Grace Vosen provides a summary of the Empire-Sauk Chapter seed harvest for 2017.Last month, as families across the nation prepared Thanksgiving dinner, the Empire-Sauk Chapter celebrated a different kind of harvest. Volunteers who had been collecting seed since June came together to clean, weigh, and mix their prairie treasures. The barn at Mounds View Grasslands was filled to bursting as another collecting season came to a close. [photo: Volunteers show off the stylish seed collecting bags made by Mary Zimmerman]
On the morning of the seed mixing event, I walked around this barn and counted the species I had helped collect. The number was down this year, close to 60 instead of over 80. Still, the phrase “fruits of my labor” has never meant so much. Each bag hanging up to dry represented a few hours of my life. As I emptied the bags into seed mixes, I felt like I was watching the year on fast-forward:
June - At the beginning of the season, I only have one or two species to collect each week. Most of them are less than a foot tall -- no clippers required. The summer interns arrive and familiarize themselves with the prairie. Their crew leader lets them collect seed when the war on sweet clover gets exhausting.July - Shooting-stars everywhere! I have to remind my volunteers that we have other species to collect. The short brown plants are just too tempting, forming a solid mat in some places. Volunteers turn out in greater numbers as the temperature rises. We fall into a rhythm of collecting and cleaning, cleaning and collecting. [photo: Spiderwort seed after cleaning]
August - Some volunteers and I are collecting golden-Alexander seed when the solar eclipse begins. Alas, the clouds are too thick for us to see much of anything.
September - We scramble to keep up with the late-season species as they ripen. The prairie waits for no one. But the weather and the work are agreeable. Late in the month, I ask the volunteers to sit at a picnic table and I bring out cups of apple cider. We toast this beautiful land and the seeds that hold its future.
October - We harvest six huge bags of rattlesnake-master, almost beating our record. Almost. As the weather turns sour, we add an extra layer of clothing and dash into the field to collect the last of the “fluffy” species.
November - A hardy group of volunteers clad in blaze-orange huddles in the barn while cleaning the fall's seed. The clanking of the hammer mill becomes a familiar sound. Despite our best efforts, for every species we clean we each inhale a little bit of prairie dust. [photo: Piles of stiff goldenrod seed after hand-screening]
All told, volunteers put in 198 person-hours at my work parties. Without their help, most of our seed would remain in the field. I hope that Prairie Enthusiasts everywhere are as proud of their collecting efforts as I. We can face the Midwestern winter knowing that new life will germinate on our beloved prairies.
An October scene of the barn stocked with prairie seeds.