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The Pollinator’s Playground: Cultivating a Biodiverse Garden for Your CSA

June 26, 2024

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The Pollinator’s Playground: Cultivating a Biodiverse Garden for Your CSA

The Great Meadow Transformation

One of the joys of meadow-making is converting a deadscape like chemically treated lawn into a wild habitat that supports pollinators like bees, butterflies, and birds. As I check in on a meadow project of mine in western Massachusetts, the sun pours through a clear sky with all the vigor of a summer day. I watch a monarch butterfly land on a spike of bluish-purple anise hyssop and drink from it. For monarchs, which can travel thousands of miles to reach their winter homes, this meadow is like a gas station that lets them refuel on their journey south.

Just a year ago, this one-acre meadow was an empty field filled with old grass and ancient apple trees. Now, it feeds a kingdom of pollinators along with goldfinches, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, chickadees, and many other birds. Mice, voles, deer, and woodchucks forage here. The once-lifeless soil teems with microbial and fungal life that helps it store carbon and makes nutrients available to the plants. That same microscopic world produces sustenance for insects, worms, and other invertebrates, which in turn feed animals like toads and salamanders.

The power of seeds and plants to set in motion and support so much life in so little time is one reason I started my regenerative landscaping practice. I credit a childhood spent largely out of doors in the woods of rural Maine, where my family inspired by the back-to-the-land movement in the 1970s, raised me and my sister. We used only kerosene lamps, so when the day ended, the night moved into and took over every corner of our house. The only source of heat was the wood my father chopped, so cold days outside meant freezing mornings inside before the woodstoves were fired up again.

My parents chose to use as little fossil fuel and plastic as possible, both to help the planet and to become more self-reliant. While I really appreciate not having to heat up water before taking a shower or drive to a laundromat to wash my clothes, I’m grateful I had the chance to grow up living simply and close to nature. You don’t have to live off the grid to help the environment – there’s a reasonable middle road to lightening your burden on this planet.

Lawns and Meadows: A Tale of Two Landscapes

Lawns have become something of a national obsession. We waste an enormous amount of resources every year maintaining a closely cropped area of turf that totals more than 63,000 square miles – about the size of Washington State. Landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly nine billion gallons per day. Lawns are a danger to the planet and to many living things, including your children and pets.

In contrast, a meadow is what can happen when you give the earth a chance to heal itself. When planted properly, it fills out easily and grows almost entirely on its own. With every year in the ground, meadow plants support more life and build healthier soil. This makes them quite efficient at sequestering carbon – just the opposite of a resource-guzzling lawn.

Lawns are among the ways we burden nature. Meadows are far more generous, giving back to the earth much more than they take. Recently, a friend of mine did something very simple – she allowed common milkweed to grow in one of her garden beds instead of pulling it out. Milkweed attracts monarch butterflies and their caterpillars, and my friend counted no fewer than fifty monarch chrysalises that had hatched. If more of us go ahead and plant meadows, these beautiful creatures will have a much easier time finding their way back.

Cultivating a Biodiverse Garden for Your CSA

As you can probably tell, I’m passionate about creating meadows and other regenerative landscapes. And as a designer for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) service, I’m excited to share my knowledge with you on how to cultivate a biodiverse garden for your CSA.

The foundation of a thriving CSA garden is biodiversity. By planting a diverse array of native flowers, grasses, and other plants, you’ll support a whole ecosystem of pollinators, beneficial insects, and other wildlife. This not only makes your garden more resilient, but it also creates a lush, visually stunning environment for your CSA members to enjoy.

To get started, you’ll want to evaluate the lot, yard, or community space you want to transform into a meadow. As long as it gets enough sun, it’s likely suitable. From there, you can design your meadow using a mix of easy-to-grow perennials like purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and butterfly bushes.

At Thornapple CSA, we’ve had great success with this approach, creating vibrant, pollinator-friendly gardens that not only nourish our members with fresh produce, but also delight them with their natural beauty. I encourage you to embrace the power of meadows and biodiversity in your own CSA garden. It’s a win-win for you, your members, and the local ecosystem.

Designing for Diversity

When it comes to designing a biodiverse garden for your CSA, there are a few key principles to keep in mind:

Focus on Native Plants

Native plants are essential for supporting local pollinators and other wildlife. They’ve evolved alongside these species, providing the nectar, pollen, and host plants they need to thrive. Incorporate a variety of native flowers, grasses, and other flora into your garden design.

Create Layered Habitats

Think vertically when planning your garden layout. Include a mix of tall plants, mid-height perennials, and low-growing groundcovers. This creates a layered, three-dimensional landscape that provides shelter and resources for a wider range of species.

Minimize Disturbance

Avoid tilling or extensively digging up the soil, which can disrupt the delicate underground ecosystem. Instead, focus on minimal-disturbance techniques like sheet mulching to establish new plantings. Once your meadow is established, let it grow and evolve naturally with minimal maintenance.

Embrace Messiness

Resist the urge to tidy up your garden too much. Leaving fallen leaves, dead plant material, and a mix of blooming and dormant plants creates important overwintering habitat and food sources for insects and other animals.

By following these principles, you’ll cultivate a diverse, resilient garden that supports a thriving community of pollinators, beneficial insects, and other wildlife. Your CSA members will delight in watching this vibrant ecosystem unfold before their eyes.

The Joy of Meadow-Making

As I reflect on my own journey with meadows and regenerative landscaping, I’m reminded of the profound joy and wonder it has brought me. Growing up in the woods of Maine, I developed a deep appreciation for the natural world and the intricate web of life it sustains.

When I started my landscaping practice, I knew I wanted to create spaces that would nourish and restore the earth, rather than deplete it. Watching a once-barren field blossom into a thriving meadow, teeming with pollinators and other wildlife, is truly magical. It’s a reminder of the incredible resilience and regenerative power of nature, if only we give it the chance to flourish.

As you embark on your own journey of cultivating a biodiverse garden for your CSA, I encourage you to embrace the joy of meadow-making. Slow down, observe, and marvel at the unfolding of life all around you. Plant with intention, tend to your garden with care, and let the natural world work its wonders. Your CSA members, and the local ecosystem, will thank you for it.

Remember, every little bit counts. Whether you have a sprawling plot of land or a small patio garden, you can make a difference by incorporating more native plants, reducing lawn area, and letting nature take the lead. Together, we can transform our landscapes into vibrant, biodiverse oases that nourish both body and soul.

So roll up your sleeves, get your hands in the soil, and let’s create a Pollinator’s Playground that will delight your CSA members and support the local ecosystem for years to come. The rewards, both tangible and intangible, will be well worth the effort.

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Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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