Return of native grass coming nicely

In its third complete year, native grasses planted on the Pearce farm are lush and tall. Wildlife has responded to the habitat well. too.

Sunday at the family farm may have been the hottest I’ve ever worked on the 180 acres north of Lawrence. The temperature was right at 100 degrees and the humidity not terribly far behind.

But I swear, the temperature seemed to drop 20 degrees every time I drove past the stands of native grass we planted in the spring, I think, of  2010. Looking at the fields was that refreshing.

Where once had been stagnant acres of brome and fescue now feather-topped Indian grass  and stately big bluestem reach to about seven feet high and are as thick as hair on my Lab.

Honestly, the fields have grown three feet or more in the past month and that part of Kansas has had a pretty dry summer compared to around Wichita.

Back in the spring of 2010 Jerrod, our friend Luke Templin and I literally combined hundreds of hours spraying the old pasture three and four times to get the old junk grass killed-off and the mix of seven grasses and 13 forbs planted.  Most people familiar with re-establishing native prairie told us to be patient, it could take years before we saw much.

The past three years haven’t been too bad.

We’ve enjoyed some nice patches of colorful wild flowers and the grasses have done well when rains allowed.  As hoped, wildlife has responded.

Some of the Indian and big bluestem grasses are pushing seven-feet tall in some places. Seven kinds of grasses and 13 forbs were planted in 2010. This wasn’t a good year for wild flowers.

Deer hunting one January afternoon I watched a pair of northern harriers work back and forth over the six or so acres of grass for more than an hour, a species of bird I don’t think I’d ever seen give our farm more than a fly-by in the past. After seeing a total of one over the previous 35 or so years, rabbits are commonly seen on the place, as are woodchucks.

And as a side benefit, while many of the pastures and farm fields in the area have dealt with a problematic crop of musk thistles the past two years there are none where we have the prairie grasses. (Guess what’s going to be planted in a one-acre meadow that’s been prone to thistles for years?)

That so much has happened even after two years of the worst drought our family has seen on the land since we got it in 1942 is impressive. I can hardly wait to see what the wildflowers could be like next spring if this fall and winter have even average amounts of moisture.