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Prairie Smoke Member News

Prairie Smoke Picnic 2023

On Sunday October 9th we held the annual Prairie Smoke picnic on a beautiful afternoon at Chester Woods park where we debuted the new Prairie Smoke banner. The 15+ members who attended found plenty of food, new activities, stimulating discussions and most went home with new prairie plants or seeds shared by the group. Overall, a great success! Thanks to everyone who took time from their weekend to come together and celebrate our commitment to native plants and prairies.

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Prairie Smoke Whitewater River Restoration Walk 2023

On Wednesday October 12 Prairie Smoke members were treated to a tour of a section of the Whitewater River that was restored by Trout Unlimited. The tour was arranged and conducted jointly by TU members John Weiss and Dustin Hoffman. Members braved a brisk and windy evening to view the impressive changes made along the river to reverse the effects of erosion and restore habitat along the stream using native plantings. This restoration has created excellent habitat for the trout and other inhabitants of the stream environment.

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Prairie Smoke Fish Hatchery Tour

On Saturday January 8th, 2022, members of Prairie Smoke and guests enjoyed a guided tour of the Peterson State Fish Hatchery given by Ryan Wierzba, a Fisheries Specialist at the hatchery. We learned about the economy of raising fish in southern Minnesota, where there are reliable sources of high quality spring water. The water is tested as it enters the hatchery, treated to adjust dissolved gases and optimize the temperature for the fish, and treated again as it leaves the hatchery to remove fish waste and assure the water is clean as it flows into the nearby river. The Peterson Hatchery raises lake trout, brook trout, and the hybrid splake trout. The lake trout and splake are shipped to lakes in northern Minnesota to enhance fishing opportunities and native populations of trout. The brook trout strain maintains the genetic integrity of the native Minnesota brook trout, for stocking in southeastern Minnesota.


Our tour started in the visitors center, then proceeded into the dimly lit main room where literally hundreds of thousands of newly-hatched trout (called fry) in circular holding tanks are fed hourly.  There the fish grow over the coming weeks or months until they reach a size needed for their next move. Some species are stocked in remote lakes by helicopter as small fingerlings. Others are moved outside to large holding pools where they grow larger before being transported by truck and stocked into area lakes and streams. We then moved outside to the large, covered holding pools holding the larger fish. The covers protect the fish from predators and maintain a low light environment beneficial to the fish. The tour concluded at the waste collecting "settling tanks" which are pumped about every two years and the waste treated at a commercial treatment site.


Call the hatchery if you're interested in a guided tour. Alternatively, the hatchery has a wonderful visitor's center that is normally open for self-guided tours May 1 through October when the surrounding native plantings are in bloom.


Prairie Smoke Picnic 2021

On Sunday October 3rd, 2021 we held the first Prairie Smoke picnic since the Covid-19 pandemic shut down most of our activities. The 30+ members (plus one well-behaved dog!) who attended found plenty of food, new activities, stimulating discussions and most went home with new prairie plants or seeds shared by the group. Overall, a great success! Thanks to everyone who took time from their weekend to come together and celebrate our commitment to native plants and prairies.

Here are a few highlights from the picnic:

The tour of the native seed processing facility at Chester woods hosted by Patty and John Trnka was well attended by members full of questions about seed collecting. The informative displays and volume and diversity of the collected seeds was inspiring, and the knowledge Patty and John shared was tremendously helpful to anyone wanting to collect their own seeds. Patty highlighted the book "The Prairie in Seed" (listed in the suggested reading section of the PS website) as a great reference to get started with seed collecting.

One question that came up that elicited several opinions (but no authoritative answers) was whether one should spread new seed varieties on an established prairie the winter before a planned spring burn, or will the seed be killed by the burn. Opinions were that frost seeding provides natural stratification and should tend to work the seeds into the ground where they will be protected during the burn, but if anyone has experience with this we'd love to hear from you.

The informal seed exchange appeared to be a highlight of the picnic, with the group choosing to delay eating to let the seed-selection chaos start! Quite frankly, we were flabbergasted by the number of members who brought significant amounts of diverse native seeds to share. Awesome!

This kind of seed exchange between members is a real benefit to help increase the diversity of your prairie planting. Whether you are looking to include new plants in a smaller area or "try before you buy" new species for a larger field it was great to have access to seeds from fellow members. One member has offered to let Prairie Smoke members come to his property near the Iowa border to dig Giant Prairie Sage or Giant Prairie Sunflower. If you are interested email and we'll put you in touch.

Another question that came up is whether it is legal to collect small amounts of native seed from any public land in Minnesota. We know it is not allowed in state parks (permits may be possible) or Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAS), but what about state forests, wildlife management areas, road ditches or municipal lands? We are currently researching this through the MN DNR and hope to provide answers and guidelines for our members in the future.

Once the seed selecting frenzy died down everyone found plenty of food and good conversation for the rest of the afternoon. This opportunity to share ideas with other members face-to-face has been sorely missed over the past year, so this was definitely another highlight of the day. We were particularly excited to see the number of new faces and younger folks attending. That bodes well for our prairies in this area!


Three conversations that stood out for me include:

Members who are trying to generate interest in their neighborhood to reclaim adjacent public land from the invasive species and replace with native prairie plants.

Members are working to establish native woody plants on their property but fighting ongoing battles with the deer browsing them down. Using Irish Spring soap to repel the deer seems to help, but woodpeckers attack the whole is better to spread shavings around the plants?

Members near St. Charles MN are planning a burn next spring on a 20 acre field that looks like a good opportunity for members who want to observe a burn from an easy to access dirt road adjacent to the field. We will share more info about that opportunity next year.


Thanks to the PS Board, VP Barb Nigon (and husband Walt), Ryan Kemmerick, Susan Powers, Ruthann Yaeger and Chuck Kernler without whom this event would not have been possible. And thanks to all the members who attended and made this such a success!

Ed Pfannkoch

President, Prairie Smoke


Seed Exchange 2021

As part of the Annual Picnic this year, there was a seed swap which was a huge success with significant amounts of diverse native seeds to share.  Many members are working on projects to replace invasive species with native prairie plants.  This kind of seed exchange between members is a real benefit to help increase the diversity of your prairie planting. Whether you are looking to include new plants in a smaller area or "try before you buy" new species for a larger field it was great to have access to seeds from fellow members.

Giant Prairie Sage and Giant Prairie Sunflower seeds available to members

One member has offered to let Prairie Smoke members come to his property near the Iowa border to dig Giant Prairie Sage or Giant Prairie Sunflower. If you are interested, please email and we'll put you in touch.


Some of the seeds swap items submitted

National Public Lands Day 2020

In these days of social distancing PS has not been able to offer our usual field trips. But National Public Lands Day (Sept 26th) presented us with an opportunity to safely get out with others and do some good while following COVID guidelines.


Prairie Smoke has been the caretaker of a small Rochester city park called Thompson Mill Race since 2012. This strip of parkland is bordered by paved walkways and lies along Cascade Creek in the heart of the city.  It was donated to the city in 1987 by the Robert Thompson family in 1987 as part of the flood control project.  It was a mill at one time, but it hasn’t been used in decades. The mill building was restored in 1995 and the area planted to non-native grasses.


In 2011 Prairie Smoke board members Dawn Littleton and Ruthann Yaeger approached the City Park & Rec division to see if they would allow us to plant small section of the area to native forbs and grasses as a sort of “pocket” prairie. It took some convincing, but we soon got permission to have at it!  Joel Dunnette and others donated seed and plants and we also got other local native seeds and plants. With the help of the city and several board members including Barb and Walt Nigon we cleared the area and planted over 14 species of forbs and grasses.


This year, it had suffered from lack of care during the lockdown and subsequent restrictions and become severely overgrown with crown vetch, giant ragweed and other aggressive plants.  So on NPLD we gathered 11 members and cleared out many large bags of invasives. We also overseeded with more natives.  It was good to get out and talk to other people who love prairies – we will be safely maintaining the progress we made, whatever the virus throws at us next year!

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Prairie Smoke donates books to Chatfield Library

See the list of books HERE.

The Prairie Smoke organization has completed a 5 year donation totaling $500 for purchase of nature books involving prairies, pollinators and related topics to the Chatfield Public Library in honor of our former President, Barb Nigon. Barb has been a leader in Prairie Smoke for many years and has overseen many changes for the better during that time.  We hope this expanded resource benefits our members and the local community.


People's Food Coop Donation

Prairie Smoke received a $303 donation from Rochester Peoples Food Coop

for the Beans for Bags Program.   Shoppers at the People's Food Coop are given a 

bean for each reusable bag that they use in the store.  The store donates the savings 

from the bags to local non-profit groups.  Shoppers choose which group that they would

like the Coop to donate the savings to by putting the beans in the group's jar.

We are grateful for the community support from this generous program.

Thank you to the People's Food Coop for the opportunity to participate

in this wonderful program.


Vendetta Against Buckthorn

Reprinted with permission from Post Bulletin article for 12/28/2006. Written by staff writer John Weiss.

GRAND MEADOW - Greg Lamp leads a quick tour through the woods behind his house. Look at this tree, he says. He reaches out and snaps off a twig. It's brittle. Any Boy Scout knows that's how you can tell a live tree from a dead one; live twigs bend, dead ones snap off. Lamp moves further into his woods between Grand Meadow and Spring Valley. He snaps off more twigs. All are dead. The trees would make great tinder for a fire. Lamp is clearly thrilled.

His one-man crusade to control buckthorn, a shrub with pretty green leaves and an ugly habit of crowding out native trees, is clearly working. He has a vendetta against buckthorn. He hates it, spends many hours fighting it and is trying to get others to join in his struggle.

His New Year's resolution last year was to get more active in killing buckthorn. That will be his resolution again this year and for at least two more years.

With the help of a special sprayer, chemicals and a lot of work, he hopes to control buckthorn on his 31 acres. It's his way of doing something for the outdoors, and to preserve the biological integrity of one of the many small woodlots that dot this region. "It's a very, very rare individual who has a grove that doesn't have any buckthorn on it," Lamp said.

His research shows it's an ornamental bush brought to this country in the 1850s that is now listed as a noxious weed. It takes over oak or maple forests, invades prairies and dominates the understory where young oaks and maples grow, not letting other trees grow. To kill it, he found a special sprayer to apply a chemical that penetrates the bark and gets into the roots, killing the plant. He's getting good at it, but he has plenty to practice on. He figures there are 4,000 to 9,000 buckthorns per acre on his land alone.

The magnitude makes his passion daunting, he said. That's why he keeps his head down when spraying, looking only at trees near his feet. If he looked up and saw how many more infest the woods, "You would say 'My gosh, I'll never get this sprayed,'" he said. If Lamp gets frustrated, he just goes back to where he sprayed in the past few years and sees all the dead buckthorn, brittle, some already toppled. Then he goes back to spraying.

Lamp hopes others begin seeing the problems, maybe doing their little bit to preserve the old woodlots that are such a part of the rural landscape. Not everyone gets so worked up, he admits. "You have to pick your passion," he said.

Here is a link to Greg's important article:  Buckthorn: A Battle Worth Fighting

Top 10 Tallgrass Prairie Facts

Jeff Nielsen of BWSR sends in the following facts on tallgrass prairie, compiled by Minnesota DNR:

1. Native tallgrass is the MOST ENDANGERED ecosystem in North America and the foundation of PERENNIAL POLYCULTURE. – Kansas University
2. Native prairie root systems are the BEST natural soil anchors on earth.
3. In one acre of established prairie there is 24,000 pounds of roots. – Iowa State University
4. One acre of established prairie can ABSORB 9 inches of rainfall per hour before runoff occurs. – University of Northern Iowa
5. One acre of established prairie will INTERCEPT as much as 53 tons of water during a one inch per hour rain event. – University of Nebraska, Lincoln
6. Prairie foliage represents a surface area of 5 to 20 times larger than the soil area beneath it. – University of Nebraska, Lincoln
7. Prairie planted in roadside ditches makes highways safer by INCREASING the holding capacity for snow in the ditch provided the shoulder is mowed. – MDOT.
8. Natural competition of prairie plants REDUCES the occurrence of weeds in an area. – Iowa State University
9. Greater prairie diversity, creates biotic barriers to PREVENT weed invasion. – University of Minnesota
10. One acre of reconstructed prairie can produce more bioenergy than land used to grow corn for ethanol. – University of Minnesota

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