‘Pickin’ on the Prairies’ seed harvests will aid restoration efforts at county properties

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A series of “Pickin’ on the Prairies” seed harvest events led by Clayton County Conservation will aid future restoration projects at county properties. Clayton County Conservation Naturalist/Resource Manager Kenny Slocum is pictured with attendee Laurie Klosterboer during last week’s harvest at Bloody Run County Park near Marquette. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Whorled milkweed was one of the seeds collected at Bloody Run. Prior to last week’s event, Slocum said 35 different species had been harvested. Seeds will largely be processed by hand and replanted yet this fall.

Seeds from each county property are kept in separate bags. “We’re keeping all of those separate so we can apply them where it’s going to be appropriate for it,” Slocum explained.

Harvesting seed from county properties has become more common for Clayton County Conservation, said Slocum. For one, it’s less expensive than buying prairie seed. Having small amounts of seed on hand is also helpful for a variety of projects. Lastly, harvesting seeds directly from a park heightens the chance plants will grow in other areas of that park or natural area. Conservation staff already know it does well.

This time of year is the best to harvest, but Slocum noted there’s no real trick to seed collection. It’s better to know which seeds you don’t want.

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

 

A series of “Pickin’ on the Prairies” seed harvest events led by Clayton County Conservation will aid future restoration projects at county properties.

 

Events were held Sept. 22 by the Osborne Park Pond, Sept. 29 at Motor Mill and Oct. 6 at Bloody Run County Park. The final seed harvest is planned from 5 to 6:30 p.m. this Thursday, Oct. 13, back at the Osborne Park Pond Shelter.

 

“We’ve been moving around from place to place. We started at Osborne, which is in a little drainage ditch, a wetter prairie. Went from there to Motor Mill, which is a rich soil—but not flooded—prairie. And this is very, very dry,” said Clayton County Conservation Naturalist/Resource Manager Kenny Slocum, speaking at last week’s event at Bloody Run County Park near Marquette.

 

According to Slocum, 35 species had been collected prior to the Bloody Run harvest.

 

“We’re keeping all of those separate so we can apply them where it’s going to be appropriate for it,” he explained. “Some that we’ve harvested by individual species, we’re going to do some plant starts on those. Then we can actually plant plugs, like into our fish habitat projects. That’s going to be like 10 times as fast as throwing seed down.”

 

Harvesting seed from county properties has become more common for Clayton County Conservation, said Slocum. For one, it’s less expensive than buying prairie seed.

 

Having small amounts of seed on hand is also helpful for a variety of projects.

 

“Right now, we’re roughing up our ponds out at the Becker property. We also have more of these little scattershot, small areas where it would be greatly assisted if we could throw some seed on top of it,” Slocum shared. 

 

For example, seed collected at Bloody Run will be reapplied to areas near the park campground.

 

Slocum continued, “If we’re treating invasive species in a prairie, if it was there before, it will just come back again unless I can offer some additional competition to it. So having these small amounts of seed on hand is something we’ve come to recognize as super important for the overall restoration process.”

 

Harvesting seeds directly from a park also heightens the chance plants will grow in other areas of that park or natural area. Conservation staff already know it does well.

 

“Up here is a great example,” said Slocum, who led the Bloody Run event to prairie accessible via the rugged Well’s Hollow Trail. “As we’ve kind of reclaimed more of this limestone glade, if we can speed up that process of getting things to move back into where we’ve done some of the other treatments, that’s going to make everything else come along a lot quicker.”

 

This time of year is the best to harvest, but Slocum noted there’s no real trick to seed collection. It’s better to know which seeds you don’t want.

 

“Figure out what the problem children are while it’s blooming. If you know garlic mustard, you can watch for garlic mustard,” he said, listing one example.

 

If a plant is super abundant, more often than not, you should think twice about harvesting seeds, Slocum stressed. Conversely, if it’s not abundant, you should also think twice.

 

“Then, you want to make sure you’re leaving it,” he said. “The ethics is a big part of it. If you just see one of those plants, walk right past it. If you see 10 of them, pick one out.”

 

The “Pickin’ on the Prairies” events have no collection goal—just simply to gather as much as ethically possible, said Slocum. Once gathered, seed will be viable for a couple years, depending on the species.

 

 “It takes a lot to gather a lot, so if we can just have some on hand for those small dose situations, then it’s very helpful,” he stated.

 

Harvested seeds will largely be processed by hand, although Slocum said other techniques are available. That includes using a screen or placing plant material in a paint can and shaking it to break the material up.

 

You can event put it between two sheets of ply wood and drive over the ply wood with a truck. 

 

“There are a lot of tried and true, farmer-esque kind of techniques to process it,” Slocum quipped.

 

Much of the seed will be replanted yet this fall. Conservation staff try to time it right before a snow because the freeze/thaw cycle will drill the seed into the ground.

 

Snow also protects seed.

 

“One of the things you have to worry about is rodents and birds picking at that seed while it’s sitting there and hasn’t germinated yet. If you can time it right, when there’s going to be something to cover it up, then you don’t have to worry,” Slocum said.

 

While the “Pickin’ on the Prairies” events are helpful for Clayton County Conservation projects, Slocum also referenced their role in public education. Attendees can experience seed harvesting first hand and replicate it on their own properties.

 

“This is something people can do in their yards,” Slocum said. “When you rough up something on the edge of your garden, or you had your driveway re-done, and you don’t want to mow that little spot, it’s super easy to go out to one of these places and get enough seed in a couple hours to put something down. Then you don’t have to deal with that spot anymore. And it’s going to be a beneficial plant for everything else in your yard.”

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