Don’t Miss The 2016 Sustainable Backyard Tours This Sunday

Fred and Susan Burk of Kirkwood with some of the native plants they plan to give visitors at the June 12 Sustainable Backyard Tour. photo by Diana Linsley, Webster-Kirkwood Times.

Fred and Susan Burk of Kirkwood with some of the native plants they plan to give visitors at the June 12 Sustainable Backyard Tour. photo by Diana Linsley, Webster-Kirkwood Times.

The 2016 Sustainable Backyard Tour is all set for 11 a.m., this Sunday, June 12. Find out what fun you can expect this year by reading this overview!

By Don Corrigan (South County Times)

It’s Christmas in June for tour organizers given their success in lining up stops. There may not be a “partridge in a pear tree” on the tour, but there are:

– 7 Monarch Way Stations
– 6 Slow Food Growers
– 5 Master Gardeners
– 4 Missouri Beekeepers
– 3 Backyard Chicken Coops
– 2 Master Naturalists
– 1 Deer Creek Watershed Alliance

With apologies to the partridge, the pear tree and music composer Frederic Austin, there are many more sights to see in backyards on June 12. Some displays are inspired by the Audubon Society and the Wildlife Federation. Others involve roof solar panels for sun-powered home enthusiasts.

Jim Stroup of South County has about 20 solar panels on his roof. He can talk sun power, but he also is willing to talk to folks on the tour about his pollinator garden, his bee-keeping and his geothermal system for cooling and warming his house.

“This is the sixth year for the tour and my third presenting my backyard to folks who are interested in getting into sustainable living,” said Stroup, who lives on Teakwood Drive near Concord Village. “People who drive down my street would think it’s pretty ordinary, until they see the backyards.”

“A lot of visitors want to talk to me about the solar panels,” added Stroup. “I am what is called ‘grid-tied,’ which means at times I am generating enough electricity to sell some back to Ameren. However, on cloudy days, I get my electricity back from them. They provide an itemized accounting of what goes on, but I pay less than $100 a month for electricity.”

Stroup said a sustainable lifestyle with gardens, bee hives, recycling and solar power can save a homeowner some money. However, he said his investment is primarily about saving the environment – not putting more dollars into a savings account.

“When people ask me when I see a payback for my investment in some of these things, I tell them, ‘the very first day.’ That’s because I am interested in reducing my carbon footprint, the pollution, the reliance on fossil fuels, for the good of my children and my grandchildren,” Stroup explained.

What It’s All About

Jim and Judy Stroup compose one of 50 families who’ve volunteered to host tour visitors in their backyards. As a host, you agree to open your yard from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and to interact with curious visitors.

Terry Winkelmann, tour founder, said it’s difficult to know how many visitors will come because attendees design their own routes and set their own pace. They choose backyards from the addresses and descriptions in the tour booklet and website. The website is:

“Practices like naturescaping, rain gardening and edible landscaping are spreading into every neighborhood and town,” said Winkelman. “We want to find the trailblazers so we can shine a light on their efforts and inspire others to do what they are doing.”

Winklemann, who lives in south St. Louis, said she was inspired to start the tour in 2010 when she decided to  bring chickens to her backyard. She toured five backyards in the area of Hampton and Chippewa for ideas. She came to the realization that a similar tour – on a much bigger scale – would aid people in learning about different sustainable backyard practices.

“We had 47 stops and several thousand tour participants in 2015, in just five years,” said Winkelmann. “It’s all about getting the most out of your backyard without using pesticides and herbicides and poisons that are harmful to the environment.

“We call our event the ‘Can Do Tour’ because we want visitors to come away saying, ‘Hey, I can do this!’ People find they can pick up new skills and they have people they can call for advice on how to get their projects done,” Winkelmann explained.

According to Winkelmann, the tour is always looking for new hosts, but there are plenty of charter hosts who are affiliated with Audubon, Missouri Mycological Society, Webster Groves Herb Society, Brightside St. Louis, St. Louis Beekeepers and many more.

Winkelmann said a yard does not have to be perfect, elaborate or large to qualify for the tour. It does have to be interesting and has to have something to teach visitors on the tour.

“It’s fun! It’s fun!”

Susan and Fred Burk of Kirkwood have visited yards on the St. Louis Sustainable Backyard Tour for several years. Thanks to the advice from tour hosts and Shaw Nature Reserve, the Burks now are hosting visitors in their own backyard this year.

“We’ve considered ourselves as sustainable for a long time.” Susan Burk said. “We’ve had a compost pile since 1970. Six years ago, I started taking classes at Shaw on natural plants and gardens. After that we got into worm gardening. Our goal is to appreciate and preserve God’s creation.”

Now the Burks have added bees. They say it adds a nice buzz for their backyard and the flowers this summer are all for the buzzing pollinators.

“It’s fun! It’s fun!” Susan Burk exclaimed. “To get out and watch all these bees going from plant to plant. Our yard becomes alive. And, our garden was recently certified by the Bring Conservation Home Program. Terry Winkelmann came to look at our backyard and said we have what it takes to be on the tour.”

Stroup of South County agreed with Susan Burk that pollinators in the backyard are “the bees’ knees.” He said acquiring a bee presence can be easier than you might think.

“The bees are like my solar panels, you just install them and it’s a non-event,” said Stroup. “A beekeeper comes and services the hive and he occasionally gives me a jar of honey. It’s a great deal. People ask me if I get stung. I don’t. And the neighbors like the bees and do not complain.

“I do more talking on the day of the tour than I do the entire rest of the year,” said Stroup. “I usually can’t talk to everybody who shows up, but my wife, Judy, and the family get involved to help out. There are never more than five or six cars out front at a time. The tour is just a good time.”

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