I’ve been harvesting seed most of this week, while the rest of the Platte River Prairies crew was away at some fire training. It’s been a productive week, but hasn’t left me much time to write. As a result, I’m just putting up a quick post today that shares a few images and video from my seed harvesting.
We’ve been harvesting seeds all summer for two projects – (1) a 50 acre cropland restoration, and (2) continued overseeding of some degraded prairies. For the cropland restoration, we’re trying to harvest as many species as we can, including from wetland plants, since we’ll be doing some wetland construction at the site. We’ve been squeezing seed harvest in between lots of other work, so haven’t been able to get seed from all the species we want. As of today, I think we’ve gathered seed from 108 plant species, give or take, and we hope to get to at least 150 by the end of the season. The overseeding project requires a less diverse mix, but large amounts of seed. There are about 20-30 species we’re trying to add to pastures that are missing plants due to a history of overgrazing and broadcast herbicide use.
Most of those species are harvested by hand, which might seem inefficient if you’ve not been part of an effort like this. In reality, it’s surprising how much seed you can grab with your hands if you’re organized and diligent. We have a spreadsheet of plant species and constantly update it with the best sites to find large amounts of seed from each plant and when the seed is ripe. We’re constantly scouting for seed while doing other work too, keeping track of good populations we’ll want to return to later. Armed with that information, we strap buckets to our waists, wade into the prairie, and grab big handfuls (hopefully!) from each species.
This week, though, while I did some hand harvesting, much of my time was spent running a pull-behind mechanical harvester (seed stripper). I wrote about the particular machine we have several years ago, if you’re interested. We (meaning Nelson Winkel) have made a few minor modifications to it over time and it’s a great way to harvest large amounts of some species. The mechanical approach works best when there are big congregations of plants and an absence of invasive species we need to avoid. This week, I was using the seed stripper to harvest big grasses (big bluestem, Indiangrass, switchgrass, etc.), perennial sunflowers (stiff, Maximilian, and sawtooth), and a mixture of big summer wildflowers (Illinois bundleflower, wild bergamot, showy tick trefoil, and others).
It’s very gratifying work and also provides a lot of time to contemplate and dream. In fact, I came up with a couple different blog post topics while I was zoning out on my ATV. I also got to watch lots monarchs and other pollinators, scare up migratory sparrows from their hiding places, and even got temporarily mobbed by bumblebees when I stopped the running machine over the top of their nest. (Sorry about that, bumblebees!)
In addition to the few photos I’m including here, I’ve also put together a very rough and amateurish video that shows what the seed stripper looks like in action. For what it’s worth, here’s the video.