Since my last message, some five weeks ago, it rained: eleven inches over 25 days, that’s cat food bowls as measuring devices, not quite Science but they’re on a table near the front door so they’re accessible.
Our grasses, almost dormant, resumed, as did all the rest of our flora, from tomatoes to arugula to ragweed to box. Our ten acres of oats, harvested before the summer phase of the drought began, yielded precious few oats, but after the rain, produced twenty four 1,200 pound bales of foxtail weeds, some of which you can see over the native grass stand. The grasses which end in a three-pronged claw are big Bluestem. The ones that look like paint brushes are Indian grass. The blue flowers are Pitcher Sage. In that mixture are little Bluestem and sideoats gramma, but they are not as showy. This particular piece of grass is not grazed (except by deer) and it was hayed early in the summer.
The waterway that lies between the grasses and the oatfield depicted above was originally planted to brome grass, not native to the prairie, but as you can see it has been invaded by Indian grass and Pitcher Sage. Economically that makes sense because brome grass requires nitrogen fertilizer to be productive, while Indian grass and the other native grasses do not. We don’t buy chemicals. And of course the Pitcher Sage drifted in too. Over time, we expect that the waterway will be composed of native grasses and flowers.
You will recall that on the edges of our tillable fields we have what are known as filter strips, bands of native grass perhaps ten yards wide, which we hay but which were designed to capture chemical runoffs, fertilizer or weed exterminator, lest they get into the creek. We don’t use chemicals, but we value the filter strips because the last ten yards of any planted crop is always deprived of sustenance by the trees on the other side and consequently is not fully productive. We can burn the grass of the strips into the trees when we burn the rest of the prairie in the Spring, which keeps the trees at bay.
The strips themselves are not grazed. Into them, a winter ago, I planted, here and there, some seeds of Eastern Gama grass, a grass which survived the buffalo but disappeared when the prairie was enclosed for grazing, because it is so delicious. It was rediscovered not long ago growing along roadsides where ruminants could not get at it. What you can see is its exuberant growth: it was hayed in June as a part of the strip haying and it clearly is very productive. What you cannot see is that it is very high in protein which accounts for its disappearance.
Will we plant it all by itself, as a hay all on its own? Not at all. It’s the mixture of the grasses, the spectrum of nutrients across the board, which is of best value for our sheep, and what thrives one year may not thrive the next.
And here is the fauna: Rhona at fifty pounds in the foreground, wondering what’s going on, and Fife, her minder, in the background, minding.
Copyright Jerry Wigglesworth, September, 2018