The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.
As our house construction neared the final stages, we began to pay more attention to the bare soil around our home that was exposed as part of the construction process. Fall is a nice time to plant grass seed, so we did some research to find seed acclimated to our area. We settled on buying from Stock Seed, which is in neighboring Nebraska and offers plenty of options.
For the front and side yards, we wanted to create a seedbed of sorts for various native grasses, some of which were collected by friends from their pastures and given to us. We planted two species of bluestem, various clovers, coneflowers and a mix of other native wildflowers. We later scattered bursting milkweed seedpods, which we collected from the garden in front of my office. We also broadcast winter wheat seed in order to have some fast growth to hold the soil in place. We’ll mow in spring to keep the wheat from going to seed. With the plants close, we’ll be able to watch and collect seed throughout the year to spread across the rest of the property. Our goal is to slowly dominate the brome grass and locust trees that have come up with well-timed mowing, burning every other spring or so, and regularly spreading native-plant seed. We don’t expect fast results, but we know, over time, we’ll see a positive and lasting change — beginning with our efforts this year. We don’t intend to mow this area, except for the first year to deal with the wheat. I’m in love with the idea of beautiful prairie grasses and flowers surrounding our front walkway and windows.
Along our driveway, we chose the Prairie 3 Plus mix from Stock Seed, because we didn’t want to mow these areas and this mix stays fairly short. It will introduce two species of grama, more bluestem and some buffalo grass into our pastures. Again, having these grasses planted in easy-to-access areas will make spreading the plants’ seed to the rest of our property easier to do.
For the backyard, we wanted to find a native grass that would stay short, as we want to keep this area as a hangout place for yard games, etc. We don’t want to mow excessively, or have to water intensively. We settled on buffalo grass, and specifically the ‘Cody’ variety, also available from Stock Seed. This seed is pricey, but if it lives up to its reputation — thrives without much water, forms a soft turf, and stays short so doesn’t require much if any mowing — the benefits will be well worth the extra expense. We interplanted wheat seed in this space as well.
So, why the picture of Tyler on the four-wheeler? And what is he pulling?
We were trying to decide on a simple way to effectively get our seeds planted. Our contractor offered his old four-wheeler with the harrow attached to the back. Tyler drove the four-wheeler with the harrow following behind, and I broadcast the various seed mixtures and wheat, then he followed with the harrow again to ensure good soil contact. Since then, we’ve been watering as regularly as we can, and we have some growth! The wheat is coming up nicely, and will help hold any seed that stays dormant this fall in place. It will also hold the sloped soil from washing away as well. We may spread some stray over the top of the barer spaces to create a cover, but if the wheat continues to come up well, then we’ll probably let it be and work some more on the process next year.
Photo by Jennifer Kongs.
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer by leaving a comment below.