Friday, January 20, 2012

Restoration of Commons Ford: Progress Report

The arrival of cooler weather has spurred the restoration process at Commons Ford. With each passing day, the site is approaching the day when the native prairie seeds will be returned to the soil. When the restoration process was begun, the 40 acre site was covered in invasive grasses and shrubs. In the past, shrub growth here was limited by periodic fires, which used to sweep across the state in regular patterns. With the arrival of European settlers, fires began to be suppressed due to both safety issues and the monetary damage they would cause to crops, cattle and property.

In addition to the loss of fire, the widespread practice of planting exotic grass species has also had an impact on the native prairie ecosystems. Commons Ford, in its state prior to restoration, was the perfect example of what happens when a prairie system is disrupted by a combination of loss of fire and invasion by exotic plants. The woody plants, mainly mesquite, had taken over the prairie. Invasive grasses, namely Johnson grass, Bermuda grass and King Ranch Bluestem dominated the plant composition.

Here is a picture of the prairie, pre-restoration....

And here is a picture of it today....

The prairie is now in the process of being tilled and disked. This process breaks up the soil, which serves multiple purposes. First, it helps to break up and kill any remaining live roots. Further, it aerates the soil, inundating it with oxygen. This gives newly planted seeds the best chance of succeeding and taking over the prairie patch.

The disking and tilling is done using this machine, which is called a mole board plow.

The mole board plow process is then following by disking with a different device which smoothes the soil, preparing it for seeding. The smooth soil ensures direct contact with the seeds.

Seeding is scheduled for late March, early April. It will be exciting to see what changes this spring will bring!