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Design Issues With Well-Intentioned Monarch Butterfly Garden

In the news lately has been Alice Hezel’s front yard in Maplewood:

Woman defends native plants in her yard; city says clean it up

She and the City of Maplewood are in opposite corners on the issue of her garden. I see both sides. Yes, the Monarch butterfly is critical — we need them pollenating. Like most things, there’s a right way and a wrong way. First, the results from the non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Finish this statement: Monarch Butterfly Gardens in residential neighborhoods…

  1. …are ok if it’s not allowed to grow wild 9 [24.32%]
  2. TIE 8 [21.62%]
    1. …are more important than local “weed” laws
    2. …are a wonderful change from boring lawns
  3. TIE 5 [13.51%]
    1. …are great if the yard is large enough to have shorter natives around tall milkweed
    2. Other:
      1. Fine if they are kept out of the PROW
      2. Are maintained and in the backyard.
      3. should be encouraged, and perhaps rewarded.
      4. shorter natives plus annual flowers like zinnias, which monarchs love
      5. Irrelevant and belong in rural areas
  4. …are a nuisance 2 [5.41%]

Like many of you, I’m bored with manicured lawns — I much prefer a front-yard garden that produces fruits &/or vegetables or provides habitat for birds, butterflies, etc. Ferguson

However, as I’ve experienced with previous yards, getting the non-lawn garden to look like a planned & cared-for outcome is very tough.

The controversial butterfly garden on Cambridge Ave on August 13th
The controversial butterfly garden on Cambridge Ave on August 13th

Though I’d admire Hezel for her effort to create an environment for the Monarch butterfly, she’s ignored some basic rules of good garden design.

There's no physical barrier between the neighbors lawn and her garden. This makes it impossible to keep the grass out.
There’s no physical barrier between the neighbors lawn and her garden. This makes it impossible to keep the grass out.

The tall plant is milkweed — a must for the Monarch butterfly. There are numerous varieties of milkweed, some aren’t as tall as the common variety. I don’t know the variety she has but my guess is it’s the tallest, not the shortest. There are tall ornamental grasses that look great when contrasted with shorter plants — but you wouldn’t fill your entire yard with pampas grass, for example.

The massing of the plants just doesn’t work. I tried to find examples of good butterfly gardens with milkweed but I had no luck. They must exist, but the people I contacted were unable to point me to any. There are great gardens with natives, but not specific Monarch butterfly gardens.

I think Hezel needs to start over, creating a barrier to the North to keep grass our of her garden. Donate the tall milkweed, and get shorter varieties.

Further reading on Monarch butterfly gardens:

— Steve Patterson



Sunday Poll: Monarch Butterfly Gardens In Residential Neighborhoods Are…

Please vote below
Please vote below

Recently a butterfly garden in the inner-ring suburb of Maplewood has been in the news:

Alice Helzer has lived in her historic Maplewood home for more than 35 years and for several years has decided to let the plants in her garden grow. She enjoys growing milkweed because it is a natural habitat for the monarch butterfly.

The City of Maplewood has determined that the plants are weeds and says Helzer is in violation of an ordinance that reads in part: The owner, lessee, renter, head of a household or person having control of any lot or tract of land, or any part thereof, shall not allow or maintain on any such lot or tract of land or any part thereof any growth of grass or weeds to a height of 12 inches or over. (KMOV)

I’ve seen her garden and have my opinions, but first I want to know what you think.

Like always, today’s poll is open until 8pm. The answers are in a random order, you’re free to supply your own.

— Steve Patterson


An Urban ‘Agrihood’ Is Worth Considering In St. Louis

Fox Park Farm is now of many community gardens in St. Louis
Fox Park Farm is now of many community gardens in St. Louis

The recent Sunday Poll was actually two polls, both n0n-scientific. First, the questions and votes:

#1: Which of the following, if any, should residents be allowed to raise in the city? Animals would be subject to minimum space requirements. (Check all that apply)

  1. Chickens 29 [24.17%]
  2. Rabbits 26 [21.67%]
  3. Goats 15 [12.5%]
  4. Sheep 10 [8.33%]
  5. Alpacas 9 [7.5%]
  6. None should be allowed 8 [6.67%]
  7. TIE 6 [5%]
    1. Emus
    2. Ostriches
    3. Dairy Cows
  8. Pigs 4 [3.33%]
  9. Unsure/no opinion 1 [0.83%]

#2: Agree or disagree: With so much vacant land in the city, much more land should be used for urban food production

  • Strongly agree 16 [44.44%]
  • Agree 7 [19.44%]
  • Somewhat agree 8 [22.22%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 1 [2.78%]
  • Somewhat disagree 1 [2.78%]
  • Disagree 0 [0%]
  • Strongly disagree 3 ]8.33%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

I think it’s fair to say among readers there is general support for some farm animal and increased agriculture. For a few years now I’ve been seeing stories about new suburban subdivisions with a farm in the center instead of a golf course:

From 2013:

There’s a new model springing up across the country that taps into the local food movement: Farms — complete with livestock, vegetables and fruit trees — are serving as the latest suburban amenity.

It’s called development-supported agriculture, a more intimate version of community-supported agriculture — a farm-share program commonly known as CSA. In planning a new neighborhood, a developer includes some form of food production — a farm, community garden, orchard, livestock operation, edible park — that is meant to draw in new buyers, increase values and stitch neighbors together. (NPR: Forget Golf Courses: Subdivisions Draw Residents With Farms)

From 2015:

The phrase “planned community” conjures up a lot of images — maybe a swimming pool, obsessively manicured lawns, white picket fences — but a farm is probably not one of them. 

Pushing back against that stereotypical image of suburban living is a growing number of so-called “agrihoods” springing up nationwide. These developments center around a real, functional farm as their crown jewel. According to CivilEats, there are currently about 200 of them nationwide. 

The latest, called The Cannery, officially opened this past Saturday on a site that was previously home to a tomato cannery facility located about a mile outside downtown Davis, California. The 100-acre project of the New Home Company development company is considered to be the first agrihood to take root on formerly industrial land. All of its 547 energy-efficient homes will be solar-powered and electric car-ready, KCRA, NBC’s Sacramento affiliate, reports. (Huffington Post: ‘Agrihoods’ Offer Suburban Living Built Around Community Farms, Not Golf Courses)

Also from 2015, a CBS News story, video below:

This CBS News story was recently repeated on CBS’ Sunday Morning. So this story and taking a survey on urban food production in the city got me thinking: must the “agrihood” movement be limited to very expensive suburban developments? I could see an agrihood being part of the development of the near north side. In an agrihood, the farm is professionally run. It’s not a community garden run my neighbors. It could be a way to create jobs for area youth. I’d want housing to be a different price points and not displace current residents.

We have more land than we’ll likely ever have residents to fill. For years, in cities coast to coast, people have been farming on vacant urban land.  St. Louis is no exception — see RFT’s 10 Local Urban Farms We Love.

— Steve Patterson








Sunday Poll: Two Questions on Urban Food Production

Please vote below
Please vote below

A number of things online recently got me thinking about urban food production:

City and suburban agriculture takes the form of backyard, roof-top and balcony gardening, community gardening in vacant lots and parks, roadside urban fringe agriculture and livestock grazing in open space. (USDA)

One of the things that got me thinking about this was a Facebook post by Ald Cara Spencer, which included a link to a local survey on policy:

St. Louis Food Policy Coalition wants to hear from you about your interest in growing food in the city!

We want to learn from St. Louis residents 1) what you and your neighbors are already growing, 2) what types of agriculture activities you would like to see in the city, and 3) how you would like those activities to be regulated. (SLU)

Because of the range of topics, I decided this deserves two questions today.

Question #1

Question #2

Please respond to both before they close at 8pm. If you haven’t already, please also respond to the survey mentioned above.

— Steve Patterson



Reusing Reusable Shopping Bags; Need For A Bag Giveaway Event

August 22, 2016 Environment, Featured 1 Comment

I’ve been using reusable shopping bags for years now, it’s just habit. I’m also a fan of laws that ban single-use plastic bags or impose a fee for their use. About 160 cities in 17 states have such laws, source. Discount grocery store chain Aldi has charged for bags for years, encouraging customers to reuse them.

In a June 2012 pol, readers favored banning single-use plastic bags. Click image to view that post.
In a June 2012 pol, readers favored banning single-use plastic bags. Click image to view that post.

I keep two bags on my wheelchair — both cloth bags I purchased: one at Trader Joe’s and the other at Eataly Chicago. The TJ’s bag is large, this is my regular bag. The Eataly bag is secondary, in case I want to buy more than the other will hold.  The large cloth bag from Trader Joe’s is the same design as the free Farm Aid bag I got in my media kit when the charity concert came to St. Louis in 2009. That well-used bag is in the trunk of our car, along with 2-3 heavy non-fabric bags.

So we have 5-6 bags that get used on a regular basis. Logically, the heavier the bag the more resources it took to produce and transport it. If it gets reused often it is less of a burden on the environment.

Some reusable bags need to be used over 100 times before they’re better for the environment than single-use plastic bags. Polyethylene bags need to be used four times, a polypropylene bag must be used at least 11 times, and a cotton bag must be used at least 131 times, according to a study by the U.K. Environment Agency. (MarketWatch: The truth about reusable shopping bags)

I estimate the Farm Aid bag I got in 2009 has been used over 1,000 times. Because of the size, it easily replaces 2-3 typical plastic grocery bags. The newer TJs cloth bag has been used hundreds of times at this point — I occasionally toss it into the washing machine to keep it looking good.

While we get regular use out of 5-6 bags, we have many more not getting used. These days every event, conference, etc has a bag. Attend a major car show, for example, and you could go home with a dozen bags — from one event! We both show restraint at events, taking only one bag to hold materials collected. We go for the highest quality available.

Then what? No, we don’t discard them — that would be wasteful. Sometimes a new bag will replace an older one we’d been using regularly. But most end up in our spare closet.

We have four bags of bags, The IKEA bags are ones I've had for at least a decade.
We have four bags of bags, The IKEA bags are ones I’ve had for at least a decade.

We don’t need the closet space, but there’s no point to us having all these bags when others might get use out of them. I wasn’t even sure how many bags we had, so I got them all out and organized them based on size from small to extra large.

Left to right: Small-5, medium-7, large-19, extra large-5
Left to right: Small-5, medium-7, large-19, extra large-5

Yes, nearly 40 reusable bags not being reused! Many, however, have been used more than once. Still, I’d love a way to get all of these into the hands of people who will use them to help give up taking single-use plastic bags at stores. Plus we have an assortment of other bags: lunch, courier, etc. I don’t want to organize it, but I’d love to see an event where bags are collected from people than distributed to the community.

Any ideas? Does this already exist?

— Steve Patterson