Couple takes root with Wild Ridge Plants

AFP Correspondent

POHATCONG TOWNSHIP (May 1, 2016) — On a ridge above the Pohatcong Creek, a 200-year-old farmhouse presides over greenhouses, small fields and plants in frames.
Wild Ridge Plants is a wholesale and retail native plant nursery and also the home of Rachel Mackow and Jared Rosenbaum and their son, Beren.
Mackow and Rosenbaum were working in conservation when they realized they wanted to do something on their own.
At first they rented property in the Sauerlands, in Hillsborough Township, but they decided they needed to buy land so they could invest more time into the plants that take years before they can be transplanted in their permanent home.
Rosenbaum grew up in Manhattan, but had Riverside Park to roam in. Mackow was born in Rayway and raised in Holland Township, very near her current farm.
“We moved around,” Mackow said on a warm spring morning, walking around the property. “We decided we were done with urban living and slowly got into conservation work. I loved to be around the plants, I became hooked on long rambles.”
She took some classes, but both she and Rosenbaum studied mostly on their own, she said.
They have owned the property for a little over two years and are gradually putting more of their slightly more than five acres into native plants.
The plants are chemical-free but not Certified Organic. They use organic fertilizer, but their potting mix is not Certified Organic.
It would be difficult to be Certified Organic when dealing with conservation organizations, a large part of their clientele, Mackow said. In regard to restoration project, “a lot of the tools available to us are not necessarily organic,” she said.
A number of their projects have been large and for non-profit organizations.
They did a native green roof for the Mercer County Parks Commission and have provided native plants for a number of public gardens: Bull’s Island State Park, Duke Farms, Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, Pottersville Fire Company, Round Valley reservoir, Beech Mountain and the Stony Brook/Millstone Watershed Association, according to their website.
Mackow added they have also worked with Hopewell School and Birdgewater Raritan High School.
They also work with private clients, including people interested in butterfly and pollinator gardens.
“We steer them to a wide variety of plants,” she said of the customers interested in pollinators. “Some people think they just need nectar or host plants, but grasses and hollow plants like elderberry are also important.”
Rain gardens are becoming more popular with their customers, she added.
Their client base is mostly in Central Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.
Mackow and Rosenbaum do a lot of programs for the public, mostly on the farm, but also at events, such as the Northeast Organic Farming Association – NJ Winter Conference, to get the word out about Wild Ridge Plants.
At NOFA-NJ, she talked about the native species that can be used for foraging and herbal medicine.
She called them “Band-Aid plants, healing the earth we’ve opened.”
Besides eating and healing, plants have a cultural value, Mackow said. She noted lightning bugs like organic plants and “lightning bugs are a cultural experience.”
Rosenbaum was trained in anthropology and history, which helps him in writing about and representing their devotion to native plants.
Mackow studied photography and she said at NOFA-NJ she “felt empowered by foraging, taking photos and making bouquets.”
Wild Ridge Plants has two greenhouses for overwintering plants.
They are covered with a shade cloth and a thin film is added from late November to the spring.
“We prefer the rain irrigates the plants, the plants respect it better, the rain coaxes them out of their pots,” she said.
The film gives the plants a jump start for the spring sales which begin around Mother’s Day, she said.
Most of their sales are at events, such as the Mercer County Master Gardeners Expo, or to wholesalers, but some customers come out to the farm on Mountain Road in Pohatcong Township.
A number of large frames hold seeds and an open field has more plants.
Rosenbaum said he has recently started an area for woodland plants.
Those without a fibrous root system take longer to develop for transplanting and need to be started in the ground rather than in pots.
Mackow said the property likely had an orchard on the hill behind the house. “The fields have been here forever. It might have been an orchard or tree farm,” she said.
Wild Ridge continues to grow and change as Mackow and Rosenbaum increase the area for planting and do projects around the farm.
It is surrounded by deer fencing which improved the survival of the plants. They try benign ways of dealing with other pests, like relocating caterpillars, although the family cat, Mountain Kitten (named by 5-year-old Beren) does rodent-duty.