Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The Prairie Project

I'm going to return to posting on this blog site to document the prairie restoration project taking place at the Creech Farm this year. Tall grass prairies once covered twenty million acres of the Texas landscape. Less than one percent of those prairie lands remain. The loss of the prairies means the loss of habitat for a variety of creatures, such as the Bobwhite Quail, which was once plentiful in the state, wild turkey, dove, white-tail deer, and others. Prairies play a vital role in preserving water, both in quantity and quality, in conserving soil, and in attracting pollinators as well. So we are taking our pastures out of production and converting them to prairie.

This year we received a Pastures for Upland Birds (PUB) Grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW). TPW is providing us with the consulting services of our local wildlife biologist, Jamie Killian. They also supply the necessary herbicide to use in preparation of the land to remove invasive plants and to give the prairie grasses the best chance to survive when they are planted. They will also provide a no-till seed drill and a mixture of about forty varieties of grasses, wildflowers, and forbs that were native to prairies in this area. We, the land owners, supply the land (80 acres in this case) and someone to operate the machinery for the herbicidal treatments and the planting. We've hired a neighbor to do that, the young man who has been leasing the place to farm for the past ten years. I'm pretty certain he thinks we're crazy, but he has been willing to play along.

We have already made two applications of herbicide to the fields this spring. A third will be done in late August. Admittedly, this has been the most difficult thing to do. Melinda and I are not fans of chemicals. With this project, however, we will only get one chance to plant, and we want to give the desired flora the best chance of success with as little competition as possible. So right now, our fields look like the dead of winter, or like the product of extensive drought. Very little green appears anywhere.

In September we will plant. The no-till seed drill is used to keep from stirring up the seed bed of other plants that has accumulated over the years. Tilling would bring them up and give us a good crop of plants we are not interested in growing. Then we will pray for good fall and winter rains to provide the best germination. We hope to see the beginnings of a prairie in the spring.

To a casual observer, a prairie might look like a field someone neglected to mow. But it is a rich and diverse ecosystem. About 20 minutes from here is a 200 acre restored prairie created and maintained by the Kirchoff Family Their photos and story can be found on the Native Prairie Association of Texas website.

Once we have begun establishing the prairie, the work is not done. Prairies require maintenance. Invasive species of plants have to be identified and removed. Every few years it will need to be mowed, grazed, or burned. Places where germination does not succeed will require more planting. We will be setting up guzzlers to provide water for wildlife. Annual bird counts will be needed. The list goes on, and it is an exciting list to us. Volunteers will be welcome along the way.

Melinda came across this poem by Emily Dickenson, and we like it very much. Dickenson named it "To Make a Prairie (1755)."

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

So we have joined the Balcones Chapter of the Native Prairie Association of Texas and the Wilson County Wildlife Management Association and we are on a learning curve with this project. I plan to use this site to document the progress (or lack of it) along the way. For now, here are some photos of the wintery looking field awaiting a fall planting.

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