We call our first project property Conserv2 which is located in Sauk county in the Driftless area of southwest Wisconsin. For decades, perhaps over the last century, these 37 acres have been intensively farmed. We bought this land to figure out how to bring a dash of perennial agriculture into a nature sanctuary in order to pay the costs associated with bio-diversity management. The first two years the land looked like the thousands of acres in the upper Midwest--corn, soybeans, corn... Once the lease with the farmer ended, prairie was planted in 2017 and 2018. With native vegetation taking root-- and a lot of weeds-- we planted our first black currants. Prairie plants are known to have deep roots that spread and compete. To help the black currant bushes several weed barrier solutions were tested. Only the permanent, long lived black plastic barrier survived beyond July! This barrier has served us well over the years in our family garden. Unfortunately, use of a durable, permanent weed barrier prevents Nature Keepers from becoming certified organic. Eventually we will test if the bushes can compete without a weed barrier. Another unknown is how to apply manure from the organic dairy down the road when there is a weed barrier.
Our first harvest is expected in the summer of 2020, but it will be small. The big question is now that the 2019 plants are established, will they thrive in a tall grass prairie? Black currants take about three years to reach maturity and full production, it will be a few years to answer this question.
Prairies need fire. Spring of 2020 we will do the first burn of this prairie planting and maybe figure out how to burn between the rows of currants. With that they will have earned the title, Prairie Berry!
Each year will bring new answers, new questions, and new challenges. With success Nature Keepers will be in a position to expand it efforts to make nature conservation secure in the long time frame through properties being able to self fund. By growing black currants on conservation lands and paying conservation landowners for their crop, they will continue their conservation work. By donating all Nature Keepers' profits to conservation organizations, Nature Keepers will make a lasting impact.
While collecting prairie seed late in the summer of 2019, I collected this video of the specialized pollination required. Not any insect can pollinate these flowers.
Thanks to the bees who have A Places They Call Home, there was a bumper crop of blue bottle gentian seed that fall.