In the Darby Plains Prairies at the Battelle Darby Creek and Prairie Oaks Metro Parks, it's that time of year again. Front-loaders with rotary brushes and collecting boxes attached are being used to harvest the seeds of prairie grasses, while staff and volunteers perform the painstaking end-of-summer task of collecting wildflower seeds.

In the Darby Plains Prairies at the Battelle Darby Creek and Prairie Oaks Metro Parks, it's that time of year again. Front-loaders with rotary brushes and collecting boxes attached are being used to harvest the seeds of prairie grasses, while staff and volunteers perform the painstaking end-of-summer task of collecting wildflower seeds.

Their purpose is to further extend and preserve the prairies that once covered 380 square miles of west central Ohio. According to the Metro Parks' quarterly publication, ParkScope, the project began in 1976 when parks staff sought out and collected seeds from alongside railroad tracks and in undisturbed fields to begin the work of preservation.

The work continues annually, and currently more than 600 acres of prairie has been restored, according to the ParkScope story, written by Gordon Mitchell, resource management technician with the Metro Parks.

Mitchell writes that the prairie land, once covered with water several months of the year, became some of the most desirable agricultural land in Ohio after fields were tiled and ditches dug. During the land's agriculturally productive century and a half, he notes, "the tall grass prairie was almost obliterated."

Restoration of prairie requires an arduous and time-consuming effort. Flower seeds are placed on drying racks the same day they are collected, again kept separate by species, while grass seeds are stored together in drying rooms. Once seeds are dry, they are cleaned and separated from chaff or straw, according to Mitchell.

Eventually, usually in late fall but sometimes not until spring, seeds are planted via seed drills in specially prepared areas. A cover crop is planted during the first year to control weeds, Mitchell writes.

Mitchell's full story about prairie restoration appears in the Fall 2009 edition of ParkScope, which was distributed with the Aug. 26 edition of The Columbus Dispatch or can be downloaded at www.metroparks.net.