100 Days of Honeysuckle - an inspiring guest blog from Helen Steussy.

A woman dressed in warm clothing is cutting down an invasive plant in the snow.

Helen cutting down an invasive plant in the snow.

My husband and I knew we loved nature.

I’m just not sure we really knew what nature was…..
…until that fated day when we accidentally bought some land.

Yes, I was 38 years old. We had 3 little girls ages 6, 4 and 3.
And I was 9 months pregnant with a boy when…
Tom played golf.
Well, he played golf most weekends. But this day was special. He played with Jack Lee, who was into real estate.
Tom came home and said Jack had a property he wanted to show us. So, I got a sitter and we followed Jack out into the countryside near a good school.
He showed us a lovely rolling property. We were clueless that it was planted in alfalfa hay. We just assumed everything was naturally lawn.
Well, we put in a low bid, just for kicks and went home and put the kids to bed. Got a phone call that night and found out, yes, they had accepted our offer. We were landowners!
That was the beginning of a long journey.

In fact, it set the course for the rest of our lives!

First, I asked a landscape designer what to do with these 8 acres. He said, “Plant tree.” I often think back and imagine the fellow who said the same thing to Johnny Appleseed.
I order the DNR seedling as suggested by landscaper.

And I got my first shovel since my days in a sandbox.

And it was sitting out on our south border – new tree in the ground, patting the dirt. I leaned back and felt the sun on my face. I heard a bird sing.  And that moment I fell in love.
Teenage-type love. Heart-rending love. But not love for a person. Deep abiding love for The Land.

Somewhere in that time, someone told me about Garlic mustard. That pretty little wildflower growing in my woods? It was invasive! Those nasty plants from abroad fill the woodlands, choking out the native wildflowers and giving nothing to the birds and butterflies I so loved. The one good thing about garlic mustard is that it’s easy to pull, easy enough for a child.
And children is what I had a lot of!

So my kids got used to, every spring day after school, I would give each of them and all of their friends a bucket. They filled a bucket with garlic mustard, they got a Dairy Queen!
Oh, and the tree planting continued. I brought out all my kids’ classes for tree plantings. We would plant an average of 100 trees a year.
But it wasn’t until I had topped 3,000 trees, that I realized I was doing it wrong.
You see, I didn’t have time to plant trees and get rid of the invasive plants (which I knew now were Garlic mustard, honeysuckle, Autumn olive and Multiflora rose). So which was most important?
Well, you know, if you get rid of the invasive plants, nature plants the trees (with the help of squirrels, blue jays and the wind).
So I got serious about removing invasive plants.
And in the meantime we had bought 8 more acres. Then 13 more. And the last addition was 10 acres – 5 of lawn and 5 of invasive plants!
We hired 3 teenage boys and we went out every day that winter and we wiped out the invasive plants in a whoosh!
In fact, the following winter, we got bored. We had the chainsaws and the loppers and the sprayers. But we had no more honeysuckle to cut.
So I turned to Facebook (another fateful turn).
I posted, does anyone need help with their honeysuckle?
My friend, Annie Miller, wrote: Westwood Park needs an intervention.
And the next day I went out and started cutting at Westwood park. And I called my husband to help with his chainsaw. And then out-of-the blue, a man named Ken volunteered to help.
And it became a bit of a game – how many days could we go in a row?
Well, we went 100+ days that first year. And by then we had started up our own CISMA (a Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area) with the help of SICIM.

A group of people outside with various tools for invasive species removal. The sky is blue and there are trees in the background. One person is holding up a sign saying Weed Wrangle.
Join HC-RIPS or your local CISMA at a Weed Wrangle: hchcin.org/remove-invasives

We were HC-RIPS (Henry County Removes Invasive Plant Species). We had people of all ages out there removing invasive plants, giving talks, doing weed wrangles…. And having a heck of a time doing it
We’re now on our 3rd year of 100 Days of Honeysuckle.
We have a lot of fun and we get the thrill of know we are helping Nature survive!
And, as Tom likes to remind me, all because he played golf.

Contact me at hsteussy@comcast.net for any questions!

If you want to help the fight against invasive species check the SICIM website and find your own county's CISMA. If you don't have one yet, they will help you start one!