Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Project Report: Prairie Beach Private Park: August 2015

I visited my old friend, the prairie beach park, in mid August 2015, about fifteen months after installation.  For reference, here is the post detailing the site and initial installation work, and the post about the site visit in Fall 2014.  To summarize my observations from the visit, the establishment of this novel ecosystem is a mixed bag of good and bad things happening.

If you compare the above photo with this photo from May 2014 and this from Fall 2014, you can easily observe the progression of prairie growth.  There remains much room for improvement.  Although many areas of the prairie are still thin, achieving denser growth is only be a matter of time!

First, the good, because I like to include pretty photos! 

The Quercus macrocarpa specimen seems to be losing a few branches.  But, considering it is still alive after all this time, I am sure the root system has continued to expand, and its continuous process of growth and death and regrowth appears to be off to a good start.

 Coreopsis tinctoria, Plains Coreopsis...sprouted from the annual seed mix.

A beautiful grasshopper specimen, hanging out on the flowers of a Eutrochium maculatum, (formerly Eupatorium maculatum), Joe Pye Weed... grown from a plug from Wildtype Nursery.

Two unidentified beetles doing their thing on Coreopsis lanceolata, Lance-leafed Coreopsis...sprouted from Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix.

Bouteloua curtipendula, or Side-oats Grama, sprouted from Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix.

This is a Liatris spp. (not L. cylindricea).  I also observed some specimens of probably Symphyotricum novae-angliae (formerly Aster novae-angliae).  These two species were not included in either seed mix.  So, both species were either here naturally or sneaky inclusions in the seed mixes, which, given how the seed mixes are collected and prepared, would not be surprising.  Both are native species, so both are most welcome!

Monarda punctata, more commonly called Horsemint, with its surprising flowers...sprouted from Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix.

Helianthus occidentalis, more commonly called Western Sunflower...sprouted from Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix.

The plugs from Asclepias syriaca and Rudbeckia hirta survived at such a high percentage, that you can basically see the line of where the plugs were planted.

Several native plants had significant populations.  Observing plants, which grew from seeds and plugs (which cost a good deal of money), now producing seeds (free!!!) and naturally spreading themselves over the prairie is highly satisfying!  I observed possibly significant populations of Asclepias syriacaCassia fasciculata, Coreopsis lanceolata, Coreopsis tinctoria, Elymus canadensis, Euthania graminifolia, Fragaria virginiana, Monarda punctata, Penstomon hirsutus, and Physostegia virginiana.  Only time will tell if these populations are viable and remain adequately competitive, but these seem to be off to a promising start.

Other species that I observed, which probably sprouted from the Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix were Anemone cylindrica, Asclepias tuberosa, Bouteloua curtipendula, Bromus kalmii, Echinacia purpurea, Helianthus occidentalis, Lobelia cardinalis, Panicum virgatum, Rudbeckia hirta, Sporobolus heterolepis ...  I only observed one or a few specimens of these species.

Second, the bad.  I did not observe numerous species included in the Dry-Shortgrass Prairie Seed Mix.  Various explanations are probable.  One, I just missed seeing the species or did not identify it.  Two, their occurrence is noticeable in a different season then when I visited.  Or three, the germination conditions were not appropriate for the particular species.  Hopefully, these seeds remain part of the seed bank and, as conditions change, their successful germination becomes more likely.

Most surprisingly missing was, Schizachyrium scoparium, which was a large constituent of the mix.

Third, the super ugly!  Some non-native invasive species were taking advantage of the disturbed soil and, unfortunately, moving in.  I observed probably significant populations of Securigera varia or Crown-Vetch (probable ID, photo below), Eleagnus umbellata (mentioned in previous post), Queen Anne's Lace, and, possibly, Phragmites australis (probable ID, photo above).

I plan to provide recommendations to my client to manage these non-native species and to continue pushing the prairie in an ecologically beneficial direction.  Possible recommendations might include:
  • Mowing the prairie early Spring 2016 (especially the areas with Crown-Vetch and Autumn-Olive).  There is not adequate fuel for performing a thorough prescribed burn yet.
  • Removal or cutting and painting the Autumn-Olive.
  • Cutting/treating the Phragmites.
  • There are some other native species, which might like to compete in this space.  So, I might recommend planting those plugs or spreading those seeds.
  • Once the fuel-load is adequately dense, performing a prescribed burn.  After breaks are mowed, the actual burning would likely take just a few minutes.  If a burn is not possible, mowing annually or bi-annually.
Additional discussion needs to occur for deciding the best, most appropriate, course of action.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Project Report: Prairie Beach Park: Fall 2014

On a long trip from Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (I plan to write a botanical trip report someday) returning home to Ann Arbor, I stopped by the prairie beach park near Fenton, Michigan, in early September 2014.  I wanted to see how the prairie was growing after spreading seed and planting late Spring 2014.  Here is the post detailing the site and my installation work.

Questions I pondered before arriving:  did the shrubs and plugs from Wildtype take?  Did the Bur Oak sapling, which received an unknown regimen of additional watering, survive its transplant?  What species germinated from the seed mixes?  How vigorously did the prairie grow?

Well, initial observation was that the prairie growth was quite thin.  Not surprising given that seeds were only spread less than four months prior.  The ground was cracked due to the shrinking drying clay soil.  I observed many plants sprouting up from inside the cracks where some lucky seeds must have got caught in a good spot to germinate.

Upon closer inspection though, good things were happening.  From the annual mix, I saw Bachelor's Button (photograph above), Partridge Pea, Spurred Snapdragon, and Plains Coreopsis.  From the short-grass mix, I spotted Panicum virgatum, Symphyotricum laeve (formerly Aster laevis), Cassia fasciculata (this was in both the annual and Dry-Shortgrass-Mix), and, well, many unidentified plants consisting of basal leaves.

These basal leaves belong to a species, which will be identified soon.

Also, not yet identified.  Most native flowers require more than one full season of growth before producing flowers.  So, observing plants consisting of just basal leaves indicated a germinated seed, or in other words, a step in a good direction.  From the plugs, I also saw specimens of Asclepias syriaca, Physostegia virginiana, Rudbeckia hirta, and Eupatorium maculatum.

Although insects were already making use of the Euthania graminifolia, which was another planted plug, the desired plants seemed few and far between.  The Quercus macrocarpa and Cercis canadensis fortunately seemed to be sticking, as was the Ribes americanum shrub.  Very happy about that Burr Oak, which has a reputation for doing well in clay soil situations.

This area of the prairie was thick with Plains Coreopsis, so definitely some good things were happening.  As indicated in the previous post about this project, the most important component of establishing a prairie was patience, patience, and more patience.  The seeds have been sown and quite possibly will germinate some day.  I waited a year after visiting to write this post.  So, since I have now seen the prairie in late Summer 2015, I can safely say I feel a lot better about this project, .  Here is the post about that visit.

Project Report: Phases II and III of My Raised Bed Garden

The current heated temperatures belie this growing season is cruising towards a frosty date!  So, here is, better late then never, an update about my raised bed garden!  A report on phase I is discussed in a previous post.  Phase I was completed in July 2014.  I completed both phases II and III in late Fall 2014.  This update consists of numerous photos!

As this project was completed by one person, me, providing almost all the labor, performing the work in phases seemed most appropriate.

Above is a simple sketch showing the layout plan before I began construction.  This sketch does NOT relate that my yard is sloped!  Except for a few box size adjustments, the installed boxes follow the sketch.

Important to note, the phase I garden beds produced some excellent food during their shortened 2014 growing season.  Above, me harvesting a nice zucchini in late 2014.

A photo of the final zucchinis of our 2014 garden.  Some large zucchinis for bread and other miscellaneous recipes AND two single bite zucchinis...which disappeared in short order.

This photo shows the garden beds of phase I in late Fall and the three boxes of phase II completed and installed.  Also, I am applying the linseed oil preservative to one of the two boxes in phase III.

As designed in the sketch above, all the garden boxes have been completed and installed in late 2014.

A photo taken in January 2015.  Brrr!  Actually that would feel quite nice right now.

As at start of Spring 2015...

Our first radishes!

And a tasty strawberry.  We were able to transplant some strawberry plants into a box in late 2014.  They only produced a few during the 2015 spring, but we are really looking forward the 2016 spring harvest, as they have spread quite a bit!

Before the 2015 garden jungle...

Our garden exploded!

We had a visitor!  We lost a fair number of cherry tomatoes to its voracious appetite, but this Hornworm eventually disappeared. (Or he was so well camouflaged that we could not find him.)