Chatfield man maintains prairie plot to support natural habitat
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:05 AM
Kent Dudek’s growing Susans.
Kent Dudek stands in the prairie plot he planted near the Fish and Game Club's entrance. The plot is blooming with native plant species, but Dudek noted that it takes work to keep out the real weeds that people often mistake for common grasses and flowers. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
He’s also got some compasses, foxglove beardtongues, indigo and lead.
“There are black-eyed Susans, cup plants that hold water in the leaf and stem so that birds and insects use them for getting water, indigo, compass plant – the leaves and stem have a resin that the Indians and settlers used as gum, lead plant, purple coneflower, foxglove beardtongues, five to six different kinds of asters, at least a hundred different species of prairie plants,” said Dudek, standing alongside the road near the entrance to the Chatfield Fish and Game Club, admiring the hillside plot he’s cultivated in native prairie flowers and grasses.
The rural Chatfield resident is proud of his wildflowers and the grasses that spring up from the once-weedy ditch and hillside.
Dudek explained while most ditches along rural roads have noxious weeds such as wild parsnip, he has worked hard to return the stretch of land almost to its original state and habitat.
“I got interested in this because Tim and Sue Gossman are super prairie enthusiasts,” he said. “When they re-did Savanna Spring at the high school…when they started that, I got involved with it. I started the first chunk about eight years ago.”
He related that he is involved with Roadsides for Wildlife, a conservation group working in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The group had designated a distance of roadside near the club as a prime location to reintroduce native plants to the area. The plants have the potential to stop erosion due to their long roots and potential to provide habitat for birds, insects and small animals.
Dudek said he had been introduced to Roadsides for Wildlife, by his neighbor, Jerome McConnell, who helped him establish some of the groundwork as his interest budded over the years.
Dudek stated, “It’s my passion – I treat the road ditch like any garden. I hand-pull all the weeds, and all the seeds are harvested by me, because these seeds are expensive if you buy them, and they might not be the same.”
He also said this is important when one does acres and acres. “I pick my own seeds and spread them throughout the property, share the seeds with somebody else, teach the neighbors how to harvest them,” Dudek added.
He enjoys watching the changes from spring to fall and year to year.
“It always changes. What it looks like this year is not what it will look like next year,” he said. “The grasses start out in the spring, and then later in the year, the flowers start. The more dominant plants start to spread out, and if you burn it off, it will change.”
Dudek also explained that prairies are 60 to 70 percent grasses, and the other 30 percent is usually flowers. Because his little prairie is so close to a ditch, it’s hard to keep it pure – birds carry seeds from weeds across the road and drop them here.
“I keep pulling all the weeds,” he said. “The more that the prairie establishes itself, the more it chokes out the weeds. I keep pulling all the noxious weeds, and eventually, there shouldn’t be any here.”
From April through October, the drive past Dudek’s hillside is ever-changing, and he welcomes passersby to take it all in by either simply looking or stopping to photograph the birds, butterflies and plants.
There is also a stone that marks the homestead site of Chatfield settlers John and Mary Murphy who, in 1853, cleared a trail out to the valley and set up their home.
“Lots of people have come out here and taken pictures of the butterflies and the flowers,” he pointed out, adding that it’s also been a destination for family members’ senior pictures.
The work to maintain it is ongoing and “a working agreement between the landowner and the county,” as he thanked Fillmore County Commissioner Tom Kaase and county engineer Ronald Gregg. Both men support the claim that the hillside ditch, which would normally be mowed, is a greater benefit to the environment if the county’s mower stays on the other side of the road and Dudek is allowed to mow the shoulder himself.
“I thank Ronald Gregg and Tom Kaase, because they’ve made this possible, and people enjoy coming out here,” he reiterated. “This is fine for me as my hobby…we’ve also got 14 bluebird houses on this land, and my grandson helps me clean them out in the fall and close them up in the spring. This is a great way to be outside.”
Dudek encouraged anyone interested in growing prairie grasses and wildflowers to consider researching Roadsides for Wildlife, or more locally, just asking him how to plant some Susans.