by Bob Harms
This fall (2007), encouraged by my earlier successful introduction of little bluestem in dense KR by seeding 3 small cleared areas, I will attempt a strategy that is less labor intensive and could be applied to larger fields as less costly and more effective than controlled burns – which tend to produce only short-lived cosmetic effect before KR returns with full vigor. Since little bluestem has consistently but gradually replaced adjacent areas of KR, the task is to introduce little bluestem into the center of larger KR fields. As I have stressed earlier, the goal is not to replace KR at one fell swoop, as some would hope to do with controlled burns, but rather to provide additional leverage for native grasses as they gradually outcompete KR.
The current extension of my earlier more limited project, as applied to the largest dense KR field on my land, is as follows:
Inspite of the record drought from spring to winter of 2008, the results in this one year have exceeded my expectations. The little bluestem germinated after a short rainy spell in late April, survived the summer, and almost miraculously revived in the fall after a single rain. At no time did the ground get a good soaking from April to December.
- With my hand lawn mower I mowed a strip almost 2 feet wide for 170 feet through the middle of old dense KR which had not been grazed or mown for 30 years (picture above). The large KR clumps were roughly 8-12 inches apart, separated by bare ground & thatch.
Mown clumps of KR.
- My neighbor Marion Couvillion kindly volunteered to plow this strip for me, two passes up and two passes down.
- I leveled out the plowed rows with a pick mattock, which took a little more than an hour for the 170 feet.
- I collected little bluestem seed-bearing culms and placed these in all but 40 feet of the strip. My method of collection was to use a sickle to pull together some dozen or so culms, cut them all at once with a stroke of the sickle, and place them heads down in a bushel-sized container. From that I distributed them over the loose soil of the strip.
Little bluestem culms with mature seeds spread along the strip of bare soil.
I also collected seed heads from Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), but these had to be cut individually. I then stripped the seeds from them and spread the seed over 20 feet of the strip that did not get little bluestem culms.
I left 20 feet unseeded, 10 feet on either side of a harvester ant mound that happened to be adjacent to the plowed strip. This also might serve as a sort of control, but it is impossible to predict how the ants will interact with my attempts to seed the strip.
The soil in early November is very dry. But as a final step, once we have had substantial rains, I plan to transplant one little bluestem or Indiangrass plant into each 10-foot section of the strip.
The results in 2008 provide compelling evidence of the feasibility of this approach. In any event, time is not on the side of KR bluestem.