Sunday, June 27, 2010

Plant Dilemmas? Does It Matter?

 Narrow-leaved purple coneflower
(E. angustifolia)

Have you ever had some activity ultimately bringing a lot of unforeseen decisions and issues? 

I'm in the middle of a labor intensive situation here at Prairie Hill Farm.  Last year the county took 24-28" of soil out of our road's ditch and added it to the top of the road.  The ditch sides are very steep now; the property side is something like a 70-75 degree slope and the road side is 55-60 degrees.  They're now about 5 and a half feet deep if not more so!

The county gave me a couple small buckets of native seed late in the fall after accidentally planting the ditch in brome and other vulgarities(!).  I'd requested a native seed mix that the county has from a statewide grant from the University of Northern Iowa., but they evidently didn't tell the guy that was doing the actual seeding! Well, I got to kill the ditch during a late November warm spell and started over again this spring.

It's been a ton of work, hand pulling and now cutting all the nasty things that plague these situations (Lambsquarter, Buffalo Bur, Nightshade, Canada Thistle, Sow's Ear, Ragweed, etc, etc...).  The ditch sides are too steep to mow and the June precip is torture - 14.35" here just this month!  If I could count on that every year I'd opt for wetlands plantings!  In the meantime I'm wondering how much of the seeding that's coming up will drown out?  (Its in standing water as I type this)

I think that's par for the course isn't it, also Murphy's Law usually comes into play as well.  But something that I've thought about on more than one occasion has me wondering.  I'm seeing some Pale purple coneflower coming from my ditch mix.  What's the problem?  Well, maybe none, but I'm leaning toward not being sure I like that!

I've always had a pet peeve about working on native plantings with things that aren't necessarily native to that location.  I'm in O'Brien County; the only native echinacea I've been able to find in O'Brien County is E. angustifolia, not E. pallida.  I've been hard pressed to find Pale Purple coneflower anywhere near here - except in plantings done by "People". But is having some Pale purple coneflower in the ditch going to cause issues with the Narrow-leafed Echinacea in the native pasture?
I have no idea.  Does it matter? idea.  But somehow it seems like I'm sleeping with the other side if I let it go...

It's just a ditch!  Ya but...oh well...what do you think???!!

Now, I have had some garden variety Purple coneflower escape into the pasture edge and promptly did away with it (E. purpurea), but I'm trying to keep the pasture on a course of it's original plant species and domestic plants are not helpful in any way (nor desirable).

Prairie spiderwort
(T. bracteata)

I try not to introduce things that would not have been here 2-300 years ago.  Another plant I see show up in "conservation" plantings that is not native to this part of Iowa is the Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis).  The spiderwort native to this region of the state is the Prairie spiderwort (T. bracteata) - a shorter plant happier in gravelly drier sites, has longer bracts than the Ohio.

Do you suppose I'll find T. ohiensis in the ditch in future years?  Should I care???!!  Does it really matter?  Geeze, I haven't the foggiest!  What do you think!?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

On The Tallgrass with A Tallgrass Journal

 Prairie Coreopsis and Prairie Phlox
(Coreopsis palmata and Phlox pilosa
(click on all images for a larger view)

If you have been a subscriber to "A Tallgrass Journal" you certainly noticed the past year's hiatus I've taken from the journal.  After long deliberation I've decided I can no longer support the lengthy time spent making even a quarterly journal work.  I carried it for 7 years but have made the decision to change it's format to a blog.

I hope you can still find some good reading, information or even a diversion following the occasional posts from the new "A Tallgrass Journal".

I'll still discuss a good "read" I come across; an informative and useful link or website that could be valuable to prairie enthusiasts or owners; and even interject the struggles here at Prairie Hill Farm's prairie.

There are no goals for set time frequency for the new "A Tallgrass Journal" blog.  I hope to use it with regular frequency, but the postings will be typical blog length and likely limited to one or two issues/observations/etc at a time.  I hope this will be more spontaneous and interesting for prairie folk and the uninitiated as well!

I hope you'll stay with A Tallgrass Journal and drop in from time to time - and even comment!  Blogs are perfect for injecting a point of view or to correct me if I need to be!  :)

When I think of the prairie I think of grasses, forbs (wildflowers), birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates (insects).  As an artist, I work on what interests and inspires me...that's what anyone should do.  The tallgrass prairie interests me.

In my 3 year old blog "Prairie Hill Farm Studio" you'll often see artwork...paintings, drawings, and photographs with the prairie as the subject matter...why wouldn't I be inspired by it?! :)  I'll still illustrate this "A Tallgrass Journal" blog with photographs I take in the field or the remnant pasture here, and even occasionally with drawings or other artwork to illustrate a topic.  And unlike the web based journal of past years, you'll be able to click on the images for a larger view.  I'll make an effort to give a relatively good size image file to view, yet not so large as to make you have to scan back and forth too much on your screen.

Today I wanted to share a couple cool season natives we have here in our north pasture remnant...yesterday morning was my first opportunity in 2-3 weeks to get out and walk the prairie myself!  The morning was perfect for the camera...barely a breath of wind makes photographing grasses and forbs simply a pleasure!  

Porcupine grass (Stipa spartea)

A couple grasses in our remnant pasture are flowering and fruiting nearly the same time - one is Porcupine grass (Stipa spartea)...the other is Scribner's panic grass (Panicum oligosanthes).

Georgie and I started the Porcupine grass here ourselves and it couldn't have been easier.  We simply walked the roadside ditch just south of us and picked the "awls" when they began to start releasing in late June.  Planting this grass is as simple as sticking the needles into the ground...maybe a half inch or more...the awls will take care of the rest.  They twist and turn the seed into the ground the rest of the way as they dry.  Try putting some in an envelope right after you pick them and then look at them a few hours later...they will demonstrate their ability to twist them selves into the soil on their own!

   Scribner's panic grass (Panicum oligosanthes)

The Scribner's panic grass is localized in a small area on our north pasture.  We have another type of panic grass here too but the Scribner's seems to be more numerous at some higher quality prairies - which makes it more special to our site.  I did not find this grass here until our 2nd or 3rd year here.  I'm going to try and ensure it gets some space and do some manual seed spreading to see if it becomes more plentiful in future years.

On my "studio" blog I recommend people look closely at the grasses - I certainly find them inspiring!  In the mean time I'd just suggest - stop and take a real close look, even touch or step back and admire as well...there's a lot to see on the prairie.

Hope to see you back again when you're out on the Tallgrass!