As spring bursts forth, I’m reminded of a pretty fun part of our history on the farm.

Iowa has the largest percentage of disturbed land in the U.S. So much of this state has been converted to a food (and unfortunately fuel) factory, that it is good to have a reminder of our roots. Roadsides and plots of prairie provide scattered museums of historical landscapes. Rome was not built in a day and the best farmland in the world took even longer. But Iowa has the most useful land. Projects to restore some land to demonstrate the origin of this gift require seeds.

Wildflower seeds don’t make you smell like hogs. We raised pigs for 25 years and they can be like war. The buildings, concrete, and knees were worn out and our help (kids) was deserting us. The hog business was all moving indoors. On a trip in the car Dawn said, “I can’t see you working in a confinement building.” She is so wise. Wildflower seeds could keep us busy. We had been growing soybeans for seed and knew something about seed production.

We partnered with a nice fellow from Walnut, Iowa. He got us some Iowa Ecotype seeds from UNI (University of Northern Iowa). Why a teachers’ college instead of the Iowa State agriculture program as that source is a mystery. The government certified the seeds to be from native Iowa plants. That stamp of approval cost plenty. We planted Rough Blazing Star, Purple Prairie Clover, and Pale Purple Coneflower in 30 inch rows.

All these plants emerge once the weather is good and warm. I could let the first flush of weeds come up and spray Roundup. Then without further disturbance of the soil weeding was minimized.

Our ridge-till planter was ideal for forming a narrow seedbed but the seeds were placed by hand on about an acre of land by the house. We also planted three and a half acres of a native grass called Side Oats Grama on the edge of a crop field. I drove the empty planter over the ridges and then seeded the grass pushing an Earthway garden seeder. Then I pressed the seeds into the soil with my motorcycle. A few days later the fine first leaves of the Side Oats emerged.

Three days after that I noticed a different, wider leaf. These were Crabgrass leaves. That expensive certified seed was contaminated. I called the professor at UNI and he said, “Just keep it mowed for a few years.” Haha. He probably didn’t even know that Side Oats grows in an upright habit, while everyone else knows how Crabgrass grows, ducking under the mower blades. We pay these people.

Our last load of hogs went 12 miles to town on my birthday many years ago. As the last hog stepped off the trailer the hitch popped up off the ball. I had forgotten to secure it. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.


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