The greening approach we took so far has 6 unique strategies and procedures:
- we are planting only native species
- we treated our trees for the emerald ash borer
- we are ridding the property of invasive exotic plants
- we removed the cement around our walkway, and plan to do this with other walkways as time allows.
- we are removing railroad ties as we can, the old staple of our landscaping
- we are using mechanical instead of gas powered mowers, while keeping an eye on what happens with the electric tool market which has come alive with the spread of the Lithium battery and it's weight to density increases
So this spring we finally made an order to JF New, a Walkerton Indiana company that is a subsidiary of a large engineering and construction firm called Cardno, a multi national construction company along the lines of Bectel or Keiwitt from Australia with a large US presence, but with a little green seed inside of it. You see, over the years there has been a sophistication of state construction projects, where the median of the highway, instead of just being planted in some prolific and tough grass that doesn't mind the ever present whine of the highway and is easy to handle, is now planted in native crops. As far as I know, it's required by almost every state in their bidding process for highway work.
Along came a company called JF New in Walkerton to supply seeds and plugs for this market, large construction projects that endeavored to plant not hearty exotics that might become invasives, but plants that might have been part of the prairie habitats of the area before farming appropriated it for other uses. While I like a good ear of corn, and respect a farmer's right to make a living no doubt, it's important to understand that before European settlement of Indiana in the 1800's, from about 1830-1880, spreading from the Ohio River north, there were mostly hardwood forests, but there were not only huge swamps like the Grand Kankakee, but elk parks (yes, Indiana had elk, and grizzlies and wolves for that matter, and yup, more mountain lions than the one or two we might have crawling around now) and those elk parks, open areas where elk's grazed, that might have been old beaver ponds that silted up or forests that burned down, had dozens of prairie species in them. The real american prairie started a bit further west in Illinois where the eastern forest ceded some of it's dominance, but Indiana sure had bits of it too.
JF New put up some greenhouses and created a major operation supplying large construction jobs, environmental cleanups, and the demand for the sides of highways and medians. Two years ago we bought a collection of plugs and seeds from what was then known as JF New, and now is known just as Cardno Native Plant Nursery, only a half hour drive away in the now politically famous Walkerton (sadly, the Pizza place was closed last time we were in town), but due to what we will call labor inconsistencies, some very hot weather right after planting, and then a long construction project overhead, while some of the seeds might have fared well down on the slope leading to the lake, but the plugs did not, in fact, I don't think any of them survived the last two years, so we mulched over and started a'new..
We ordered plugs from a wide variety of options from Cardno with only one requirement.. one of our staff is tired of everyone having black eyed susans, so they were out.. otherwise we ordered from a long list on a database they have, eliminating for a lack of deer heartyness and for the clay soils and heavy sun exposure they will get, and the type of Indiana Ecological community we were in. The web page spat out a list, we crossed out the susans and were told to come grab our order in May.. they don't release them before then in case we get a late cold snap.
It just so happens that our new Gardner, a hard working guy named Rick who is no stranger to work or farming, and was noticed twenty years ago by one of the Vonnegut House employees for his prowess at wrestling which he added football on top of in college, lives in Walkerton so grabbing the flats and planting them when he got to work was no problem.. They have been in now about two months and are slowly growing over the large swaths of what I'll jokingly call Mulch Barrens and making the house prettier by the day. Two of them even shot flowers multiple feet int he air after just a few weeks of spreading their roots.. while they have a ways to go, it's looking better and we are all noticing that after a looong absence of anything pretty to compete with all the great woodwork on the house.
Rooting out the invasive plants is another dilemma at the house we are tackling. If you drive around Indiana, and know what you are looking for, you will be stunned at the proliferation of nonnative plants that are taking over our forests. I had a multi day lesson on this problem from a forester this spring who we were lucky to have visit the house, and when I drove down to Indy a few days later in that prime period in April when one particular invasive called Bush Honeysuckle is about the only thing you see leafing, with little green buds everywhere, I started to realize what an epidemic the problem is. We discovered that one of the old decoratives on the property was the very same creature, and it got a quick memorial service before it was torn out at the roots from near the driveway. I started to have guilty thoughts that maybe the Vonneguts brought it innocently as a decorative for their back lawn so many years ago, and might be responsible for it's now epidemic proportions around the state, but I tried not to think about it.. suffices to say the damage is done.
We have treated our multiple ash trees to protect them from the Emerald Ash Borer this spring, an invasive insect from Asia, and although we lost 2 of the about 15 trees we treated, and a few of them definitely still look a bit beat up, they leafed out against our expectations and are holding on, proving the treatment worked to some degree. On others we couldn't save, we ground down the stumps and grew grass over them. The huge pile of firewood we now possess, about two cords, came from cleaning out obvious fatalities of this persistent blight that is active throughout the Midwest. Sadly, the Ash is by far the most numerous of the trees on our property, and throughout the Midwest, and survivablity is expected to be under 1 in 100 until our american Ash variants build up natural defenses against the pest, a process that usually takes centuries or more of natural selection.