Fall Update 2015
It’s been two years since the big floods of 2013, and we’re finally seeing the land bounce back and start to dry out. With help from the United Plant Savers and their generous grant, we made a great start this season in adding some medicinal plants to the landscape and beginning to repair our Medicine Trail.
Early spring rains caused the river to rise higher than usual, and with the already damaged banks and still overly saturated ground, we had to hold off for a bit as we waited for things to dry out. By mid-June, we decided that we needed to add a little human intervention and hired someone to rebuild the river bank and put in a few culverts in the trail so that we could continue our work. Our hope is that next spring, the river will stay within the new banks.
A few of the more wild areas of the farm are still holding water, and we were fortunate to be able to tap into the local resources at Colorado State University, where we found this downloadable guide to Colorado wetlands. http://www.cnhp.colostate.edu/cwic/documents/EasternPlains.pdf
In our horse pasture, we were able to fence off some of the areas that have turned into small marshes, (depressions in the landscape created by seasonal water). According to Guide to Colorado Wetlands published by CSU, a marsh is “characterized by emergent vegetation” and will often have standing water in spring and early summer. This marsh environment has provided us an opportunity to experience new plant species, such as American Speedwell, Hornwort, cattails, bulrushes, sedges, and grasses.
In addition to the marshland areas, a great deal of our original Medicine Trail is now in what we would classify as a Riparian Wetland. From the information in the above field guide, we were able to learn that the Riparian Wetland is created with intermittent flooding and moving water, with a high water table and are typically found in the floodplain. This area is often dominated by trees and shrubs (primarily for us these are Wild currents, Willows, and Russian olive trees. We also have a great deal of organic flood debris still built up in this Wetland area.
The Riparian Wetland is a diverse ecosystem and animal habitat. We see numerous animals living in that area, including foxes, raccoons, weasels, and coyote. Birds are also heavily present, with a nesting pair of Great Horned Owls and Red Tail Hawks, as well as ducks, cranes, and plovers. We saw a great influx of amphibian and reptile life this year as well, with many frogs, toads, snapping turtles, and snakes.
After studying and recognizing the areas where we believe the ecosystem is best left alone, we were then able to re-map our Medicine Trail and determine where and what we’d like to reintroduce to the landscape. In many cases, we just took the plants that had survived the flood and helped to spread their seed to reinforce their natural populations. These included spreading Milkweed seed, Goldenrod, Plantain, Wild licorice, Dandelion, Catnip and Yarrow. But, in some cases we chose to add plants that grow easily here in Colorado, but may not have been in our original wild landscape. Included in this area were things such as Echinacea, Valerian, Calendula, St. John’s Wort, Red Clover, Alfalfa, California poppy, Mullein, Marshmallow, Lemon balm, Motherwort, Mugwort, Chickweed and Burdock.
Our more formal specimen gardens were planted with species that needed a little more interactive cultivation. These gardens are close to the Herbal Classroom, so the students are able to see the specimens easily. The medicinal plants include: Oregon grape, Black Cohosh, Self-Heal, Valerian, Yarrow, Agrimony, Elderberry, Echinacea, Epazote, Gotu Kola, Tobacco, Hops, Lavender, Tansy, etc.
Heading into fall, we now turn our efforts back toward doing some of the hardscaping of the trail. Though the trail has been rebuilt and is now walkable, we’d like to re-line it with logs and rocks (most of which were washed away in the flood) as well as building some signage for people when they are on a self-guided tour.
Fall seeding will include spreading some local grass seed on the areas that were moved around to rebuild the banks, as well as probably scattering some wildflower seed in the same area. We will continue to manually move seed from one part of the farm to another to continue to strengthen our native populations of indigenous plants as well.
We are continuing to plant trees and shrubs throughout the farm. This year also saw a late freeze and some drastic temperature fluctuations in spring that have caused a serious threat to the trees in Colorado. Many of our existing trees are struggling this season, and we also lost a number of fruit trees. We will need to replace about three apple trees as well as about three willows. We are holding out hope that many of the trees that still seem to be struggling will be able to recuperate during the rest period of the winter.
We are so grateful to United Plant Savers for their generous grant that gave us a chance to purchase seeds and plants that went directly into the trail and gardens this year. Three Leaf Farm has truly become a Botanical Sanctuary and the students of our workshops and retreats are now able to harvest directly from some of the plants on the property.
Our goal is to continue to motivate people, especially medical herbalists, to grow as much of their own plant medicine as possible. The more that people are able to cultivate for their own needs, the less stress we will see on wild populations of plants. For the first year, we were able to harvest all of our St. John’s Wort from the farm and did not have to wildcraft any. This offered us a deep feeling of accomplishment!