Earth Day 2022 – Invest in Our Planet

It is time to evaluate our impact on the environment and commit to practices to create a better future for all of us.  No matter where you live, from an apartment with a balcony to a working farm, you can make a difference.

Invasive Plants

Invasive nonnative plants have a negative effect on the environment.  Because they have been introduced in an area without natural controls that would keep them in check, they reproduce rapidly and aggressively.  Some examples of nonnative invasive plants are Tree of Heaven, Bradford pear, Japanese Honeysuckle, and Garlic Mustard. 

Tree of Heaven grows rapidly in all types of soil, with very little water. It is allelopathic which prevents other plants from growing nearby and is a host for the spotted lanternfly, a highly destructive pest from Asia that was discovered in the northeastern US in 2014.  To remove Tree of Heaven cut the trunk as low to the ground as possible.  Dust off any sawdust and apply a systemic herbicide directly on the cut surface using a paint brush to avoid run off onto other plants. (Unfortunately, I have not found a natural alternative to a chemical herbicide. Cutting alone seems to encourage growth.)

Bradford pear trees are readily available from nurseries but are designated as invasive in more than half of the United States.  This tree invades natural habitats and out-competes valuable native species for resources. Bradford Pear have cross pollinated with pear trees and reverted to the ancient Chinese Callery pear which form impenetrable thorny thickets that choke out pines, dogwoods, maples, redbuds, and other trees. The thorns are large enough to shred tractor tires and can only be removed by steel tracked equipment. It is highly recommended that any Bradford pear trees growing on your property be cut down and removed.  Even a single tree can be contributing to the cross-pollination issue.

Japanese Honeysuckle is native to Asia and was imported as an ornamental plant in the late 1800s.  It can form a dense mat which reduces the diversity of native shrubs and trees. Small trees and shrubs can be girdled by the climbing stems.  To remove Japanese Honeysuckle, trim the vertical vines away from the structure or tree then gently pull the remaining pieces from the ground without breaking off the roots. 

Garlic Mustard was initially introduced in the US as a culinary herb. It is now one of the worst invaders of forests in the American Northeast and Midwest. The plant should be pulled out with enough root to prevent new growth before the seeds are formed. It can take five years of manually removing the new growth to eradicate this plant.

Would you like to help remove invasive plants at Serenity Farm Virginia during our next group volunteer day on May 15th?  You can participate in either a 9AM-12PM shift or 1PM-4PM shift. A registration form is available on our Invasive Plant Clean Up Day page.

Attracting Native Pollinators

Cut an apple in half by slicing across its middle and you’ll find a central compartment in the shape of a five-pointed star.  If the apple has two seeds inside each point of the star – ten all together – it was completely pollinated by bees.  If there are fewer than ten, not enough pollen reached the flower’s stigmas to develop all of the seeds.  A poorly pollinated flower will develop into an apple that’s small and lopsided. An unpollinated flower won’t develop into an apple at all. This apple is the heart of why you should care about pollinator conservation.” The Xerces Society

About 75 percent of the flowering plants on earth rely on pollinators.  Humankind and wildlife depend on these plants for food.  Sadly, our pollinators are declining, and many are facing extinction.  But it is not too late to intervene and make a difference.  Taking any action, no matter how small, is better than taking none at all.  Pollinators need a flower-rich foraging area, suitable host plants or nest to lay their eggs, and an environment free of pesticides.  A pollinator garden can be as simple as potted plants on your deck or balcony to spacious gardens on your rural property. 

At our sanctuary we have chosen plants native to Southeastern United States for our gardens: Flowers include aster, goldenrod, purple coneflower, Joe-Pye weed, common sneezeweed, spotted geranium, spiderwort, beebalm, cosmos, sunflower, blanket flower, purple passionflower (maypop), and coral honeysuckle. 

When purchasing plants, choose organic plants or those from small nurseries specializing in natives such.  Big box garden centers may be selling plants treated with systemic insecticides that poison the nectar and pollen. By planting these in your pollinator garden you could be luring insects to their death. You can find helpful native plant nursery directory on the Plant Native website.

Would you like to learn more about our gardens?  Or perhaps you have knowledge you can share.  Contact us to arrange a private tour.

The Value of No-Till Gardening

Tilling depletes soil fertility, causes more disease, and ruins soil structure with compaction which leads to erosion.  A better alternative is to mimic the wisdom of Mother Nature.  Humus, for example, will loosen soil naturally and mulches will smother weeds and add nutrients.

Two techniques used at our farm sanctuary are Hügelkultur and sheet mulching.  Hügelkultur or mound culture is a form of raised bed made with branches and brush topped with compostable materials.  Soil is added to the top before planting.  The decomposing organic material raises the temperature which benefits the plants and as the wood base rots nutrients are slowly released. 

Sheet mulching smothers weeds and grass while adding nutrients to the soil.  We begin with a layer of cardboard topped with a 1–2-inch layer of mulch.  The mulch is then sprayed with a combination of fish fertilizer, kelp, molasses, and water mixed in a garden sprayer.  The next layers are 12” stable bedding with manure, 2” of compost, and 2” of straw on top.  Beds are prepared in the fall, and they are ready for planting the following spring.

Thank you for reading our newsletter!  Serenity Farm Virginia is made possible by friends and supporters like you.  If you would like to contribute today, please click here.  Your donation makes it possible for us to provide a safe, healthy and loving home for our 100 residents. 

Gratefully,

Jo Bighouse

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