With one butterfly section already installed at the farm (in record time!) by the fifth grade class 5A, work has already begun on the second section- the entrance into the forest! For those who pay close attention, the edge of a given forest or woodland area is always teeming with life. With so much competition for dappled light in the heart of the forest, the edges become a place where light-loving plants leap with growth. Inevitably, annual weeds, vines, and a whole multitude of flowering plants erupt in these conditions, leading to increased butterfly activity. What’s more, several tree species- including our state tree, the tulip poplar- are actually host plants for certain butterflies, adding to the value of a forest edge.
Since the edges of forests naturally draw butterflies, the New Hope fifth grade class 5C has been charged with the task of making a few garden beds right before the entrance into the forest. With guidance from Mr. Vaughan, these fifth grade student s have already begun the hard work of ‘shaving’ off the existing Bermuda grass in three 12 ft by 4 ft areas. With the grass out of the way, the class will then begin the tedious process of digging swales, or water ditches, in front of where these three beds will eventually go. The swales will act as erosion control, catching the runoff water that will inevitably fly down the heavy sloped land. Once the water hits the swales (which are designed to be level all the way across), it will slowly seep into the ground, watering the butterfly host plants that the class will get to plant in the beds. This system is very similar to the long farm berms, and will add a wonderful natural-watering element to the forest edge. The plants that will go in these beds- all being currently researched by the fifth grade class- are all native plants that thrive in a thicker clay-based soil. Because they are native to this area, they will thrive in our hot, humid summers and will even tolerate periods of drought!
In addition to these three new beds, the New Hope team is also working hard on transforming the forest edge into an orchard! The New Hope Urban Farm already hosts a multitude of fruit trees and cane berries. With apples, pears, figs, blackberries, blueberries, muscadines, and Asian persimmons already growing in our 3/4 acre lot, the farm is packed with all sorts of delicious treasures for students to eat and learn about. With only a limited amount space, however, addition trees would leave the farm a little too tightly planted. The forest edge, however, provides a perfect spot for new fruit tree additions. With enough room for people to meander down to the forest entrance- but also a little dappled shade created by the growing fruit trees in the years to come- a small orchard of rare fruits seemed like the perfect complement to the new butterfly beds. The orchard will include trees rarely talked about in Memphis: three Russian Pomegranates, three Asian Persimmons, and three Serviceberries. Diversity at New Hope is our strength, and the farm and forest are no different! These additions will provide students with rare opportunities to learn from (not to mention eat from!) fruit trees that they may not have heard of before.