We were surprised this weekend to get a call from our local prairie seed provider (Native Connections) that he could take the small window of opportunity and come to burn off our fields after all. We had given up due to the week of rain and thought we’d have to wait till next year. It made for an exciting afternoon.
Jerry arrived with his trailer full of ATVs, water tanks, and fire-retardant clothing. Joe and I suited up with yellow gear and hard hats and we became the rear guard as Jerry and his partner began lighting and burning one section of the field after another. As it turns out, the mowed trails made ideal boundaries that kept the burns in small, manageable portions.
My job was to hold a big rubber flap on a stick. I watched for any flames sneaking beyond the boundaries and I was to drag the flap over them to snuff them out. The wind was not strong and there was not much excitement so I did not have an opportunity to save the day. Joe had a backpack full of water and his job was similar. When we moved on to each new section he was able to spray any area that was still smouldering so that we could safely turn our attention away.
Looking down from the second story of the new house the field looks quite devastated, but we know that the burn was a healthy step in the nurturing of our prairie grasses. Jerry said that we should burn about every three years, but that it wouldn’t hurt to begin a rotation so that we don’t burn it all at once. That will leave more habitat for the little critters while the field grows back in. If you burn too frequently it will help the grasses but will stunt the growth of the wildflowers.
I have to tell you that I really enjoyed participating in the burn although I mostly stood around waiting for job to do. I like the smell of the smoke, the color of the flames, and the warmth and crackle as the fire takes hold. Joe and I will probably do this ourselves in the future but we really benefitted from some professional instruction.