St. Francis Garden Club – Compost, Raised Beds, Planting, Skunkvine

Last Friday after stopping to see the compost pile, we divided the garden club students into groups to complete various tasks: (1) working on the square raised beds for the early elementary students, (2) weeding and planting flower seeds, and (3) clearing skunkvine from bushes on campus.

Compost: Earlier in the day, the temperature in the compost pile was 92°F while the air temperature was only 72°F indicating active microbial growth. Later in the morning, the compost pile was covered with small mushrooms. After school when the garden club met, most of the mushrooms on the surface were gone, but students found a few button mushrooms inside the compost when we turned the hay with a pitch fork. We added vegetables from the cafeteria and watered it since it was not supposed to rain over the weekend.

Watering the compost

Raised Gardens: We set up the four square raised gardens two weeks ago, but hadn’t had enough soil at that time. The Incarnation Parish staff purchased more potting soil, so our garden students broke up the clumps of soil and pulled a few weeds that had stared growing already.

Working in the raised-bed garden

Weeding and Planting: Students were assigned rows to weed in the garden. They also planted flower seeds in the lower level. Our goal is to grow vegetables in the top level, but to establish a healthy environment for bees and butterflies in the lower level. Each section was labeled with the type of seed planted. These included Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), Alyssum (Saxatile compactum), Forget-Me-Not (Nomeolvides), Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus), and some packages of mixed flower seeds.

Adding fertile soil from a pile on the side of the garden while planting flower seeds.

Skunkvine: In a conversation with the kindergarten teachers a few weeks ago, they mentioned the “smelly” plants growing outside their classroom. I investigated last week and found skunkvine, also called stink vine, growing over the bushes. The scientific name is Paederia foetida. It was brought into Florida as a possible fiber crop but it soon escaped cultivation to become an invasive problem throughout Florida and neighboring states. It is a rapidly growing vine that can damage and kill plants it is growing on. The garden club students pulled the vine off the bushes to temporarily free the area from the vine. They did not use any chemicals, so the roots are still active in the soil and the vine will come back again. We’ll let it come gradually come back and I will get chemicals to spray it. The IFAS site describes the plant and its control as follows:

Skunkvine is a woody vine that does not have thorns. Its vines are able to grow 30 feet in length, climbing up into tree canopies or crawling along the ground. For some unknown reason, the vines constantly twine to the right. The smelly, foul odor released when skunkvine is crushed may a useful characteristic that can aid in identification. Skunkvine leaves vary in size and shape. Generally skunkvine leaf blades have rounded to cordate (heart) shaped bases and acuminate (pointed) tips, with entire (smooth) margins. Leaves may be opposite on the stem. In rare instances, leaves have also been found in whorls of three. Leaves and flowers are on petioles about 2 ½ inches long. Skunk vine flowers are small, light grayish pink or lilac, with red centers. The fruit are small, spherical, shiny brown having 2 black, non-winged seeds. Skunkvine is able to reproduce vegetatively and via seed. Its stems are able to root readily in soil. It is thought that seeds are eaten by frugivorous birds and spread, but has not yet been verified.

Chemical control is one of the most effective means of control for skunkvine, but single applications will generally not provide complete control. This is due to resprouting from rootstocks or root crowns. A dilution of triclopyr (Garlon 3A at 1 to 2% solution or Garlon 4 at 0.5 to 2% solution) in water can be an effective control for skunkvine when applied as a foliar application. Be sure to include a non-ionic surfactant at 0.25% (10 mLs or 2 teaspoons per gallon of spray solution). These herbicides are systemic (move throughout plant tissue) so care must be exercised to minimize off-target damage. If skunkvine is growing up into trees or other desirable species, vines should be cut or pulled down to minimize damage to the desirable vegetation. Pulling the vines down without severing them from the root crown will allow the herbicide to move into the root and provide better control. The best time to apply an herbicide is in the spring and summer when skunkvine is actively growing. Be sure to allow adequate time for the plant to regrow from the winter to ensure movement of the herbicide back into the roots. (As plants grow and mature, they begin to move sugars back into the roots).

Pulling off the skunk vine.