostatically controlled ventilation system that kicks in to prevent overheating. Oddly, a big challenge to managing a greenhouse is keeping it from overheating. 

Each one of these pots has been filled with a potting mix, and then seeded with wildflower or native grass seeds. Even though they've been watered, some for a month now, only the cool season plants are germinating.

This time of year, with the sun getting higher, the temperature in a greenhouse will get over 100 degrees. So, we must have a thermostatically controlled ventilation system that kicks in to prevent overheating. Oddly, a big challenge to managing a greenhouse is keeping it from overheating. 

It is worth noting that many plants (including forage crops and vegetables) fall into two categories: cool season plants or warm season plants. It is something many of us are unaware of, but it is a big deal in the plant world. Think, for example, how green the turf grasses of the average residential lawn are in October, and how beautifully the grass contrasts with the brown corn stalks we see on farm land. This is because Kentucky bluegrass is a cool season plant, and therefore thrives in the cool weather of October, but corn is a warm season plant that thrives in the heat of summer and dies after a frost. 

 This flat was planted with Lupine seeds in March. Lupine is a cool season plant, which means it geminates and thrives in cooler temperatures. 

This flat was planted with Lupine seeds in March. Lupine is a cool season plant, which means it geminates and thrives in cooler temperatures. 

When it comes to weeds, it is important to know whether they are warm season or cool season plants. For example, Reed Canary grass is a big challenge to prairie restoration work. It's an aggressive non-naive grass that is hard to get rid of. But knowing that it is a cool season plant allows us to, for example, spray it in the fall (even in October) to get a good kill. Herbicides are most effective when plants are active, and are much less effective when plants are inactive. So  spraying Reed Canary grass in September and October allows the herbicide to be more effective.

 

What's not Happening

A phenology is supposed to be about what's happening and when in the natural world. In this year, when not much is happening, I thought we might dedicate this post to what's not happening. 

April 12 is, on average, the time of year when the frost comes out of the ground in Central Minnesota. That means the snow has melted and the ground is no longer frozen. Right now, depending on the type of soil you're digging in, the ground is frozen just a few inches below the surface. It could still be several weeks before the ground thaws. 

By April 12, the Pin Oaks have dropped their brown leaves that they have hung onto all winter, making way for spring's buds.

 I took this photo yesterday, April 11, 2018 of a Pin Oak in our grove. By now, it would have dropped all its leaves.

I took this photo yesterday, April 11, 2018 of a Pin Oak in our grove. By now, it would have dropped all its leaves.

This is typically the time of year when tulips and dandelions are beginning to bloom. 

 I took this photo in the greenhouse yesterday, April 11, 2018, which serves as a reminder of what it would look like outside. On an average year, dandelions would be beginning to bloom about now, reaching full bloom in the third week of April. 

I took this photo in the greenhouse yesterday, April 11, 2018, which serves as a reminder of what it would look like outside. On an average year, dandelions would be beginning to bloom about now, reaching full bloom in the third week of April. 

Our farm has wetlands on two sides, making for very good frog habitat. Perhaps my favorite marker of spring is the croaking of the Western Chorus frogs, which begin croaking, on average, about now. No sounds from the frogs yet. 

 

 Taken from https://www.pca.state.mn.us/living-green/frogs-minnesota  Minnesota's DNR has recordings of the various frog sounds at the above link on their website. It is well worth a listen. 

Taken from https://www.pca.state.mn.us/living-green/frogs-minnesota

Minnesota's DNR has recordings of the various frog sounds at the above link on their website. It is well worth a listen. 

April Frost Photos

Hard to believe the morning lows for the last five or six days here in early April have been around 10 degrees. This of course postpones the ground thawing, which is the thing seasonal workers are waiting for. We can't plant trees, till the ground, or burn prairies until  "frost out." 

Even the tree budding seems to be in a holding pattern, though I'm seeing some budding on the Poplars and Red Maples now. I still have not seen my first Bluebird, though Brian Johnson, faculty member at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University, reports seeing a flock. 

In the meantime, we've had some nice frosts. I took these photos Thursday morning, April 5, around 7:30 am.

house in April edited.jpg
coneflowers.jpg
kluesner house in background.jpg

Silver Linings and Silver Maples

One sometimes hears the quote from T.S. Eliot, "April is the cruelest month...." By this a Minnesotan would think he is describing how April disappoints our expectation of spring. But the rest of the quote goes "...breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain."

I have to say, if "stirring dull roots with spring rain" qualifies for cruelty, then T.S. Eliot has not experienced April snow storms like the ones we are having this year.  

But there is a silver lining to all this, and that is the Silver Maple tree, the first deciduous tree in our parts to bud. Ours here on the farm have been budding since before Easter, but I only got to photographing them yesterday, April 4.

 I wish I could have photographed this Silver Maple with all the snow around it, but I had to look pretty much straight up to capture the buds on this tree on the edge of St. Joseph.

I wish I could have photographed this Silver Maple with all the snow around it, but I had to look pretty much straight up to capture the buds on this tree on the edge of St. Joseph.

Sorry to say, for those who know trees, the Silver Maple is not desirable for landscape use. It generates large, shallow roots, making it difficult to mow around, and it puts out many seeds. Due to poor pruning or lack of pruning, one sees many Silver Maples that are deformed in such a way that their limbs will come off in a high wind. They have been overused in residential developments due to their fast growth. And they get very large, making it all the more important that they be pruned to have structural strength, or removed before they get too big to easily remove. Their hybridized half-sister or brother, the Autumn Blaze Maple, is a cross between a Silver Maple and a Red Maple, and continues to be a very popular choice of tree for residential landscapes. 

Silver Maples are at their best in their natural habitat--along the banks of creeks and rivers where their shallow roots allow them to survive in wet conditions. In a way, they are our version of the Mangrove tree, doing well in the wettest of conditions.

 Courtesy of  Illinois WildFlowers       

Courtesy of Illinois WildFlowers

 

 

Pasque Flower: First Native Wildflowers to Bud

The first wildflowers to bud around here every spring is the Pasque Flower. "Pasque" is French for Easter. "Pasque" in English translates more as "paschal", as in "paschal mystery," meaning the suffering, death, and resurrection" of Christ. It seems to me a very apt name for a very liturgically-minded plant.  

 Pasque flowers make good companions with Tulips, which you see in this photo, taken March 20 in St. Joseph. The Tulips are the maroon-colored plants, and the Pasque Flower is the white, fuzzy plant to the back right. Pasque flower is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, often coming up while there is still snow on the ground. Look for it on south facing slopes in dry to average sandy soil, typically in scattered clumps. 

Pasque flowers make good companions with Tulips, which you see in this photo, taken March 20 in St. Joseph. The Tulips are the maroon-colored plants, and the Pasque Flower is the white, fuzzy plant to the back right. Pasque flower is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, often coming up while there is still snow on the ground. Look for it on south facing slopes in dry to average sandy soil, typically in scattered clumps. 

Pasque flowers are an invaluable source of early season nectar for honey and native bees.

 Pasque flower is a very delicate, leaning when the wind blows. 

Pasque flower is a very delicate, leaning when the wind blows. 

pulsatilla-nuttalliana late spring.jpg

Although a native, it struggles to self seed. It is more common to see them in cultivated landscapes as garden plants. They make a for a wonderful plant as nothing flowers sooner than the Pasque flower. They are in Minnesota and throughout much of North America. We start them as plugs in our green house, and then transplant them into landscapes later in the season. As plugs, they seem to do well. 

Red Winged Blackbirds Return

For me, the two most welcomed sounds of spring are that of the Red Winged Blackbird and the croaking of the frogs. No frogs yet, but I heard my first Red Winged Black Bird Thursday, March 22. If anyone around here has heard them sooner than that, please let me know. 

 Few sounds are more welcomed than the Red Winged Black Birds "o-ka-leeee," which has multiple translations. It translates into English as "spring is here!." In Red Winged Blackbird language it means "This is my territory. Stay out!" It is helpful to be bilingual if you live in a neighborhood with these fellows. 

Few sounds are more welcomed than the Red Winged Black Birds "o-ka-leeee," which has multiple translations. It translates into English as "spring is here!." In Red Winged Blackbird language it means "This is my territory. Stay out!" It is helpful to be bilingual if you live in a neighborhood with these fellows. 

We are fortunate enough to have our house perched on the edge of a wetland, the primary habitat for the Red Winged Blackbird. And anyone living in proximity to them knows that they are the most territorial of creatures. 

The males arrive before the females so they can stake out their nesting territory. The females arrive several weeks later. Her brown colors camouflage her when she sits quietly on her nest.

 Female Red Winged Blackbird (photo by R Hays Cummings, Miami University)

Female Red Winged Blackbird (photo by R Hays Cummings, Miami University)

One of our more heart-pumping activities in spring is to walk by the pond on our farm here, only to have the males strafe us. It is never the female, as she stays on her nest. The male makes a distinctive hissing sound as he comes very close to one's head. I have never been touched by them, but I have often felt the wind from their flapping wings as they strafe. One of our neighbors wears a hat and carries a stick with him to fend them off. 

 From this vantage point we watch the Red Winged Blackbirds defend their nesting sites around the pond in the distance. They do so by strafing unsuspecting passersby (I won't say dive-bombing because they are not dropping a payload; it's more like they are firing machine guns). They are very intimidating for those of us on the receiving end. 

From this vantage point we watch the Red Winged Blackbirds defend their nesting sites around the pond in the distance. They do so by strafing unsuspecting passersby (I won't say dive-bombing because they are not dropping a payload; it's more like they are firing machine guns). They are very intimidating for those of us on the receiving end. 

Willows and Aspen are Budding

Winter this year has been colder and longer than average. We still have a fair bit of snow here in St. Joseph, though there is less to the east and west of us. Nevertheless, a quick walk through the wetlands Friday (March 17) and this Monday (March 19) show that things are happening. 

One of the first signs of spring among plant life around here is that of the American Pussy Willow (Salix discolor). It is native to North America and is found in the wetlands of Minnesota and throughout the eastern half of the continent. There is also the Western Pussy Willow which, as the name suggests, dwells to the west of us. The ones on our property are just beginning to bud. 

 

 I took this photo of a Pussy Willow on March 19th, 2018, on our property in Central Minnesota   

I took this photo of a Pussy Willow on March 19th, 2018, on our property in Central Minnesota

 

This grayish fur resembles a cat or kitten, and so the bud is called a "catkin."  This flower bud will eventually flower and pollinate the females. 

 

 Male catkin of Pussy Willow getting ready to pollinate. Photo from Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine

Male catkin of Pussy Willow getting ready to pollinate. Photo from Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine

Though not a "stand out" plant in the landscape, Pussy Willows are very important in terms of their medicinal value. Their active ingredient is salicin, named after the Latin for willow, Salix. The making of the powder, Salix, eventually led to the manufacture of acetyl salicylic acid, better known as aspirin. It stands to reason that the common, and often overlooked, Pussy Willow was the source of this most common, and perhaps overlooked, of medicines--aspirin! 

Another sign of spring is the bud of the Quaking Aspen, the first of the larger trees to come out of dormancy in our parts.  

 

 This photo of the buds of a Quaking Aspen was taken in St. Joseph, Central Minnesota, on March 17, 2018

This photo of the buds of a Quaking Aspen was taken in St. Joseph, Central Minnesota, on March 17, 2018

The Quaking Aspen also produce catkins, which flower before its leaves bud. We see this on other plants in the Populus family (which is a subset of the genus willow), such as poplars, birch, and cottonwood. They are funny things to see in spring. I think of them as garland on a Christmas tree, drooping from the trees for my amusement. 

 The catkin of a Cottonwood, though this is what they look like on the Poplars and Quaking Aspens as well. Photo from Austinbotany.wordpress.com

The catkin of a Cottonwood, though this is what they look like on the Poplars and Quaking Aspens as well. Photo from Austinbotany.wordpress.com

The only thing is that it's not Christmas and they don't come from Christmas trees. And, while we're at it, they're also not for my amusement. These catkins form the staminate of the male aspen and, like the Pussy Willow, pollinate the females in spring. 

It's only the middle of March and I'm already overwhelmed by all that's going on in nature around here!

The Problem with Buckthorn

Some of us own homes in woodlands, and do so for the privacy and to enjoyment they give us. When you point out to people that much of what they see is Buckthorn, they might say that Buckthorn is part of nature too. Why not enjoy it as one plant among others? The answer is because it is invasive.

All plants come from particular biomes or ecosystems which make up a network of plants, insects, micro-organism, and animals that keep each other in check. 

 Buckthorn's signature is its scaly bark, thorns, and shiny leaves. It was introduced by Europeans who used it for hedges. 

Buckthorn's signature is its scaly bark, thorns, and shiny leaves. It was introduced by Europeans who used it for hedges. 

Invasive plants and animals are species that have been taken out of their network of plants and are in a context in which there are no constraints. Whether its the wild boars of Texas, or the kudzu of Arkansas, or the zebra muscles in the lakes of Minnesota, these animals, plants, and mollusks are invasive because they have no predators to keep them in their place. 

Nature tends toward diversity. Biomes often see an expansion of species as species evolve to maximize niches in an environment. This tendency toward proliferation of species, and how they work together to form an ecosystem is, in great part, what makes nature interesting, as well as what makes it work. Invasive species throw a wrench in this project of plant diversity by dominating and replacing them.

 The three Bur Oaks of our wetland

The three Bur Oaks of our wetland

These three oaks in our wetland are remnants of an Oak Savanna biome. A closer look under and behind these oaks shows the results of thirty years of unchecked Buckthorn growth. The Buckthorn thicket under these trees is so dense that neither deer nor humans can traverse it. The Buckthorn has the ability to inhibit the growth of other species, including the Bur Oaks, so much so that little else grows in this area. When the Bur Oaks die, there will remain a Buckthorn canopy that reaches a final height of about 25 feet. 

If nothing is done, there will be a dramatic reduction in diversity. In effect, the Oak Savanna biome will be undone. So, we here on the farm continue to pick away at removing Buckthorn.

 This is a photo I took of Jeff, an employee, who cuts Buckthorn with a brush cutter and then sprays the stump with an herbicide right after cutting. If the stump is not sprayed, the plant will eventually come back with a vengeance. 

This is a photo I took of Jeff, an employee, who cuts Buckthorn with a brush cutter and then sprays the stump with an herbicide right after cutting. If the stump is not sprayed, the plant will eventually come back with a vengeance. 

Another challenge is that after it has been removed, Buckthorn often comes back. Mature Buckthorn plants put out a lot of seed in berries, which birds eat and spread through their droppings. This seed can remain viable in the soil for up to five years. 

 Buckthorn berries are attractive to certain birds, which eat and spread the plant. The berry producing plants are the ones we go after first. 

Buckthorn berries are attractive to certain birds, which eat and spread the plant. The berry producing plants are the ones we go after first. 

This is why removing Buckthorn should be part of a restoration program--a plan to restore the woodland with native plants and through prescribed burns, a program we will save for another post.