Sunday afternoon we burned grass in the open areas south and east of our house and into the edges of the woods. It brought us one step closer to planting our prairie, which sounds pastoral but isn’t as simple as strewing seeds!
We started preparing in July, when the existing, non-native grass was sprayed. We didn’t like the idea much, and it must have shown. Dwight Ruff, the agronomist from Farmer’s Co-op Elevator in Rushford who did the spraying, looked at me one day and said, “No one’s going to think any less of you if you don’t do this!” But even though they end up tough and long-rooted, prairie plants need sunlight, space and two to three years of mowing and burning to get established. So Dwight took care of what was there, including a massive, spreading patch of wild parsnip (an invasive plant that burns and removes pigment from bare skin).
A burn on a mature prairie is a dramatic flash of bright orange. Grasses and forbs (flowers) are tall and dry, so flames rise and race to the fire break. Our open area didn’t have much fuel, so it burned and then quickly died out—not much management involved. But on the east side of our drive and at the west woods there was more to burn. John and I were the firestarters. Mark, John and Pete wore tanks of water and sprayed to create breaks and keep flames from going where we didn’t want them. Marsha and Mary managed the edges. We all watched and took direction from Joe Deden, who’s done this countless times, and pulled logs and dead branches from the woods to burn away in piles.
It felt good to work outside. We appreciated the help and enjoyed the company. Friends trailed off after a beer and house tour. John and I stayed around to make sure the fires were out, then left at dusk.