by Will Parson
October 29, 2020
A neatly fenced native wildflower garden next to Tina and Jeff Gleim’s long gravel driveway is the first hint of how the retired couple is slowly reshaping their 69-acre property by hand.
The oval-shaped garden began with a kit from the York County Master Gardener Program, complete with 49 native plants from seven species that bloom throughout the growing season to offer a constant supply of food for pollinators. Tina, a certified Master Gardener, ordered more plants to effectively double the size of the garden.
“Next year it’ll be even bigger,” Tina says.
Jeff laughs as he says they have to keep expanding the garden fence. Having obtained a graduate degree in environmental pollution control decades ago, Jeff’s career took a different path. Now, after a long career at a local paper mill, an array of stewardship projects is something of a return to his roots. Through their own steady handiwork, the Gleims are offering more and more habitat for native plants and animals on their land.
The couple is standing in front of the rural home they purchased 17 years ago, in view of several other garden beds they have planted. They are surrounded by several fields that were actively farmed until just a few years ago. Along fences are bird boxes that Jeff built and Tina painted. Hanging from their barn are bat boxes that Jeff also built. A hole in the barn leads to an owl box installed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Walking to a milkweed patch near the barn, Tina gingerly moves a monarch caterpillar from a denuded plant stalk to one with more leaves for it to eat. She and Jeff spot a kestrel perched nearby, and muse about the possibility of installing a nesting platform for the raptor.
In addition to their Master Gardener activities, Tina and Jeff both became certified Master Watershed Stewards in 2019. To do so, they attended 40 hours of training and had to perform 50 hours of volunteer service their first year, followed by 20 hours every following year to maintain their certification. Lately, those hours include helping build rain barrels—25 sold at an event the weekend before—and volunteering at a tree sale.
“I’m at, like, 480 hours anyway,” Jeff says. “I kind of overshot, but I like to do stuff.”
Providing habitat, while protecting water
The Gleims decided to stop renting out their land for corn and soybean cultivation when they determined that they were losing more soil to erosion than it was worth.
“When we took it out of the farming, the soil just didn’t seem to be healthy to me,” Tina says.
Instead of crops on one hill are young trees, some of which were grown from seeds Tina collected from river birch, eastern redbud and silver maples. Watered by hand using milk jugs, each tree has to be mulched and fenced for protection from deer.
“We only plant maybe six to ten new trees a year because it’s a lot to take care of,” Tina says.
They now wait until July to mow their fields, so ground-nesting birds can nest and fledge in peace. And if they see native plants returning on their own, they mow around them.
“I’d like to have that whole field down there, where it’s mowed, be just all native grasses and flowers,” Tina says. Though they haven’t pursued it yet, a new turf conversion program in Pennsylvania may help—the state has set a goal of planting 5,000 acres of meadow and 5,000 acres of forest by 2025, in order to improve water quality and offer habitat.
Tina and Jeff have also worked with the nonprofit Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring based at Dickinson College for almost two years. And they were the only volunteer participants in the York County Coalition for Clean Waters, a stakeholder group that is central to implementing the York County Watershed Implementation Plan, which is the county’s plan for meeting Chesapeake Bay Program goals for clean water.
Looking to the future, the Gleims are considering ways to protect their land forever.
“I’d hate to have to sell it and have somebody develop it,” Jeff says.
The couple is considering a conservation easement, which would limit construction of new homes on the property in perpetuity.
“I want it to be just like it is, or more natural,” Tina says.