Across the countryside the different stages of cultivated crops create a living patchwork. Wheat is being harvested. In other fields the remaining stubble is being burned. Some fields lay bare and brown from our latest soaking and must dry out before the planting process resumes. In other locales soybeans are up to your boots, while the corn varies, but can measure thigh high. A few early fields are lucky enough to be towering and tasseling already. As I walk around Duck Creek I can see a different kind of multi-cropping system at work.
In April, the willows were blooming and the curly dock had emerged from the shallowly flooded marsh. Today the withered stalks of curly dock, lined with umbels of dark red-brown seeds, contrast with the bright green growth of the sedges and grasses rising up from the damp mud. Common plantain has been on surging below the willows around Blind 8 and finished flowering last week. Its smaller cousin, mud plantain, is currently underway displaying its delicate white petals on the water’s surface. They give way from their stems as my sloshing boots disrupt the still pools on the west side of the area. New growth of pickerelweed and thalia from last year’s plantings are spreading out across the restored sloughs. Here too blossoms and ripening seeds can be seen amid the steady hum of bumblebees. Along the edges of Pools 2 and 3, the white spikey spheres of buttonbush can be seen in full bloom as evidence of another plant peaking at the end of June.
The golden seed heads of the cool season Reed Canary grass are the most visible mature grass at this point in the season. Scattered about the narrow inflorescence of sprangletop are beginning to head out. Additionally, a few millet seed heads are early arrivals amongst the sea of green. It is the emerald backdrop that should be examined. Ranging from a few inches tall to boot height, a variety of sedges, smartweed, grasses, and bidens are staging to rise up in the following months. As the summer progresses, the rich green will become intermixed with new hues of burgundy, white, and yellow, marking the ripening of additional crop of foods.
As the growing season endures these plants will begin to wane and yet another crop will emerge. The precipitation from stalled hurricanes can stimulate a late cohort of toothcup, sprangletop, and millet prior to teal season. Although our sights are often set on the byproducts of the growing season as waterfowl season sets in, the total amount of food in seeds, tubers, and just plain old vegetative manner produced during the summer can be quite impressive all on its own. Granted, the sight I’ve described doesn’t mirror the straight field rows seen along the highway; however, this overlapping succession of growth is another approach to integrated cropping systems that has fed our migratory waterfowl and for thousands of years.