By Sierra Smith, Conservation Nursery Program Manager, Center for Natural Lands Management. CNLM transitioned from Webster’s seed farm to the Violet Prairie seed farm in 2014 (click the links to learn more about each). To learn more about the Center for Natural Lands Management’s South Sound Program, click here.
On May 8th the sun was shining and the flowers blooming as restoration partners came together at CNLM’s Violet Prairie Seed Farm to see the progression of the South Sound Prairie Conservation Nursery. The second year balsamroot was in full splendor and the next five rows of first year plants hinted at the seed harvests to come. Two rows of harsh paintbrush grabbed the eye and again the next eleven rows of fresh transplants spoke of future seed abundance.
Discussions on seed production were dominated by the annual species trials and the stark differences observed between species in sowing time, transplantability, and preference for row cover and seed collection fabric. General findings included: fall sown annual plants are now knee high and beginning to drop seed; spring sown or transplanted individuals are still 2” rosettes; a two week difference in sowing time from the beginning of September to the end of September resulted in very different germination rates and plant sizes which are still visible now.
Also encouraging to see were field rows of many species that previously had only been in small scale nursery production including prairie star (Lithophragma parviflora), shooting star (Dodecatheon hendersonii and Dodecatheon pulchellum), true babystars (Leptosiphon bicolor), Canada toadflax (Nuttalanthus canadensis), skunkweed (Navarettia squarrosa), Venus’s looking glass (Triodanis perfoliata), Douglas’s catchfly (Silene dougalsii), Pacific woodrush (Luzula comosa), long-stolon sedge (Carex inops), and grand collomia (Collomia grandiflora).
Conversations on the seeding trials were followed by a show and tell with the farm equipment. A guided walk down the line of tools, machines and implements gave partners a picture of the complete process of seed increase from soil management to seed harvest.
Questions were raised about artificial selection and genetic diversity in agriculturally produced native seed, which spawned some excellent conversation and highlighted some of the practices which separate a conservation nursery from a horticultural seed producer. These include regular refreshing of wild genetics with wild collected seed; minimizing selection by planting and harvesting from all plants large and small; and supplementing the main machine harvest with early and late hand harvests that yield very little but capture the full range of seed ripening times. These practices may not be commercially viable but do help to maintain the genetic integrity of the seed.
The day concluded with a visit to Shotwell’s Landing nursery and seed center. Here we viewed the new additions to the seed cleaning facility most of which are old machines out-grown by industrial agricultural. These included a specific gravity separation table, a spiral separator, a velvet roller, a fractionating aspirator, a clipper/debearder and rotary clean cleaner. We have specific uses intended for each of these machines but we expect to find dozens of more applications as we become more familiar with the equipment.
We finished at Shotwell’s by hearing about the Sustainability in Prisons Project and the hundreds of thousands of plugs they produce for the South Sound Prairies each year. New to the partnership is seed production within the prisons. Two prison facilities will be producing the very labor intensive violet seeds for the conservation nursery in 2015.
It was a beautiful day and proved to be a great opportunity to discuss the details of native plant production. We look forward to seeing you on the farm next spring. Have a great field season!