COVER CROPPING TO CREATE A SOIL COMMUNITY

Getting all the bare ground covered with growing things around Underhill House is a bit daunting.

wide-angle-from-lloyds-lane I’ve been spending my evenings with an ice pack against my back and Ibuprofen is my new best friend,  but we are making progress.

dike

Beyond the bird bath you can see the dike, which is seeded and lightly mulched with straw.

Our first step was to try transplanting a hedge of Red Osier Dogwood from our restored prairie to create more bird habitat.

That is a gratifying success.  They are doing so well that the deer are starting to eat them.  The deer browse started right after we mowed the tall grass that was crowding them.  I guess the deer saw that as putting them on a desert plate.  Sigh.  Hoping we won’t have to fence them.

The second project was to plant several trees and shrubs that will also be part of the bird habitat.  We got them from the University of Wisconsin Arboretum annual native plant sale.

  • American Plum Prunus Americana which has pungently sweet blossoms that result in edible plums
  • Black Chokeberry  Aronia melanocarpa which flowers and produces berries that are a bit astringent.  Birds don’t like them much – that’s good because when all the tasty berries are left and the winter is feeling harsh, then chokeberries become survival fair.
  • Highbush Cranberry Viburnum trilobum, which is noted for making a great hedge over time and attracting wildlife.
  • Pagoda Dogwood Cornus alternifolia, which is a very pretty little tree and it’s fruit is an important source of food for birds as they prepare for the fall migration.  (This is also the one that the deer like best, but so far they have only eaten a few branches.)

Then I planted the flats of native flowers that I  got at the same Arboretum plant sale.

My new native flower bed -- "before" shot.

My new native flower bed — “before” shot.

There aren’t too many areas in our yard that are ready for anything more than healing ground cover.  Our poor yard has been repeatedly dropkicked by one piece of heavy equipment after another.

Native wildflower bed beginning to grow!

Native wildflower bed beginning to grow!

But I felt compelled to jump right in and start a little nursery of prairie flowers right outside my office window.  It’s a protected spot (as far as the remaining heavy equipment projects are concerned.  So I’m taking my chances.

It is not very great soil, but I’m hoping they will make it.  They are prairie plants — hopefully their roots are tough.

  • Butterfly weed  Asclepias tuberosa
  • Prairie Smoke Geum triflorum one of my absolute favorites.
  • Prairie Blazing star Liatris pycnostachya
  • Red Milkweed  Asclepias incarnata
  • Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta
  • Columbine Aquilegia canadensis
  • Show Goldenrod Solidago speciosa
  • New England Aster Aster novae-angliae
  • Bergamot  Mondarda fistulosa
  • Pale Purple Coneflower Echinacea pallida

So far every single plant is hanging in there.  I’m dreaming of collecting  their seed and expanding their domain.  I spent several of my most formative childhood years in Illiopolis – the geographic center of Illinois – and I imprinted on big sky and prairie flowers. They are also (and more importantly than my own aesthetic) all great for native pollinating insects and humming birds.

To keep the water flowing where it should, our excavator built up a little dike running from the house toward the pond.  He built it out of really crap soil, so we added a few inches of top soil, and seeded it in with buckwheat and annual rye.  The plan is to cut it down before it goes to seed and work it into the soil before more permanent, native plantings this fall.

Removing extra gravel

Removing extra gravel

We filled this hole with the rest of the gravel.

We filled this hole with the rest of the gravel.

This morning we gave another section of the yard the same treatment.  Several days ago, our excavator helped us move out some gravel that had been put next to the house to help draining during building and then we added more topsoil and the same buckwheat/rye mix.

6pnu8aa9

Doug sows the seed mix.

Doug sows the seed mix.

I love tucking the little babies in under a sprinkling of straw.  We are putting the bales left over from our walls to good use.

I love tucking the little babies in under a sprinkling of straw. We are putting the bales left over from our walls to good use.

wide-view

We still have the heavy-equipment highway around the house that will not be seeded till the root cellar is done.

When this hole in the hill is a functioning root cellar, then the rest of the seeding will be done.

When this hole in the hill is a functioning root cellar, then the rest of the ground cover seeding can be completed.

It’s supposed to rain tonight.

Time to grow, ground cover.  Do your thing.  Insinuate your roots deep and start to uncompact this soil and fill it with your decaying matter to turn this hard pan back into a vibrant microbial community where the plants that come after you can thrive

I can hardly wait to see Underhill House ringed with happy plants!

Are you seeding in any areas this growing season?  I’d love to hear about your project.

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3 replies

  1. We’ve grassed some areas with a meadow mix, but are hanging on to others so we can collect our own local grass seed. We use buckwheat as a cover crop too, as well as to feed our chickens, they love it

  2. Just discovered I missed this post. How about an update to image of the “Native wildflower bed beginning to grow”.

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