Category Archives: CRP Land

UNI student helps return cropland to native prairie Article from The Gazette

Researchers assessing benefits of converting grasses to biofuel

Tall Grass Mix

WASHBURN — University of Northern Iowa professor Mark Myers considered it a “theoretical exercise” when he assigned his wildlife ecology and management students to develop a habitat management plan for a local site.

But, said Myers, Jarrett Pfrimmer, 25, of North Liberty, “took the assignment to heart,” and a year later, prairie grass was growing on 20 acres of former cropland along a Cedar River tributary.

“I did not think he could make it happen in that short a time,” said Myers, who is working with Pfrimmer on another major project with the potential to restore natural functions of the Cedar River watershed — research to determine the feasibility of native prairie as a biofuel.

Pfrimmer, who will complete work on his master’s degree next month, said he worked with the Black Hawk County Soil and Water Conservation District to line up cost-share funding for the stream buffer project.

The Boone native said he also took advantage of expertise at UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center to plan and execute the 120-foot wide buffer strips on both sides of Dry Run Creek, which flows past the UNI campus en route to the Cedar River.

Seeded a year ago, the native vegetation will become well established next year, greatly reducing erosion from the former farm fields, improving the quality of the water flowing into the Cedar and providing habitat for songbirds, pheasants and other wildlife.

The absorbent grass also will play a small role in reducing the crest of future Cedar River floods.

“Every little bit helps” when it comes to watersheds’ ability to store and slowly release floodwaters, said State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, a leader in legislative efforts to improve watershed management.

Small-scale improvements like the two Black Hawk County projects can help create a mindset and policies “that will help buy down flood peaks for those of us downstream,” Hogg said.

In addition to the Cedar Falls stream buffer project, Pfrimmer has worked with Myers and others to assess the benefits of converting cropland into a prairie biomass production site at the 593-acre Cedar River Natural Resource Area about 10 miles south of Waterloo.

On flood plain land that had formerly been leased for row crop production, the researchers established 48 test plots, each seeded with one of four types of native vegetation ranging from switch grass alone to a mix of 32 species of grasses, legumes, forbs and sedges.

Those plantings were equally distributed among three distinct soil types, enabling the researchers to control all key factors contributing to the productivity of native grass not only as a source of energy but also as habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

The research got off to a rocky start with the historic Cedar River flood of 2008 wiping out the initial seeding. The plots were reseeded in 2009, burned in 2011 and finally harvested in April, compressed into 550-pound rectangular bales, with an average yield of 4 tons per acre.

About 150 of those bales were later pelletized for an upcoming test burn by Cedar Falls Utilities. “We’re looking to find out how well it burns for energy generation,” said Daryl Smith of the UNI Tallgrass Prairie Center, a partner in the research.

Researchers have suggested that cultivation of low-input, high-diversity grassland biomass could have significant energy and environmental advantages over corn-based ethanol, according to Myers.

While it remains to be seen whether the energy yield would justify conversion of marginal farmland to production of native vegetation for use as an energy source, biofuel production with diverse mixtures of native prairie vegetation “contributes to the maintenance of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes,” the researchers concluded.

Grassland birds and butterflies quickly found and colonized the test plots, according to Myers.

Pfrimmer, who has led bird data collection efforts, will soon complete his master’s thesis on “Bird Use of Heterogenous Native Prairie Biofuel Production Plots.”

In each of the past two years, he has found at least 100 delicate nests hidden among the grass stems by species such as the sedge wren, dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow and lark sparrow. Pheasants and turkeys also have moved into the grass, he said.

“We are starting to see different bird communities established in the plots in accordance with their preferences for the vegetation mix and even the soil types,” Pfrimmer said.

Article taken From The Gazette Newspaper

To Purchase Native Wildflower & Seeds Visit Our Website At Ion Exchange, Inc.

 

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[IOWA-NATIVE-PLANTS] Developing Problem – Wild Feral Hogs

There is a developing problem in native habitat areas. Wild feral hogs have been a plague in southern states and have been known to be far southwestern Iowa for nearly a decade. They are spreading farther into the state. Last week, two were killed in Crawford County, north of Denison. They can be dangerous to individuals hiking or working in remote areas and they are an ecological disaster. They can root up and destroy large areas of vegetation and devastate native wildlife.

They multiply rapidly, having two or more litters a year, and can start reproducing six months after birth. If you should encounter one in the wild, give it a wide berth and report it immediately to the DNR. They may have large tusks and can be quite fearless. Be careful when you are out and about, and take this threat seriously.

By: Larry Grill

 

Earthyman Article on How to Do a Dormant Seeding

When and how to do a dormant seeding is a question that is often asked when sowing native seeds.  By following these simple guidelines, you can be successful using a dormant seeding.

Make sure your site is prepared and there is no sign of any growing live vegetation present.  An exception would be if you were planning on supplementing an existing planting to add more diversity.  After the ground temperature drops below 50 degrees, you can start sowing your seed usually in the Midwest this occurs at the end of October or the first of November.  Even if you have 2 inches of snowfall, the seed can be broadcast over the snow.  Any time in late fall or even winter, seeds can be broadcast.

You can check your soil temperature in your state by googling for soil temperatures for instance in Iowa, you may go to: http://extension.agron.iastate.edu/NPKnowledge/soiltemphistory.html

If you have a small area, one to two acres or less, broadcast your seed by hand.  In this instance the seed can be mixed with 10 to 20 parts of wet sand to 1 part seed by volume.  After you have thoroughly mixed your seed with the wet sand, divide it into 2 to 4 lots and go over the entire area with each lot.  The seed can then be broadcast by hand using an ice cream container under one arm and reaching in with the other hand to grab a handful of this seed matrix.  Cast it in a swinging motion just as you would feed chickens.  With the next lot of seed, walk in a different direction so as to get a more even distribution of the seed.  This is repeated with each lot and going a different direction each time.

Since this is a dormant seeding, we are depending upon Mother Nature to achieve good seed to soil contact which is the most important element in any kind of seeding.  Mother Nature will then rain, snow, freeze and thaw. This is just what we want as it will ensure the proper stratification of the seed to break the dormancy code and allow better germination in the spring.  Stratification is a process whereby we can either by Mother Nature or human treatment break the dormancy of seeds to enable germination.

Go to Native Wildflowers & Seeds Website for a variety of quality native seeds and seed mixes.   Ion Exchange, Inc. is a Native Plant and Seed Nursery for over 25 years.  They grow and market native wildflowers, grasses, sedges and rushes.

Iowa Prairie Partners Program for Iowa Landowners Explained by Ion Exchange, Inc.

Howard Bright also Known as “Earthyman” is President of Ion Exchange, Inc., Seed and Plant Nursery

Here’s a Special Program that is a Cooperative Effort Between Iowa Native Seed Growers; Pheasants Forever & the Iowa DNR

It’s so we can Re-Create Iowa’s Natural Heritage including Savanna, Prairie & Wetlands

Iowa Landowners Get 50% Off so call  me at 563-535-7231 or email hbright@acegroup.cc and I will help and explain in Detail how this program works

Visit Our Website at Ion Exchange, Inc.

The Natural World Article By Earthyman From Ion Exchange, Inc.

The natural world, as recognized over and over again can be our best teacher. The struggles and stresses that we perceive in our daily lives can get to be such a drain on us. When this happens, our lives are no longer in cadence or harmony with others and the natural world. We start to feel distressed and lost while even armed with our fine educations, years of therapy, self-awareness and physical fitness. Where do we turn? There seems to be no answer and no one to help us.

I remember when I was very young and my parents used to argue with each other, I would get very upset and walk out of the house. There was an old red oak stump in our timber. I would just sit there, staring at the ground and trees around me. It was my escape and my haven from stress and turmoil. This little wood lot that had been so mistreated and now barely remained had become my friend and companion. Having been stripped of all valuable timber long ago, then grazed, then abandoned, now recovering but extremely scarred, the landscape did not complain but only saw new opportunity for change and a new life. The stripping of its timber was not harbored in a memory bank filled with judgments of greed or bad behavior. No one was being held responsible for the condition of this little parcel. Out of what looked like total defilement and desolation came a new beginning and a new life for this old, old piece of ground.

There were Yellow Warblers, Myrtle Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, Ruby Crown Kinglets, and Purple Finches, over 100 species of beautiful birds in this small haven along with squirrels, rabbits and copperheads. It was amazing that this land, so poor, could house and care for such a diversity of life. Underneath the shallow leaves and humus of the oaks and hickories, it was only 2″ to shale rock. Erosion had not even allowed a new soil to stay in place. Now a new soil was starting to form. The oaks grew ever so slowly, but they grew. Now, down the slope, a small clearing, a little knoll occupied by Andropogon virginicus, or Broom Sedge as we called it, was dotted with Eastern Red Cedars. From here, I could lie down in the grass and look to the south and east to see a whole horizon bounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. Only 12 miles away, I could see Big Bald Mountain on the North Carolina line marked by the Appalachian Trail. It was a beautiful wilderness within site of this abandoned and forgotten vestige that was once a link and connection to these mighty mountains. Like a child cast out into a desert of chaos and severed from its mother, this little wood lot had become an island. My education and awareness might not have been that well established at the age of nine but my feelings were in tact and I knew this was a place where I could go and start to heal and find comfort. I didn’t have to worry about conflict here. I was accepted and I fit in with the rest. I became part of that landscape and it is still within me. I have learned from the great spirit of the natural world. Every change is an opportunity for a new beginning. Nature does not hear or respond to shame, blame, doubt, and guilt nor does she harbor regrets or grudges. She takes what she has and moves on to constantly create more beauty in the world.

I think it’s time to move on and create some beauty in our world. Won’t you join the natural world

Earthyman

http://ionxchange.com/

Native Plant Communities Of Iowa Article

By: Howard Bright

The Plant Communities of Iowa are vast but we will limit them to four major communities knowing there are many subgroups of these four.  What is a plant community? In nature, certain species are found growing together and they form specific colonies of plants called  “plant communities”. Native plants always grow in association with others to create plant communities that are essentially associations of indigenous species that have evolved over thousands of years and adapted to the specific geography, hydrology and climate of a particular area. The resulting “communities” are really groups of plants that exist together because of the given environmental conditions. 

Why is it important to know about natural plant communities?  It is very important because we can use these native plant communities as a prescription from nature in designing our wildflower gardens or landscapes.  There are four broad categories of native plant communities here in the Midwest and hundreds of sub categories as we break each of them down into more specific site conditions.  It is important to recognize which one of the four categories you would like to create or reconstruct.  The four major plant communities of the Midwest are: Prairies, Savannas, Wetlands and Woodlands.

When the white man drove deeper through the hardwood forest driving westward until they eventually broke through the dark shadows of trees and the shrubs of that forest land and peered out onto the blinding light of the open prairie, it was a sight to behold waving in the wind and appearing as a sea of rolling grasses dotted with the colors of blooming flowers.  Indeed this was a strange land to these new visitors.  Steeping out onto this sea of grass, the pioneer disappeared and kept moving westward.  This land was covered with Buffalo, Elk, Deer, Bear, Cougars, Prairie Chickens, Beaver and all kinds of wildlife.

It wasn’t long before this land was discovered, occupied and changed forever. In the 1800s, Iowans reworked the face of their new state with a speed and to an extent perhaps unparalleled in human history.  At the beginning of the century, a blanket of prairie cloaked three-quarters of this “land between two rivers.”  Pothole marshes dotted the flatter north-central part of the state, while a network of streams laced the rolling hills elsewhere across Iowa.  Dense forests engulfed some valleys in the east and groves of bur oaks climbed out of the river corridors and onto the ridges to form savannas.

Thousands of Native Americans lived on the land, harvesting wild plants and animals, growing crops, and occasionally managing the vegetation with fire.  By 1900, however, Euro-American settlers had claimed nearly all of Iowa’s 36 million acres as farmland. Non-Indian settlement officially began on June 1, 1833, when pioneers first were allowed to claim new land in the 6-million-acre Black Hawk Purchase along the west side of the Mississippi River.  By 1846, when Iowa became a state, census records listed 96,088 people.  The population doubled to 192,914 by 1850 and topped one million before 1870.  In 1900, Iowa had 2.2 million people, compared to 2.9 million people today.  Most lived on the state’s 200,000 farms, working land where 95 percent of the prairie, two-thirds of the woodlands, and most of the wetlands had been converted to agriculture.  This dramatic, swift, almost complete change of diverse prairie to a monoculture of cropland profoundly altered the ecosystem.  Twenty-eight million acres of bluestem, dropseed, compass plants, coneflowers, gentians, and hundreds other species were transformed, in a relative eye-blink, into a patchwork of corn, wheat, oats, hay, and pasture.  Those plots have expanded to the huge roadside-to-roadside corn and soybean fields that we see today.

Before Iowa was settled a map depicts the vegetation that was present around 1850.  Note the majority of the landscape was tall grass prairie.  There were thousands of acres of wetlands, especially in Central and Northwest Iowa.  The Woodlands were confined to the steep areas along streams and in the Driftless area of Iowa.  Rolling and steeper hills were occupied by Savannas.

It only took 60 to 70 years to almost completely change the ecosystem of Iowa.  It is said that this was one of the quickest and largest annihilations of a natural ecosystem.  Oxen with wooden and steel plows developed by John Deere ripped up the prairie sod and crops were planted.

Glacial deposits occurred over the entire state of Iowa during a period of 2.5 million years and as recent as 10,000 years ago.  The only region not affected by glaciations is northeast Iowa where bedrock is exposed in many areas.

A multitude of events were occurring simultaneously during the last glacial period known as the Wisconsian Glacial Age.  Notably, while the older glaciers of the Nebraskan, Kansan and Illinoinian had long retreated and left their heavy loads across the state, a new glacier advanced from the north covering the north central and central pars of the state.  At the same time huge amounts of silt were blowing in from the northwest from the exposed glacial plains due northwest of Iowa’s western border. Loose materials much younger than the bedrock beneath dominate the present land surface across Iowa. These materials consist of sediment originating from ice sheets, melt water streams, and strong winds during a series of glacial events between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago (Quaternary). This familiar “dirt” consists of pebbly clay, sand, gravel, and abundant silt, which over time have weathered into Iowa’s productive loamy soils. These easily eroded “Ice Age” deposits account for the gently rolling appearance of much of the Iowa (and Midwestern) landscape.

During the Ice Age, glaciers advanced down into the mid-continent of North America, grinding underlying rock into a fine powder like sediment called “glacial flour.” As temperatures warmed, the glaciers melted and enormous amounts of water and sediment rushed down the Missouri River valley. The sediment was eventually deposited on flood plains downstream, creating huge mud flats. During the winters the melt waters would recede, leaving the mud flats exposed. As they dried, fine-grained mud material called silt was picked up and carried by strong winds. These large dust clouds were moved eastward by prevailing westerly winds and were redeposited over broad areas. Heavier, coarser silt, deposited closest to its Missouri River flood plain source, formed sharp, high bluffs on the western margin of the Loess Hills. Finer, lighter silt, deposited farther east, created gently sloping hills on the eastern margin. This process repeated for thousands of years, building layer upon layer until the loess reached thicknesses of 60 feet or more and became the dominant feature of the terrain.

Even though the prairie is gone, it has left us with a black treasure, our soil.  Over the eons of time the plants that grew on the prairie formed the richest soil on this planet.  Millions of acres are blanketed with black earth known as prairie soils.

What makes soils the way they are?  How did Iowa end up being the most fertile land in the world?   A unique combination and interaction of all of these factors formed our soils.  How are the soils of Iowa different?  By changing just one factor, we affect a major change in the soil.

Factors that interacted to form our soils can be simplified to: Parent Material, Climate, Topography, Vegetation, Time and Human Beings.

Soils are conceived, as we are, from our Parent Material.  Parent materials are composed of the raw earth that lays exposed to the elements. Major parent materials in Iowa consist of bedrock, glacial deposits called glacial till, water deposited material or alluvial deposits, and wind blown silt known as “loess”.  In other parts of the world, soils may be formed in volcanic ash or rock.

Climate has a profound effect on our soils as they are influenced by rainfall, temperature, freezing and thawing, sunlight and day length.

The way the land lays called Topography greatly influences our soils.  From the steep hills along river corridors to the level bottomlands, slope of the land can change the characteristics of our soils.

Vegetation and Organisms dramatically affect our soils.  Within a very localized area, we can note the effect of our past vegetation and what influence it has had on soils.  From the deep rich organic prairie soils developed under the influence of the tall grass prairie to the soils developed under a woodland condition depth of topsoil and fertility vary greatly.

We probably forget about a factor that is ever present and that factor is Time.  It is obvious when we think about the sediment deposited by a river or stream, which is in geologic times, is extremely young.  What a contrast when we sit atop a rock out crop that has been exposed for eons of time.  The stream deposited material stays forever young while the bedrock of a long ago sedimentized ocean bottom gets older and older.  Soils can’t hide their age either.

On the recent geologic scene came Humans and they have now joined the forces of soil forming factors.  By plowing, the natural vegetation and protection of the soil has been removed increasing erosion to an alarming rate.  Topsoil is destroyed, texture of the soil, which allows infiltration of water, is altered, soil forming organisms are eliminated, fertility is diminished as organic matter is washed away and soil tilth is destroyed.  Man has and is having his influence on our soils.  Fallow land and row crops now occupy land that was once a lush sponge to absorb water and cleanse it.

Once we understand the importance of our geologic past, recent history and soil forming factors, we can start to put together nature’s puzzle.  This intricate puzzle laid down over the eons is now at our fingertips for those who pay attention.

What other questions do we need to ask to get this right combination of plants that will fit our site?

  • What direction is your site facing, called Aspect?  A north and northeasterly direction may receive much less sunlight on a steeper slope than those facing south or west on the same steepness of slope due to the angle of the sun.
  • Is your site level, rolling or steep?  Slope as a steep south slope may be hot and dry while a steep north slope may be cool and moist.
  • How much Sunlight does your site get?  If it is dense shade versus full sunlight, you will need entirely different plants to suit your situation.
  • What is the condition of the soil in regards to Soil Moisture?  Drainage of the soil can range from saturated to excessively drained.
  • What are the sizes of the particles that make up your soil, called Texture.   It could range from sand to clay which an important characteristic to note as some plants will not tolerate these conditions.  For detailed description of your soils contact your local NRCS office and get a soil survey report of your county.

Absorbing and understanding the characteristics of our landscapes and soils allows us to then classify our sites.  In site classification we will assign a general category to our site based on all the previously mentioned information.  There are basically five sites to consider:

  • Dry
  • Dry Mesic
  • Mesic
  • Wet Mesic
  • Wet

Next we need to decide which plant community we are dealing with.  It may be a pre-existing condition or one that we want to create.  It is usually best to take what nature has given us if we have that opportunity.  However, if you live in an urban area, your site may have been severely altered and you will have to decide what you want to create there.  As mentioned before, we have four categories of plant communities:

  • Prairie
  • Savanna
  • Wetland
  • Woodland

Once the plant community is determined, select the most appropriate species for your plant community.  Now you are using nature’s prescription for success in creating your native wildflower planting.

http://ionxchange.com/

My Little Prairie Article

After a thunderstorm and lots of rain last night, I walked out to our 1-mile labyrinth through our 20-year-old prairie.  I noticed the mist rising through the thick morning air and smelled the freshness of the ground and air.  Dew dripped from the Big Bluestem.  Showy Tick-trefoil was seen drooping its purple head now standing 4 feet high towering over the already bloomed Golden Alexanders.

               

 

Still the Ohio Spiderwort sends out a spectacular 3 petaled blue flower saying goodbye once again to its blooming season.

The Yellow Coneflowers reach skyward with blooms in the green buds ready to burst into their summer yellow suits supporting their cone heads.  

               Mad Dog Skullcap sported its pink and white blooms and stood at attention just below the ever-growing Indian Grass.  

 

 

 

 

 

Cup Plant had reached the overflow mark as its’ cupped leaves held at least 4 ozs. of water after the rain.  It continues its upward growth trying to once again outdo itself having reached over 7 feet in height last year.

A closer look revealed a Cream Gentian trying to get attention but alas all it could show were its waxy leaves waiting for another month to bloom and show off its pale yellow color.  Of course the Butterfly Milkweed needs no search to find as it shows forth its psychedelic orange heads stealing all the attention to itself.

The prairie hides many treasures just waiting to surprise the passerby with its individual personality made up of a hundred species of native flowers and grasses forming a living community adapted to the seasons of time.  A virtual kaleidoscope of dazzling colors turning off and on as the seasons roll by, is there to just enjoy.  Each species alone can be cherished but we sometimes forget that they all joined hands at one time making one of the largest living communities in the world sweeping from Texas to Canada.

Listen closely and you can still hear the pounding hooves of the Buffalo.

Earthyman

To Purchase These Beautiful Wildflowers Visit Us At http://ionxchange.com/