Breaking ground on a new beginning

The author pondering the look of the restored prairie once it grows.

The author pondering the look of the restored prairie once it grows.

When the bulldozer fired up and rolled off the trailer, it became very real. My new home was officially under construction, and a project I never intended to finish had begun.

As long as I own the land the home is being built on, it will be an ever-evolving landscape managed for wildlife. I eagerly anticipate plantings, burns, builds, harvests and more as I work to benefit the critters I hope to have as neighbors.

The property I’m building on is 40 acres currently in row crop production. It has historically been leased out for farming. To create a mix of food and habitat for wildlife, I look forward to continuing to farm about half of the property with a mix of corn and soybeans. For a while, I’ll contract the entire scope of this work to a local farmer I know and trust. But eventually, I want to plant my own crops. I see a nice green tractor in my future.

The rest of the property is going to be a mix of restored native tallgrass prairie, a reforested woodlot and 3-acre lake. I plan for the wildlife to have food, cover and water. I have no expectations of holding any deer on 40 acres, but when they pass through my place, I want them to think “This is a nice spot with everything I need.” Maybe they’ll hang around awhile.

I see myself sitting on my porch listening to quail whistle. I can picture the sun rising over the horizon on a warm September morning. I’m sitting on the porch in a cedar Adirondack chair with Willie, my Labrador, by my side and a cup of coffee in hand. A fish jumps and splashes in the lake. Then quail start whistling. A deer appears out in the prairie. Then another. And another.

Over the last few years, I have come to greatly appreciate prairie habitat. Learning to identify native plants, grasses, and wildflowers has become a great joy. Learning their cycles of when they should grow, then bloom, then die. Learning about which insects need which plants.

I’ll plant an abundance of milkweeds to try and help the Monarchs and other pollinators. There will be many purple cone flowers just because I love them. Big bluestem, Indian grass, rattlesnake master, black-eyed Susan, sunflowers for the doves and many more species will comprise my native prairie mix. Eventually, I harvest the seeds to help spread natives to other properties.

I already have 200 seedlings to plant. My order from the Missouri Department of Conservation arrived last week. I’m adding a lot of mast-producing oaks to the land. I’m developing a pecan grove and an apple orchard. I consulted Forrest Keeling Nursery about apple trees and was told all I needed was five. I said I’ll take 30.

They said you’re going to have a lot of apples. I’m going to buy a press and start making my own apple cider. Maybe some with a kick too. I’m going to plant at least 1,000 trees on the property in the next two years.

There are currently two small ponds on the place that are being joined into the 3-acre lake. I can’t wait to be able to walk down to my dock with a simple fishing pole and a box of worms, relax in a comfortable chair and catch the monster bluegill, one after another. I plan to work on establishing the right mix and number of fish to have great bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass and catfish. Fish fry Friday is going to be a thing in the shop.

Dreams evolve. I’ve always dreamed of owning land and living a rural lifestyle, but only recently did my dream become a small hobby farm focused on wildlife in mid-Missouri. Things happen in life. Some we choose, and some circumstances are out of our control. Whichever case, you find yourself where you are and you make the most of the opportunity before you. Life is too short to let the past control you. Worry about now and what’s to come. For me, that’s a lot of toiling in the dirt and I’m happy about it.

See you down the trail.

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This article originally appeared on the Columbia Daily Tribune: Driftwood Outdoors: Breaking ground on a new beginning