a wee prairie + a bloomin’ woods…a yard restoration update

Another growing season has come and gone and I am looking forward to the quieter, dormant months of winter when both my plants and my tired muscles can rest a bit.
It was a busy September/October!
My back is feeling a mite tetchy from all it has been called on to do!  But the slow, steady progress on the restoration makes it all worthwhile.
Here’s what’s been happening:

The woodlands were ready for a large infusion of plants this fall.
Last year we planted trees and shrubs — all species with woody stems.
This year we planted about 450 native Minnesota wildflowers and sedges, representing 16 different species.

hundreds of baby plants ready to get tucked into the woods

Some of these little beauties thrive in heavy shade while others prefer varying amounts of daily sunshine.

(a few of the species we planted: clockwise from top left columbine, wild geranium, tall bellflower, big leaved aster, jacob’s ladder, zig zag goldenrod)

My wonderful family became a planting crew for a couple of days and we tucked each one into a space suited to its taste for sun. My great hope is that they happily thrive in their new homes and spread themselves more and more throughout the woods as the years go by.
Next year I will have a lot of new plants to recognize which is a little intimidating, but I am so looking forward to spotting these blooms in the woods.

Meanwhile we began converting half the remaining back yard to native Minnesota prairie.
This is the project associated with the second grant we received from
Nine Mile Creek Watershed District.

After killing off the existing sod we dethatched it, meaning we removed the dead grass using a power rake and our own elbow grease. In the end we had bare soil ready for seeding.

(before and after the grass was killed off)

(dethatching the ground, and installing access paths)

Our great friends at Ed’s Buckthorn Control then seeded the prairie which demands some finesse in order to get the area properly, evenly, covered.
They seeded 5500 square feet using two mixes of seed from Minnesota Native Landscapes.
The savanna mix contains species better suited to partial shade. Our enormous maples spill shade onto parts of the prairie so we needed to account for that.
The other mix has species suited to a sunny, dry-ish prairie.
Between the two mixes, we planted over 50 different species of native grasses, sedges, and wildflowers.
Here’s a peek at a few of the species we’re looking forward to in the prairie:

(clockwise from top left: longheaded coneflower, partridge pea, Canada anemone, sky blue aster, prairie onion, prairie rose, meadow blazing star, purple prairie clover)

(clockwise from top left: butterfly weed, prairie spiderwort, black eyed susans, upland white goldenrod, showy beardtongue, fireweed, narrow leaf coneflower, anise hyssop)

(here are 5 of the 13 different native grasses and sedges we planted, clockwise from top left: little bluestem, prairie brome, junegrass, silky wild rye, prairie dropseed.)

Included in the planting was a cover crop of winter wheat.  Native wildflowers spend much of their first year or two establishing a hefty root system rather than growing upwards.  The winter wheat’s job is to spring up quickly, protecting against erosion and suppressing weeds, giving those wildflowers a fair chance to develop properly.
Following the seeding, we spread straw over the entire area to guard against birds, wind, or heavy rains,
and installed an edging and large mulch barrier to prevent the remaining sod from growing back into the prairie.

(L to R: straw is down; the green sprouts of wheat emerging; the winter wheat
will look like this next year.)

So — gobs of work has gone on, especially during October.
There is deep satisfaction in considering the huge boost in biodiversity that will transpire here as these plants and seeds take root and grow.
That biodiversity — as opposed to the non-native monoculture which is turf grass —  will support a large variety of native pollinators — birds, butterflies, insects, maybe even bats.
Increasing biodiversity is a critical task in our efforts to counter the massive, downward spiral of species’ loss that has been happening globally. You can read more about that and a recent global conference addressing these concerns, here. Native plants also benefit soil health, and are better able to absorb storm water, thus restoring groundwater supplies and stream flow,
another critical need which our country’s summer droughts and flooding both highlighted.

(and they’re beautiful!)

As I’ve been working on the land these last years  I’ve often been brought back to the patience and hope required for the work of restoration.
It will likely take 3 years for my prairie to even begin resembling anything like a healthy, happy prairie and it will take decades for the trees in my woodland to become mature, stately trees.
I need to take deep breaths and be content with the good happening in increments.
As I gaze around this space I can certainly see progress,
but  ridding the woods and yard of invasive plants and turf makes the areas look much worse initially. It can feel like taking a backward step, when actually it’s forward movement.
The trees and shrubs we planted were mostly tiny and twiggy; the seeds for the prairie are as teensy and lightweight as pixie dust.
Meanwhile invasive plants appear to be as sturdy as Roman soldiers and prolific as a rabbit warren.
Rooting for the little guys to win the day is harder some days than others.
Hope in the restorative powers of nature and the expertise of the naturalists advising me is my lifebuoy.
Partnering with the Earth itself has borne
restoration and healing for my own soul and I highly commend it
in any degree available to you.

Today I’ve got some truly beautiful, fascinating books about the heroic pollinators and insects we’re hoping all arrive to feast at our new banquet hall.  They are picture books, but several will especially appeal to older readers and adults:

Bees: A Honeyed History
written by Wojciech Grajkowski, illustrated by Piotr Socha, translated by Agnes Monod-Gayraud
published originally in Poland in 2015; English edition 2017 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

This gorgeous, oversized volume truly introduces us to all things Bee, gathering in all manner of fascinating related subjects. It simply buzzes with curious bee-history!

From the varied jobs bees do in their families, to biomimicry; pollination, to the role of bees in Ancient Egypt;

the work of a beekeeper, to a fascinating array of beehives including some highly decorative examples — each beautifully-illustrated page is a visual treat and a sweet helping of new knowledge.

It’s a gem for ages 5 to adult.

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera, written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann
published in 2020 by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House

Taking a quite different approach, Fleming introduces us to the life of one honeybee, a newly emerged worker bee, via a brilliant text. Her rich, precise language paints a fascinating portrait of this small creature’s short, yet multifaceted lifespan.

Meanwhile, Rohmann’s magnificent illustrations bring us right inside the hive, so close to these bees that each delicate hair, each golden grain of pollen, is illumined. A feast of ideas for ages 4 and up. Additionally, an annotated diagram of the major body parts of the honeybee, and an Author’s Note discussing the difficulties facing bees, ways we can help bees, and more fun facts, suit ages 8 and up.

Sensational Butterflies, written and illustrated by Ben Rothery
originally published in 2019 in the UK; first US edition 2021 by Tilbury House Publishers

This is another stunning, oversized volume that welcomes us to the lovely world of butterflies. Rothery’s exquisite, nature-notebook style drawings and colored pencil artwork are the star of the show, the enormous, resplendent colors, textures, and patterns of these winged creatures spreading themselves sumptuously across the pages.

Pages explaining some butterfly facts — the difference between moths and butterflies, the stages in a butterfly’s life cycle, how butterflies see and eat — are interspersed with introductions to a number of butterfly families and some representative species.

We learn that in the Birdwing family, for example, there are about 36 species including the world’s largest butterfly, the Queen Alexandra whose wingspan can be up to 10 inches! Incredible.

The text is brief and packed with interest, engaging for a child yet not written down in the least. Recommended for ages 8 through adult.

The Truth About Butterflies, written and illustrated by Maxwell Eaton III
published in 2020 by Roaring Brook Press

For younger readers who would enjoy a much more casual approach, this entry in Eaton’s Truth about Animals series cheerfully regales us with many interesting facts about butterflies.

Eaton’s jolly approach takes quick peeks at some of the same material — the difference between a moth and a butterfly, the life stages, wintering and migrating, and ways to help butterflies — in a breezy style. He punctuates his pages with speech bubbles, allowing the butterflies to have their say as well as humorous asides from a variety of creatures sharing the pages.

It’s a great way to introduce these lovelies to children ages 3 and up.

 A Garden to Save the Birds, written by Wendy McClure, illustrated by Beatriz Mayumi
published in 2021 by Albert Whitman and Company

Siblings Emmy and Callum discover many practical ways to help out birds in their neighborhood in this informative little picture book.

Bright, colorful, upbeat illustration work creates an appealing aesthetic for young children who will surely want to put a few of these tips into practice. Ages 4 and up.

The Book of Brilliant Bugs, written by Jess French, illustrated by Claire McElfatrick
published in 2020 by DK Publishing

Insects get a bad rap in our world. They’re the villains in a horror movie. They’re endlessly being squashed and exterminated without so much as a shiver of regret. They’re called “bugs” even though that name actually refers to a particular set of insects who share a key characteristic.

Yet insects are one of the most critical cornerstones of our ecosystems. Unless they are an invasive menace like our brown marmorated stink bugs or our emerald ash borers — they are incredibly important to a healthy Earth. We need to become more insect-aware and less automatically reactive towards these tiny creatures. This book is a great way to become better acquainted with this integral, massive group of invertebrates.

I am not usually a huge fan of DK’s scattershot approach to nonfiction, but I do love this volume.  Jess French has written the text in a more integrated way with the small pockets of text on each page connecting to one another more seamlessly. I also think the artwork, as opposed to DK’s typical spot-photographs on white space, creates a more cohesive reading experience.

Discover how vast this world is, how crucial these minute lives are to the healthy working of our planet, and learn lots of cool facts about the many different kinds of insects — their behaviors, role in pollination, diverse habitats, and the ways humans make use of them. Ages 5 and up.

That’s it for my 2021 yard restoration updates. I’ll be back next spring and summer to let you know how we fare.
Meanwhile if you’d like to catch up on past restoration updates, they’re all available here.

If you’re looking for more great children’s books about related subjects,
check these lists for my recommendations:
Nature Appreciation/Conservation

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