New Management Database

I recently created a new database to track management activities at Pearl Creek Farm. Primarily, I was interested in having a single place I could check for a) when and where I collected seeds to sow at the farm, b) what year I established various restorations, c) what year I planted trees. Since I had decent records for a lot of other activities, I went long and put in everything I could think of that might be of interest at some point in the future. Obviously, there are tons of things I’ve done (particularly with controlling invasives) that I wish I had better records of, but those will just have to remain lost in the distant past.

The web page that displays the database can be accessed from the menu above. It’s called simply “Management“.

Native Restoration History

Spring Native Plant Landscape

This restoration was from seed and this is its seventh growing season. The random, unkempt look is intentional. Except for removing invasives, I don’t try to control where the plants grow. I’m happy to let them do the thing they’ve been doing for millenia and just enjoy them and the fauna they attract.

This area is about 6/10 acre in front of my house. It started as a typical rural lawn with tall fescue, Bermuda grass, Kentucky bluegrass, and other non-native cool-season “lawn” grasses. It also had a lot of winter annuals like chickweed, henbit, dead nettle, etc. It was mowed by the previous owner but not doted over and cared for like a lawn in the suburbs.

Against the recommendations I read, I first sprayed this with off-the-shelf glyphosate (Round-Up) late in the summer (early September). There are other methods to kill existing vegetation, but you cannot skip this step and I will say my inattention to this detail has caused the most problems going forward. I got a pretty good kill despite the dormancy of some of the cool-season stuff. Later that fall, we burned off the duff and dead plant material and I spot-sprayed what greened up after it cooled down. That winter, I sowed mainly seeds from Hamilton Native Outpost in one of their prairie seed and companion grass mixes suited for my site (I have the paperwork at home somewhere if you want the details on it, but you should choose based on your site not on what worked here). I mixed in some seeds from local sources, but this is mostly from the seed mix. I recommend that you check Grow Native! (http://grownative.org/) to find a seed or potted plant vendor that serves plants obtained from your area. I’ve overseeded this plot each year with a variety seeds collected locally. Some plants will only readily establish themselves in already established habitats. Just like forests, prairies go through successional stages with some species dominating early in the process, only to have those give way to other species.

I thought it was a disaster the first year. It was overgrown with weeds (ragweed, mare’s tail, a lot of the cool season stuff I failed the kill the first time, the winter annuals). This is where you need to know your plants. The annual weeds can just be knocked down both for aesthetics and to give your baby natives the sunlight they need to thrive. The cool season stuff required a lot of follow-up spot spraying. Don’t be discouraged. This planting is in its 7th year. I’d say the first 2-3 years seemed pretty sketchy unless you could spend the time out there and see that your natives might not be flowering but they were growing. Don’t give up! You cannot really see how a site is going to look for your natives for at least 3 years.

Throughout the years, I’ve had to cut and treat stems of multiflora rose (which is well established on my neighbors’ properties and in the the fencerows along the road), walnut trees, hackberries, and elms. Burning alone will not kill them.

Controlled burns are done in the off-season. My long-term goal is to burn this only once every other year so a good native fauna can become established in the area that might otherwise be set back severely with an annual burn. I’m working on another similar-sized project (see http://pearlcreek.net/new-native-planting/ for a summary; the 1/3 acre there is meant to supplement another ~1/3 or so that is already fairly well established) so I can alternate burning each every other year. Except for two winters ago, this patch has been burned or attempted each year.

This property (http://pearlcreek.net) is 10 acres with about 1/2 of it wooded with mostly native vegetation. The other half was open pasture and lawn, but at least part of it was probably historically bonafide prairie. Although I prepped and seeded the “open” areas next to the forested areas, these areas also get native vegetation from the woodland areas. The seeds I put in place just are left to compete with the seed bank that is already there. If it’s native, I let them fight it out, which has the pleasing effect of blurring the lines between open area and woodland.

If your area is visible to the neighbors, put up a sign explaining your restoration. They’ll know what you’re doing and might become curious as to why you’re doing it. Naturally, if you’re in an urban or suburban area, your challenges with the unkempt look will be greater. Make friends and explain what you’re doing before someone goes on a crusade against you!

Here are some things I would do differently.

1) Pay attention to what you have. If you have a patch of ground that has some natives in it, kill the invasives, do a controlled burn, and see what shows up after a year or two. I had a wet sedge meadow area that I overseeded with native seeds from Hamilton before really paying attention to what was there. Now, I don’t know what was naturally part of that meadow and what I put in. It was a pretty neat feature to begin with and I wish I’d left it alone.

2) Don’t skimp on killing the existing vegetation. I did on this site and I got really lucky. I have a real pasture in another area where I skimped and it is overrun with smooth brome, a lot of fescue, and now sweet clover. The natives get better up there each year but I have a significant effort in place to try to knock back the invasives each year.

3) Plan your restoration so you can leave at least 1/2 of it unburned each year. This helps native fauna that depend on the cover and structure of the planting to survive and thrive over the winter months. Even birds and small mammals can adjust somewhat to burning and a rather traumatic and sudden loss of cover, but smaller animals, particularly insects, depend on dormant plant material for overwintering and a burn naturally kills them outright. If you have nearby sources to provide these fauna with refugia, I think you’ll be more successful in the long run even if you won’t notice it right away.

4) Diversify your seed sources. I did this a little by hand collecting seeds. Early on, I noticed that I got almost zero germination for my native grass seed. A couple of years later, purely by accident, I discovered that a handful of side oats seeds I put out really took off and continue to do well (although some of the other grasses have also started filling in now, too). Because of the almost infinite number of site characteristics (light, soil, moisture, usage, history, existing vegetation, etc.), one species might do better than another. Give yourself every chance at success by diversifying. And don’t be afraid to try something as you go. This is a long-term investment and it will look different every year.

5) Start now! Even if you have only a small space to convert or you can only afford seed material for a small space, give it a try. You can expand it each year (and it will expand on its own).

6) Contact the Missouri Department of Conservation, specifically the Private Land Conservationist for your county, to tap into cost-sharing grants for restoring landscapes. They can help you with a vision and strategy, too. Check out Grow Native! as well as the Missouri Prairie Foundation and their companion Facebook sites for information, events near you, plant sales, techniques for invasive control and native propagation, and opportunities to network with others who have done this or want to do it.

7) You’re a landscape artist now! Visit other native restorations and native prairies and other habitats to see what you should be striving for. Go forth, restore habitat, and enjoy it all!

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush
Indian Paintbrush

This Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) has been blooming for more than a week. I thought it was a little early for it. Sure enough, there are probably a dozen more that we found today that are in varying stages of blooming. It’s going to be be our best year yet for them in the restored prairie!

Buzzard’s Roost, Pike County, Missouri

This post is not about Pearl Creek Farm, but about another great place in Missouri: Buzzard’s Roost in Pike County. This area, scarcely a half¬†mile from the¬†place where I was born and raised, is unique in its own right, but is also fairly unusual for areas outside of the Ozarks. Included are two significant cave openings, at least two permanent springs, several minor cave openings, and a sheer, north-facing bluff that harbors at least two rare plant species, considered glacial relicts, for Missouri. The area also harbors some interesting habitats for northern Missouri and has some history and lore associated with it.

Much of this area is for sale in a 70-acre tract from a landowner who logged part of it and kept it as a hunting playground. The karst and sensitive habitats are protected by a lengthy hike from the main road. I’d like to see this property in the hands of a government agency, land foundation, or a conservation-minded buyer that understands its value beyond the abundant game species present.

Read on to see more photographs of the area, some characteristic flora and fauna (including two rare plant species), or head straight to the real estate information!

Buzzard's Roost Cave opening
Buzzard’s Roost Cave opening

Continue reading Buzzard’s Roost, Pike County, Missouri

New Native Planting

After nearly three years of planning and preparation, I sowed about 1/3 of an acre today with native seeds. Preparation included multiple passes with herbicide, including spot sprayings over more than two years. This year, I spent a great deal of time collecting native seeds from the surrounding counties. Today, right after our snow accumulation, Julian and I sowed them into two new areas (see map). This leaves a small “domestic” area between the workshop and the shed where we’ll have a garden, a fire pit, and continue to keep mowed and semi-manicured.

Julian and buckets full of native seeds
Julian poses in front of three buckets of native seeds and duff collected this year.

Satellite photo with native planting marked
The areas in yellow were sowed with native seeds today. The area in red is now the only “domestic” (read: mowed) area at Pearl Creek Farm (besides trails).

 

Sinkholes Dot the Landscape

Sinkholes are numerous on the karst landscape of the Ozarks, but are often overlooked. After a large rainfall event, sinkholes throughout the area temporarily fill up with water and become ponds. During most events, falling rain percolates through the karst system in these various sinkholes quickly enough that water doesn’t accumulate above the surface. With at least 7″ of rain over 48 hours, there are plenty of sinkholes that cannot drain quickly enough. All of these photos are between Pearl Creek Farm and Cotner’s Corner (US 160 and MO 123 junction).

MO 123 Sinkhole Pond
This sinkhole is bisected by MO 123 just north of the road to Cave Springs. The water here just sits until the underground drainage can catch up from all the rain.

Continue reading Sinkholes Dot the Landscape