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Spreading seeds another way to enjoy outdoors
The Nature Call: Time spending prepping seeds can be fulfilling
John Lawrence Hanson - correspondent
Dec. 14, 2022 6:00 pm
During late summer I attended a Master Gardener presentation in Center Point.
I heard in person real examples of small-scale prairie flower and grass plantings that I could mimic. As one person, anything I could do would have to be small scale.
My trap and skeet shotshell bag got a new job.
On a late autumn work break, my feet were in the ditch while my hand moved easily from seed head to pouch. It was a natural fit. Canada wildrye went in the outer pouch, little bluestem to the inside. Big bluestem seeds went in a bucket, indiangrass into a bag in the bucket. Switchgrass had its own bucket.
My motivation was a collision of many voices projected into my head and long held beliefs. The result was action to collect, prepare and then spread native prairie seeds.
What if I told you this month’s column was brought to you by Instagram? You ought to think I was joking because I don’t seem like that kind of guy — and officially I’m not. But, unofficially I look at it plenty. I heard its voices and I’m heeding several in particular.
My Instagram pal Kyle Lybarger at @nativehabitatproject — he doesn’t know me from Adam, good Instragrammers make you feel like you’re friends — evangelized for small-scale prairie and savanna restoration in northern Alabama. He knows trees, but he also knows that his locale, like Iowa, had a lot more prairie than forest.
Where there were trees, they were widely spaced and surrounded by tall grasses and flowers owing to frequent fire. Change the accent and he wouldn’t miss a beat in the Hawkeye state.
Alexis’ account at @blackforager was another inspiration that will have to get its own column. Since I like to eat and bum around the woods, I look to eat what I can find. And if I can’t find anything to eat, then I’ve discovered a space that needs some plantings to that end.
The two other Instagram messengers were memes. First, the guy who said, “You can just do stuff.” The second meme played on the anxiety about time travel that risks making a small change in the past that will profoundly change the future: ergo, make a small positive change today and reap large benefits in the future.
Native grass and flower seeds are abundant if you look. My bike rides and errand runs by car now double as scouting runs for places to pick, whether public parks or a roadside ditch. I’ve dumped my water bottle as a hasty container for blue false indigo seeds, biked out of my way for compass plant and parked funny to get some yellow coneflower heads.
The garage is a mess with my collections.
Lately I have been stripping seeds from my switchgrass cuttings. This column also is brought to you by the University of Iowa Orthopedic Surgery Center. I won’t be doing active outdoors stuff for a long time, so stripping seeds is something I can do.
When I’ve stripped enough seeds they go into an envelope and then in the refrigerator to stratify in cold temps for several months. No stratification means no germination.
The time spent preparing seeds is satisfying. The results are tangible and the effort allows for plenty of daydreaming.
I ponder where there will be a good spot to spread the seed, imagining the look of a realized prairie after years of predictable slow growth. Embracing the satisfaction of better habitat for native creatures and cleaner water.
Yet despite all the scientific benefits, prairies are just beautiful and that alone is reason enough. It’s a beauty that people in any physical state can enjoy.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion, teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and is past president of the Linn County Conservation Board.