Planting the 5-Acre Prairie
Once we decided on our goals, we made an agreement with a local farmer to crop the land — the first year would be corn and the second year would be soybeans. The land preparation is a critical step. The goal is to provide a weed free environment for the seeds to germination without unnecessary competition. It also cuts maintenance costs in subsequent years. We chose the cropping method for preparing the land. The farmer would herbicide in the general course of his crop management, killing most of the weeds growing between the crop rows.
We were very surprised when the second year came up as corn. The farmer working the land decided corn prices were better than soybeans and disregarded our agreement. Grrr….
Corn leaves lots of chaff and stubble, whereas soybeans do not. To make matters worse, the farmer’s equipment broke down. He was unable to get the crop out soon enough for us to hand herbicide remaining weeds. To break up the corn stubble, a friend disked it lightly and the farmer paid for this additional work.
We created our management plan to include two mowings the first year. To prevent damage to the equipment, we removed the larger rocks. We mowed the first time when growth was about 1’ tall and a second time when it regrew to about 1 ½’ tall. Each time we mowed it to 6″ tall. Mowing is important. It allows sunlight to the seeds and keeps weeds from setting seed. The first year of a prairie planting is ugly and mostly weeds.
Day of the Prairie Planting
We mixed the seed with sawdust in our garage and placed it in buckets. We planted 10 lbs of seed per acre which extrapolated to 2 buckets per quarter section — a total of 22 buckets of seed. The sawdust came from a lumber mill not a woodworker. The wood needs to have some moisture remaining in it. Be sure there are no walnuts or cedars processed in this sawdust.
Each volunteer was oriented to their quarter section. They took their two buckets to their quarter section and walked back and forth tossing the seed out until they covered their designated section. Once the prairie planting was done, we adjourned to the local bar for a well-deserved lunch!!!
Whew! The prairie planting is done and the pressure is off. Now we wait until spring.
As spring arrived and the weeds began to grow, we mowed two times as per our simple management plan. We were grateful we knew to expect nothing but weeds the first year! We ensured the invasive weeds were removed and we didn’t worry about the annual weeds. The mowing would prevent the annual weeds from setting seed.
In 2008, we continued removing invasive species during the growing months. I spent many hours on thistles and reed canary grass. By 2009, our prairie was looking pretty good but we will never let up on those persistent invasive plants!!