Living Seed Bank

In Texas I purchased 14 acres that had once been part of a large cotton farm and after depletion by cotton it was shifted to cattle and was over grazed, losing organic matter in the soil.

The first year I had a bulldozer come in and dig a pond that filled with water drainage from the slope.  It kept water all year and ranged in size from 20 by 40 to 40 by 80.  It was a wildlife attractor and was close to a seasonal creek that served as a wildlife corridor.  Best of all, it allowed wetland species to grow.  I cried the first time I saw green frogs in there, they are an indicator of low toxins from the drainage field.

The property had 15 feet of Vertisol clay with a high expansion rate and churn so all was mixed and had no noticeable soil layers.  It was part of the Post Oak Savanah but had three other ecosystems within a few miles.

I did an initial walkabout that documented 15 species.  It had been bulldozed into terraces for cotton and then seeded with coastal grass for cattle.  Over 100 years of monoculture took its toll.

From my viewpoint, it had a very dead aspect much like most of Hunt County, Texas.  Almost no wildlife to be seen.  I went online and found a list of about 90 plant species native to the county, then built a spreadsheet to help me track species as they arrived.

The property had a exemption for hay production, but it was not producing well.  I decided to let it lay fallow for at least a year.

Reseeding 14 acres of prairie is an expensive proposition. Luckily the university had already reseeded a few acres only 4 miles from me so I could count on some species brought in by birds.  My dead property just did not attract birds.

I pondered the budget/reseed issue, then purchased 4 pounds of sunflower seeds. I drove my pickup around that whole property tossing out sunflower seeds, keeping them spread out so that they would cover as much area as possible.  It also made my seed less likely to get lost in a field mice gorge fest.

Amazed me but I got a good crop of sunflowers without plowing or drilling them into the ground.  It did the job and brought in birds!  I definitely needed some (free to me) labor and here they were.

By the following year I was seeing what I call “bird” plants, the ones whose main distributors are birds.  These are also the ones most likely to be edible for me.  My sunflowers increased and were a heart stopping sight in the afternoons when all their faces turned west and were lit up by the sun.

Still, this was prairie and most species were disseminated by wind.  Down wind from the same depleted land as my own didn’t provide much.  It might recover eventually, but I wanted to speed the process up.

Another problem was that it is illegal to collect wildflower seed along Texas highways.  Texas seeding is weighted toward “pretty” rather than healthy anyway.  I started to take photographs along the roads and noted anything I saw on my chart.  Even better, Texans stopped to talk to me (it was the clipboard) and a few gave me permission to walk their properties and collect wildflower seeds.  I was in business!

The payment required for access was always identification of wildflowers they loved on their own properties.  I was glad to do that, and returned through the seasons to collect new species.

I let the land lay fallow a second year.  Meantime I visited adjacent ecosystems and saw similar problems of diversity disappearing. I started collecting from three additional ecosystems.

Sometime during my travels I decided that I wanted not just a circular economy with my Post Oak Savanah species, but all four ecosystems within bird flight.  I wanted my property to be a living seed bank for all of them.  The depletion of species was severe due to the emphasis on coastal hay production and cattle grazing.

Everywhere I went I talked up the nutritional superiority of native grasses and forbes, increased cattle health and fewer supplements and vet bills to anyone who would listen.  Not much luck against the Ag recommendations sponsored by Monsanto until the year beef prices went into the basement and one of my neighbors decided to winter over some of his cattle.

He was giving up not only cattle sales but coastal hay sales, a hard knock for a full time rancher.  I offered my native hay but asked him to test it out for improved nutrition and lower expenses.  He was unbelieving but glad to have 14 acres of free hay to get through the winter.

His cattle wintered over better on native hay.  He said it would not sell as well as coastal but shifted 40 acres over to native grass and forbes for his cattle.  I let him bale 4 times the next year (picked by me for best seed production) and he spread it over his chosen field and had native hay in one year.

With climate change, plant species change also.  The more species you have the more strength in your circular economy.  Endless miles of o1ne species is at risk of massive failure.

A living seed bank can impact a large area around it because birds and wind move a lot of seed.  Last count I had 314 species, a rich source for the surrounding area.

Over 100 of my species were edible.  I hope one day Americans will notice how rich we are in native flora and shift away from the monoculture of a few species that degrades the environment and pushes more species to extinction.  It degrades our health and food safety to eat only a dozen species that are imported from other countries.

People expect a coming famine due to corporate monoculture collapse.  Few realize that most parts of the United States have over 200 edible species growing naturally without supplemental water or fertilizers.  The United States is not a country that needs to have a famine! We can only starve if we do not learn to eat what we have in our own neighborhoods.  Empty lots or gardens full of “weeds” have at least a dozen edible species.  Many weeds are nutrient accumulators and prepare ground for later species.  When I say “eat local” I mean where you live.


About rebeccatreeseed

I am a naturalist raised by naturalists. Treeseed is my earned name, while Rebecca is my birth name. I am of Northern European descent, with a quarter Irish.quarter thrown in. I suspect I was a product of northern invaders into Ireland into Ireland. but hard to say since DNA disproved the family story about Apache blood! I have found some odd ancestors to replace them. Last year I bought 5 acres of pinyon-juniper forest on the side of a mountain in Santa Fe County, New Mexico. I am fulfilling a lifetime dream of a cabin in the mountains and a food forest that will feed me and local wildlife. I want to share this new phase of my life with others that might be interested.
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