Sustainable Backyard Tour shows off organic gardening

Mark Kuechenmeister’s rain barrel collected 55 gallons of rainwater in the last few days of storms. His backyard rain gauge measured 0.78 of an inch just on Saturday night.

“I haven’t had to water the garden at all this year because of all the rain,” Kuechenmeister said.

Kuechenmeister’s home in Jennings was part of the fourth annual Sustainable Backyard Tour on Sunday. The free event featured 46 stops throughout St. Louis city and county, where volunteer farmers and home gardeners displayed their organic crops, chicken coops, bee hives and hummingbird habitats.

The purpose of the tour is to “educate people about the benefits of growing your own food,” said Kuechenmeister, 52, who grows corn, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, broccoli and more in a 10-by-40 foot vegetable garden. He also harvests blueberries, strawberries, peaches, and grapes from 50-year-old vines. “It’s getting away from the grocery stores and knowing what you eat.”

The EarthDance Organic Farm School was one of the largest stops on the tour, with 14 acres tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Ferguson. The school sits on the Mueller Organic Farm, which has been active since 1883. There, 33 apprentices learn how to be organic farmers and gardeners. Most of the 150 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers go to the farm’s community supported agriculture program, which allows members to buy seasonal produce directly from the farm. The farm also supplies produce to several local markets.

The farm includes a seventh-generation garden, based on an idea credited to Iroquois native Americans that our impact on the earth will last that long. The garden hosts the “three sisters” — beans, corn and squash — to complement each other. The beans use the corn stalks as a lattice, and the squash suppresses weeds to help keep the proper nutrients in the soil. Basil is grown next to tomatoes, as a natural deterrent to rabbits. In a partnership with Lincoln University in Jefferson City, the farm also has stink beetle traps and reports the activity level of the pest in this part of the state.