Seed Hammer Mill

by Mike Saxton, Shaw Nature Reserve, Missouri Botanic Garden

Seed collection is a big part of the restoration strategy at Shaw Nature Reserve. Last year we brought in around 750lbs of milled seed from 278 species with a crew of five restoration technicians and a robust volunteer corps. Most of our seed goes to overseeding areas where we have cut/treated/stack/burned honeysuckle and privet and into low diversity, older prairie plantings.

We had a 25-year-old MacKissic – Might Mac hammer mill that we had been using for the last few years. It’s dusty (no dust collection system), loud (finicky gas powered motor), vibrates/walks all over the place, and has a bottom drop where the seed just falls to the floor for us to sweep up. It works well enough but for the amount of seed we collect and the time/energy we put into our seed program, we needed an upgrade.

With grant support from the Robert J. Jr., Trulaske Family Foundation, we secured funding for a new hammer mill and dust collection system.

After speaking with friend and colleagues in the conservation world, (see GRN Nachusa hammer mill blog), I had hoped to purchase a C.S. Bell mill but they went out of business during the pandemic. After an exhaustive internet search, I landed on the #5 Meadow Mills hammer mill. 10 horse motor, single phase, 220V, professional grade, made in USA. We hooked it up to a Baileigh – DC2100C as a dust/seed collection system. We do not vent the exhaust outside but are using the massive built in air filter.

Fabrications that we made:

  • Welded heavy duty castors to the metal frame
  • Installed an HVAC ductwork elbow and 4in tubing to connect two units
  • We utilized a stainless steel sink as a nice seed table.
  • We need to fab up fins to make the gullet deeper.

All in all, we are very happy with this set up. It is a powerful mill and the dust collection system is heavy duty. We have kept the huge air filter on the Baileigh but might someday vent the dust outside the building. Luckily, we have an in-house electrician who was able to do the 220V wiring for us. We have found that we can fit a paper barrel into the dust collection bin and deposit seed directly into the barrel. The addition of the hammer mill to our restoration program has resulted in greater capacity and ease of operation.

Figure 1 – Hammer miller as delivered and dust system newly assembled
Figure 2 – HVAC duct work elbow added for 90 degree turn
Figure 3 – Marking sink to-be-cut so as to fit the table and mill together
Figure 4 – stainless steel sink as seed table
Figure 5 – seed set up.
Figure 6 – Technician Marley Schwendemann mills seed
Figure 7 – milled seed mix
Figure 8 – large air filter
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Photo monitoring results

By Bill Kleiman

On the left is the Hill Site owned and managed by the Middle Rock Conservation Partners. On the right is how the left used to look before a brush mower did a lot of work, followed up by seeding prairie seeds, and basal bark application to re-sprouts, and one fire.

Above photo is from a few years back showing a closed canopy oak woodland. In amongst the oak and hickory was a lot of invasive brush and weedy trees.

1939 aerial photo above of the same site. Likely a grazed oak savanna at that time.

Above are random points assigned to the site where we took quadrat data of the vegetation and photos.

Random points 39: We took one photo from each points looking north. Here the excessive weedy brush is evident. This was a place you walked bent over with safety glasses on.

Same point 10 months later, after a lot of brush mowing and a spring fire.

Same point 3 years later and in November. I used a bit of of a pano photo which I found allowed the trees to be in the photo. Because these random points are found later with a phone GPS there is 10 to 15 feet of error in finding the exact same point. So the pano “captures” the big oaks. I could have a fence post marking the exact point, or a hidden rebar rod, but those are hard to find and maintain.

We also collect a photo and a count of species and their percent cover. Here under a canopy of brush we have the ground mostly exposed with bare soil and a few weedy plants.

Ten months later there a few grasses seen, a honeysuckle re-sprout.

Three years later in November and oak leaves dominate the frame. We will resample the vegetation in a few more years. For now we just have these photos.

The work continues in other parts of this site, and other partner sites, with the red brush mower and the MRCP service truck.

For more details on this monitoring go to the Middle Rock Conservation Partners site https://www.middlerockconservationpartners.org/vegetation-baseline-survey.html

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A family affair: Successful control of invasive honeysuckle with basal bark herbicide

by Bill Kleiman

Back in 2014 the Kleiman family decided to test if basal bark herbicide killed invasive bush honeysuckle. Anecdotal comments in articles said it did not work well. I was seeing good control. My daughter Leah was 14 at the time. My wife, Susan, and I coaxed her to have fun in the woods with us to set up a controlled study. We mapped out three study areas. The honeysuckle we treated we painted with a spot of colored tree paint. We marked untreated control shrubs with another color. We did the treatments on May 22, 2014.

The honeysuckle would wilt over the summer. We waited until September of that year to collect our data. We found 100% mortality.

The method works, but it is important to find all the shrubs to treat, and return a few years in a row to treat the ones you missed. You can also mow down the live shrubs and just treat the re-sprouts.

We then decided to try to publish our findings. That proved to be a lot of work. Research, emailing researchers for clarifications, visits to the University Library. Leah was there on every step and did the writing. We worked at it for too long and Ecological Restoration took pity on us and published our finding in their “Restoration Notes” section. There is a paywall, but here is a link to the first page of three http://er.uwpress.org/content/36/4/267.extract Below I copy the same essential text.

Above is us in 2014.

Leah is now a graduate student in forestry looking at the composition of the understory plants in oak woodlands. Bill and Susan still go out together on weekends treating shrubs. Romantic, huh.

Successful Control of Lonicera maackii (Amur Honeysuckle) with Basal Bark Herbicide Leah R. Kleiman, Bill P. Kleiman and Susan K. H. Kleiman

Lonicera maackii (family Caprifoliaceae), often referred to as Amur Honeysuckle, is a perennial shrub native to temperate Asia. In the Midwestern United States, L. maackii is an invasive shrub that was first made available as an ornamental plant and was later used for soil retention (Saxton 2012). The shrub now infests many savannas, woodlands, and grasslands in the region. Lonicera maackii has traits that make it a strong competitor. The shrub’s leaves emerge very early in spring and stay green long into fall. Lonicera maackii can dominate the shrub canopy, leaving ground layer plants with much reduced sunlight. The shrub also produces allelopathic chemicals that inhibits other species (Hartman and McCarthy 2004). Its seeds are highly viable, germinate easily, and recruit readily, especially in areas with a lot of sunlight (Schulz and Wright 2015). The shrub rarely shows signs of disease.

Lonicera maackii is difficult to eradicate. Spraying the foliage causes herbicide to land on large areas of the ground layer, likely damaging desirable plants. Pulling the shrub from the ground when plants are small is effective, but even modestly-sized plants are a physical challenge to pull and leave the soil disturbed. Cutting the plant and applying herbicide to the cut stem produces high mortality; however, cutting can be laborious (Love and Anderson 2009). Mowing shrubs and prescribed fire can top-kill the plants, which will re-sprout.

In this study, we examined the efficacy of basal bark application in the month of May. We chose to study a basal bark herbicide treatment in May because in the few weeks after prescribed fire season (March-April), Nachusa Grasslands’ herbaceous weed management season has not started, and it is obvious which shrubs have not been killed by prescribed fire or previously treated with herbicide.  We conducted this 2014 work at The Nature Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands preserve, Ogle County, Illinois (latitude 41° 53’ 41.64” N, longitude 89° 22’ 11.28” W, elevation 247 m). The site was in the Stone Barn Savanna unit with an over-story of Quercus alba (white oak), Quercus velutina (black oak), Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak), Carya ovata (shagbark hickory), and Carya cordiformis (bitternut hickory). The tract was purchased in 1999 and had a dominant understory cover of L. maackii shrubs. The study area was within a prescribed burn unit that has had almost annual fire since 1999; however, some of this area has had little direct fire due to the dense shading from the shrubs providing little fuel to carry fire. No fire occurred in the treatment plots from the herbicide application on May 22, 2014 to the data collection on September 13 and 14, 2014.

We randomly chose three treatment plots from 0.45 ha of a ridgeline running East/West. The plots were relatively flat with a slight southern aspect with a slope of 0-3%. The three plots were each approximately 30 m in the East/West direction and 15 m in the North/South direction. All three treatments plots were dense with L. maackii, with a ground layer of exposed soil and a few typical herbaceous plants such as Geranium maculatum (wild geranium), Ageratina altissima (white snakeroot), Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard), Circaea lutetiana (enchanter’s nightshade), and Pilea pumila (clearweed). One of the three treatment areas contained a retired, shallow, dolomite quarry.

The main treatment was basal bark herbicide applied to L. maackii. We also had a treatment of the mineral oil carrier without herbicide (to confirm the herbicide, not the carrier, was the lethal agent). We also had a control whereby no treatments were made to L. maackii. The shrubs varied in size with stem diameters ranging from 0.25-15 cm at ground level. Those that were multi-stemmed had re-sprouted from previous mowing or burning.

The treatments were performed from May 22-25, 2014.For the controls, live shrubs were chosen and marked with a 10-15 cm stripe of orange tree-marking paint (on upper stems) and left as is.; For the main test of basal bark herbicide, again live individual shrubs were chosen and marked with a 10-15 cm stripe of blue tree-marking paint and then basal bark herbicide with mineral oil carrier was applied to all stems of each shrub by spraying using a Birchmeier Flox backpack sprayer. The basal bark herbicide was Garlon 4 Ultra with active ingredient 60% triclopyr (Dow). This herbicide/mineral oil mix was made as follows: 10 L of Garlon 4 Ultra added to a 57 L drum containing 47 L Bark Oil Red LT (Loveland Products). So the total solution is 57 L in the drum which is a 17% solution. Shrubs were sprayed with approximately a 15 cm band close to the soil, and sprayed such that the circumference of all stems were covered. To test if the mineral oil carrier had any effect on mortality, live shrubs were chosen and marked with a 10-15 cm stripe of yellow tree-marking paint and then Bark Oil Red LT mineral oil was applied to all stems of each shrub with a Birchmeier Flox backpack herbicide sprayer. 

We did all the applications during the same four days, choosing live shrubs at random, (first the control, then the herbicide, then the mineral oil). Each shrub was spray painted with tree marking paint with its particular color so that we were confident several months later which shrubs were treated and which were control. We assessed efficiency of the treatments in causing mortality on September 13 and 14, 2014. To confirm mortality we examined each treated shrub for browning of leaves, number of dead stems, number of living stems, and diameter of the largest stem.

Basal bark application with triclopyr in the growing season yielded 100% mortality on 261 plants of L. maackii. The herbicide was effective on all diameters of shrub encountered, from 0.25 cm to 15 cm. Applying mineral oil without herbicide yielded 4% mortality. There was 0% mortality in the control treatment.

The literature is sparse on the efficacy of basal bark application on L. maackii. We found only two relevant papers. One of these studies was performed in January 2003, in which the authors found inconsistent and poor control using basal bark applications, possibly due to the treatment being applied in the dormant winter months (Rathfon and Ruble 2007). In 2004 Rathfon (2006) repeated this original study with a similar experiment which found 95% mortality. In correspondence with us, Rathfon confirmed that basal bark application was effective. In Rathfon and Ruble (2007), the study area had very dense undergrowth and individual shrubs were not marked after being sprayed with herbicide, so some smaller shrubs were likely missed during the treatment work. There was also an inch of snow on the ground with very cold temperatures. Rathfon noted the herbicide label cautions against applying with snow on the ground or when bark is moist or frozen. In the second study, Rathfon (2006) found very effective control of L. maackii applying basal bark triclopyr herbicide in various months. Our experiment is consistent with Rathfon (2006).

A May 2012 study by Nachusa volunteer Mike Carr resulted in 100% mortality of 208 basal bark treated plants of all sizes with no control. This experiment and our current experiment show basal bark to be highly effective in the growing season (May). Other control methods such as cut-and-treat, and foliar applications have been found to be effective; however, basal bark application offers advantages such as: 1)Basal bark application kills a smaller area of surrounding desirable plants than foliar spraying due to the wide spray pattern needed for foliar herbicide on tall shrubs; 2)Basal bark application is quiet, safe, and efficient. Cut-and-treat takes more time, is physically demanding, and is hazardous due to the use of cutting tools; and 3)Basal bark application has no soil disturbance, whereas manual or machine pulling of the plant root does.

Future Research

  • Does basal bark application work in the dormant season? The total mortality of our early May application is clear, and Rathfon (2006) supports good dormant season control. However, further studies of applications throughout a year are needed to increase confidence in this method.   
  • If basal bark herbicide is applied to shrubs in fall, winter, or spring does a follow-up fire that top kills the shrub stems still allow the chemical to kill the roots?
  • What is the extent of damage to nearby plants from applying basal bark herbicide? Natural areas managers have occasionally noted such damage and browning of vegetation adjacent to basal barked stems. Is this due to overspray, runoff, applying on wet stems, or applying on hot days? Future experiments could be done on how this off-target damage compares to foliar spraying.
  • What basal bark mixture is most effective? This study used 17% triclopyr whereas others are using 20% triclopyr and some are adding a second herbicide to increase potency of the herbicide mix.

Management Recommendations for Controlling L. maackii, and Other Invasive Shrubs

  • Map out occurrences in your area of interest. Take a few photos from fixed points and retake photos later to see progress.  
  • Implement prescribed fire when feasible and keep a short return interval as this will top kill many shrubs and keep them from setting seed. 
  • Use basal bark techniques when the brush is not too dense to traverse on foot. Use a brush mower on thickets and then basal bark herbicide the individual re-sprouting shrubs after they emerge in late spring.
  • For areas that have had L. maackii invasion for years it will take more than one year of treatment. The reintroduction of native understory herbaceous species may be needed to restore such an area to quality native habitat (Hopfensprenger et al 2017).

Here we demonstrated the efficacy of basal bark herbicide application to invasive L. maackii shrubs in May with the shrubs in full leaf. All treated shrubs died. All sizes of shrubs were effected equally. Applying an oil-based herbicide to the bark (basal bark application) is efficient because: 1) the mortality is very high; 2) the work is physically easier than cutting the shrubs one by one; and 3) the damage to nearby desirable plants is limited to several inches surrounding the shrub. The herbicide mix is expensive, but time and safety gains makes the treatment cost competitive.

Acknowledgements

Mike Carr assisted us on several L. maackii control studies that enlightened our design of this study. We also thank Ronald Rathfon for his help in discussing his studies.

References

Hartman, K.M. and B.C. McCarthy. 2004. Restoration of a Forest Understory After the Removal of an Invasive Shrub, Amur Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii). Restoration Ecology 12:154-165.

Hopfensperger, K.N., R.L. Boyce and D. Schenk. 2017. Removing Invasive Lonicera maackii and Seeding Native Plants Alters Riparian Ecosystem Function. Ecological Restoration 35:320-327.

Love, J.P. and J.T. Anderson. 2009. Seasonal Effects of Four Control Methods on the Invasive Morrow’s Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) and Initial Responses of Understory Plants in a Southwestern Pennsylvania Old Field. Restoration Ecology 17:549-559.

Rathfon, R.A. 2006. Application timing of 20 basal bark herbicide and oil diluent combinations applied to two sizes of Amur honeysuckle. In Hartzler, Robert G; Alice N. Hartzler, eds. North Central Weed Science Society Abstracts 61. [CD-ROM Computer File]. North Central Weed Sci. Soc., Champaign, IL. (Dec. 2006). 61:189k

Rathfon, R.A. and K. Ruble. 2007. Herbicide treatments for controlling invasive bush honeysuckle in a mature hardwood forest in west-central Indiana. In: Buckley, David S.; Clatterbuck, Wayne K.; [Editors] 2007. Proceedings, 15th central hardwood forest conference. E-Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-101. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. Pp. 187-197. [CD-ROM].

And if you still need more information, here is a link to some other honeysuckle info we collected: https://www.nachusagrasslands.org/uploads/5/8/4/6/58466593/kleiman_summary_of_honeysuckle_management_2016.pdf

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Hay rakes for fire breaks – an equipment review with November 2022 updates

By Bill Kleiman

At Nachusa Grasslands we have miles of fire breaks that are mowed once a year in the Fall.   We typically use a batwing rotary mower or a flail mower and mow two to four passes with the mower and make them wide and mowed short.  Often, there is a stewardship lane as part of the fire break, so the mowing is to widen either side of the lane to have a very wide fire break.  Have you noticed that fire breaks that seem wide are not so once the fire begins?  I have.

When we mow prairie the biomass is still there on the break.  What if we could get that vegetation off the fire break, or at least off to the side of the fire break?

This review will show three types of hay rakes we have tried over the years.

A few points on rakes before I get started:

  • Raking a fire break makes it easier to control the fire line.
  • All rakes move the hay to one side. To move it to the other side you drive the other direction.
  • All rakes leave a windrow of hay. That is their function.  If you have a hay baler you can bale it up and use it.   We don’t own a baler, instead, we use a tractor mounted PTO driven leaf blower to blow the windrows off the fire break.  It works slick and I will show that on a different note.

Rake 1 of 3: An old John Deere hay rake.  It is simple with three rubber tires.  One rear tire turns the rake shaft.  The two handles above the front wheel raise and lower one side or the other of the rake.  Watch these two short videos to see how they work on fire breaks:

https://youtu.be/Lxadar4huas

https://youtu.be/Td_htZ5kTtI

As you can see the rake moves quite a bit of mowed prairie off to the side.  Used they go for $1,000 to $3,500.  New they are at least $7,000.

Pros:

Simple to run.  Get to know it and it will work consistently, but likely require attention daily.

You can pull this with any size tractor, but also with a pickup truck and sometimes a UTV for a short run.

Cons:

The rubber tines that move the hay get beat up from prairie ant mounds, rocks, stumps, fencerow humps.  You can buy replacement tines in Farm stores or from JD.

The round metal hoops that these rubber tines spin “within” get bent from the ant mounds, rocks, etc..  When the hoops bend it catches the spinning tines and locks them up, or breaks them off.  They can be bent straight with some grunting.  About every day you will be bending a few back straight.

The drive shaft that connects the tire to the rake has a highway mode.  You disconnect the shaft and store it on a peg on the frame so you can now go tearing down the road to get to your worksite.  But…that shaft can bounce off the mounting peg and slide off the rake with the shaft lost in the road ditch.  So take some wire and affix it so it can’t slide off.

It is hard to turn this rake around if you get in a tight dead end.  It reverses worse than a hay wagon due to the front wheel turning.  You disconnect it and grunt a bunch to turn it around or back it up.  Reconnect and go.

If you come to an obstruction like a fence row the old ones raise up with hand cranks.   You get off the tractor and crank both adjusters, drive past the obstruction, get off again and lower the rake, and get back on the tractor and proceed.   Some of the used ones have an hydraulic lift cylinder which is likely worth the expense.

 

Rake 2 of 3: Sitrex brand four wheel hay rake. $1,700 for a new one.

Watch this short video of the rake in action: https://youtu.be/15ExSPUMBLU

Those four wheels simply turn as they make contact with the vegetation.  They don’t spin fast.

Pros:

Not expensive.

Does the job, but not as thorough as the other two.  You might need to make a few passes to get the same amount of hay moved.

It stores pretty well in a shed or outside.

If you come to dead ends you can typically lift the rake all the way off the ground and reverse.

Cons:

It can be a puzzle to figure out how to get this running each year. The frame maneuvers about for transport or trying to rake to the other side.  I painted hints on the frame to remind me how I had it set up.  And I took photos.

The clips that hold the frame pivots  can fall out and two of the four wheels will fall off.

Watch for pinching your fingers as you rotate the frame around as you puzzle how that thing is to be set up.

When you go through a gate you may need to rotate the frame.

Rake 3 of 3: Kubota RA1035.  $6,500 new.

This model is a 3-point hitch style with a PTO that spins the rake.  In the photo above you can see that the rear rake tines are tilted back and up.  As the tines rotate they turn down to move the hay to the driver side and then lift up towards the rear of the rake.  Some carnival rides work like this.

We have used this one for two seasons and we like it a lot.

Watch this video clip: https://youtu.be/NoJa81pR18A

Another video from 2022: https://youtu.be/JHn27V2V-Qs

050 kubota rake

Pros:

This rake moves the most hay.  It is impressive.  You can really move the thatch and mowed material to the side.

You can drive as slow as you wish because the PTO is turning the rake, not your wheels.  Going slow on prairies is better as there are various obstructions you need to watch for that are not in a typical hay field.

This 3 point hitch model allows you to lift up the rake when you come to rough ground, a fencerow, etc..  Very convenient.  The wheels are typically on the ground but you can transport with the rake in the air if you wish.

If you come to a dead end you can lift up the rake with the 3 point hitch and turn around.

The rake tines are long and I expect them to handle the abuse of vegetation tussocks of a prairie.

The gear box has a gear release for when you forget to raise the rake over that fencerow hump.  You hear the gearbox going click, click, click, and then a bit later reconnecting to the rake.

This unit stores in a small space because the tines come off and are stored upright.

It takes very little horsepower to run this rake.

Cons:

This one cost $6,500.

I need a few more seasons with this one to know about reliability.

A few tips on this Kubota rake: 

Above is a modified pallet that allows the rake storage stand to sit on the pallet and be moved around the building with the pallet mover.

We find it better to store the rake on a high point on that footstand. The next time you hook up the rake the higher position works better for our tractor.

Dry lube the rake tine sections tubes where they go into the rotating frame.

Each rake tine section is held in with a hitch pin clip. Get a few extra from your dealer as there are various sizes.

Summary: Hay rakes are good to use on fire breaks.  Hay rakes create wind rows of vegetation. Look for my review note on PTO leaf blowers that we use to eliminate hay windrows.

End.

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Weed sweeping with a tractor

By Bill Kleiman

For years I have been using a small 30 hp tractor to cruise around grassland habitats looking for weed occurrences. The foot crews will be working with backpacks in certain areas and I will be off solo patrolling and controlling. With the ever increasing need for efficient stewardship I have ramped up this tractor setup. Now I tow the little tractor to a field entrance, unload, perhaps load up with just the right amount of herbicide using the tender truck’s tank of clean water, and some herbicide concentrates I keep in the bed. I don’t have to drive all the way back to headquarters to reload. I am self sufficient.

This trailering method with the water tender allows me to get to sites faster, to load the amount of herbicide mix I need, to reload a mix as needed, to go into lunch quickly, and get back out after lunch. It is more pleasant.

This is an old 30 hp Kubota two wheel drive which turns tighter than a UTV. It sits me higher up in the air to see the weeds below. I might not spray much herbicide with this hand nozzle but I can scout a lot of ground which saves our boots on the ground crew many steps. There is a “boomless” tip on the back of the tank which I don’t use much. Mostly, I am trying to see a lot of ground.

Recently I added a heavy duty tool clamp to hold our weed spade. This let’s me pull some sweet clovers rather than spray them. We also bolted down a coffee can which holds a quart sprayer of basal bark herbicide. This lets me treat the lone autumn olive I find. Basal bark application has a much smaller herbicide foot print than if I were to foliar spray a large invasive shrub.

We use this tender in fire season too.

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Propagation of Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis)

By Luke Dahlberg, Citizens for Conservation

I have heard from many in the restoration community over a several year period that there has been a “Pedicularis” interest in this plant, and I “wood bet’ony” that any information to continue to restore this species would be helpful (Unlike my cheap plant puns…)

In my continuing journey to understand the growth and development of our native plant species, I wanted to focus on propagating hemi-parasitic plants. This group of plants will attach to and take nutrients from neighboring plant hosts, but they can photosynthesize and take up water and nutrients on their own. I started this process last year with Swamp Betony (Pedicularis lanceolata), and had great results with that initial germination trial. This year, I wanted to step up to the next challenge to try growing from seed it’s close relative, Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis)

Found throughout much of the eastern United States and Canada, Wood Betony can be seen growing in prairies, savannas, and open woodlands. Much like Swamp Betony, it is a generalist when it comes to host plant preferences, but it does tend to favor aggressive warm-season grasses such as Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), and composites such as Goldenrods (Solidago sp.) and Sunflowers (Helianthus sp.).

At Citizens for Conservation and other Barrington Greenways Initiative preserves, Wood Betony is doing quite well in these restorations due to continuous collection and seeding of this species, and frequent burns that may be stimulating seed germination and growth. However, colonies of Wood Betony are still localized and not spreading as much as I thought it would. Their dispersal mechanism doesn’t spread them far and wide, but the plants are stoloniferous. Literature that I’ve read also tends to say that it’s “Difficult from Seed,” meaning that it’s either slow to grow from seed, or it has little to no germination. Like most early-flowering plants, Wood Betony starts going to seed early, usually around Memorial Day week in the area.

Growing research and my personal germination trials have shown that many of these species that go to seed early tend to have increased germination rates where their seed is sown from a week to a month after collecting the seed. If dried for too long, many of these species lose viability quickly or go into a prolonged dormancy where they make take at least two years to germinate. I wanted to know if Wood Betony was in this category. In general, there were several reasons why I wanted this germination trial:

  • Being partially parasitic, I wanted to know if Wood Betony needs a host plant for germination or not.
  • To see If germination increases the following spring by sowing the seed during the summer months or not.
  • If Wood Betony plugs are successfully propagated, they can be planted in dense areas of Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), Sawtooth Sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus), Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima), and Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus strumosus) where seeding Wood Betony has not worked
  • To find out why it is “Difficult from Seed”

I began the process when I collected seed in June of 2021. One batch of seed went into a treatment of warm, cold, warm stratification in July, about a month after collection. Stratification is basically conditioning of the seed, and this breaks down dormancy mechanisms in the seed so the embryo knows when to germinate. The vast majority of native plants achieve this during the winter months. The second batch I kept dried out and gave them only cold stratification starting in November. For the host species, I chose two species of sedges and a grass. They were Copper-shouldered Oval Sedge (Carex bicknellii), Hairy Wood Sedge (Carex hirtifolia), and Slender Wheat Grass (Roegneria trachycaula).

Similar to how I propagate Swamp Betony from seed, I sowed the seeds of the host species about a month ahead of the betony sowing. This will give the host seedlings time to grow and develop before they have a betony seedling growing along with them. I sowed the Wood Betony in the beginning of April with the sedge and grass seedling in their individual plugs. Germination for the Wood Betony occurred in roughly two weeks from sowing the seed. The seed that was given a warm, cold, warm stratification cycle has nearly 100% germination of the seeds, while the seeds that were only given a cold period did not germinate. Even after a couple of months waiting, that second batch still did not germinate. Did they go into a longer period of dormancy, or lose viability?

I had similar results with the seedlings that did not have a host. Though I had a lot of initial germination, many of the seedlings did not make it to developing leaves. I wasn’t sure if this is normal for Wood Betony, or if it was grower error (usually, it’s the latter). As the growing season continued, the young plants continued to develop, and by the end of July were at a size to plant into the ground. Of the three hosts plants I had, the healthiest and biggest Wood Betony plants had Carex bicknellii as their host species. I plan to overwinter the plants in the plugs and plant them out in the spring either in seedbeds or into areas of dense colonies of Goldenrods and Sunflowers.

From the results I had with this experiment, the seeds of Wood Betony greatly benefit from sowing the seed about a month after collection, similar to the time frame that the plant disperses its seeds. At one of our Citizens For Conservation sites known as Flint Creek South, we sowed Wood Betony seed into a younger savanna restoration, and I’ve seen multiple Wood Betony plants the year after from this early sowing. However other factors may have been in play for good germination such as frequent burning, little competition, and soil conditions that favored the plant. For the backyard gardener, hobby grower, or experienced propagator, growing Wood Betony with the same or similar method will help this bring this important plant into our restorations.

Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis) seedlings with Copper-shouldered Oval Sedge (Carex bicknellii) host on 4/18/2022

Wood Betony seedlings sown in a tray without a host. This is from the warm, cold, warm stratification method. The cold stratification batch had no germination. Photo taken 5/02/2022

Wood Betony plants with sedge host on 5/09/2022, about a month after sowing the seed in the greenhouse.

Volunteers helping pot up seedlings. We cannot have the plant plugs that we have without the dedicated time and work from our great volunteers!

Wood Betony plug with sedge host on 6/08/2022

Wood Betony plug with sedge host on 7/22/2022. This plug is large enough to be planted.

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GRN workshop a success

The workshop was August 16 and 17, 2022 with the Barrington Greenways Initiative, northwest of Chicago.

Partners of the Barrington Greenways Initiative

Four sites were visited over two days, a half day for each site. There are four companion GRN blog posts that were published before the workshop.

Kevin Scheiwiller of Citizens for Conservation leads a tour for the 2022 Grassland Restoration Network workshop. Flint Creek Savanna.

Kudos to Kevin Scheiwiller who was the lead planner for the workshop. The planning team included Justin Pepper, Kristin Dapra, and Kelly Schultz. Many others helped lead tours.

The workshop highlighted a well functioning partnership between agencies, NGOs, and volunteer stewards. There is a long history in this region of people sweating the details as they restore and manage high quality natural areas.

2022 Grassland Restoration Network tour. Poplar Creek Prairie near Barrington, Illinois (Chicago suburb).

In 2023 we will have a workshop in Minnesota with our host Jeffrey Zajac.

Photos by the planning team and Chris Helzer

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33 years of community led grasslands restoration in NW Cook County, IL

By the Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards

This is the fourth of four introductions to our upcoming field trips for our GRN workshop August 16 and 17. Registration for this year’s GRN closes on 7/31, make sure to get your spot before they are all filled up. https://grasslandrestorationnetwork.org/2022/06/23/1727/

In the northwest of Cook County, the Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards (PCPS) have been working on over 225 acres of grassland restoration of a 4,430 acre protected block of natural area for the past three decades. The Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) purchased a remnant gravel hill prairie and  surrounding agricultural land parcel by parcel throughout  the 1960’s. The gravel hill prairie was dedicated as a state nature preserve in 1965. In 1989, a volunteer group of stewards kicked off with support from The Nature Conservancy and FPCC. The initial goal of the project was to enhance the remnant prairie community and create a botanically rich prairie restoration surrounding the remnant. Early on, the decision was made to restore a large area of diverse, functional prairie plant communities, while balancing the needs of individual animal and plant species.

The Volunteer Stewardship Community found very early on that for a restoration to be successful, the group needed to function in many different capacities. Today, the PCPS has built a sustainable volunteer base that stewards not only the land, but also the community. At the GRN Workshop this August, tour guides will describe how two volunteer led committees oversee the vast restoration project as well as maintain a fun culture of conservation among the volunteer base. The tour will travel through decades of prairie recreation and restoration culminating in the scenic overlook of the Shoe Factory Hill Prairie Nature Preserve. The Stewards in tandem with FPCC Ecologists and Staff maintain original plantings and continue to expand the effort to restore additional swaths of grassland to this expansive corridor.

Topics to be covered during GRN Workshop:

  • Early lessons learned with grassland restoration
    • Use or misuse of tall C4 grasses
    • Strip Planting Technique in which approximately 60 acres were planted among cool season grass with the idea that plantings would eventually invade the cool season dominated areas (see Figure 2)
    • Partnership between FPCC Staff and Stewards
    • Building a community around a restoration
  • Building a Conservation Community around large restoration projects
    • Delegating responsibilities among many leaders
    • The importance of investing in volunteers

Figure 1. Tour Map including Shoe Factory Remnant and Surrounding Grassland Restoration

Figure 2. Strip Planting in Early Years

Figure 3. Poplar Creek Prairie

Figure 4. Shoe Factory Remnant Hill Prairie

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Restoring grassland birds and healthy prairie at Galloping Hill

By Becky Collings, Karen Glennemeier, Justin Pepper, and Daniel Suarez

At the upcoming GRN meeting in Barrington, IL, we will visit a number of local restoration sites, including Galloping Hill in NW Cook County.The focus of this field tour will be our Qualitative Rapid Assessment, described below, but we also wanted to share an overview of the site including the restoration goals and progress and an overview of its management history.

For those that just want the high-level summary of the site, this place is special because it:

  1. Was a first, grassland bird scale, multi-partner restoration aiming for prairie birds in a rich native natural community at the 4000-acre Spring Creek Forest Preserve
  2. Had a strong early grassland bird response, largely sustained for ~17 years
  3. Is becoming a high-quality, dry-mesic prairie restoration with hand collected, local ecotype seed, largely through volunteer stewardship, now expanding from ~20 acres to 60 acres and including wetter habitats surrounding the hill itself.

Management History

In 2005, Audubon, in partnership with the landowner, the Forest Preserves of Cook County as well as Citizens for Conservation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the then nascent Spring Creek Stewards volunteer group, launched the restoration of Galloping Hill. The initial size of the grassland restoration project was 110 acres at the heart of the nearly 4,000-acre preserve.

Figure 1. The image above shows the extent of the fragmented 110-acre grassland prior to the project’s start. Note the brush islands in the hay meadow in the NW, the peninsula of brush to the SE of Galloping Hill and the brush on the northwest facing slope of Galloping Hill. Contrast to the following Figure 2. 

Given the scale of the area, habitat restoration at Spring Creek allowed for grassland restorations large enough to be significant for ground-nesting grassland birds. Whereas previous restoration work at Spring Creek had focused on a small remnant prairie, this project was designed specifically with the suite of grassland obligate birds in mind.

Volunteer bird monitors from the Bird Conservation Network were reporting plummeting populations of Bobolinks, Meadowlarks, Grasshopper and Savannah sparrows. So, a project was designed to reduce fragmentation of the grasslands in the immediate term and to begin restoring healthy prairie habitats in the years ahead.

Initial brush mowing and the removal of trees that had fragmented the grassland occurred over the winters of 2005 and 2006. Bird results were immediate and dramatic, 950% increase of Bobolinks, 650% increase for Meadowlarks in the years immediately following the clearing work. With those encouraging early results, the Spring Creek Stewards, the site’s new volunteer stewardship group, began the decades long project of restoring a diverse prairie. We wanted grassland birds, but in a healthy, native natural community.

Figure 2. In the image above, the initial brush clearing in the haymeadow, on and adjacent to Galloping Hill has been completed. This was a good year for prairie birds at the site. The simple act of restoring grassland structure had immediate results.

Galloping Hill has remained a top priority for seeding within the Spring Creek preserves, even as the Stewards started new restorations (currently managing about 300 acres). Donated by Citizens for Conservation, seed amounts and mixes varied from year to year but were always interseeded into non-native cool season grasses at a very light seeding rate, perhaps averaging 4 lbs per acre. Seeding has been augmented by a few plug plantings through the years, primarily spring ephemerals like prairie violet, violet wood sorrel, Seneca snakeroot, prairie phlox and bastard toadflax. Native cool season grasses including porcupine grass and Lieberg’s and Scribner’s panic grass have also been reestablished.

The focus of the seeding started high and slowly worked down the hill, especially once the drain tiles at this site were mapped and valved in 2011.

Wetland/ Sedge Restoration—Following the 10 Warriors approach, wetland restoration began in earnest in 2018. Since then, more than 10,000 sedge plugs have been planted and reed canary grass has been pursued and treated with grass-specific herbicide.  

Hay Meadow Expansion—in 2020, a 20-acre expansion was initiated in a hay meadow just NW of Galloping Hill which combines with a more recent expansion to the SE to now have about 60 acres under active restoration, not just grassland management.

Figure 3. Though listed as an image from May, I believe this is later in the fall, given the color and the obvious mowed oval in the SE of the image which took place in Sept. of 2021. The extent of the warm-season grasses is evident in the image. The two pocket wetlands are identified, as is the newer planting (Expansion Area 1) volunteers have undertaken and the 20-acre haymeadow (Expansion Area 2) that contractors and volunteers are collaborating on.

Since the initial mechanical work, 90+% of the work has been done by volunteers with support from Conservation Corps, FPCC staff, and occasionally, contractors. The Forest Preserve District has prioritized burning at this site which has been critical to the progress to date. The site has been burned annually since 2005 (16 burns between 2005-2021). Most burns have occurred in the spring with the exception of fall 2009, 2020, and 2021.

How are we doing, and what do we do next?

(a.k.a. Monitoring & Adaptive Management)

Plants – Quantitative Monitoring

Vegetation transects were established early in the restoration and have shown steadily increasing floristic quality, approaching that of our region’s highest quality prairies after just fifteen years of management. 

Figure 4. Two transects have been established at Galloping Hill, Transect 1 is on the south and east facing slope, where turf grass was well established when the project started and Transect 2 is on the north and west facing slow which was much more brush dominated and had thinner turf.
 

The speed and success of the restoration are due to the steady commitment of volunteer stewards, combined with a strong partnership among volunteers, land agencies, conservation non-profits, and contractors. Galloping Hill also has benefited from the experience of earlier restorations including Somme Prairie Grove, Nachusa Grasslands, and Grigsby Prairie.

Plants and overall community – Qualitative Assessment

We have introduced a new approach to adaptive management that we call the Qualitative Rapid Assessment (QRA).  We’ll be sharing this process at our Galloping Hill tour during the conference – here’s the basic idea.  A small group visits an area and begins with 10 minutes of each person individually observing the presence of invasive, conservative and matrix species, as well as the overall diversity and the sense of subjective quality or degradation. Each person assigns a score based on a simple, defined scale.  Then the group convenes and discusses, reaching consensus on a score, but more importantly filling in the reasoning behind that score and, critically, determining what happens next. What’s missing, and how do we bring it back? How is this restoration most likely to go wrong? What’s the management history, does it explain what we’re seeing, do we think our approach needs tweaking? How, if so?

We’ve found that this method produces scores that align with quantitative floristic quality metrics. It deepens participants’ understanding of an area’s condition and management needs. It provides an actionable management to-do list.  And it’s a meaningful, enjoyable exercise for both beginners and experienced restorationists.

Birds

The initial response from the brush clearing was heartening (see Figure 5 below) and while the numbers for individual species have bounced around a bit, Galloping Hill has consistently hosted strong breeding populations of Henslow’s sparrows (14 in 2020) and Bobolinks (34 in 2020).

Monitoring has continued since the project started, but since it has occurred under different protocols, we are not presenting an unbroken sequence of results.

Figure 5. Initial grassland bird response following brush clearing in the winters of 2004/2005 and 2005/2006.

Eastern Meadowlarks, Savannah and Grasshopper Sparrows have declined from high counts in the first 5 years of the project. These three species have also shown significant population declines regionally, as recently reported by the Bird Conservation Network so it is unclear how much of this decline is a local versus regional issue.

Grasshopper Sparrows would benefit grazing or other means to return to early successional habitat, but 2022 was the year of the Grasshopper Sparrow as they were found in multiple places within Spring Creek where they had been absent for years, this includes at least 4 at Galloping Hill.

The decline of Savannah Sparrows and Meadowlarks is a bit more of a puzzle and we welcome thoughts from others on this.

Addendum: The Qualitative Rapid Assessment is available here: https://tnc.box.com/s/t1amflh005fs30yywx2ac65e6l2q9bew

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Monitoring vegetation with GIS Field Maps

By Bill Kleiman

Arc GIS Field Maps, known previously as Collector, is a powerful phone app. The app is free, but you do need a GIS online program to run it, which typically means you need your employer to support you. On this image you see random round dots of a few colors, each color represents a different invasive weed. There are green diamond shapes which are native plant occurrences, which represent cool plants we want to remember to come back to, perhaps to pick seed. This morning, I noted starry campion for seed picking later.

These dots/waypoints/geo-referenced points….whatever you call them….are really handy. For instance, they help us see the pattern of infestation of weeds where sometimes a strategy can come to mind. Over time we hopefully have fewer weed dots.

Now differently, note the east west line of red dots. Each dot represents at least one birdsfoot trefoil, BFT, Lotus corniculatus. I started on the east end of this field and used my phone compass to aim west and found a district tree to aim for. I took a step, looked down for BFT. If there was a plant, flowering or not, big or small, I dotted it. There was a plant sometime every step, sometime every two steps, but rarely could I go more than 5 steps without a plant within three feet of my boots. This transect took about 45 easy minutes. I tore the plants out that I found as I did not want to carry a sprayer.

Why walk a line instead of recording all occurrences in this field? I don’t have time to record every BFT in this field. That would take a week. The point of monitoring with quadrats, whether on a transect or randomly placed, is to help us understand a field by sampling a small part of it.

I know this field rather well. In the 1980s the farmer planted birdsfoot trefoil in this pasture. The soil became full of BFT seed. Three decades ago I started to boom spray the former pasture. After this decade of boom spraying we erred in deciding to plant prairie in this field. Then we had about two decades of hard labor of back pack spraying BFT, but you can see the BFT is still there. I did this monitoring transect after we had been through the field for eight hours with seven people with packs. So these are the plants we missed. Sigh.

Lesson learned: Do not plant prairie into ground that has invasive weeds.

This method of monitoring with Field Maps is intuitive, visual, easy to understand, and stored automatically with your other data. I don’t need to write a report about these weeds. You can see the pattern as well as I can.

Here I zoom out for a more complete sense of our preserve and its weed occurrences. We spend a lot of time on these spots. How can we get to treating the weeds faster and with less time, but without doing more harm than good? No easy answers, as you know.

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