Friday, October 7, 2011

October Prairie Garden

The Prairie Garden has a new arrival this year. For the first time, a New England Aster has added its blooms to the autumn display. Three years ago, I grabbed some New England Aster seeds from the field behind the house and threw them into the Prairie Garden. It appears that one of those seeds successfully germinated and is now mature enough to flower. I add seed from a few new species each year just to see how easily they colonize a new territory. Some are successful and others never develop.

Some species, such as this Little Bluestem, manage to find the Prairie Garden without my help. Little Bluestem seed is light enough to be carried long distances by the wind. This is the type of seed most likely to cross the wasteland of lawn grass that separates the garden from the naturally occurring prairie stands.

Grass is the most prominent plant type in the garden during this time of year. The general crowd of feeder birds must think I created this garden specifically for their dining pleasure. They crowd by the dozens into this tiny patch to feed on the grass seeds.

A closer look reveals the seed heads of many wildflowers concealed among the tall grass stems. The majority of wildflowers produced a full crop of viable seeds. I’m sure the birds will begin working on these seeds soon.

Ripening seeds means the start of seed collection activities. Here is my sophisticated seed collection equipment positioned beside the garden. My apparatus consists of one square bucket with handle and one stack of standard sized paper lunch sacks, brown in color. A square bucket more easily accommodates my seed filled sacks. These seeds are going to a neighbor who wishes to make a prairie planting of his own.

The Prairie Garden performed well this year and gave no outward signs of distress as a result of the early spring burn. What I don’t like is the condition of the soil beneath that mass of vegetation. Soil organisms depend on decomposing plant material to meet their nutritional needs. Because of the burn, there was nothing left to decompose. That must have significantly impacted the working of the soil ecosystem. I also wonder about the affects on the growing plants. Many prairie plants, grasses in particular, time their growth to take advantage of nutrients release by decomposing organic materials on the soil surface. Had I not burned, last year’s left over plant residue would still have been pretty much gone by now, but it would have been cycled back into the natural workings of the soil biota instead of disappearing as smoke into the air. I wonder which condition contributes most to the long term health of the prairie ecosystem.

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