And then, pretty quickly, we despaired. A whole lot of weeds came up, but not much else, except for partridge pea, a beautiful little prairie annual, but it didn’t have time to go to seed before winter came, which meant it was unable to reseed itself, meaning no more partridge pea in our prairie planting. That one success wouldn’t be repeating itself.
They tell you to expect the first year of your prairie planting to not look like much, but ours looked like nothing. And we could come up with any number of things we’d surely done wrong to make its failure certain. A whole lot of work (and money), and we would need to try it all over again.
This year it is still mostly weeds (as pathetically pictured). Pennycress and shepherds purse are the dominant species at the moment, both vigorously self-seeding weeds that show up first in the spring and are already dying back. But we no longer think our little prairie restoration is doomed.
During our recent trip to Seed Savers Heritage Farm, we found some amazing books in their bookshop. The Tallgrass Prairie Center publishes a guide to prairie restoration as well as a guide to seed and seedling identification. And in these, as well as some other stellar prairie restoration books, we learned just how completely pitiful the first year of a prairie planting is supposed to look. And rather than just saying so, there were pictures of the nothingness that we should have expected, well matched to what we actually have. And how one goes about evaluating their prairie planting through seedling counts, to see if your nothing is the right kind of nothing. And pictures of the tiny little seedlings we should be expecting in order to distinguish between first year prairie plants and weeds. And the knowledge that many prairie plants take 3 to 5 years before they’re much of anything. Some prairie seeds aren’t even likely to germinate until a few years after they’re planted!
With this new knowledge, we’re feeling much much better. I’m not completely convinced that we won’t need to put down more seed in our beginning prairie, but I’m feeling much more convinced that what we have is in fact a beginning prairie and not a failure.
In the close up shot, while you can see the round flat seeds of pennycress coming in from the bottom left corner, the fuzzy plant centered near the bottom just might be a black-eyed susan (a prairie plant). And the plant just above and to the right of it just might be a coneflower (another prairie plant). And the yellow thing in the upper left corner, well that’s a dandelion. Still, it’s a start.