Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Quick Burn

The prairie garden located in the middle of my front lawn serves many functions. One function that is of great importance to me, but is seldom noticeable to visitors, is that of being a place for assessing various management techniques. That gravel strip in the background is the driveway running from the house to the township road, so the prairie garden is in a position to be viewed by me almost every day. I can apply some type of management to this area and then closely monitor the results on a daily basis. Techniques that show positive results can then be tried on a larger scale out in the fields.

Fire is a commonly recognized tool for maintenance of native prairie areas and I burn this small patch every two or three years. I pushed over the tall grass stalks so I could get a more complete burn and keep the flame height from reaching for the clouds.

It takes less than a minute for the fire to cross the roughly 600 square feet of the garden. The ground was cold and damp and the lingering smoke smelled of musty towels. I’ve never had a fire smell as badly as this. Afterwards, I smelled as if I had been sleeping in the bottom of someone’s burn barrel.

I used a wet towel to protect an area that will serve as a control. It’s easier to judge results when you have an untreated area to use as a comparison.

Those light yellow spots in the center of the flames identify the location of the wet towel.

The towel was only under flame for about 10 seconds. This is another one of those tests to see if my wife is looking at this blog. Ten minutes before this shot was taken, that towel was hanging on the rack beside the bathroom sink.

It looks like the towel performed as expected. Everything that was green is still green and fresh. Much of that greenery is annual weeds that were hopefully destroyed in the burned section.

I also protected my caged Nodding Wild Onions. They would have recovered from the burn, but they’ve had so many problems getting established that I didn’t want to stress them any further.

The onions appear unscathed. Hopefully they’ll produce some viable seed this year.

It was cold when I burned and there weren’t many ants outside. As I watched the flames rush past the mound, I wondered how quickly the ants could respond to the approaching danger and seek shelter. I’ll revisit the prairie garden periodically over the next few months and give my opinion on the good and bad aspects of burning as a management tool in this area.


  1. Hi Steve! Glad you're back - I really missed your blog! What happened? I asked other bloggers around when your blog looked deleted but nobody knew. Is everything ok?

    I'm not a gardener at all and didn't really get the purpose of burning which looked interesting to me. Is it to get rid of weeds or are there some kind of fertilization purposes?

  2. I had to call my husband over to read your post. We couldn't stop laughing about that towel! You are so funny! I'll bet if you had asked, your wife would have given you an old one. ;)

    So, here's the question: does your wife read your blog?

    I'll be interested to see how the area recovers and you, too, if your wife does read this post.


  3. haha very funny about the towel. I'm looking forward to hearing the results of this experiment. Who knows, there might be an interesting old prairie plant in the seed bank waiting to spring up.

  4. HI Steve..I sure have missed your trial,error and antics that you are up to!!
    Controlled burning (I'm not sure about yours Haha!!)is used on the Blueberry fields here in Maine and it works well there!!
    Who know you may have a blueberry tree emerge!!
    Wet towel... come on Steve..what was you thinking! ; }}

  5. Love the wet towel trick! Anxious to see what your wife thought about it. You are too funny. I see I wasn't the only one missing you!

  6. Hi, Alexandra. Everything’s fine here. I’ll do a post next week to explain the absence. Fire is often used in ecosystem management to control unwanted plants. I’ll talk more about that when I revisit the prairie garden.

    Well, Lois, I had that towel washed, dried and back on the rack carrying the fresh scent of Downy by that evening. I think I got away with it.

    Hey, Mike. I have a good idea of how things will progress, but I’m often surprised.

    Hi, grammie g. I have some blueberry bushes planted near my barn. Maybe I should set them on fire and see what happens.

    Hi, Karen. It’s strange that my wife keeps telling me I’m not funny at all.

  7. Downy is good for towels, especially after a bath in Tide. ;)