Sunday, June 27, 2010

Introduction to the Invasives

Living in an urban area has its conveniences but also many challenges. One of those challenges is dealing with the invasive plant species that have been introduced by well meaning gardeners.  Here are several we are continually battling.

Bush Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowi)

Bush honeysuckle is a native of Asia and extremely invasive. The berries are eaten by birds, which transport them all over. They easily end up in our area parks and woodlands where they take over.

Bush honeysuckle was planted along the edge of our yard before I moved in. It took me quite some time to become informed about this invasive, and I have been fighting it since. They are extremely hard to kill. It cannot be done without herbicides, which I carefully dab on the cut stumps to try and avoid contaminating anything around it.  Every spring I am continuing to pull seedlings that pop up in my yard.

If you discover bush honeysuckle in your yard, please take it out and consider replacing it with native plants.  If you live in Missouri, the Missouri Department of Conservation has an excellent brochure, which gives wonderful native alternatives.

Wintercreeper  (Euonymus fortunei)

This plant has been used as a ground cover all over St. Louis. You can also find many “euonymus trees” in the area as people let the vine grow up the tree. When allowed to stay on the ground it can usually be kept confined to a given area. However, when this vine is allowed to climb up trees and on fences it will flower and produce berries, which, just like the bush honeysuckle, the birds eat and spread. Wintercreeper is being found in our local parks and woodlands where it chokes out the wild flowers and kills small trees reducing the diversity in any area it grows.  At Adventure Farm I find wintercreeper in my gardens on a regular basis.

Some lovely MO native ground covers that can be used in place of wintercreeper include:

Squaw-weed (Senecio obavatus and Senecio ampullaceus)
Native ferns
Rose verbena (Glandularia canadensis)
Purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrate)
May Apple (Podophllum peltatum)
Canadian Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)

Sweet autumn virginsbower  (Clematis terniflora )

This is one of our biggest problems. This clematis blooms in the fall with beautiful showers of tiny white flowers. I can understand the attraction. However, it is highly invasive and hard to get out. I pull and pull this stuff every year and try to make sure it doesn’t bloom and go to seed in the fall.

Unfortunately these are not the only invasives in our area and that trouble us at Adventure Farm.  There are more than I could possibly list here, but a short list of sometimes surprising invasives include:

Burning Bush
Butterfly Bush
English Ivy
Rose of Sharon
Japanese honeysuckle

Please take some time and become familiar with your native alternatives. A nice place to visit online for MO natives is the Grow Native website at

Grow native is a program developed jointly by Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

If you don't live in Missouri, I'm sure there are many resources in your area to help you become informed, too. Get Googling :)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Vegetables

This is my third year growing food, and I learn a lot every year. For instance, I learned last year that vegetables need much better soil than the natives. We worked all last fall hauling leaf mulch and horse manure along with anything else that we thought would help the soil and that we could get for free. One thing we are determined to do is get the best soil for as little cost as possible. Hopefully, soon we will be able to add nutrients to the soil just using the compost generated from the garden waste coming from the property along with composted chicken manure. That would be the most sustainable way, and our goal. However, our soil has been depleted for too long and needs some outside help at first. Plus, we are not ready to add chickens to the site, so we haul what we can find for free to our little plot of land. 

You may be surprised at how easy it is to find free resources for improving your soil.  Many of the St. Louis municipalities offer free leaf and wood mulch if you are willing to haul it away. We got plenty of both last fall and I suspect will continue to need to add more for a few more years. You can also find people with horses in the St. Louis area who are happy to have you haul off as much soiled bedding as you would like. Another opportunity we have found is from garden nurseries who use straw bales for decoration in the fall. These bales become wet and moldy and perfect to cover those freshly made garden beds. This past fall we were able to build raised beds that included layers of leaf mulch, garden compost and horse bedding and then covered them with a thick layer of moldy straw. The straw helped to insulate the new bed during the winter and the earthworms and other soil organisms had a party all winter. This spring when I started to plant the veggies, I found beautifully composted soil full of worms. The work we did in the fall and the work the soil detritivores and decomposers did in the winter is paying off big time this summer. Things are looking way better than last year's sorry crop. 

 Most of our seeds this year came from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. in Mansfield MO.  We used them last year too and had good success. We enjoy supporting a more local seed supplier and using heirloom seeds.  For more information you can go to their website at

While I'm thinking about it, another local supplier is Morgan County Seeds,  They are located in Barnett, MO and have great prices. Their site isn't as pretty as Baker Creek, and I often have to go elsewhere to get more details on a product they are offering, but most of the time the price is worth the extra effort. A word of warning though, they are a small business and during the busy times of year ship REALLY slowly. They'll tell you this, but if you aren't prepared and need something right away, it's a bit of a bummer. Be sure you plan ahead when ordering from them.  

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Introduction to the Natives

 Much of the land at Adventure Farm has been converted to areas with native plants.  Missouri has a history of flora diversity, which includes the wetlands along the largest river in the continental US, the Ozark mountains, and large expanses of prairie. In this small space we have included species found in all those areas.  As a result of planting and nurturing these natives, we have also observed the change of animal species who visit our backyard. Among the many fauna that make regular visits to our yard are cooper hawks, barred owls, garter snakes, American toads, bats, flickers, goldfinch, raccoon, and opossum among many.   While we still have many squirrels and rabbits, I am convinced that there are less because of the owls and hawks. The insect pest population is definitely reduced from the bats, snakes and toads.

Recently I was reading an article written by Dr Doug Tallamy, “Gardening for Life”, published in the Wild Ones Journal.  Dr. Tallamy does a wonderful job promoting the importance of planting natives in our yards. I would recommend this easy read to anyone who is the least bit interested in a yard with less lawn. For those of you more interested, I would suggest Bringing Nature Home: How Native plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens also by Dr. Tallamy.

You can find a copy of the above mentioned article at:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Farming at Adventure Farm

Growing things at our urban farm started as a passion for native plants and a desire to attract and help sustain local wildlife. Since that time, many years ago, our focus has expanded to include the desire to grow our own food and make this small plot of land in St Louis county a place that helps to sustain the humans as well as the native plant and animal species.  This is a continuing learning experience that we hope to share on this blog.