Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Planting A Meadow For Wildlife

There are likely several approaches that work quite well in planting a meadow for wildlife, but over the years I have adopted an approach which we shall discuss today.

One must have access to land and equipment in order to pursue a project such as this. I use a farm tractor to prepare the land. First it is plowed and then disked to work the soil into suitable condition. At that point I put seed into a broadcast seeder which mounts on the tractor's three point hitch and plant the basic mixture which serves as a cover crop during the first year. After this planting, I then repeat the process using Ladino Clover which will make an excellent forage crop during the second year.

If one has a grain drill, these operations can be combined into one operation, but drills are so expensive as to preclude buying one solely for this purpose. Many use a no-till drill to perform the same function. In this case the land is sprayed with a herbicide which kills the original vegetation and then the ground is seeded with a drill which is able to place the seed into the earth. I have never felt comfortable with this process as I do not like the idea of killing vast amounts of vegetation with chemicals. It doesn't seem that this is best for wildlife or humans either! This approach has taken over much of modern agriculture and is actually pushed as a soil conservation concept. A Plow turns up the soil, leaving no root network, and gives the maximum potential for soil erosion if done improperly. Treating the soil with chemicals leaves the root system intact and thus prevents soil erosion.

My favorite mixture is composed of oats and Essex dwarf rape for cover crop. The oats grow tall and ripen with a head of seeds, which is the same as the light colored seeds in the picture below.
This crop is a favorite food of whitetail deer, turkeys, and many varieties of birds. It usually ripens sometime in July. Essex dwarf rape is the small black seed, it is primarily a forage crop for the whitetails. In an area of low deer population this plant will also develop a seed head in addition to providing forage throughout the winter. A large amount of it will likely re-emerge in the following spring. In an area with a large deer population such as where this is planted, it is mostly eaten by mid-summer.

Essex Dwarf Rape and Oats

Perhaps the key ingredient for my intended use is Ladino Clover which grows in the understory of the grain field during the first year, but turns into a carpet of nutritious grass the following year.

Ladino Clover Seed

Oats and Rape-soon after sprouting. The oats are the long, thin stalks

Ladino Clover in the second year

The above photo shows a meadow, as I like to see it in late spring and early summer. A meadow such as this should host a thriving wildlife and insect community.

The tall plants are thistles. They give my farmer friends nightmares and they can't understand why I don't remove them. The thistles will provide food to bees and butterflies when it blooms and gives superb photo opportunities, but the farmers are correct in their case as these cause problems when they grow in hay or pasture fields. They may also be a problem if they are not controlled in a wildlife meadow. They may become so thick as to kill the grass. I usually implement a judicious mowing policy to keep the thistles and tall grasses under control. It is a delicate balance. If the grass and thistle, are too thick and tall it is impossible to see the wildlife that visits, but a field that is mowed closely provides little food for wildlife and is an unattractive background for photographs as well.

Mixture Planting Information:
Oats: 2 bushel per acre
Essex Dwarf Rape: 2 lbs per acre
Ladino Clover: 8 lbs. per acre
Fertilizer: about 200lbs. per acre

This should be planted from early April through early May if possible to have the best chance of succeeding should the weather turn dry in the summer.


Andrea said...

What an interesting post.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Willard: That is a very educational post and I enjoyed the pictures. I have seen this on TV in the South.

I saw two deer this morning on the way to work. One was a buck with antlers growing in velvet. It was very foggy so I got pictures of fog. They wanted to cross the road and didn't like me in their way.

Mississippi Nature said...

Wow, I have found someone who has a simular understanding and standard as I.

DeeMom said...

A wealth of information, VERY interesting

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, Willard. I got information several years ago on recreating a kind of wildlife habitat in a small space like my backyard but I never did go through with it. I do remember that there were several kids of grasses that were used. Big Blue Stem, Blue Stem and the others I don't recall. Anyway, I even bought some of the seed but ended up scattering it along the bike path in the country.

The thing I remember most about the preparation was to just let the lawn go and don't touch it. I forget the number of years but over time it would eventaully turn into a hardwood forest, primarily oak.
There is a sequence of events that takes place starting with everthing under the sun the birds drop off and ending with things squirrels and other animals bring in.

I find this back to Nature kind of environment makes a lot more sense than mowing once or twice a week.

Tom said...

Excellent post Willard,
We have a field at the back of our house.. many homes back onto this field. About 5 years ago I got the local concil to stop cutting the grass.. it is now a rough field where wildlife as done well. It is home to a red fox and goodness knows what else.. I love it.

Kerri Farley said...

Great post Willard!