Seed Hammer Mill

By Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands TNC

This is a hammer mill used to break apart seed heads of all sorts of native seeds.
The mill is the red thing which has spinning hammers inside.  It has a galvanized chute and a custom made seed table on wheels.  Mill is by C.S. Bell Co.

When we want to mill a barrel of seed we dump the seed on the table, or lay the barrel on the table and use the half moon bracket to hold it steady.  We feed the seed heads, stems and whatever else we have down the chute.  Not the scissors.

Below I am touching a hammer inside the mill and my thumb is on one of four screens we have.  The smaller the screen holes the longer the seed heads are exposed to the spinning hammers.  We feel confident that most seeds are not damaged from the spinning hammers.  If we run some big seed, like a Silphium, then we use the big hole screen.  If you get too aggressive you can see broken seeds, but most of the time they look in tact.

Below is vervain seed heads being run through the mill.  The pvc pipe is used if some clogging occurs at the inlet.  Wear safety glasses.

Below we see the blue cyclonic dust collector.  This is a few horsepower of air suction and it is hooked direct to the bottom of the hammer mill.  It is typically used in carpentry shops to collect sawdust. The plant parts are all pulled very fast past the mill, up the clear tube, into the blue cyclone.

In the cyclone the plant parts are circling the blue can very fast.  The speed is especially fast in that funnel shaped part of the blue vacuum.  Seed is dense with its DNA, fats, proteins and those seed spin down into the white drum.  Even pussytoes, Antennaria, won’t go out the exit pipe you see going through the exterior wall.  Hard to believe but true.  We stumbled upon the physics of this years ago.

You can blow seed out the exit tube if you clog the intake tube.  Don’t do that.

The mill and vacuum are 220 volts and lots of amps.  You need an electrician to wire it up.

When you turn off the mill and vacuum the seed and many other plant parts are in the can.  It is still a dusty product so this louvered dust fan helps get the fine dust outside as you pour out the barrel.

Below is from 2004 with a very similar system.  Cost is about $9,000.

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UTV tanks for prescribed fire

By Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands, TNC

I hope you all don’t mind another fire equipment post.

UTV skid unit tanks:  The best part of a Utility Vehicle is its mobility on prescribed fires.  In my humble opinion 50 gallons of water is plenty to carry on a UTV.  RKO Enterprises ordered me in this tank from United Plastics Fabricating as I wanted to reuse an old reel and pump and save money plumbing it myself.

Although 50 gallons is plenty, back then I purchased a 90 gallon tank for a Kubota RTV, which is a beefy but slow UTV.  It lugs this load even slower.  Lesson learned is less is more.

I point to the sump on the bottom of the tank.   If you don’t have a sump then you will carry water around your tank that your pump can’t access to spray.  Make sure you buy a tank with a sump.

The tank has internal baffles that diminish the slosh as you drive.

The skid unit should be small enough to fit in the bed with tailgate up.  You want the weight as far forward in the bed as possible.  The tank should be low enough for the driver to see over the top of the tank.  The pump motor is on a skid platform rear of the tank.  The hose reel is either next to the pump and motor if there is room, or on top of the tank if need be.

I like the half inch thick black polypropylene tanks.

Bolt the tank through the UTV bed and use wide washers to spread the force.

More info here:


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Fire, Rubus and Geranium

By Bill Kleiman

In a closed canopy oak woods we have been doing annual fire for a long time.  The Rubus allegheniensis, common blackberry is slowly fading in stature and density, while the wild geranium, G maculatum, has become abundant.   This is what I think I see.  I don’t have data to prove it.

The invasive honeysuckle shrubs in this woods also keep re-sprouting after our fires.  Those plants are still there, but smaller in size, and not big enough to flower and then seed.

The fires top kill the woody stems of the briars which yields more sunlight to the herbaceous plants of geraniums, and other forbs, sedges and grasses.

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Wild Parsnip. Is it invasive or just a weed?

By Bill Kleiman, The Nature Conservancy at Nachusa Grasslands

Pastinaca sativa, wild parsnip lives two years, with flower and seed set on year two. Every June you will find us mowing it somewhere on the preserve, as this is when they are in full flower.   We also use our weed spades to cut the root which looks like a carrot.  Before the flower stalk bolts a broadleaf herbicide is effective.

Parsnip does not compete well in prairie plantings or prairie remnants, except where the vegetation has been disturbed by some past issue, like brush encroachment.  Parsnip does well in low competition areas where past disturbance has left a simple plant community.  We mowed a bush honeysuckle thicket several years previously and it filled with wild parsnip a few years later.   I sprayed a pasture to reduce brush and a few years later there was the parsnip.

There are various weeds we put some effort into in case their small populations might increase if left alone.  Weeds like parsnip, king devil, butter and eggs.  You may have such a list.  Then there are weeds that are everywhere, like the exotic cool season grasses, so we shrug our shoulders and don’t attempt to control them.

Our resources are limited so we manage what we need to, and not more.

Here is a link to some resources on invasive weeds:

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Prescribed fire pumper units

by Bill Kleiman, The Nature Conservancy, Nachusa Grasslands

At Nachusa Grasslands we use several vehicle mounted water sprayers on our fires.  We call them “pumper units”.  Photo above is a crew about to start their test ignition.   You don’t see backpack water sprayers as most crew are assigned to a pumper unit.

The pumps we use are piston pumps because they use a small amount of water per minute and produce a high pressure.   These work well for our grass and leaf litter fires and are common in the Midwest.

Centrifugal pumps are the standard on wildfire crews you see across the nation.  Centrifugal pumps typically produce modest pressure, and can pump a lot of gallons per minute. This is good in that you may knock down an escaping fire with all that water output, and bad in that you may run out of water before that escape is extinguished.

Below is one of our units.  Note rake strapped at an angle such that it does not hit you in the head when you start the pump motor.  Our name is on the rake so we get it back at the end of the day.  The hose is yellow so you see it in the grass. The hose is a narrow diameter so it is light weight to maneuver easily.  The drip torch holders are made from wood painted black. The laundry detergent bottle in the box is filled with Class A foam.  “Add two caps of foam” says the print on the side of the tank fill.  And it all fits in the bed with the tailgate up.  The tank is 70 gallons which is about ten gallons too heavy.

Our water tender is a 425 gallon tank with a high flow centrifugal pump mounted in a truck. It is to fill all the other pumpers in the field and carry extra tools.

I wrote up a short summary of pumper units designs:


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The Way of the Warrior Sedges

By Kevin Scheiwiller of Citizens for Conservation

As many practitioners know, wetlands can be one of the most frustrating and resource demanding areas to restore. Countless wetland plantings have shown a large flush in native diversity in the first few years just to be overrun by the seed bank of the “wetland thugs;” cattails, reed canary grass, and phragmites. At Citizens for Conservation, we had left most of our wetlands alone for this reason. That was until we enlisted the help of the warrior sedges.

Who are the warrior sedges? These 10 species of Carex were hand selected based on their tendency to be able to withstand invasion by the wetland thugs in the few remaining local remnant wetlands. They are all highly rhizomatous species, that when planted in a focused manner can create a tight native matrix strong enough to keep out the invasion of the wetland thugs.

So what? Why replace one monoculture with another? We have found that while these warrior sedge matrices are dense enough to keep out the thugs, they are not inhibiting the growth of other native wetland species such as Sneezeweed, Monkey Flower, Mad-Dog Skullcap, Blue Flag Iris, and others. All these wetland associates have coevolved for millennia and still seem to understand how to grow together.

The hardened restoration ecologist will wonder how long this wetland planting will keep out the wetland thugs. Time will be the true test, but after a decade of using this technique we have been able to reclaim pothole wetlands and a long stretch of streambank. All of which requires a very small amount of maintenance after year three of this method.

For a detailed explanation of the process see “The Way of the Warriors.” 

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Planting prairie #97 with the full monty

By Bill Kleiman, The Nature Conservancy

The photo above is from this season of  a 2010 planting, our 97th at Nachusa Grasslands.  There is a lot of gayfeather and white indigo. Harder to see are the thimbleweed, coreopsis, lupine, various sedges and grasses.  It looks great but Cody and I  thought it might turn out dull.

The well drained silt loam soils were planted with hay from 2000 to 2005, then converted back to corn until we planted the field to prairie in 2010.

We were concerned that the seeds and roots of the hay field were going to show up and swamp our prairie seeds.  We discussed only planting seed from combined prairies.  This would have been easy to obtain but lower diversity.

We ended up deciding to plant the full monty of hand harvested seed.  We  planted 134 species at 50 pounds per acre of bulk weight of seed. This weight includes chaff and stems.

This is in our Stonebarn Savanna unit. Here is a link to the planting summary we wrote back in 2010.  It has the species lists, techniques used, map, soil map, etc.:


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