Combining prairie

by Bill Kleiman

If you want a high diversity prairie restoration nothing beats picking by hand. You likely don’t need a combine, but perhaps you would find it interesting to see how ours works. Here is a half minute video of this machine harvesting a prairie planting at Nachusa Grasslands https://youtu.be/qH106Ort_JY

This head does not cut the plant, but rather strips the seed heads with those metal fingers which spin fast on the rotor. This helps the combine by not importing all the stems of a prairie into the machine which can cause a combine to bind up. Combines are made to move corn, soy, wheat and other monocrops.

The harvest looks like this when the prairie has a lot of forbs in it. If you harvest an area with invasive weeds you get those too. We avoid areas with lots of the tall grasses or weedy goldenrods. We tend to harvest from a handful of plantings annually. A combine produces lots of what you got. For our new plantings we use our precious hand harvested seed. We don’t use much of this product in our new plantings. The combine mix has several dozen species and it is good for certain situations, and we trade it with conservation partners.

You are looking down at the grain tank of the combine. There are two augers at the bottom with metal covers hovering over and therefore hiding the augers. If you take the auger covers off the augers will bind from the prairie material, belts will smoke, wrenches will be weilded. If you leave the auger covers on the mix won’t go into those augers unless you continuously poke at the mix. This we do and use the ten foot long two inch white PVC pipe you see. It takes about 30 minutes to fill the tank, and about the same time to get it out of the tank into the grain wagon.

We unload into one of several old grain wagons. We cut a hole in the wagons and installed a perforated drier tube with the red fan which allows the seed to dry in the wagon, saving us a step of unloading damp seed and reloading dry seed a few days later. I see retailer Dultmeier makes a drier fan and I hope to try those as these red ones have motors that are failing early.

This is looking down in the grain wagon at the white perforated metal seed drier tube. I recently added the black 4 inch diameter perforated black tube because we had some very damp seed that was struggling to dry. This seems to work better.

Keeping it simple is always good. Scissors and buckets are our main harvesting tools. Above, Becky Flack Neal is pulling a Prairie Habitats seed stripper back in 2003. That machine still harvests annually for us.

About Grassland Restoration Network blog published by Bill Kleiman.

Bill Kleiman's daytime job is manager of Nachusa Grasslands. We are looking for guest authors on various topics of grassland habitat restoration. Contact me with your ideas or drafts.
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