Thursday, November 10, 2011


Last spring we planted eleven acres to prairie. We hired the elevator to spray our fields to kill the thistles and dandelions and then paid a custom seeder to plant prairie grasses and forbs. Two weeks later, Dave said “you know, that field doesn’t look like its been sprayed.” He called the elevator and learned that it hadn’t. The spray truck driver had tried to cross our ditch at the wrong place, broken his equipment and given up – without telling us.

We crossed our fingers and asked them to spray immediately. We had over one thousand dollars worth of seed planted. If it had already germinated, the spray would kill it. But if we didn’t spray, the thistles and dandelions would choke out the new seedlings. The elevator agreed to reimburse us the cost of seed and seeding the field if the prairie plants didn’t survive.

By late July we were really discouraged. The only plant we could see in our newly planted prairie was pigeon grass – not one of the varieties we had planted and not one that we wanted. In fact, pigeon grass is a terrible weed whose seeds work their way into fleeces and need to be cut out.

Last month, when we took our new puppy out exploring, I suddenly lost track of him. When I heard a whimper, I turned back. He was completely immobilized by pigeon grass. His legs, chest, belly and head were wrapped in grass stems and held fast by seed heads. He literally couldn’t move. We broke the stems, carried him home, and spent the next hour and a half combing seeds out of his fur.

Last week we talked to Doug, a friend who specializes in prairies for the DNR. He told us that they often spray for weeds within ten days of planting prairie seed. “Go out and look,” he said. “You should see prairie grasses now.”

When we walked out into the prairie, at first all we saw was pigeon grass, but then I spied a small sunflower plant and then side oats gramma and switch grass and Canada wild rye. We do have a prairie!

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