The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 16, 1999


Native Wildflower Experiment on Conant Land

Imagine walking up from the Town Hall parking lot on the wood chip path and coming across a wildflower meadow full of butterflies. If American native prairie wildflowers and grasses can grow around the Town Hall septic field, the Carlisle Board of Health may be able to recommend these plants for a pleasing, low maintenance alternative for all leach fields and mounds.

To carry out this experiment, fifteen eighth-grade students volunteered their afternoons on March 23 and 26 to do the actual planting with the help of their science teacher, Jim Trierweiler, and Valerie Baier of South Street. As anyone who has been to the Conant Land will know, the planting site has been covered since last June with a jigsaw puzzle of black plastic held down by rocks. This was to kill all competing weeds and plants without the use of chemical herbicides or successive tilling. The board of health ruled out these two common site preparation methods so as not to damage the leach field or the town hall and police wells and nearby wetlands.

The volunteers first raked away all winter debris of leaves and sticks, removed stones, and hauled sand from a pile the DPW had provided in the parking area. Then after the roughly horseshoe-shaped area was sanded, raked and ready, they hand cast the wildflower seeds mixed in damp vermiculite. Next they spread a thin layer of salt marsh hay for a light, weed-free mulch. They then hand cast the tiny seeds mixed with a little sand on top. (Those seeds need light to germinate.) Finally, they carefully stamped down the entire area. All this in barely an hour and a half each afternoon. Three students came in spite of earlier band practice. Thirty-nine of the class of 82 signed up to participate but some had conflicts when snow and rain delayed the planting.

The special seeds came from Prairie Moon Nursery, a mail order business in Winona, Minnesota. Since 1982, they have been growing organic native wildflower plants and grasses and wild plants salvaged from road construction sites. They use part of the Wiscoy Valley Land Cooperative's 356 acres which are owned in common by 14 homeowners. For this experiment there are 36 different types of native American wildflowers and seven grasses. Some will be familiar such as Black-eyed Susans (three varieties) and our New England Aster. Others have intriguing names like Golden Alexander, Hoary Tick Trefoil, Purple Meadow Rue, and Prairie Dropseed. Now that the planting phase is over, weather and time will determine how fast the seeds will grow. Because they are all perennials, they will not look like much the first year. Later on, expect a succession of blooms. Once established, the only maintenance will be to mow each spring and fall. If these wildflowers thrive, will they be helpful to the septic field, keeping unwanted nutrients and water out of the system as claimed by the folks at the University of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the University of Minnesota? Will the plants actually support butterflies, adding to the diversity of species while improving the look of the town's sewage disposal field? As in most any planting experiment, we'll just have to keep monitoring and wait to see what happens. This project was sponsored by a grant from the Carlisle Cultural Council, funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

[Bonnie Miskolczy is project coordinator for wildflower experiment.]

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito