Seal of Dane County County of Dane
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Native Seed Program

The Native Seed Program focuses on providing seed for restoration projects within park natural areas. Several hundred acres of prairie, oak savanna, and oak woodland are restored each year, making seed one of the biggest expenses for restoration projects. More and more seed has been collected each year, allowing the use of limited funds to purchase rare seed that otherwise wouldn't be in new restorations. Every year, thanks to Dane County Parks volunteers and partners, thousands of pounds of seed are collected, processed, and sown.

By collecting seed from properties across Dane County, volunteers help to preserve Wisconsin's native flora and fauna for generations to come.

Workday Types & Signup

Collection

During the summer and fall, seeds are collected from hundreds of native plant species from prairies, oak savannas, wetlands, and woodland ecosystems. Volunteers have the opportunity to learn: basic to advanced plant ID techniques, plant phenology (stages of plant growth), plant ecology, and differences between habitat types. Come soak in the beauty of southern Wisconsin's natural areas and enjoy autumn at its best! 

Workdays are typically hosted June - November. Click on the "Current Workdays" button below.

Cleaning

All of the native seed collected throughout the season is processed in-house by using different pieces of machinery (hammer mills and fanning mills) and by hand. Cleaning the seed helps later in the weighing and sowing process and offsets hundreds of thousands of dollars in native seed purchases. Volunteers have the opportunity to learn: native seed identification, how to clean seed by hand, how to operate (and maintain) seed cleaning equipment from the 1920s, and much more. 

Workdays are typically hosted November - January. Click on the "Current Workdays" button below. 

Weighing

In this final processing step, all the clean seed has to be weighed and portioned-out into individual bags for allocation to specific restoration projects. Weights of bags differ and range from ounces to pounds. Volunteers will measure out specific amounts of seed using simple hand tools and scales at individual stations. 

Workdays are typically hosted in January. Click on the "Current Workdays" button below.

Seeding

Prairie, oak savanna, and wetland restorations are seeded in the winter months and mostly with mechanized equipment. However, volunteers are needed when certain species are best sown by hand, at different types of year, or need to be sown in areas that can’t be accessed by vehicle and/or planting equipment. Volunteers have the opportunity to learn: seeding density, how to choose certain species by habitat type, and much more.

Workdays are typically hosted in January - March, but can be other times of year. Click on the "Current Workdays" button below.

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Details & Requirements

Collection:

  • Volunteers should be comfortable with moving on uneven terrain through various kinds of vegetation (grasses, flowers).  Everyone can take breaks as needed. 
    • Staff can often times accommodate those who would prefer to stay to the edge of a mowed path and collect from easily accessible species.
    • If further accommodations are needed, please reach out to the Dane County Parks Volunteer Program. 
  • Bathroom availability varies by park. View the Open Restrooms webpage for more information. If there is no bathroom at a workday site, either use one before the workday or ask staff to suggest a nearby public location. 

Cleaning:

  • Those with respiratory illnesses are advised to avoid these events as this is a dusty process.
  • Volunteers should be able to stand on anti-fatigue mats or sit for long periods of time and wear provided Personal Protective Equipment (PPE such as masks, gloves, etc.). Everyone can take breaks as needed. 
    • If accommodations are needed, please reach out to the Dane County Parks Volunteer Program.
  • A bathroom and drinking water are available on-site. 

Weighing and Bagging:

  • Volunteers should be able to stand on anti-fatigue mats or sit for long periods of time and be able to follow specific directions. Everyone can take breaks as needed. 
    • If accommodations are needed, please reach out to the Dane County Parks Volunteer Program.
  • This work involves reading a scale and seed labels and correctly weighing out different seed amounts.
  • A bathroom and drinking water are available on-site. 

Seeding:

  • Volunteers will need to move with a bucket on uneven terrain and may need to bend and/or crouch in order to properly sow seed. 
    • If accommodations are needed, please reach out to the Dane County Parks Volunteer Program.
  • Bathroom availability varies by park. View the Open Restrooms webpage for more information. If there is no bathroom at a workday site, either use one before the workday or ask staff to suggest a nearby public location.

Youth under 16 years old are allowed to attend with an adult chaperone, and youth ages 16-17 can volunteer independently with a Volunteer Registration Form (PDF) signed by a Parent/Guardian.

Collection:

  • Collection runs June - November.
    • Workdays typically posted in June.

Cleaning:

  • Cleaning runs August through November, depending on the amount of seed collected and need.
    • Workdays typically posted in August.

Weighing and Bagging:

  • Weighing and bagging occurs in the span of 1-2 weeks sometime in January.
    • Workdays typically posted in December.

Seeding:

  • Seeding occurs throughout the year depending on the species being sown, but most workdays occur between January - March.
    • Workdays are posted as conditions allow.

General: 

  • Water: Volunteers should bring their own water. Staff provide bottled water as a backup.
  • Snacks: If you'd like to have a snack during the workday break, please bring something for yourself. Bringing a treat to share with others is welcome (if that is something you enjoy). Staff often try to provide snacks during these workdays.

Collection:

  • What to know: Seed can be collected with hand pruners or a gloved hand. All tools and materials are provided for workdays. 
  • What to wear: Volunteers should wear close-toed shoes, long pants, and long sleeves. Walking through a prairie is itchy. A hat and sunscreen are recommended. 

Cleaning: 

  • What to know: All Personal Protective Equipment (PPE such as masks, gloves, safety glasses, etc.) is provided, though feel free to bring your own. These workdays are in a heated building with over-head lighting.
  • What to wear: Volunteers should wear close-toed shoes and clothes they don't mind getting dusty.  

Weighing and Bagging: 

  • What to know: All tools and materials are provided for workdays. These workdays are in a heated building with over-head lighting.
  • What to wear: Volunteers should wear close-toed shoes and clothes they don't mind getting dusty. 

Seeding:

  • What to know: Seed can be sown with a bare or gloved hand. All tools and materials are provided for workdays. 
  • What to wear: Volunteers should dress for the weather. If there is deep snow: snowshoes, tall boots, or waterproof leg gaiters are recommended. 

Independent Volunteering:
If you are interested in independently collecting native seed for the Native Seed Program, please reach out to Natural Areas staff. Training is provided at seed collection workdays or upon request. 

Volunteer-led Workdays:
Many of Dane County Parks Friends Groups and Certified Land Stewards host Seed Collection and Seed Sowing Workdays independently from park staff. These workdays may be held on other days and times throughout the year. Check the Event Calendar for additional volunteer opportunities. 

 

 

Request Seed

Dane County Parks Volunteers, Friends Groups, and Partners can request native seeds for restoration plantings by completing our online Seed Request Form. Depending on the season, staff may not be able to entirely fulfill your request. 

 

Questions? 

Contact:
Dane County Parks Volunteer Program 
(608) 516-3703
parksvolunteer@danecounty.gov