Conservation progress takes time and patience. My wife, Janet, and I have the experience to confirm this truth. We have seen beautiful places where pasture has been restored to native grassland, and we decided to try it on our farm in Carter County.
Our farm is devoted to livestock pasture and hay land, typical of those in the region. We do have something a bit unusual: a 3-acre “sinkhole” pond in a pasture, and this feature caught the eye of our private land conservationist, Don Forester. With Don’s help, we developed a plan to protect the natural pond and restore the acreage around it to native cover. In 2007, we fenced the livestock away from the pond and 11 acres, and we buried a supply pipe from the pond to a watering tank set up in our pasture, outside the protected area. We sprayed and disked the acreage, brought it up to soil test with lime and fertilizer, and planted a mix of native grasses and forbs. OK! Mission accomplished … job over, right!? Well, not exactly.
When the rains came and the bare field turned green with life, we were excited to see the new plants sprouting. Our excitement turned to dismay when we realized that most of what we saw was emerging crabgrass and not the native plants we expected. Clover also appeared in competition with the natives. This was not good news either, but we felt some consolation that rabbits, deer and other wildlife would use the clover. Alas, we did not anticipate the presence of so many undesirable, dormant seeds in the soil.
As spring became summer, the crabgrass grew so dense it was hard to imagine that anything else could grow with or under it. But, a close look revealed that some of the native plants did germinate and live. To give them a fighting chance, we set the brush hog high and mowed the crabgrass.
All we could do was wait to see if more native seeds would germinate the second year. In the spring, the good news was that the crabgrass was less dominant, and many more desirable plants appeared. The bad news was that horse weeds emerged and outgrew everything else as the season progressed. In spite of this competition, a variety of the desired native forbs and grasses did germinate and grow, although the density of the stand was not what we would like. It was progress, however small. We knew from the beginning that restoring native cover requires patience in the first years, and several seasons may pass before the stand resembles the vision with which we started.
In January, while the acreage was dormant, we set it afire to clear the debris and kill weed seeds. Now, a third growing season is about to begin, and we are hoping for a year of real progress, but we have learned not to expect too much, too fast.
We remain committed to our vision of a beautiful landscape of native grass, wildflowers and forbs surrounding the special pond. For now, wildlife use the area the way it is, and the pond water is clear and clean. Our friends and neighbors tease us by calling it our “weed patch,” but they too have enjoyed the increased presence of deer, rabbits, quail and waterfowl. We believe the vision will be realized and, if we are patient, beauty will emerge that will require little management for years to come.
John Hoskins, director
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