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Transplanting Meadows - Northwest Meadowscapes

Transplanting Meadows

It’s almost impossible to stay on top of emails this time of year. We try to tune out the news, and suffer through the heat, meditate on the raspy sound of dry grass on tinder-dry mornings. The days are long, but still too short. Yellow rattle is indeed rattling in the field, announcing that it's ready for harvest. We need to check some dozen other plants. The tractor clutch needs to be "monkey-ed with," again. There’s too much to do.

For now, here's a story about the craft of meadow-making...


Some time back we started transplanting meadows as a way to expand habitat on our own farm. It was a way to make due, being poor in seed, and time, and equipment. It turned out to be one of those really good ideas that we all sometimes stumble our way into.

It’s a weirdly simple concept and it goes like this:

In our regional climate, meadows dry out in the summer. The vibrant spring blooms of camas and Lomatium long gone, summer and autumn meadows turn brittle and golden, leaving a standing hay crop loaded with seed.

By simply mowing or scything all of this seed-laden biomass, then raking and spreading it onto bare soil, you can essentially “transplant” an entire meadow.

We do this by creating bare soil next to a mature, high quality meadow plot. We use black tarps to create these bare patches, first mowing an area, then weighing down the tarp for a full growing season.

While the smothering happens, worms and other soil life break down thatch and biomass pressed beneath the tarp. Weed seed under the tarp also constantly germinates and dies. By late summer, when we remove the tarp,there is only clean, bare soil remaining – a perfect place to rake and spread the meadow hay.

By repeatedly smothering and hay spreading areas like this year-after-year, we take a “bite” out of big weedy fields of aggressive pasture grasses, slowly converting them to beautiful meadows. In the first year after a transplant, annual wildflowers dominate, but by the second year, the perennials come into their own.

More than simply moving seeds this way, meadow transplanting transfers an entire ecosystem onto every new patch of bare ground: insect larva and eggs attached to stems, microbial associates of native plants, and spores of meadow fungi. It’s a continuous meadow transplant that grows ever larger in size.

This process is never perfect. Tarps rip and need repair. Annoyed neighbors ask what you're doing. Late removal of tarps in the fall when they're covered in hundreds of pounds of rainwater is backbreaking. And yet the results are better than just about any other approach we’ve tried. It’s also a more satisfying way of spending the dry season than anything else we can think of.

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