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. 

This was in 2006 before we started our plan.

The first year corn crop

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….

Lesson learned: Always have a contract when dealing with a farmer.


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.


How the land looked after the 2nd year corn crop was harvested. Had we had more experience, we would have burned this prior to seeding it. 

We were working on this only during weekends. Had the weather held for us, we wouldn’t have applied 2% glyphosate to these green areas. 

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. 

We used the truck to drag some of these large, heavy rocks out of the field.


Jim using the crow bar to life the rock to get the chain under it. Notice the corn field – by this time, we had it lightly disked. I wouldn’t recommend that.

The rocks are moved and we’re doing one last check as the sun sets!

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.

Once the prairie planting was done, we adjourned to the local bar for a well-deserved lunch!!!


Jim used these flags to mark out the sections for volunteers. 

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.


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.


When the day is done, it’s time to sit and appreciate the beauty that will come.

We created this sign so folks would know it was a prairie since the first year it doesn’t look like much more than a field of weeds. 

July 2009 — It’s looking really nice. Yet there’s always management to be done! Marci is out hunting weeds and reed canary grass.