We’ve been very busy collecting and processing native prairie seed for our pending restorations this fall. Seed picking officially started in July, although our two very competent Prairie Divas, Laura and Barb, brought in the first harvest in late May— Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum).
It’s been a good growing season and now the seed is flowing in. ‘Mass quantities’ hardly describes it. We are on track to find and pick 180 species for the 40 acres we will seed in November. For the volunteers who have been actively picking seed this year—a huge Thank You! For those who have not yet made it out to the prairies, pick a day that suits you and join us. We post the upcoming pick dates on our website daily.
When the seed hits the shed it is my duty to spread it out on drying tables and racks, built for the purpose. We have 10 tables and as many racks—and lately they are almost always full. When push comes to shove we will even spread seed onto sheets on the floor under the tables. (We are always looking for old sheets to use for this purpose and would welcome your donation.) We also have a greenhouse, donated by Fish & Wildlife, that we use as a giant solar dryer. It is very useful for the ‘juicier’ species that take a long time to crisp up. Seed must be bone dry before it can be stored for later thrashing and sowing.
I spend 2-3 hours every morning turning, fluffing and bagging seed. In addition I keep an eye on ripening seed of rare plants in my home garden and pick them as they mature. For the second year in a row we have been able to harvest lily seeds (Lilium michiganense) that came from a garden bed we established in 2008. It takes patience but the reward is spectacular. Did you know that there are 10,000 lily seeds per ounce? When the lily pods ripen they turn a lovely iridescent gold, as do the seeds. This year we were able to collect 5.4 ounces of pure seed. Last year the pods and seeds were perfect, but this year I noticed that some of them were host to a small green caterpillar that chewed its way into the pod and munched on the seed. The trials of the prairie gardener! --Rickie Rachuy