These days I am spending a lot of time in the seed shed as the mountains of harvested seed roll in. We are in the ‘fluff and stuff’ stage of seed processing.
The seed comes in from the prairie (thank you, volunteers!) in large paper bags—the kind used for leaves and lawn clippings—and gets spread out on specially built racks and tables to dry. It gets fluffed daily, until it is dry enough to be stuffed back into the bags to await milling and mixing with other seed for our various projects. As you already know, this is our most ambitious restoration year; we are committed to seeding 90 acres by the end of November.
Because it's been such a wet summer and fall, drying all that seed is no easy task. As I work with the various species, I am mindful of the effort it took to collect and try to ensure that the seed stays viable until it hits the ground. I marvel at nature's variety—so many shapes and sizes of seed. Some seed is large enough to be seen with the naked eye, some is as fine as ground cinnamon. Judging when seed is ripe enough to be harvested is a skill that the hubby passed on to Prairie Diva Barbara, who teaches it to our volunteers in turn.
This year we are also harvesting some of the rarer species from our two gardens. The west garden produced seed from 13 species, the east garden produced seed from nine. The east garden is now complete, with many beds still available for planting in the coming years. Altogether, there are 66 rare plants growing in the gardens, with 15 more planned for this fall and next spring.
As always, there were some surprises and some disappointments. Despite coddling them with a complicated stratification regimen of 30 days each cold/warm/cold before planting, 16 pots of Dwarf Prairie Rose (Rosa arkansana suffulta) produced just one plant. In the wild, this rose can take up to two years to germinate. The fruits, also known as ‘hips' are a valuable food source for critters, have been of medicinal value in the past and are of current interest as possible cancer inhibitors.
In the west garden a mystery volunteer plant showed up in 2017 which took two growing seasons to reveal itself as False Aster (Boltonia asteroides.) It seems to have wandered over from nearby Silo prairie and points out two gardening facts: patience is a virtue and plants grown in a garden environment are often twice the size of their wilder cousins.
Two of the more interesting plants we are cultivating are Wingstem (Verbesinia alternifolia) and Riddell's Goldenrod (Oligoneuron riddellii). Wingstem has a frilly, winged central stem and yellow flowers which have produced a lot of seed for a first-year stand. The seeds are just as interesting-looking as the stems. As to the goldenrod, the hubby tells me that it is a useful plant in wet prairie restorations as it provides late-season food for pollinators. It does not come into flower until September-October.
We also planted a healthy stand (84 pots) of Poke milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) that were grown in Bill Hunt's greenhouse, but every single plant was chewed to the nub by Monarch caterpillars. This brings up an interesting dilemma—do we save the endangered plant, or the endangered butterfly? I am keeping my fingers crossed that the plants had a chance to grow healthy roots before they were decimated and will come back strong next year. Then it's row cover to the rescue—let them eat the common milkweed!