Successful Farming - - CONTENTS - By Betsy Freese, Ex­ec­u­tive Edi­tor

Two years ago, I wrote about the 200-acre wet­lands restora­tion project my hus­band, Bob, and I were launch­ing on the Iowa farm we own with my par­ents [“Start­ing a Wet­lands,” De­cem­ber 2016, page 66]. It’s time for an up­date. You know the say­ing, “If you only knew what you were in for, you would never have the guts to do it.” I guess that ap­plies to most of life, ac­tu­ally.

Not only have we forged ahead with our siz­able wet­lands con­ser­va­tion project, we added 80 acres of quail habi­tat this year. Part of that project in­volves plant­ing a 20-acre food plot for the game birds.

The pic­tures here show that our de­ci­sion to con­vert the river­bot­tom land on this 400-acre farm into wet­lands and quail habi­tat was the right one. With the proper dirt work and seed­ing, the land quickly con­verted back to its nat­u­ral habi­tat. This land had been flood­ing more and more of­ten over the past decade, and ponds formed quickly once we quit plant­ing it to corn and soy­beans.

many mow­ings

Mow­ing was the key the first two years of es­tab­lish­ment. We had a dry sum­mer in 2017, which made it eas­ier for Bob to mow the 200 acres of wet­lands sev­eral times. It was days and days of mow­ing, but it had to be done to con­trol weeds. The sec­ond year, he mowed twice to knock down re­main­ing nox­ious weeds. The na­tive grass is boom­ing this fall.

Bob mowed the newly es­tab­lished quail habi­tat, ex­cept for the 20-acre food plot, sev­eral times this sum­mer, and he will mow it again next year. The 60 acres of nesting cover have nine grasses and 22 forbs at a seed cost of $295 per acre.

Both the wet­lands and the quail habi­tat will need mid­con­tract man­age­ment, a pre­scribed burn, in year four. That is done out­side of the pri­mary nesting sea­son of May 15 to Au­gust 1. Ap­ply­ing fire to the pre­de­ter­mined ar­eas will con­trol herba­ceous weeds and woody plants, im­prove plant pro­duc­tiv­ity, and im­prove wildlife habi­tat.

On the 20-acre food plot for the quail, of­fi­cially called early suc­ces­sional habi­tat, we seed an­nu­als ev­ery third year. These are left stand­ing, un­har­vested and undis­turbed, for three years. We seeded this plot last win­ter with pearl mil­let, grain sorghum, cow­pea, and par­tridge pea. We seed these an­nu­als in years one, four, and seven. This prac­tice al­lows vol­un­teer an­nual plants to es­tab­lish, which is ben­e­fi­cial to quail habi­tat. In­va­sive plant species and fed­eral-/state-listed nox­ious and nui­sance species must be con­trolled in the food plot.

These acres are part of a 10-year CRP con­tract. Live­stock, ve­hi­cles, and equip­ment are ex­cluded from the con­tract area to pro­tect the veg­e­ta­tive cover. (This is where a drone comes in handy.) Phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers may need to be in­stalled. In our case, there is no live­stock around – just deer and coy­otes.


Con­trol­ling nox­ious weeds (of­fi­cially called un­de­sir­able plant species) is per­haps the most chal­leng­ing part of the project. Three prob­lem species in our fields are gi­ant rag­weed, mare’s tail, and gi­ant fox­tail.

The goal is to mow these be­fore they form ma­ture seeds. If we get them early, the mowed ma­te­rial can be left on the ground with­out adding to the seed bank.

Af­ter the es­tab­lish­ment pe­riod, spot-mow­ing, burn­ing, hand-pulling, or spot-her­bi­cide treat­ment can be used to con­trol un­de­sir­able plant growth. Start­ing in year three, mow­ing, spray­ing, and burn­ing aren’t al­lowed dur­ing the pri­mary nesting sea­son.

Where these CRP acres of­ten go wrong, I’m told, is when no weed con­trol by mow­ing or other meth­ods is done in year two. Ev­ery­one mows in year one, but some landown­ers leave the land go in year two. Bob made sure he mowed sev­eral times in year two, as well. Na­tive grasses such as fox sedge, prairie cord­grass, blue­joint, In­di­an­grass, big bluestem, and more now have a foothold in our wet­lands.

Next year, we will need to watch for trees. They of­ten be­come a prob­lem in year three and four. We will scout and re­move any tree growth pop­ping up in the wet­lands.

I will up­date you on the progress of our con­ser­va­tion project in fu­ture is­sues. If you have tips, send to betsy. [email protected]­

Quail food plot Year two of wet­lands project

Black-eyed Su­san

North side of wet­lands, June 2018 Mow­ing in 2017 Blue car­di­nal flower

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