Photos of the Week – March 25, 2022

“Chris, why don’t you ever take photos of people?”

It’s a fair question, especially since I talk so much about the importance of connecting people and nature. I do need to get more photos of people engaging with prairies and other natural areas, especially as land stewards. On the other hand, I also like to use photography as an excuse to get away from people for a while and enjoy some quiet time.

This week, I managed a couple quick photo sessions while the Hubbard Fellows and some of our other staff were working. Here’s some visual evidence that my camera is capable of capturing images of human beings.

Hubbard Fellows Emma Greenlee (left) and Brandon Cobb (right) rep their respective college alma maters while filling a fertilizer spreader with prairie seed on a windy morning.
This seed was harvested in 2021 and is being used to enhance plant community diversity in an unplowed, but degraded prairie.
This fertilizer spreader is dropping wildflower seeds right onto the ground in a site that we grazed intensely last year to reduce competition and open up some bare ground to receive the seed.
We often overseed prairies after burning them and before a grazing treatment, which works very well. In this case, we’re putting the seed down the season after grazing, an approach we’re still testing, but that also seems to be effective.

Early in the week, I stopped by to get a few photographs of our Hubbard Fellows (Emma and Brandon) as they worked on a Platte River Prairies overseeding project. We have some prairies that were missing some wildflower diversity when we acquired them decades ago. Over time, some of that diversity has returned, but we’ve been broadcasting locally-harvested seed to greatly speed up that recovery.

On Thursday, we conducted some fire training with the Fellows and our seasonal technician. We lit and extinguished small patches of fire many times within a small area surrounded by gravel. It was a great way to get our new folks familiar with our equipment and approaches, as well as a good chance for the rest of us to work out the ‘first burn’ issues that always pop up at the beginning of a new prescribed burn season.

Technician Booker Moritz practices extinguishing fire during this week’s training session.
Nick Salick uses a council rake to extinguish small piles of smoldering duff after the flames have been put out.
Emma lights a small strip of fire so Brandon can immediately put it out again.
Here goes Brandon.
Here’s Chris putting his cell phone too close to flames to get a fun photo of Brandon snuffing out a backing fire while Nic mops up behind him.
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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

2 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – March 25, 2022

  1. I’m familiar with the mechanics of the fertilizer spreader. I realize overseeding isn’t as fussy/significant as seeding new prairie. Also the seed appears to be left with whatever comes along with the harvested seed heads. From the pics that also includes the fuzzy seeds. It doesn’t seem that the bulk seed was mixed with cracked corn or other product either. Knowing many seeds are salt sized and smaller, and there appears to also have stems in the mix. How do you ever decide on good setting for the spreader? Does it ever clog? Do you also cultipack? I’m guessing this isn’t the best time for these kind of questions.

    • Hi Harold,
      All good observations and questions… yes, our cleaning is pretty rough because we’ve found that we can meet our particular objectives without having to get rid of all the inert matter. These spreaders can handle lots of stems and empty heads. The agitator chops a lot of them up and we don’t have clogging problems. When we plant, we re-fill the machine whenever it gets about half empty and have found that we can maintain a pretty even seeding rate of both the hard smooth and fluffy fuzzy seeds that way. Overseeding is really easy because a precise seeding rate isn’t all that important – we’re just trying to dump lots of seed out there.

      When we use the same machines to do crop field restorations, we’re a little more stringent about seeding rates, but even then, we’re not testing seed viability anymore and just going off of bulk amounts. We’re using very high diversity mixes (150-200 species) and seed testing is tricky and expensive if we want to focus on very many individual species. We’ve done some in the past (tested overall viability of the mix to see how many viable seeds/ft we were putting out) but our results have been very consistent over the years with or without testing, so we’ve cut out that expense/hassle now. Of course, we’re using our own seed on our own land, so we don’t have to answer to anyone else, which makes that easier.

      We and others around here have played around with both harrowing and cultipacking after seeding. In our sandy loam soils, it doesn’t seem to make much difference, so we’ve also cut out that hassle/expense. When we’re overseeding prairies, the cattle probably help pack the seeds in somewhat with their hooves. But mostly, snow and rain seem to be sufficient in getting the seed into contact with the soil – especially in our cropland plantings.

      I hope that helps. We’re intentionally keeping our methods as simple as possible since our seed harvest/restoration work is a pretty small proportion of our annual effort these days, but also because it makes it easier for others to replicate what we’re doing. In other locations and/or soil types, we’d certainly adapt our methods, so I sure wouldn’t advocate anyone else assuming that what we’re doing works everywhere else. But more than 40 years of experience (between us and partners like Prairie Plains Resource Institute) have made us confident in our methods for our specific location and objectives.


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