Early March we were blessed to have the perfect weather for a safe prairie burn. We had over a dozen friends and volunteers on hand to enjoy a beautiful experience honoring the transition from winter to spring.
Some big changes have taken place over the past year at Prairie Oaks, thanks to the dedicated and persistent hard work of many neighbors, friends, volunteers, and workers. This includes some major renovations to the shop: the installation of new lighting and insulation in all of the walls and ceiling, the construction of an attached greenhouse, and the organization of areas for woodworking, vegetable processing, and machinery repair.
Greenhouse planning and construction began in late 2017 and finished in the spring of 2019. The greenhouse is 14ft x 11ft (156 square ft) with built-in cedar planting boxes. The greenhouse was also installed with a Ground to Air Heat Transfer system (GAHT). With a GAHT system, the ground under the greenhouse is used as a battery to store heat sequestered from passive solar heat and thermal mass of the soil.
When the temperature inside the greenhouse reaches 80 degrees, a small fan kicks in to force hot air from the higher points of the greenhouse into plastic pipes that are coiled and buried 6 feet under the ground. If the temperatures exceed 90 degrees, an exhaust fan kicks in. These processes are controlled by thermostats. When temperatures drop below 60 degrees, the GAHT process is reversed by recalling the stored heat from underground. We also have a very small heater connected to a thermostat that kicks in if the temperatures fall below 55 degrees. While the temperature regulations are not fully perfected, we continue to experiment with this new system.
The Emerald Ash Borer has devastated many of our 600 ash trees, requiring us to fell many over the past year. The EAB is an invasive, wood-boring insect that specifically targets ash trees (Fraxinus spp.). The EAB is projected to kill nearly 100% of the 8.7 billion extant ash trees in North America. For more information on the EAB, visit the Iowa DNR page or the Emerald Ash Borer Information Network.
Although the EAB will continue wiping out ash trees, we we will do what we can to minimize the impact of the EAB on the rest of the ecosystem. The open spaces in the canopy will allow sunlight to reach the young oaks and walnut trees, which will eventually establish a new canopy. We continue to plant diverse tree species to ensure that the wildlife will be supported with ample habitat, shelter, and food.
Continued Tree Planting
This spring we have potted and planted 250 trees and shrubs, including hazelnut, high bush cranberry, hibiscus, arborvitae, redosier dogwood, white oak, shingle oak, red oak, paw paw, rose mallow, serviceberry, and pecan.
Got inspired late to plant over eighty hardwood trees this spring. This years focus was to add more bur and red oaks to the Savana. To introduce more fall color and interest to the nursery, three species of maples (Red Sunset, Northwood and Autumn Blaze) were plated on the hill west of the brown barn. Tulip Tree, Canada Red Choke Cherry and Crabapples were interspersed among the nine maples. To catch the rain water from this hill and the one on the north a small pond below the planting is being constructed by David. Sidra and Hilario helped plant the trees in the holes dug by David’s large two foot auger. Our record was 30 trees in one day.
Spring is definitely here, and we are working almost as hard as the bees.
Sidra already has many veggies and greens transplanted into the garden, including kale, collards, chard, cabbage, and broccoli. She is also raising some very eager tomatoes and peppers, as shown by the little green cotyledons they have put on display in the hoop house. Her experience working on production farms in Illinois guides her with confidence through the garden, giving us much needed insight for starting plants early.
Last week, Sidra, Moselle, Joyce, and David (our extremely helpful neighbor) planted bare root Contender peaches, Yellow & Gold Delicious apples, Stella & Montmercy cherries, and Stanley plums alongside the Lincoln pears in the orchard. We are considering planting pawpaws there as well. YUM!
Joyce & Tony have been teaching Sidra how to remove invasive species from the woodland and prairie, namely Multiflora Rose, Garlic Mustard, and Russian Olive. It is no easy task!
Moselle has been preparing the guesthouse to accommodate volunteers on-site. We have listed ourselves as hosts on HelpX and WWOOF websites. More hands on deck not only speeds processes along, it also gives us the opportunity to create community and to learn from each other.
Along with the buds, blooms, and first leaves, many critters are starting to emerge from their winter dens as well. Toads, rabbits, geese, deer, and one giant snapping turtle have already made their debuts.
In the woodland, we have been graced by the billowing tiny Dutchman’s Breeches, the whimsical Bluebells, and the unassuming Bloodroot. All bringing their own colorful palettes and scents. As Sidra said, it’s almost as if this place turned into a Japanese garden overnight!
Check back for updates as we keep planting, growing, and learning. Happy Spring!
“You say Iowa is severe and blight-bare, a dead cornfield in winter.
I say it is the red-tailed hawk, gliding in widening circles above frozen ground.
It is the bald eagle on the branches of a slumbering bur oak.
It is Orion’s Belt and Ursa Major, brilliant in the cold night sky, jewels among countless stars like sea foam on a dark ocean.
It is the icy hoofprint of deer in the pine wood, and it is the blue and red jays and cardinals, cheerful flashes of color in the somber late-winter palette.
It is the belly track of unseen mammals, dragging along their brown-grass paths between pond and cozy den.
It is a modest beauty, a world masked in subtlety.”
Sidra began working at Prairie Oaks earlier this month. She has been working at farms across the Midwest for a few years and has brought a multitude of skills, insight, and knowledge along with her.
2016 was a year of transition. A damaging storm came through the area in the late spring, bringing down many of the old bur oaks. Work was done on clearing fallen trees, pruning, cleaning up around existing structures, and further establishing campsites. New projects include building an ornamental natural stream by the meditation porch.
In the early fall of 2016, Prairie Oaks began a partnership with Phil Crandall of Crandall Farms. Five bee hives have been installed, and five more will be established pending success of the first group.
We are looking forward to new initiatives, events, and partnerships in 2017!
As September came to a close, Tony Singh completed the 500-mile “Walk for the Bees” along the Colorado Trail. Moselle completed 120 miles in the first 7 days before sustaining a knee injury, causing her to leave the trail early. The trail was not only physically challenging, as Tony recalls, it also tested mental and emotional strength through long periods of isolation.
Facing the void of isolation was often daunting, but it also opened the space and time for clear self-awareness, something we rarely have the opportunity to experience in our present-day society. As Tony explained, “I also recognized that my ability to control my surroundings and conditions is beyond me. For me, accepting and surrendering to a higher power is needed and is essential for me to make peace with my existence.”
As humans, we are ever-changing and adapting to the elements of nature that inform and shape the human experience. Being raw and unsheltered from such elements on the trail naturally leads to self-surrender and humility. This acceptance of the very humanness of our being leads to a powerful sense of freedom and peace. If we act while lucid of our relationship to these elements, we can evolve with the brilliance and clarity of self-aware action.
Thus far, the “Walk for the Bees” has raised $8,000, which Tony is matching, meaning a total of $16,000 has been raised. All proceeds will support programs at the Nahant Marsh Education Center in Davenport to raise awareness and action for the preservation of pollinator populations and the restoration of their habitats.
Donations are still being accepted and will continue to be matched up to $25,000. If you would like to contribute, send a check written out to the Nahant Marsh Education Center with a note that it is for the “Walk for the Bees” project. The address is 4220 Wapello Ave., Davenport, IA 52802.
Pollinators, such as bees, have been experiencing increasing pressure from the widespread usage of chemicals, from pesticides on croplands to weed killers on lawns. Bees pollinate nearly 80% of flowering crops, which constitute 1/3 of everything we eat. Bees as pollinators are essential for creating food security, but in order to do so, we must also secure the habitat that houses these pollinators. Our ability to survive as a species is directly linked to the survival of pollinators, and this link is represented by the health of our landscapes. In other words, the survival of species, flora, fauna, insects, and humans alike, relies on the resilience of the habitat within which they live.
As I, Moselle, have learned from my experience with permaculture and agro-ecological design, the most resilient systems are those exemplified by natural ecosystems — those that nourish, foster, and cultivate biodiversity through regeneration. Though we are from the land known for it’s vast monocropped fields of corn and soybean, we can and ought to learn much from the rich wilderness, including how to properly nurture, protect, and encourage the growth and resilience of all that takes care of us. By taking one step at a time, we can and we will do just that — here we begin by walking for the bees.
My father and I decided to dedicate this five week, 500 mile walk on the Colorado trail from Denver to Durango to the bees and other pollinators of which we have noticed a significant decline in the Quad Cities.
We have found that annual extended pilgrimages through these wild landscapes with only the essentials on our backs teaches us a fundamental truth that we fail to appreciate otherwise. We quickly learn that we are not apart from but part of nature. We are connected with all that is around us. The delusion of a separate self does not exist when we immerse ourselves in an experience like this. Therefore, by walking for the bees, we ask your support for sustainable practices that respect a diverse natural landscape for all.
You can help promote education about pollinators by sending a pledge of a penny, a nickel, or a dollar per mile to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will contact you with the payment details in October. All of the money raised will go towards the funding of educational programs in the Quad Cities through the Nahant Marsh Educational Center. Tony Singh will personally match the amount raised up to $25,000.
To see these efforts published in the local news, click here!