It’s August and My Pocket Prairie Should be in Full Bloom
Currently, we are living in a coniferous forest in Northern Wisconsin, surrounded by white pines, birch, oak, and some larch. It’s beautiful, no doubt. There are long, solitary trails on which to walk filled with the musty dampness one associates with the forest. Fungi dot the edge of the trails and the trees, mixed in with sedge, rusty-colored pine needles, and old leaves from many seasons before. Twigs and branches litter the trails too and as I found out yesterday, one must be careful of those.
It’s August and the goldenrod is starting to bloom. Its stunning color makes me think of my pocket prairie which we planted behind our barn five years ago. It was a spot that we had used for a vegetable garden that included corn, beans, squash, and more. Then, it became a pumpkin patch for several years. That was fun but after our three boys got to a certain age, pumpkins got purchased instead of grown. Then the garden sat. It became weedy and worn.
Prairies are important, they sequester carbon and provide native wildflowers and grasses for pollinators and wildlife. The long roots prevent erosion, which is becoming increasingly important with the torrential rains and wild storms that climate change is bringing. We had a large lawn already, so using this piece of land behind the barn for more grass was out of the question.
I decided to try and plant a pocket prairie. The idea struck as I visited Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa as part of a Master Gardener Volunteer trip. They had packets of native prairie plant seeds in their gift shop. I bought one wondering if it would be enough for our small, now neglected garden spot.
But before one sows prairie seeds, there needs to be some preparation. Grasses can choke out the native wildflowers, so one of the first steps is to kill what is already growing in the spot where you want a prairie. Because I don’t like chemicals, we decided to tarp it. The black tarp stayed down for two years, killing all the weed seeds in the soil it covered. There it stayed spring, summer, fall, and winter. It didn’t look pretty but wasn’t visible to many people…