Sunday, April 30, 2017

Burning the West Side: April 11, 2017

There was so much fuel, the burn seemed dangerous.  But the ground was wet, the guys were experts, and all went well.

That's a Monarch butterfly zigzagging in front of the cedars at the beginning of the video.  The powerful south wind on Saturday, April 8, 2017 blew the Monarchs into Kansas way ahead of schedule.

The milkweeds aren't up yet!  Monarchs need milkweeds to lay their eggs.

But the wild plums are blooming, and so are the lilacs planted by prairie ladies many years ago.   

While waiting for the milkweeds, the Monarchs have nectar to drink!  And they are no dummies around fire.  They zigged and zagged and stayed just out of reach of the flames.   Literally, when the fire went low, they went high.   

Hey, little guys--we wish you well.  We hope soon to meet your descendants!


Burning the East Side, April 8, 2017

Rod Moyer and his excellent crew did some backburns to protect the house.  I appreciated the time they took, as they had thousands of acres to burn that day.

After they left, I burned around the Writer's Shack and the solar panel at Jerry's Pond.

The fire crossed onto our land from neighboring pastures.

From Cemetery Ridge the fire jumped to our woods.  In one place it jumped the Oak Road, both tracks of which were running water--and it jumped downhill and against a southwest wind. 
Fire makes up rules as it goes along!

Fire maintains a grassland--without it there would be no prairie--but fire is capricious.  It is helpful but in no way does it confine itself to the helper role.

The woods provide back-access to the house, so I spent most of the day burning the woods near the house--depriving the fire of fuel for a surprise attack.

Everything went smoothly because the ground was wet.  Burning in the woods meant crawling under fences and fighting through brush--it's not an easy place to move with water tanks.  But I was able to drag my flapper around and through tight spots.  With the flapper, I could push the flames down into the damp earth where the moisture put them out.   Why did I need a water tank?  The earth was waiting for me with all the water I needed.

Some of the final clips--with the narration--are video-cards I sent to Ron, who was back east with his family.   Ron recognized immediately other things on the sound track--but I want to draw others' attention to the songs of meadowlarks setting up territories and the Western Chorus Frogs calling from the pond.   While the fire consumes the prairie, small lives on the edges go on!  And overhead, the vultures circle.  They are like the burn itself--ready to turn death into new life.

I forgot all about the trail cam!  It was positioned at the Oak Road overlook, facing northeast.  It thus caught the fire coming down from Cemetery Ridge and moving west.  Luckily (it certainly was nothing I did!), the fire stopped just before the camera.  It remains in good shape!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: Planting the Road Field! March 19-22, 2017

Al is the best!  

It was a windy day when he planted the Road Field for us.   

Given the hardened furrows, planting had to be done north-south.  Every return trip meant a gale-force wind in his face, with a barrage of debris.  

But he persisted until the entire field was planted with 11 species of native forbs and 1 native grass.  

Al used his special native-seed drills so the seeds wouldn't be pushed too far down.  

Ron rakes in some native seed.  Deci stands by, ready
to help.  March 22, 2017

For the next several days, Ron and I planted some species by hand, raking the surface, then stamping the seeds into good contact with the soil.

The seed of wild licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota),
planted March 22, 2017.  The seeds were
hand-collected by Iralee Barnard.

Here's a wild licorice seed pressed into the ground.  

Licorice seeds were hand-collected by Iralee Barnard.

The 30-acre Road Field has been in crops for 150 years.  

That was a long time to be constricted by humans and their insistence that fields should not be anything but monocultures of annual crops.  

Last year the Road Field was allowed to go fallow, and so it began its journey back toward self-expression.    We gave it a headstart with the seeds of native species that could well have lived in the bottomground before the settlers came. 

As we did with the Creek Field, we used a forbs-first strategy.  Because grasses can push out forbs in restorations, we want the forbs to get established before native grasses come in.  We made one exception for Eastern Gamagrass, as a concession to the need to have at least a small grass-defense against weeds--and also a concession to the sheer beauty and magnificence of Eastern Gamagrass.   

This is what we planted on March 19-22, 2017:

Bee Balm  Monarda fistulosa
Black Eyed Susan  Rudbekia hirta
Canada Milkvetch  Astragalus canadensis
Compass Plant Silphium laciniatum
Eastern Gamagrass  Tripsacum dactyloides
False Sunflower  Heliopsis helianthoides
Foxglove Penstemon Penstemon digitalis
Golden Alexanders Zizia aurea
Indian Blanket  Gaillardia pulchella
Plains Coreopsis  Coreopsis tinctoria
Purple Coneflower  Echinacea purpurea
Wild Licorice Glycyrrhiza lepidota

But if our experience with the Creek Field is any indicator, many other species will volunteer.   

Who knows what will grow and prosper?  Who knows what the Road Field will make of itself?