This photo was taken last spring (2010), after a week of heavy rains. The water had actually subsided somewhat by this time – a few days earlier, this whole field had been at the bottom of a flowing creek. The view spurred serious contemplation of the feasibility of cropping this field; it had always been planted in the past, but its yields were significantly lower because of the occasional flooding and general dampness.
We considered our farm goals and decided that this might be an opportunity to create a space for increased biodiversity on the farm. We visited our local NRCS office to see if they could help us design a plan that would meet several goals at once:
- decrease flooding (or at least keep it from spreading)
- slow down flood waters to decrease erosion,
- create more “edges” (places where one kind of habitat meets another),
- provide a good food source for both native pollinators and honey bees throughout the season.
Our NRCS agent/biologist, Mark, brought the state forester in for a consultation that eventually helped us develop a wetland rehabilitation / wildlife habitat program that included planting three kinds of native trees and six native flowering shrubs – a total of more than 350 new seedlings!
Tree Planting Volunteer Day
We planted about 2/3 of the shrubs and a few trees last fall with our friend Nobie, and this spring we put out a call for help with the remaining planting of ~300 plants. To prep, we mowed (so we could see the ground under the dandelions), laid out the rows with flags at the recommended spacing, and rented a Bobcat to drill the holes so we wouldn’t break our backs.
The whole field seen from the hill near the road.
John got to be an expert at using the auger to drill holes.
We found out just a few days before the planned work day that our native plant supplier had his greenhouse blown down in the Great Blizzard of 2011, and most of the trees he was growing for us didn’t make it through the winter. Yikes. But then only two volunteers were able to make it out to the work day, so we rustled up about 130 trees and shrubs of the right varieties, and it worked out perfectly.
Emily (left) and Kat (right) hard at work planting a hackberry tree. Okay, okay, this photo was staged after we’d finished planting – we were just too busy to stop for a photo-op!
Shrubs planted this time around included choke cherries, serviceberries, red osier dogwood, and nannyberries. Along with the hazelnuts and elderberries we had put in last year, these should be a major source of nectar for pollinators. We also planted about 65 hackberry and swamp white oak trees, to join the few native Illinois pecans that we planted in the fall – many more of these to come!
Emily (left) worked hard for her money (or her meals, in this case), and Kat (right) found a frog (or maybe it’s a toad?). Sadly, there was no re-enactment of the “Frog Prince” fairy tale.
While Molly, Kat, and Emily laid out and planted the trees and bushes, John took charge of watering in each new plant with our mobile tank.
All in all, we planted over 130 trees in three hours and had time for a sumptuous lunch generously provided by the farm cook. Thank goodness for volunteers!
Mark arranged for us to get the rest of our swamp white oak and Illinois pecan trees for free from the state nursery in Topeka, Illinois, and I went down the next week to pick them up in my little car. Hopefully we’ll be planting those last 150 trees this week.
The Horner Tree Nursery was a really beautiful place – I wish I’d arranged to take a tour while I was there.