By Larry Hummel
Build brush piles. Before we had this property I had no idea how many critters used brush piles. Birds use them for cover and food and reptiles have the same uses for them. Turkeys nest in them and mammals use them for a variety of purposes. Branches and limbs are always piled up in groups with the larger limbs at the bottom to form cavities for the critters.
Spread Mulch. We obtain forest fines and natural mulch from St. Louis Composting. This mulch is used in areas where we are growing plants and we want to retain moisture and retard the growth of weeds. The native Hosta garden, the mail box areas and the tree nursery use a fair amount of mulch. We also used it to protect the deer browse plants we have put in over the last few years. We have it delivered by 18-yard truckloads and have been able to get a commercial rate for it.
Limb up trees in gardens. Joan’s native Hosta garden needs liming up on many of the mature post oaks, hickories and walnut trees. As these trees benefit from the mulch, fertilizer and water she so regularly provides, they fill out and need liming up. This requires a ladder and saw and is not one of my favorite chores.
Wet-weather ponds. These ponds are important for amphibian reproduction and we maintain two of these. As they dry up in the summer we eliminate tree seedlings and try to fix leaks that develop. It is important to maintain water in them until June of each year. The toads, frogs and salamanders that reproduce in the ponds form an important part of our ecology.
Clean bird houses. We maintain 12 to 15 bird houses on the property and each February the houses must be cleaned, repaired and replaced when necessary.
Tree seedlings in prairie. As we do not burn the prairie during the winter, we cut and nuke the numerous tree seedlings that seem to develop every year. A mixture of 50% roundup and 50% windshield wiper fluid applied to the cut stump seems to do the trick. On plus-50-degree days in February we walk the areas and as the grasses and forbs are beaten down, the tree seedlings stand out and are eliminated. We also end up with several groundhog dens in the prairie, which need to be filled in with the tractor.
Cut prairie. On March first or so we cut the prairie with a tractor and belly mower. We leave the plants standing throughout the winter so the seeds provide food and cover for the birds. I don’t think we have enough grasses in the prairie to burn it, however as we add grasses and they mature, we will have enough matter to burn. When this develops we will need to have someone burn the prairie. I know enough not to try this myself.
Maintain fencing. We have fencing to protect the native Hosta garden and the prairie. The fencing requires maintenance and replacement when necessary. The electric fence must be repaired and the charger tested for operation.
Native grass seed. During the winter we add grass seeds to the prairie in areas where grasses are scarce. I rough up the ground with a rake and add big blue and Indian grasses. The grasses do not need to be cold stratified so they can be sown in March and April.
Cull aggressive plants in prairie. When we started reconstructing a prairie we did so incrementally so that aggressive plants had an opportunity to grow in areas that did not have much competition. In March and April when cup plants and tall goldenrod first come up I try to nuke the areas. Both of these plants tend to eliminate other plants as they spread so colonies tend to develop. When I nuke these areas I then plant the grasses.
Grow some forbs and grasses. Each winter we take some pro mix and turface along with some pots and grow forbs we want to add to our gardens. This winter we will grow some yellow coneflower, Echinacea paradoxa, and a bunch of pots of big blue and Indian grass.
Fertilize. One of the benefits of native plants is the elimination of water and fertilizer during the year. However for trees and shrubs, I baby them for 2 to 3 years with fertilizer and water. Over the last few years we have put out some arrow woods and a few other trees and shrubs. These will be fertilized around March 1 with a slow-release fertilizer.
TROUT. Yes, trout do form a part of my winter chores. I spend time going to the Ozark Fly Fishers functions, tying flies and actually fishing when the weather permits. For those vegans in our membership I do release almost all of the trout I catch. Those few that we do keep taste really good when filleted and deep fried with a light breading.
Joan’s chores. Joan starts the winter season decorating for Christmas. This is a labor of love for her and continues from Thanksgiving to Christmas. She follows this with the ski season and several trips to the Rocky Mountains with her ski club. She is a frequent visitor and season pass holder of Hidden Valley ski resort. After ski season, the bird watching season starts and she gathers up her binoculars and off she goes looking for the little rascals. She does try to work in some time with her native Hosta garden.
We just tried to outline some rural to do’s in the hope that some of them apply to the group as a whole. We understand that subdivision rules will not always permit 8 to 10 foot prairie plants and brush piles scattered through out your properties. However there may be some ideas that you can use in your urban environment. In the meantime we will continue to plant grasses and forbs that bury carbon deep into the earth in order to offset some of the more egregious carbon usage that some of you are responsible for in suburbia.