Monday, June 29, 2009

Lead plant

One thing that I have noticed since the burn is that the lead plant did not grow back the same way.
Typically, leaves sprout from the old branches. It usually looks like a dead branch late into the spring before the little leaves show up.
This year, the lead plant in the burned area has gown all new branches from the roots. The old branches died in the burn. The new branches are already as long as the old ones, but they are soft and pliable, not woody like the old ones. They are already budding and should bloom soon.
By the way - lead plant (also known as Devil's Shoestring) got its name because the roots are so tough, early pioneers claimed that they broke the plows.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Turtles, turtles everywhere

Last night we saw a painted turtle laying eggs. She was digging a muddy hole with her back legs. We spotted her easily since she was right in the middle of the road. We watched her for a few minutes, then left her alone.
We drove along near what I call the "Loon pond" and saw yet another turtle. This one was on her way back to the pond after laying eggs. We could tell because she had fresh mud on her back legs and shell. We not find her nest.
When we finished looking around the prairie, we went back to where we saw the first turtle. She was gone, but we could see where she buried her eggs.
Now we'll watch over her nest for the next 10 weeks.
Painted turtles mate between May and July and usually lay 2 sets of eggs. I wonder if it is coincidence or if there is a reason we saw 2 last night. Temperatures are hot now after a cool spring and we have had some rain after a dry spring. Whatever the reason, it sure has been fun!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Porcupine grass

Porcupine grass is one of my favorites. (I have lots of favorites.) It is a cool season grass so it shows up much earlier than the other typical prairie grasses. The best part is the seeds. The seeds themselves are long and covered with tiny barbs - just like porcupine quills. Then they have really long tails. Not only do the tails make the seeds easy to to throw like darts (if you throw them at your companions, the sharp seeds stick to their clothing) but they actually screw the seeds into the ground. Yep- as the tails dry, they twist. When they get wet, they straighten again. This twisting action literally screws the seeds into the ground.
After the burn, it is easy to see the porcupine grass. The seeds are getting ready to release any time now.

Another interesting note, the part of the property that we burned last year is full of sweet clover. That is typical the second year after a burn.

Prairie Turnip

Tonight we dug a prairie turnip. Psoraela esculenta is the latin name. It is also called Indian Breadroot, Pommes Des Terres, and Timpsula. The Prairie Turnip was probably the most important wild food gathered by Native Americans who lived on the prairies.  In 1805 the Lewis and Clark expedition observed plains Indians collecting, peeling, and frying prairie turnips. The Lakota women told their children, who helped gather wild foods, that prairie turnips point to each other. When the children noted which way the branches were pointing, they were sent in that direction to find the next plant.  This saved the mothers from searching for plants, kept the children happily busy, and made a game of their work.  Prairie turnips were so important; they influenced selection of hunting grounds.  Women were the gatherers of prairie turnips and their work was considered of great importance to the tribe. For more information, visit

Anyway, we dug down about 4 inches into the ground and pulled out the egg-shaped root. We peeled back the outer husk and took a bite. Even the girls had a taste. It tasted kind of woody, but would probably be pretty tasty  boiled with spices. 

Poppy and I dug one several years ago, but it tasted AWFUL. We have since learned that they must be harvested in the spring instead of the fall. So we decided to try it again - and this time it was a success. It would be interesting to try to grow them in the garden, but it would take several years to grow the tubers to an edible size. 

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Last weekend, Poppy saw 6 baby skunks running around next to the barn. They were so cute! I was happy to get a few pictures of them. After snapping this shot, I knelt down and put my hand out. One came up and almost touched my hand, but we startled each other. It put its tail up, but did not spray me - thank goodness!
Of course, they are no longer with us as baby skunks would just grow up to be big skunks.

Weather note: We had 2 inches of rain in one hour yesterday afternoon. There was almost 4 inches of water in our bucket. Along with the rain, we had pea sized hail. 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Snapping turtle

  We had quite an adventure tonight on our prairie drive. Dark clouds were gathering and it looked like we were going to have a big storm. The clouds passed without giving rain, but they added drama to the evening.

The highlight of the night was an encounter with a BIG snapping turtle. It was hanging out in the road near the apple tree. The shell was covered in moss and mud. It was about 2 feet long. I was surprised to pointed bumps along its tail. It looked like a stegosaurus! 
Poppy nudged it with his foot and it lunged at him. I jumped and both of my daughters were a little frightened. (The girls were not near the turtle and were not in any danger.) We left the turtle where it was and continued on our way. We saw several rooster pheasants and a doe with a fawn.

Blooming on the prairie: Bedstraw, hoary puccoon, vetch, windflowers, prairie turnip, golden alexander, and porcupine grass.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Buffalo Berries

We found LOTS of buffalo berries / prairie plums tonight on the prairie. The plants were easy to spot after the burn. Most years we have difficulty finding the plants in the tall grass. 
My 21 month old daughter ate about a dozen of them. They taste like fresh peas and have a delightful crunch. What a treat!

By the way - this photo was taken in the burn area. Everything is growing back beautifully!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What is growing now

Finally made it out to the prairie again. It has been almost 2 weeks since my last visit. The burned area has grown so thick, it is hard to see the difference between the burned area and the mown firebreaks.
The Windflowers are blooming all over along with Golden Alexanders, Hoary Puccoon, Vetch, and Sandwort. The Porcupine Grass is getting tall and will soon release its long sharp seeds.
The corn is about 6 inches tall on the food plots. We plant corn just for the wild animals to eat. A deer and 2 pheasants were enjoying the fields tonight.
We also plant a little bit of sweet corn in one of the food plots. Some little critter decided to eat the seed and not wait for the full ears. There are little holes all along the corn rows. We are willing to share, but are not happy to share the seeds! Hopefully, we'll still get some corn for ourselves.

The main reason for tonight's visit was to try to catch bugs with Tori's new net. We caught a few bugs with the net, but we were caught by lots of wood ticks.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Crop circles

Around here, crop circles are made by Center Pivot Irrigators. Basically, they are giant sprinklers that rotate in a circle as they water an entire field worth of crops. 

We have one on one of our fields. The field is a "quarter section" or 160 acres. It is 1/2 of a mile on each side. That means the irrigator is 1/4 of a mile long. It uses 650 gallons of water per minute. That is a LOT of water.

The farmer renting our field turned on the big sprinkler today. This is earlier than usual, but since we just experienced the 3rd dried May on record, he needed it. At the rate we are going, the irrigator is not going to get much rest.

It is interesting that conditions are so dry, yet Pope County is one of the Counties eligible for flood relief for flooding earlier this spring.

These images came from Wikipedia.