A few weeks ago (mid-March) we took advantage of the drier conditions and perfect winds to burn a few sections of our prairie. Its something we’d been planning for and looking forward to since last fall. We knew, once we decided we wanted areas of tall-grass on our property, that we’d have to manage it somehow. We’ve always figured that would be controlled burns, but this is the first year we’ve actually done it.
The primary area in need was the second orchard, the grasses and natives around the trees had gotten rather bushy and tall, but wasn’t particularly interesting, diverse, or providing much for habitat. We also chose to burn four additional areas on the hillside to regenerate the area and keep the overall prairie more diverse.
We chose a day with some wind, but not too much (between 5-15mph is recommended) and it had been dry for a few day, so there was a good mix of moisture near the soil but dry grass tops. We got our burn permit set, then got to it.
We started by using rakes and garden forks to fluff up the dead grass that had been matted down by the snow. Then we watered the perimeter of the area we were working on to minimize wayward flames. Then we used our flame weeder to get the fire started.
We had watched numerous videos and how-tos about DIYing a prairie burn. The key takeaways were to burn INTO the prevailing wind and to burn downhill. With that in mind (and 5 full water cans on hand) we got to burning.
I can happily say that it went really well, but even better (and dare I say easier to manage) than I had thought it would. Burning into the wind made for a slow moving fire that burned well, but didn’t scorch everything in its path. It was easy to direct the fire using rakes and water around the bases of trees.
Here (above) you can see the level/intensity of the burn. There is still plenty of material near the ground and not every ounce of dried grass was burned. The short grass paths hardly burned at all, and the fire wasn’t intense enough to damage things like black raspberry canes.
This is a better view (although it is a panorama so its a bit distorted) of the other areas we burned. The hillside is divided up into something like 12 irregularly shaped sections, all divided by mowed paths. We tried to stagger the burns and will continue to tackle the other areas in coming years.
You can already see how differently the burned areas are growing so far in this photo from last week. I did some seed scattering (Echinancea, Anise Hyssop, and Rattlesnake Master) after the burn so I hope to see, eventually, some interesting native plants popping up amongst the grasses. As insurance I’ve also sown a few natives in plugs that I can to add into the mix in the coming weeks.
I’ll continue to keep you posted on how the burned and un-burned areas fare this year. Rich wants to try a summer burn (recommended to jumpstart non-grass plants) so we might try that too.
Stay safe out there and wear your masks!