Bees Are Important for the Open Range Too!

Most folks have heard about colony collapse and bees.  I had read about how this was going to impact our crops.   Everything popped into my mind from berries to nuts and everything in between.   Never though did I think about grass, pastures and rangeland needing bees until I took this job.   I have seen hundreds, maybe even a few thousand bee hives out on on the open range.  Bees impact more than I had imagined in agriculture and our lives.

One of the many bee hives out there on the open range.

One of the many bee hives out there on the open range.

Waves of Grass

Last week I was in Lake county, Montana.   I stayed in a nice Mom & Pop motel that looked out onto the Flathead lake.    I loved the fact that in spite of it being right on the highway, it was also right on the lake.   In the evening when I was finishing up paperwork I would sit at the table with the window open listening to the waves break against the shore.

My accommodations last week were a classic mom and pop place, built right on the highway  with an awesome view of the lake.

My accommodations last week were a classic mom and pop place, built right on the highway with an awesome view of the lake.

When I got home on Friday, the wind was blowing as it usually does at our place.   The spring has been good to us with moisture and my rangeland grasses are tall.   Watching them bend with the winds, they undulated and reminded me of the waves from the Flathead Lake earlier in the week.   Though I may live a distance from water, my tall grasses are like the amber waves of grain from the song America.

Green Lawn Fantasy

When the days of winter start to  get noticeably longer it  is the time my deep Midwest rural agriculture roots show up in full force.   This is in spite of the fact spring is a long ways away for me since my average last frost is the end of June here in Montana.  It is too early to take action but it isn’t too early to plan, and even fantasize a little bit.

RangerSir wants to try a lawn.    Now I am not sure what possesses him.   We are not in Iowa, and the very best green lawn in Montana is nothing like an Midwest lawn.     I have asked him more than once what drugs gave him this fantasy.   There is not a place that you drive by in our rural area that has a natural green lawn.  Only those with irrigation set ups have green lawns the rest of us have whatever nature deals out.  There are so many reasons for this.

First, we don’t have soil, our land is  crushed granite, that looks like coarse sand.   Zero organic material here.   We have put soil amendments in small plots and it is quickly absorbed/moved/incorporated and soon it is back to crush granite.     When you have soil like this it does not support lawn grass.

Second, we are in an area of Montana called a high semi-arid cool desert.   It means we get less than 12 inches of moisture and most years we don’t get that much. This is not prime grass growing conditions:no moisture and what comes runs right through it in seconds.    Grass, lawn grass likes moisture.  Meaning here we would need to water a lawn to get a green one, something I see as a waste of a precious resources.

Other factors to consider is the wind blows here relentlessly, so keeping things moist long enough to sprout is hard.   The average last day of frost here is the last week of  June, so by the time it is warm enough to sprout grass, any rains we may have had are long gone.  Finally we will need to fence out our free-range chickens, because if they see a seed, they will eat it.

I plan to work with the man of the house to start a pilot project and see if we can get some kind of lawn going.      At a recent charity fundraiser I bought a basket with a bag of  local blend of grass seed for lawns  developed by a local ranch, feed and supply.    Here is to hoping that this blend will allow some sort of lawn without the need for too much water.  As I write this I have come to realize if this comes to pass it will be because RangerSir wants this bad enough to put forth the effort to make it happen.   I have learned to love the maintenance free lawn I have right now….sparsely covered with bunch grass and lots of bare soil.  Maybe my Midwest roots aren’t so deep after all.