From Beans to Peas by Peg Zeis

The soil scientist was here for the purpose of performing pre-building soil borings. A hike through the woods followed and as we stood together overlooking the failed soybean field to the north of the wood’s edge, he explained the natural history of the sandy, nutrient deprived soil referring to it as “drift dunes.” Not long before Steve’s visit I had learned about a unique and highly endangered habitat called Black Oak Savanna and visited small parcels of that habitat type that had been rescued and protected by several organizations in NW Indiana. Now my interest was piqued as was my desire to see that special twenty-seven acre barrens restored to what it was when the early settlers arrived in the area and eventually tried to grow crop in soil conditions not at all suited for corn and soybeans. A considerable number of contacts finally led me to “the only man in the area who knows anything about that type of habitat”, Nate Simons. It wasn’t long afterward that Nate and I took our first walking tour of the area which, by then, we had learned was for sale. Blue Heron was without the finances to buy a twenty-seven acre sand box but a developer was and purchased the ancient dunes to be sub-divided for building purposes.

By and by Blue Heron Ministries was able to obtain ownership of thirteen contiguous acres and restoration plans were underway. As the ground by that time had been left fallow, a few grub oaks had begun pushing through the soil and several species of native grasses and sedges were discovered to have survived the chemical applications made throughout the farming years. Volunteers worked in the hot evening sun to cover native plants and the small oaks with containers and plastic bags to protect them from the chemical to be boom sprayed to eradicate the agricultural weeds which remained after farm efforts were abandoned. To better help us understand what and why we were doing what we did, Nate arranged a tour to a small Oak Savanna near Bristol, IN, where we could catch the vision of what was being proposed for our newest Blue Heron Ministries sanctuary. In December, 2008, the first seeds of grasses and forbs were cast onto the snow-covered soil. By the following spring Badger Barrens* started bursting with plants which at an earlier time had graced the landscape.

Throughout the years since 2008, BHM has utilized fire, mowing, and some limited spot chemical applications to control invasive species. Each year we have enjoyed the grasses and plants that thrive in dry soils including little bluestem, big bluestem, Indian grass, side-oats gramma, various goldenrods and asters, native clovers and blazing star, coneflower, butterfly milkweed, and tall coreopsis. A 0.6 mile loop trail was installed to enable hikers to traverse the preserve.

This spring, Badger Barrens was heavily carpeted with the most beautiful of all – the Wild Blue Lupine. It brought me to tears more than once as the woods trail upon which I walked opened to an endless sea of shades of lavender. Volunteers and friends who came to view, photograph, and hike the preserve were overheard saying it was beyond what they had imagined and that it simply took their breath away.

Our work is not done. We will strive to keep Badger Barrens free from invasive species and this will be the first year that we will take large amounts of the abundant seed of the Lupine to other like habitat restoration sites. It is thrilling to think that this lovely plant will bless onlookers as it has those of us who have experienced a rescue, a healing, and a renewal of a piece of God’s earth – a testimony of a relationship made right.

*Naming: In the summer of 2002, while hiking with friends, we found a young and obviously ill badger. We contacted Fred Wooley of Pokagon State Park fame to give our find credentials. We explored the field and Fred showed us what was confidently identified as badger dens. At that time the badger was listed as an endangered species in the State
of Indiana.

%d bloggers like this: