To build biodiversity and the soil, we have transitioned crop ground to new prairie and expanded a prairie remnant with the help of the federal government and good ol’ fire.
Industrial agriculture has wiped out almost all of Iowa’s prairies but native plant enthusiasts and now some seed companies are collecting seed from the few remaining remnants and growing that seed collection into a collection the rest of us can purchase and plant ourselves. We hope to return the land to something that will rebuild the soil and reclaim the land from the industrial processes that have ravaged it over the last few decades. The root systems of native plants go far deeper, allowing for less soil erosion and more absorbency. Prairies draw and support a broad range of insects, mammals and birds that contribute to a healthy ecosystem.
In 2011 we took advantage of a federal government program to plant a native flower and grass mix on 15 acres of former corn and soybean fields, much of which was on hillside considered “highly erodible land.” In the summer of 2011 and once during the drought of 2012 we mowed to keep down the tall weeds and allow the natives to flourish. We expect to burn it all within the next two years.
Draco Hill also has a small upland remnant we have begun to restore. The remnant is part of less than 1 percent of all prairie that remains in Iowa since European settlement. Last year we burned it with the help of professionals and to see what kind of seed bank is hiding under years of cattle grazing and now many invasive species. By August we had 8-foot big blue stem when most hay was barely a foot tall. We’ve burned again this year and will see what else shows up.