Establishing an Uncommon Orchard with Native Plant Understory

Progress report for YENC20-153

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2020: $4,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Scattergood Friends School
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Manager:
Mark Quee
Scattergood Friends School
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Project Information


In a Fall 2019 Agriculture and Climate Change class, students studied ways to make Scattergood's certified organic school farm more resilient to the impacts of climate change as well as incorporating ways to combat it. They recognized that native plants and food-producing perennials are an effective combination. This project will allow several different classes to be involved in converting approximately one acre of underutilized certified organic pasture into organic orchards with a native grass understory. Students will study, experience and report on eradicating introduced species, selecting and seeding native species, and selecting, planting and caring for appropriate food-bearing perennials.

Project Objectives:

This project will provide students with hands-on experience in native plant restoration and agroforestry, including:

     Organically removing established introduced plants through tillage and cover cropping,

     Working with experts from the Xerces Society in selecting and seeding geographically and functionally appropriate native species,

     Working with experienced farmers in selecting and transplanting food-bearing perennials,

     Presenting information effectively through signage at the orchard site,

     Educating our immediate and extended community through tours, presentations, social media, and a field day.

During the summer of 2020 we tilled up the existing pasture and cover cropped the area with buckwheat. It flowered and set seeds so we mowed in late summer and actually got a nice rebound from the self-sown buckwheat. That suppressed weeds pretty well and as things are breaking dormancy this spring I'm seeing very little of the pasture components (but quite a few spring mustards, which are annuals and should be pretty easily controlled with mowing).

During May 2020 our biology class worked with Sarah Foltz-Jordan of the Xerces Society to develop the understory mix (Sarah has been exceedingly helpful and patient with us throughout the process), and after some significant adjustments this winter (and an infusion of additional money from Xerces) we purchased a very diverse mix and sowed it March 22, 2021 with our middle school students.

Another biology class in the Fall of 2020 consulted with Dean Henry and Tom Wahl (with a field trip on November 11, 2020 to Red Fern Farm to see some of the things they were considering) about fruit tree selections. Similar to what I've experienced with our garden seeds, when I started looking for trees in January, so many were already sold out. I kept looking, but have ultimately decided to put the tree planting off for one year (which will also provide for some easier management as the native understory gets established) and order trees earlier for planting next year. I'll also talk with Tom and Dean about their experiences with fall planted trees and see if that is something we want to pursue in part.

We have purchased some of the tools and the understory mix, plus the custom tilling, drilling, and mowing. We still have more tools to purchase as well as all of the trees and bushes. We did not attend the Savannah Institute Gathering since we were remote at that time and it just seemed hard to make happen. Hopefully we'll be able to attend in person December, 2021.

The current plan is to manage the establishment of the native understory with occasional mowing this year, perhaps plant some fruit tree/bushes this fall, but finish planting all of the trees/bushes by May 2022.

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Consultations

Participation Summary:

1 Farmers/ranchers
2 Educators
1 Other adults
Education/outreach description:

Update on Outreach activities:

We may be hosting a field day in the fall of 2021 (unsure of whether it will be in person or not) for another project we have going on with Iowa State University Horticulture and perhaps tie in with Practical Farmers of Iowa programming and this is in process. I told Ajay Nair at ISU that we would also like to feature this SARE project in the field day (though it will certainly be "in process"), and he was agreeable.

Student touring Red Fern Orchard unearthing chestnut seed
Students helping seed pasture


Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.