Wildflower seed sowing at the farm

Last fall I had the priviledge of planting a wildlife garden for a client that included spreading Wild Blue Lupine seeds on a sandy Pine forest edge. At the time I was surprised and delighted by the spontaneous cooperation of the entire family in the project. One of the children actually helped me spread the Blue Lupine and White Clover seeds all over the hillside, entirely of his own volition. (My hope for the next generation spiked noticeably that week.) When the idea synthesized for wildflower seed sowing at the farm on Super Bowl Sunday, I knew it’d be delightful fun for everyone if these kids and their Mom joined us.

It is healthy for all of us in the North East to find ways to engage with nature in the cold months. Nothing in the world embodies hope like planting seeds, and as I’ve mentioned before, I have a lot of extra native species wildflower seeds this year. After giving seeds as holiday gifts to New England family members who garden, there was still plenty leftover to play with. This is the time to scatter collected perennial seeds that require cold stratification.

20130208-143731.jpg So I thought of my dear friend, Mr. Otrembiak, the organic farmer. When we spread seeds along the edges of the farm and the forest in this way, there is no guarantee of germination. But any seeds that do arbitrarily propagate will increase the carrying capacity of the ecosystem’s pollinator species, and when you’re located on a family owned organic produce farm you need pollinators to increase vegetable and fruit crop yields, so new edge habitat for zero investment is kind of like winning the eco-lottery.

20130208-145201.jpg (The honeybees may need to find another dresser to upcycle into a new hive for themselves by the end of next summer!)

20130208-145654.jpg The species we tossed down were a mid-West native Ironweed, (Vernonia baldwinii) ((technically the NY native Ironweed, Vernonia noveboracensis would have been a better choice)), Joe Pye Weed, (Eupatorium maculata), New England Aster, (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) ((for a shadier edge)) and Tennessee Coneflower, (Echinacea tennesseensis) ((This is native to Tennessee, not here, but it’s a threatened species)). All of these native plant species will support more butterfly, native bee, and honeybee species and have a net effect of attracting more beneficial predator insects such as ladybugs, soldierbugs and dragonflies.

Mr. Otrembiak mentioned the snow storm forecast and used a colloquial phrase I’d never heard before, “poor man’s fertilizer.” He explained to us that as the atmosphere’s composition is 90% Nitrogen, snow (and rain) falling through it is rich in naturally rich plant food.

These kids took to wildflower seed sowing at the farm like it was their job. I feel like the chaotic personality of nature makes it easy for kids to do a project like this; when we began I told them there really was no wrong way to spread the seeds and that they could have fun. It’s quite possible that wintering over songbirds will eat and move some of the seeds- planting them elsewhere. This concept allows me to picture our own animal nature- we, the people-animals, walked by and purposefully set the seeds where we thought they will beautify the forest edge. And later, other animals, songbirds or maybe squirrels may pick up our trail and- for a different purpose, for survival, eat some of the seeds. But at some later time and location, post-digestion, the seeds will be viable (and extra fertilized.)


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  1. says

    What a great idea Jesse and I will have to wait until next late fall to spread more seed and use the poor man’s fertilizer. Now I know why my gardens did so poorly last year. They were missing the fertilizer with so little snow. This year we are running above average with snow, 12 feet, and rain, 3 feet, so far this winter.
    Donna Donabella recently posted..Gardens Eye Journal-February 2013

    • says

      What seeds were you hoping to spread? It’s not too late here. Most species just need roughly 3 weeks of 30’s temperatures. And yes! Hooray for a snowy winter. I was nervous last year’s absence of snow was the new normal.

  2. says

    Jesse, what a great post – nature is so flexible when you decide to work with her – just by throwing down those seeds, nature can take over as she sees fit. The birds can have some, and perhaps spread them to a more suitable location…and the ones that ‘make it through’ to germinate and spread are the tough and hardy ones that will make up the next generation of habitat for pollinators! You have also helped germinate the next generation of nature gardeners :)
    Ellen Sousa recently posted..Norcross Sanctuary – Hidden Jewel of Monson, MA

    • says

      Wow, Ellen- what a lovely way to see it! I remember thinking as we were all out there how everybody just fit into the farm/forest winter landscape so effortlessly, those kids (and then, by extension the rest of us) just knew how to have fun in nature.

      • says

        Hi, Here we are almost two months later and I just read this post…any more extra seeds? (Cheshire cat smile)…I’m new at this and want to start collecting seeds this year. I just created a new meetup group called the Capital Region Native Plant Society since all activity was otherwise in Ithaca (or the Birkshires) and there are plenty of people around here to reach out to and inspire.
        Rhonda Rumsey van Heuveln recently posted..Let’s check out a new native plant educational garden

        • says

          Hi Rhonda!
          Thanks for reading, and for reaching out.
          Why don’t you call me on the phone so we can talk about seeds? You can find my phone number on my jessecology website. Hope to hear from you!


  1. […] occured to me it’d be lovely to begin spring with a wildflower seed sowing project. Earlier this winter, I was lucky to participate in seed sowing at my organic farmer friend’s […]

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