Friday, July 25, 2014

Mystery Hawk on Campus: Solved

So as well as being a gardener, my recent trip to Yellowstone brought back my love of birding that I had so much as a kid. I used to sit by sliding glass door that led out to the patio with the bird feeders back home and count chickadees, nuthatches and juncos in the snowy bittersweet vines. It can be a little difficult being an active birdwatcher while taking college courses and living in a house with nowhere to hang a birdfeeder.
But after seeing mountain bluebirds, harlequin ducks and all manner of stunning birds on the trip out west, my interest was peaked again.

eBird, a bird reporting website from Cornell University is my favorite birding tool because it compiles my "life list" of birds for me and I can add notes about where/when I saw them, age, sex, details about what they were doing, etc. It's a pretty neat tool if you're at all into birding. And they use the data to keep tabs on bird populations, so everyone benefits.

Yesterday I was over on the UMN East Bank campus, talking with a friend while she stood waiting for a bus. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a large bird swoop up into one of the ash trees outside of Folwell Hall and immediately got excited. It's not too often that I get a close look at a raptor that's stationary instead of soaring overhead.

Peeking up through the branches, I found my bird.

I'm not the best bird identifier out there so I knew it was a hawk, but not what kind. Going home, my internet search brought me to the conclusion that it was a Broad-Winged Hawk...only to be told to day by a kind passerby on Google+ (who had seen the picture I put up) that it was actually a juvenile Cooper's Hawk. Apparently there's a successful nest on campus with 5-6 young birds that have been flying around campus.

Bird Identification 1-Abby 0.

But that's what I like about birding. If you don't know what bird you saw, chances are there's a nice birder out there who will let you know what it was.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Today's Harvest

I got a little camera-happy while we were weighing and counting tomorrow's market stand produce at the farm today. I can't help it, it's all just so pretty.

The beets were just so beautiful!!

"Patty pan sqaushes just look like cute UFOs!" -Erin the Food Safety Intern

Danger: Incredibly spicy cayenne peppers. Try at your own risk!

On a different note, I had an AWESOME chat about pollinators with some folks over on Twitter tonight. If you've got some time to spare, next Tuesday night there will be another #pollin8rchat over on the Twitterverse at 8PM Central. Just follow the hashtag and join in!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Plant a Pollinator Garden at Your Vacation Home!

Minnesota "cabin culture" as it has been called, is a normal part of life where I live. It's very common for a family to pack up for a long weekend at the cabin several times per summer, if not every weekend! In an article by CBS Minnesota, it's estimated that there are 122,000 "seasonal/recreational properties" in Minnesota alone. When you think about the Midwest (Wisconsin and Michigan also being popular places for people to own cabins) that's a lot of private property! Our family (primarily Minnesotans) own a cabin in Wisconsin, so this goes across state lines as well.

Sunset at the lake.

This weekend, as I was taking a much needed vacation to our family's cabin with my family and my boyfriend, I got to enjoy the wildlife, dense forests and lake views. Sitting on the deck, enjoying the mild weather we had over the weekend, I was also able to enjoy watching all the bees, butterflies and birds that visit the garden my grandmother has planted in front of the cabin. She has planted a lot of pollinator-friendly flowers and shrubs in a small strip along the front of the cabin that is not only nice to look at, but incredibly easy to maintain. We generally visit our cabin on weekends and for slightly longer vacations throughout the summer and into early fall. Sometimes, however, no one is there for weeks at a time, meaning that the garden is left on it's own. I know many others with cabins like ours have similar vacation patterns. But just because we leave doesn't mean the pollinators do! This got me thinking, what if all these cabins, vacation homes, camps, etc had a pollinator garden planted? That would be close to 122,000 pollinator gardens in Minnesota, plus however many seasonal properties you find in the rest of the Midwest!

The plot that entices our local pollinators.

It's fairly common knowledge that, currently, pollinators are struggling. Not only are pollinators at risk from chemicals now used in pesticides and herbicides, but they're also struggling because of climate change. It's important for us to do everything we can to help increase pollinator populations because, without them, our future will be pretty dire as well. Pollination by bees alone accounts for the survival of 30 percent of the world's food crops and 90 percent of our wild plants. Include pollinators such as butterflies and birds in that equation and the numbers get even higher.

If you have some empty yard space at your cabin or vacation home, here's a few things you can do:

Plant a Pollinator Garden
1. Plant native plants. Not only will these plants be better for your native pollinators, but they'll be easier to take care of. Native plants are better adapted to the climate you live in, so they won't need extra water or fertilizer and most are perennials so you won't have to replant year after year. Many native plants often also serve as larval host plants. 
2. If using non-native plants alongside natives, make sure to check with the grower that you're buying from that it's a low-maintenance plant that tolerates your local climate well.
2. Choose plants that have varying bloom times. That way, you don't have a bed of flowers that only bloom in the spring and then are useless to the pollinators for the rest of the season. It'll also ensure you have blooms every time you visit your cabin, whether it's June or August!
3. Choose plants with varying colors. Different pollinators are attracted to different colored flowers. This table from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign is a simple way to plan which colors to add into your garden and also includes other characteristics that certain pollinators find appealing.
4. Plant in clumps. Keeping the plants together makes it easier for pollinators to buzz, fly or hop from one flower to the next.

The bee balm is one of the favorites.

AND it comes in many different colors!

Add Some Extra Resources
1. Adding a hummingbird feeder is a great way to attract these beneficial and entertaining birds to your property. Hummingbird feeders are sold at most hardware and home-improvement stores and sugar water is easy to make. Just remember: don't add red food coloring to the sugar water and clean out the feeder between fillings. Easiest way to do this at a cabin is to just clean it and fill it once per visit.
2. Leaving brush on your property in a brush pile is great for pollinators like bees that use places like that as nesting sites. It should be noted that bees that are nesting are not the same as bees building a hive. 
3. Create a bug hotel, to house the many beneficial insects that will frequent your garden.
4. Add some sort of decorative dish that can catch rainwater so pollinators can get a drink. Filling the dish with partially submerged pebbles and stones is also helpful to the smaller pollinators like butterflies and bees.

Pollinator water dish. (Photo: TC Daily Planet)

What to Avoid
1. Pesticides and herbicides. Honestly, why you would need to use these at a cabin or vacation home is beyond me. You're not going to be there most of the year anyway, so having less weeds is not going to have a huge impact on your life. If you need to handle a pest problem with pesticides, research which options would be the least harmful to pollinators and the environment. Many chemicals have been found or are thought to be harmful to pollinators, so just skip them if you can and pull out those couple weeds by hand if they're bothering you.
2. Modern hybrid flowers, especially those with double petals. These often are bred only for the blooms and have no pollen, nectar or fragrance.
3. Covering bare soil with landscape fabric. Many pollinators rely on the soil to dig nests, and others like those native weeds that poke up through your perennials. 

There are TONS of design plans for pollinator gardens out there, so go use that Google machine and start planning yours! 

For more resources about creating pollinator habitats, check out the links below!
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database (find native plants for your region!)
Pollinator Guides by Ecoregion (download a guide specific to your area!)
US Fish and Wildlife Service Pollinators Page (get educated!)
Pollinator Partnership (TONS of resources)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Great Garlic Rescue!

Today at the farm, the interns executed the Great Garlic Rescue of 2014. As you can see in the first picture below, the situation was pretty dire. The garlic beds looked like small forests and the garlic, which is in the process of drying down, was being smothered by the giant weeds.

Before. You can't even see the beds!

In comes the intrepid intern team and three adventurous volunteers and, with a day's work, we managed to rediscover and rescue the garlic beds. The plants can finally breath again and continue to dry down so we have some tasty garlic for our market stands!


Don't they look happy?!

This weekend I'll be out at my family's cabin, so no blogging for the next few days, but catch me over on Twitter!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Two posts in one day! Phew! But I couldn't pass up Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, that's for sure. I just have a few pics from out at the farm I work at and on my walk home...

First we have some pollinator habitat on the border of one of the vegetable beds at the farm. There are several areas where we've just let a chunk of field grow wild and gotten some stunning results!

Then we have the one of the lovely sunflowers that popped up near one of the high tunnels this week. It always makes me smile.

On my walk home there's a crazy, overgrown front garden that belongs to one of my neighbors. Despite the insanity of the garden, it's got quite a few amazingly strong perennials battling each other for the spotlight. This lily was especially gorgeous this week. I wonder who will take center stage next.

And finally, some asters on the edge of the farm's clover border.

Super Simple Kale Chips!

Processing day at the farm generally sees the interns going home with the leftover or unsaleable produce. Today, it was a bunch of hole-y kale that was fine, but wouldn't look good in a farmer's market bag. I couldn't pass up the chance to try my hand at making something with kale. It's not a food that I've found myself ever using. I've honestly always been a bit apprehensive about using it... It's a "popular food" or a "super food" and I never know what to do with those! Is it really good or is it just hype? Then my boss told me that if I wanted something easy to do with kale, I should definitely try kale chips. Once she explained how easy they were to make, I was sold. Now that I've successfully made them (on the first try!) I decided I needed to tell more people about just how easy they can be to make!