Prairie Restoration: Part 1 – “The Big Picture”

I’m starting this series to document our prairie restoration project near Worthington, MN.  When we started thinking about how to manage our land, I could find few resources that documented what to do and what others experienced.  I hope to do three things: 1) document the project for personal preservation, 2) solicit any feedback from anyone out there who has done this, and 3) perhaps serve as a resource for people asking the same questions as I am.

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Background

Lisa and I bought out property in Worthington, MN a few years ago, it included a total of around 40 acres.  Five of those acres comprise our house, outbuildings, and yard.  The remaining 35 acres are approximately 5 of  fastidiously planted grove, 15 acres of prairie and wetlands, and 15 acres of tillable farmland.

We knew we wanted to improve the current (unmanaged) prairie/wetland space.

We had no idea what we wanted to do with the farmland.

Big Picture Goals

Our property sits in the Lake Ocheda Wildlife Refuge.  For us, this was one of the largest selling points when we bought the property.  We really enjoy the wildlife–every day I’m surprised by something nature does.  We have dozens of pheasants, several roaming herds of deer, two great horned owls, and (depending on the season) bald eagles, geese, ducks, and coyotes (unfortunately).

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Our overarching goal is to enjoy our property.  I love walking through the woods with our dog, Kota, or driving our side-by-side on our trails.  I run and mountain bike on our trail too, and in the winter I cross country ski every day.  I use EVERY square foot of the property.

Part of our enjoyment is the wildlife.  We want encourage and support more of it–we want to make the property function well for them.

I started several (now six) beehives.  I’ll save this for another story, but it’s one of the ways I get out and enjoy our property–and it gives us something great in return.  So, creating pollinator habitat is now a major goal.

The Prairie / Wetland

Looking southeast from north ridge

The 15 acres of wetlands and prairie will require a lot of ongoing work.  As best I can tell, the land was never managed well.  It’s filled with brome grass and invasive plants.  Our plan is to conduct a series of controlled burns, then start working to introduce native grasses and help them out compete the non-natives.  I’ve heard this can be challenging.  Right now, it’s not my first priority.  What I am addressing with it is cleaning up the incredible amount of trash dumped in several spots and still clearing up brush from 2013’s destructive ice storm.

The Farmland

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Initially, we didn’t know what we wanted from our 15 acres of farmland.  The previous owner was renting it out, so we decided to stick with that plan for the first couple years until we had a better sense of direction.

Lisa comes from a long line of farmers, so we thought about farming it ourselves.  When we started to do the math on the cost of owning enough (even small) farm equipment to get the job done, that was quickly nixed.

I suggested raising more exotic kinds of animals, ideally American bison.  I love bison–the symbol of plains.  The first problem is that they require really really strong (and tall) fences.  That seemed like a lot of work and money.  Also, herds of bison needs hundreds of acres, not dozens.  I also suggested caribou, but the fence was still an issue.  On top of that, it would make our 15 acres relatively unenjoyable–I can’t really walk the dog through a bison herd unless I want to get trampled.

Finally, we turned to the CRP (conservation reserve program) which helps landowners restore land to native grasses.  This did everything we wanted–we could use the land (walk, run, etc), it can support our bee project, it looks beautiful, and it supports wildlife.  On top of that, CRP provides some financial assistance in establishment and maintenance of the land.

So, we decided on native grasses with an emphasis on pollinator habitat.

The Plan

This project will be multi-year, with many steps along the way (which I plan to document):

  • Site preparation – Remove fences/wire, remove trash, clear brush
  • Plant native grasses on farmland – continued management
  • Controlled burning on prairie land
  • Interseed native grasses into prairie
  • Pollinator enhancement – native bee houses, new beehive technology
  • Wildlife habitat enhancement – foodplots, deer feeders, bird houses
  • Dirt work – reshape areas, repair bridges, consider building pond

Questions for the Internet

  • Do any readers have suggestions/advice for us?
  • Anything you would like me to document or try in our process?

Next post: Preparing our site

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