One of the several projects on the docket for Butterfly Ridge is the creation of a prairie along our ridge tops. We are starting slow for 2016, not quite one-quarter acre in size. If things go well we will expand the prairie each year, ultimately achieving a size of about 1.5 acres.
There are several good resources available to show how to start a prairie project. Many of the regional state extension offices have website links to prairie development. We consulted those for recommendations regarding how much seed and lime to use. We also had our local soil and water conservation officer Dave Libben come out an take a look at the site. Dave recommended the addition of lime after witnessing our healthy stand of broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus). Apparently this grass (not a sedge at all!) is an indicator of relatively poor soil. By adding lime we will raise the soil pH and actually make nutrients already in the soil more available to our plants.
Our prairie work has gone in stages. The first step was a shallow discing of the soil to break up the broomsedge root mass. We disced only a couple inches deep.
A week or so later we added about 1/2 ton of lime. This was based on calculations found at extension office websites. Most recommended applying lime at a rate of 2 tons per acre to raise the pH by a value of 1.0. However, since we have heavy clay soils it was advised to double the rate. The application rate on the back of the bag was considerably less however so we split the difference. We can always add more.
A few days later, after having to get a part on the tractor repaired, my dad went through and tilled the lime into the top 3-4 inches of soil. Now we wait patiently for some rain to begin dissolving the lime into the soil. We will repeat the tilling at roughly two week intervals, on Dave's suggestion, for a month to remove any weed seedlings that may try to rear their ugly heads! Hopefully by mid to late May we will be ready to plant.
And what are we going to plant you ask? The primary prairie grass species we are using are Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Purpletop (Tridens flavus), and Side-oats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula). We will also be adding native perennial wildflowers. More about those in the next blog addition.