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Frost seeding works to restore prairie 

January 1, 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR. Only 364 days left until 2012 arrives. So get ready for another great year in the great outdoors.

What a contrast: dispersing seeds onto the snow ... and seeing what results will likely appear later in the summer of 2011. I trust that today's images will help you endure another winter. I for one look forward to another exciting time as mother nature transforms the surface of the land with native plants, flowers and the wildlife that will find food and nesting cover in its midst.

I thought you would enjoy seeing something green, in this case prairie flowers and grasses at the Marietta Sand Prairie, a 229 acre complex located about 2 miles west southwest of Albion. The successful restored segment with its black-eyed susans was part of a frost seeding endeavor in December 2006. And look what it turned into the following summer. Since then, the restored prairie has continued to improve in diversity of native plant life.

Article Photos

Marshall County Conservation Board Operations Supervisor drives a tractor with attached seed hopper over an 11 acre segment of the Marietta Sand Prairie. The source of the seeds was from hand harvesting collected last year by an enthusiastic group of volunteers. In addition, other local genotype seeds were also available. Now those seeds are lying dormant under a blanket of snow but alive and well. During this winter, the seeds will slowly settle through the snow onto the soil surface and then when the warm sun of spring arrives, will be ready to begin growing. Today’s color photo is also from the Sand Prairie in an area frost seeded in December 2006.

The tractor and its attached seed hopper filled with native grasses and forbs is getting some field work done early. Even though the seed dispersal is taking place in December 2010, the real growth will begin in April, 2011 when the seeds germinate and begin to set down roots. Seeding prairie in the winter is why the term 'frost seeding' is used. The process has been proven to work for those hardy native plants that once covered 85 percent of the State of Iowa prior to agricultural development.

Dispersal of prairie seeds onto the snow surface has several advantages. First, the tractor operator can easily see where the seed has been broadcast. His tire tracts in the snow are easy to follow. More than 100 pounds of seed mix was applied this way as the tractor was guided back and forth across the land to insure an even distribution of the valuable little seeds.

Second, with the seed on the snow surface, a little process that is terribly important to grasses takes place. It is called scarification, the repeated freeze/thaw cycle over the course of the next three months that is a requirement of the seeds to enable germination. It is one of the tactics that Mother Nature uses to insure the viability of native seeds.

Third, as the winter progresses, the seeds will absorb heat energy from the sun on clear days and melt their way down through the snow column to the soil surface. New snows will insulate the seeds. Eventually when the last of the snow melts in the spring, the seeds will be primed to germinate.

Frost seeding on the former crop land acres of this sandy farm is proof that winter seeding works. In December 2005, the first segment of reconstructive seeding took place on 11 acres. That was followed in December 2006 on 96 acres. Last months seeding covers an additional 11 acres. Plans are to finalize the remaining 51 acres in December 2011.

The Marietta Sand Prairie Preserve was acquired in June 1983. In September 1984, its nomination into the State Preserves System was formally dedicated. This beginning 17 acre tract of land is like an antique road show jewel of great value. It's 250 species of plants, some of them rare and endangered, are remnants from past geological times as well as survivors of the tall grass prairies that dominated Iowa's landscape for thousands of years. Congrats to the Marshall County Conservation board members and staff for having the foresight to make native prairies and reconstructed prairies part of their mission.


DEER SEASONS continue with the late muzzleloader time frame of now through Jan.10. Up to this point, approximately 110,000 deer have been reported through the harvest reporting system. This number is 6.4 percent lower (about 7,000 deer) than last year at this time. This is due in part to management goals for more and more counties coming in line with what DNR biologists have set as goals. Each year for the past 5 years, the overall deer herd has been lowering through the selective management of female deer. By the time all the deer seasons are finished in late January, Tom Litchfield who is the DNR deer biologist, will have a much better feeling for and the numbers to back it up of deer herd goals. It takes time for wildlife managers and hunter partners to achieve the stable numbers that the public is willing to live with. Even so, selected 'hot spots' will continue to see pressure applied as needed. Stay tuned.


One of the first cabin fever great getaways is next weekend, Jan. 7, 8 and 9 in Des Moines. It is the Iowa Sportsman Outdoor Show hosted at the State Fairgrounds Varied Industries Building. More than 250 booths will be open to inspect products and services. World Record Archer Randy Oitker will attempt to break his existing World Record. There will be seminars, speakers and social time. Hours are 2 to 9 p.m. on Friday with ladies free after 5 p.m. Saturday hours are 9 am to 6 p.m. and Sunday is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for youth ages 8 to 12. Kids ages 7 or less are free.


This scribe is an official deer antler measurer for the State of Iowa. And so far I have completed several tapings of the bones that buck deer grow on top of their head. Reminder: The Marshall County Conservation Board will have its deer antler measuring seminar and program on February 22, 2011 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Conservation Center at the GrimesFarm. See you there for sure. Come see some excellent deer even if you did not collect one yourself during the past seasons.


Operators of SNOWMOBILES need to adhere to a basic tenant of landowner respect. You need advance permission to ride on private property that is not your own. Just because there is snow everywhere does not mean it is okay to drive anywhere. The snow has brought out numerous complaints of trespass by operators of snow machines.

There are great places to ride. The frozen Iowa River is the best as it courses its way through the county. The Heart of Iowa Trail is also open for snow riders as is the bike path paralleling highway 330.

Ride safe, ride smart and ride only where you have permission. Respect private property.


"Whooo's Eating Whom?" is the topic for the Jan. 8 from 9 to 11 a.m. session of Uncle Ikes Nature Program at the GrimesFarm & Conservation Center. This program for children in first through fifth grades and their family members will discover who's the predator and who's the prey as they become a feathered predator and dine owl-style.

Weather permitting; enjoy an afternoon on the trails in the winter wonderland at the Grimes Farm on cross-country skis or snowshoes on Jan. 8 from 1 to 3 p.m. Bring your own or the MCCB has a limited supply available for use. Basic instruction will be provided.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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