Prairie seed planting machines

by Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands

I first saw a picture of an old pull-behind seeder Chris Helzer was using in Nebraska and I started looking for one.  We now have three of these drop seeders.  If you buy one get one that has been stored in a shed.

These seeders have a rotating mixer in the bottom of the hopper.  They have adjustable holes in the bottom to set a seed rate.  The tires turning rotates the mixer.  Everything needs lots of grease.

Below is a photo of a test where I sprayed glue on paper and ran the drop seeder over it one time to see how it spread the seed. I liked the results.

Below Nachusa crew are planting a big field to prairie with four seeders.  The orange cone helps us line up.

A loader is typically needed to lift the seeder to a trailer. Russ Brunner taught me you can unload by slowly going back and forth, each time moving a foot towards the rear.  I assume going back up the trailer would be harder.

Below is a small version by James Alwill with aerators for a bit of disturbance.

We also have a Vicon pendulum seeder that we use for areas up to a few acres.  These are good for areas with stumps, brush and other obstacles.  We extended the mixer rod inside the hopper to keep the seed from bridging.

Jay Stacy and Dee Hudson loading a mix.

Below is that same test with the Pendulum seeder.  Good results.  The seed does not fling far from the pendulum seeder so your passes back and forth need to be tight.

We have also used air seeders which work well, but loading a seed mix at their plant spills precious seed.   Using an end loader in the field might work better. These contractors tend to be a bit busy to deal with our small fields.  We got tired of waiting.





Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Control of reed canary grass

By Bryon Walters, Conservation Contractor, near Mendota Illinois

In early Spring 2018, I wanted to reduce Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea) in a very nice, perpetually wet seep area. This area in late May will be solid Skunk Cabbage, Marsh Marigolds, Blue Joint and Sedges. I wanted to hit the RCG as it was 6-10” high and before the natives sprawled about.

I made a broadcast spray mix consisting of Aqua Glyphosate @ 2% plus Imazapyr (Habitat) @ 1%. It’s vital to add an Aquatic Surfactant to the mix. About 0.25%. That’s 1/4 of 1%.

I adjusted my nozzle to spray a very narrow cone pattern so I could pinpoint my spraying of Reed Canary Grass growing in between existing Skunk Cabbage and Marsh Marigolds. Keep in mind that this is a non-selective, very unforgiving mix. If you accidentally spray something good, immediately snip off the sprayed leaf. These areas had standing water in between plants. Working in a deliberate pattern, I started in the far back corner of the seep, walking back out of the sprayed areas. Do not walk through areas that you just sprayed. I would return 7 days later and I could see yellowing of the Grass clumps I sprayed. Just as importantly, I could see the bright green of the clumps I missed. I then sprayed those green clumps. Returning again in another 7 days, I only had to go in where I saw green clumps that were missed, twice. It happens when you spray a several acre plot that has lots of fallen trees and obstacles to work around.

It’s a good feeling to leave the area for the season after seeing all dead or dying Reed Canary Grass.

These spots will remain bare for most of the year.

The following year, Spring 2019, as to be expected, there were a few new green clumps of RCG. They were treated in the same fashion.

The important part is to work slow and methodically. You can greatly reduce Reed Canary Grass in an area using this method. The natives will quickly fill in the void of the dead RCG.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Siberian elm controlled by basal bark herbicide

20% garlon 4 in basal bark oil sprayed at the base of invasive Siberian elm, Ulmus pumila, kills these small elm trees growing in our prairie planting.  Above is one dead elm.  There is a small ring of dead, or at least wilted, herbaceous plants at the base.

Near this prairie planting, there are a few big Siberian elm trees that lofted seeds across acres. We keep top killing them with annual fire and they keep re-sprouting. Last year the crew applied a small amount of basal bark herbicide to thousands of these shrub sized trees and they appear to have all died.

Below is an untreated Siberian elm:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Nachusa Grasslands Fire Report 2018 2019

Link below should take you to our fire report which has data, maps, photos, videos and lessons learned. – Bill Kleiman


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

New Date!! GRN workshop August 20-21, 2019

Hold the date!  We discovered that there are large events in Madison on our original date.  Hotels were full or rates raised a lot.  So we moved back a week to August 20-21.  Please mark your calendars

University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum

Grassland Restoration Network workshop

August 20-21, 2019

Widely recognized as the site of historic research in ecological restoration, the Arboretum includes the oldest and most varied collection of restored ecological communities in the world. Come for two days of learning and networking at the home of historic Curtis and Greene prairies, with field trips to area grassland restorations.

More information will follow on this blog site.  Follow us to get these updates and other posts from your GRN colleagues.  For now, mark your calendars.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Using Rice Hulls as a Carrier for Prairie Seeding

By: Julianne Mason, Restoration Program Coordinator, Forest Preserve District of Will County

We have been using rice hulls as a carrier for our native seedings and loving the results!  I first got the idea to try rice hulls from this USDA technical note [link to]   I’ve tried various carriers over the years, primarily cereal grains like annual oats and rye, but here’s why rice hulls seem to work well:

  • Rice hulls are light and fly out of the broadcast spreader about as far as native seed. More aerodynamic carriers like annual oats fly farther and give the operator a false sense of how wide the native prairie seed is being spread;
  • Rice hulls seem to keep very small seeds (like rushes, wool grass, etc.) from falling out of the seed mixture all at once, and make them more evenly distributed across the field. This is especially beneficial for wetland seed mixes, which tend to have a lot of small seeds;
  • Since they are light, rice hulls are a much nicer carrier for hand broadcasting. Also, less weight in the broadcast spreader makes it less likely for pins to shear;
  • For our minimally cleaned prairie seed, rice hulls help the fluffy, stick-filled mass of seed to flow better through the seeder, and they reduce bridging and clumping; and
  • Rice hulls are cheaper than cereal grains, when you just need a carrier and not a cover crop.

Here in the Midwest, unbroken rice hulls are available in compressed 50 pound bales directly from Riceland or from various on-line distributors like A.M. Leonard.  We’ve been using 10 pounds of rice hulls per acre as a carrier for initial seedings, and 5 pounds of rice hulls per acre for lighter overseedings.  Also fabulous:  mixing the seed and rice hulls in a concrete mixer, which works really well!

Caption:  Sorting bags of seed for mixing.

Caption:  We used to mix seed by hand, mixing it with pitch forks and shovels on a concrete floor.  A very dusty job!

Caption:  The rice hulls are compressed and expand when the bale is opened.  I highly recommend putting the rice hull bale in a 55-gallon plastic drum before slashing the sides of the bale open with a knife.

Caption:  Photo of our restoration ecologist, Nick Budde, loading native seed and rice hulls in the concrete mixer.

Caption:  We keep a poly bag strapped over the mouth of the concrete mixer while the seed is mixing.  It keeps seed and dust from flying out.

Caption:  Once mixed, the seed and rice hulls are dumped out into the poly bag.

Caption:  View of rice hulls mixed with very clean seed bought from a commercial nursery.

Caption:  View of rice hulls mixed with our minimally processed native seed.

Caption:  View of seed and rice hulls broadcast onto snow cover.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Native Bees and Honey Bees – Are They Compatible? by Bill Glass

Bill Glass, photo above, is the author of this post:

When I worked as the ecologist at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, every couple of years we’d get a request from a beekeeper to put out honey bee hives at Midewin. The beekeeper was looking for a safe, productive place for the hives. A place where there was a good source of nectar and pollen and free of pesticides. A natural area seems the ideal place, at least to the beekeeper. We always struggled with these requests. We just didn’t have enough information to make an enlightened decision. Fortunately the Prairie Plan we were working under stated that no non-native animals should be introduced and we followed this plan to keep honey bees out. We just felt we should be promoting native bees and the honey bees could be competition.

Recently, the Xerces Society sponsored a workshop on Best Management Practices for Pollinators at the 2019 Natural Areas Conference in Bloomington, Indiana. Most of the talks centered on bees because they are such good pollinators and they actively move pollen around the landscape. Pollination by most other pollinators is accidental although many flowers have adaptations to improve the chances of pollination.  The presentations covered the relationships between native bees and honey bees. Had I heard these talks previously I could have used this research to support our decision for not allowing honey bees in restored prairies. Here are some facts I learned. Four potential risks were presented.

  1. Competition with native bees. Studies have shown that honey bees do complete with native bees and can displace native bees. A study by Goulson (2003) showed that a single honey bee hive consumes 20-130 lbs./year of pollen, pollen that is no longer available to native bees. Some studies have shown neutral effects. Unfortunately most of the studies don’t show a causal relationship for the decline of native bees in competition with honey bees. Even without a mechanism for the decline, it appears there is competition between native bees and honey bees.
  2. Disease transmission to native bees. As with competition, transmission of disease is something for natural areas managers to worry about. Although a few studies have shown a clear mechanism or causal relationship for disease transmission, most studies haven’t.
  3. Risks to native plant communities. Studies have suggested that some plants benefit from honey bees doing most of the pollination while other plants may be harmed. Additionally honey bees may preferentially pollinate non-native invasive plant species helping these pests spread into natural areas.
  4. Risk to other wildlife. This pertains to black bears getting habituated to raiding honey bee hives and increasing bear-human interactions. This is not something I had to worry about.

So to answer the question are native bees and honey bees compatible – in my mind they probably aren’t compatible in natural areas. With that said there is nothing wrong with honey bees for crop production and there may be local reasons to allow hives into natural areas. Site managers just need to make informed decisions whether honey bee hives in a natural areas fits their management goals. For more information the Xerces Society has a publication An Overview of the Potential Impacts of Honey Bees to Native Bees, Plant Communities, and Ecosystems in Wild Landscapes: Recommendations for Land Managers.

The Xerces Society publishes management recommendations to protect pollinators for land managers and other pollinator-related resources. Most of these publications are in PDF formate and can be downloaded at the Xerces Society website, under resources.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment