My time here is spent mostly all alone, finishing difficult and physically demanding projects at my own pace. I find this kind of interaction with learning to be incredibly helpful and I feel that the skills I’ve acquired here are going to stick with me for the rest of my life even if I don’t go into sustainable agriculture as a career, simply because I have had so much hands-on experience with them.
Before I got here, I made a promise to myself that I would learn more about native Ohio plants. I felt that this would make me feel more connected to this place and more committed to finishing out my degree here. In order for this to manifest at Procter, I’ve been designing a native plant garden to be built after my departure. I began by simply reading the Xerces Society Guide to Attracting Native Pollinators, since I knew native plants were the best way to do this. Back home in St. Louis, my parents are beekeepers and the decline of the honeybee is on my radar all the time. I began planning my garden only to attract bees, butterflies, moths, bats and birds. But I soon learned that rain catchment (or lack thereof) is a huge problem on the farm here. I then became very interested in the idea of building a rain garden.
There are lots of different ways to go about building rain gardens, some of them much more costly than others, and I read about many options that people had been successful with. I have chosen to design a rain garden using hugelkultur beds. These essentially are built by digging holes in the wet areas, filling them with logs, sticks, twigs, and bark, and then covering them with nitrogen-rich compostables and a layer of dirt/mulching. On the last farm where I worked, there was a hugelkultur natural dye garden being built, and I got to see the process first hand. It is an effective way of making too-wet (and too-dry) areas into the perfect condition for growing plants.
I have planned to build this rain garden in three zones- the first will be the wettest section of land. Here we will plant things that are accustomed to wet conditions; I chose to look into swamp milkweed, white turtlehead, golden alexander, and culver’s root. The second zone is a bit drier but still considerably more wet than the ideal landscape, and I have planned to put serviceberry, tall phlox, and indian cup there. In zone three, the driest of the areas, there will be blazingstar, bergamot/bee balm, and wild passionflower. This is only ten plants, but I wanted to learn a whole lot about each of them in order to plan the best garden I could.
In honor of another promise I made myself to paint every week I was here, I painted tiny pictures of each of the plants I studied. On the back they have information about care, which pollinators are attracted to them, and the seasons they bloom. I don’t know if this garden is actually going to be built after I leave, but I know it helped me understand my surroundings and make a “problem” on the farm into something beautiful and helpful.