Dr Dines’ Meadow Making Adventure: pt 6

..and scatter the good seed on the land

October 01 2015 - 14:01

When we started out on the process of restoring a wildflower meadow, I had little idea how many different elements – the hay cut, the grazing and the groundwork – would have to be orchestrated in order to bring off the final flourish. After weeks of preparation, though, a magical day had arrived. It was finally time to seed the meadow.

The trick is to get as much seed as possible from the donor site (the Coronation Meadow) onto the prepared receptor site (our meadow). Do it too early in the year and most of the seed won’t be ripe, but leave it too late and the seed drops back into the donor meadow and is lost. All the different meadow species flower and set seed at different times, so it’s difficult to judge a single ‘best’ time, and then there's the weather. If the season is early or very dry, the work has to be done much earlier. And of course once everything's in place, you need a few days of dry weather to do the collecting. No wonder I was a nervous wreck!

Thankfully, the cool, wet summer we’ve had means that things are flowering late and the seed is hanging on, but was still getting a tad late in the season to be doing the restoration. Finally, with a break in the weather, we hatched a plan. There are three main ways to get seed the meadow and, in order to get as much seed as possible, we decided to do all three!

1. Green hay. With this method, a crop of hay is cut on the donor meadow and taken immediately (while it’s still green) to the receptor meadow, where it’s spread out thinly and allowed to dry. The crop contains lots of seed, some intact in the seed-heads and some that will already have fallen into the sward, so it’s a good way of getting as much seed as possible late in the year. A cut was arranged at the donor meadow and a trailer load of fresh hay arrived.

This was unloaded into a convential muck spreader which did a surprisingly good job of scattering the hay on the prepared field.

2. Brush harvesting. This involves using a special mini harvester towed on the back of a quad-bike that strips the standing seedheads and collects the seed in a hopper. By making repeated passes of the meadow a lot of seed can be collected.

Bags of this seed started arriving from Moss Hill, and I was like a kid at Christmas. Because it's so concentrated, the best way to spread this seed is by hand.

And it's not just seeds that come in these bags. There were numerous grasshoppers and beetles and even a frog!

3. Hand collecting. As the name implies, this involves collecting seed by hand! It's impossible to collect sufficient quantities for a whole meadow, but hand harvesting is very enjoyable and allows you to target particular species you want. I spent a very pleasant few hours collecting seed of things like bush vetch, an unusual rayed from of knapweed (below) and betony from the Coronation Meadow to ensure we had some in ours. These seeds were also scattered by hand in the new meadow.

Once all this seed was in place I must admit it was a tough few days, because the green hay had to be spread around by hand for the next few days as it dried. I never stopped smiling though, and was grateful for the help of friends and family (efforts rewarded with home-made Bara Brith). I also used a pitchfork inherited from my grandad, so I felt he was involved in some way too. By the end of it, an impressive amount of seed was visible in the field. 

The stage has now been set. With luck and fair weather we'll get some germination this autumn, and by spring next year a new wildflower meadow will begin to emerge.

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