Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gone Camping

Hello all!
I'll be out of range for all communication-like technology from Thursday to Sunday while I enjoy a weekend of camping with my family in the gorgeous wilds of the Upper Peninsula. There's no cell service and very little wifi to be found, so there will be no blogging, Twitter or Pinterest for me and I'm looking forward to disconnecting for a few days and enjoying the great outdoors. More specifically, I'm incredibly excited to spend some time hiking and birding while I'm up there. I've got some species I'm hoping to check off my life list. I'll be back in my hometown after Sunday for a week, so I might throw up a post or two about my parent's gardens while I'm there. But this is essentially my vacation from my summer vacation, with no farm work and no alarm clocks, and I'm so so excited to be home for the first full week since January, so forgive me if I mentally check out for a while. Have a lovely weekend everyone!

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!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wild Weather!

In true Minnesota fashion, the weather has taken a turn for the weird this week. Over the weekend we felt some cool breezes, but nothing compared to today when the highest temperatures we got were in the mid-60s! Is this July? Can someone check the calendar for me because I'm confused. I wasn't complaining when I was out at the farm today, however, because man was it nice to work in cooler weather. Then around 4pm the rain started up and came on again and off again all evening. This patchy rain became the most AMAZING sight on our way home from dinner this evening. A massive rainbow that, at one point, looked as if it ended directly downtown Minneapolis. I always said this city was magical. :)

It looks like something similar to this winters infamous "polar vortex" is causing this craziness. A big low pressure bubble has made it's way down from up north and we could be seeing estimated low temperatures in the 40s (what???) on Wednesday. Crossing my fingers that it'll warm up before our planned trip to the cabin at the lake this weekend!

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Today I turn 21. My mom put some pretty cute pictures of me on Facebook as a happy birthday message and this was one of them. This is me at age three. I guess I got started pretty early. :)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Random Farm Knowledge: Part 2

This is my second installation of Random Farm Knowledge, where I detail things I've learned at my internship on the University of Minnesota's Student Organic Farm. It's crazy how much this internship is teaching me about food and farming. Writing it all down is almost necessary so I don't forget it all! Many of my discoveries at the farm revolved around weeds you can eat.

1. Purslane is something I've been pulling out and throwing away, never knowing it was so tasty! We actually harvested the huge amount we had growing around our tomato plants and sold it at one of our farmers market stands. It sold out, so I would call that a success. The Barefoot Food blog has a great post about Purslane that talks about all the great nutrients that are packed into this one little plant.

2. Palmer Amaranth, also known as pigweed, is edible as well. It tastes best cooked as you would cook spinach. An awesome article just came out called "This weed is taking over the planet! On the upside, it's delicious!" that talks about the benefits of eating amaranth. One of the articles it links too talks about the "weed mindset" that we have and how these greens are underutilized as food crops.

Over at our student organic farm blog, I recently wrote a post about our friends the edible weeds. We have so many of them that we'd love to have volunteers come out and harvest some of their own. We also can show them what plants they should be looking for, since no one should eat plants that they can't properly identify. Check it out here.

3. Broccoli and kohlrabi leaves are edible too. Generally they make a good cooking green and are often large enough to wrap around other ingredients and grilled that way. Here's a good post on broccoli greens.

4. Dill can be used for different things at different points of it's life. Obviously before it flowers it's good for fresher eating and seasonings. After it flowers and seeds, however, it's still good for pickling. So don't worry if your dill is flowering and your cucumbers aren't ready for pickle making.

5. Lastly, more of a personal discovery, I LOVE trying fresh herbs and greens with cottage cheese. My favorite combinations so far are basil and cottage cheese, and purslane and cottage cheese. Yum. :) Every week on Thursdays our farm has a potluck lunch and I've found so many new foods and food combinations that I like!

Did you learn anything new in your garden this week? Let me know!

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Garden of Misfit Plants

Every year I seem to have an unconventional garden set-up. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that I don't actually have a garden where I live. Why a landlord would decide to pave over any empty space in the backyard I will never understand, but the only option it has left me with is to find garden space elsewhere. Luckily, the Cornercopia Student Organic Farm that I am an intern at this summer offers it's interns a 10ft x 12ft plot to do with what they wish. Jackpot. After figuring out how to work the tiller, weeding out the plot and raking it flat, I was good to go. I had a few things of my own (mostly tomatoes and a lonely zuchetta plant) to put in the plot, but those only took up a small portion of the space I had at my disposal. 

My zuchetta plant which I started from seed is doing rather well.

This is where my orphaned plant garden began. Working on a farm, you often don't plant every single transplant that you grow out in the greenhouses. Usually it's a matter of growing too many transplants and not having enough space in the field for all of them. I've always had a soft spot for plants that aren't doing so great. I always feel so bad for them and just want to give them a fighting chance, instead of just watching them waste away in unwatered pots. This was the case with a good number of the plants I acquired. The basil, peppers and calendula were all leftover plants that were eventually going to get composted. 

One of the orphaned sweet peppers.

The other plants were the runts of their respective trays. Most of the melon plants were large and had several of their true leaves on them. The runts, however, barely had one or two true leaves, as you can see in the picture below. 

One of the runts of the Sweet Dakota Rose watermelon litter.

The last plants are brassicas that somehow ended up sprouting in the pepper plant flats and no one really knows what they are (my guess is they're broccoli). I popped them out of their adopted flats and put them in my plot just to see what they'd do.

So, in list form, my garden currently has:
-Tomatoes (5 plants, varieties can be found here)
-Sweet Peppers (4 plants)
-King Arthur Sweet Peppers (3 plants)
-Unidentified Brassicas (2 plants)
-Sweet Dakota Rose Watermelon (2 plants)
-Muskmelon (1 plant)
-Zuchetta (1 plant)
-Basil (5 plants)
-Calendula (5 plants)

I have a few more of my own Roma tomato plants and a pepper plant to add to the mix, but we'll see if I end up adding anything more to the mix. I'm glad that I have the opportunity to garden again this summer, no matter how unconventional it is. I'm also happy I can satisfy my inner nurturer that just wants to save as many orphaned plants as I can. I never want anything to go to waste in gardening, plants included. I never thought I would grow melons or brassicas this summer, but these misfit plants definitely changed my mind. I just hope all of them end up making it!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

World Cup Flowers

Scrolling through my Twitter feed this week, I couldn't help notice the Royal Horticultural Society's tweets about the national flowers of the countries participating in the world cup. They would ask their followers to "vote" on which team they wanted to win based on which flower they preferred, a much better way of doing things in my opinion because I often have no idea how to choose who to root for in soccer matches. I always get interested in our history with plants and how we come to choose flowers to represent different things, countries included, so I thought I'd dive into the history of the national plants for the four quarter-final teams and why they were chosen for their respective countries.


Tecoma chrysostricha (left) and Cattleya labita (right)

According to sources that I found, Brazil seems to have two flowers it holds in national regard. The first, Tecoma chrysostricha is called the "National Flower Emblem" of Brazil. The second, Cattleya labita, is often called the "State Flower" of Brazil. Slightly confusing, but I guess the ust couldn't decide between the two. Tecoma chrysotricha, also known as Ipe-amarelo (caled so by the indigenous peoples of Brazil) is the flower of a native, broad-leafed tree that is found in the decidous forests of South America. It belongs to the tropical family of bignonias that has over four hundred species found in Brazil. It gained prominence when it was made the national flower emblem by President Quadros.
Cattleya labita, also known as the corsage orchid, is very popular in festivals in Brazil. It primarily grows in the northeastern part of Brazil where it was discovered in 1818. 


Centaurea cyanus, also known as the blue cornflower, is the national flower of Germany. It is thought that this is in part because of the story that Queen Louise of Prussia, who was fleeing Berlin pursued by Napoleon's forces, hid her children in a field of cornflowers and kept the quiet by weaving wreaths for them out of the flowers. It also became associated with Prussia because it was the same color as the Prussian military uniform. When Germany became a unified country in 1871, the blue cornflower symbol stayed. Other ties to German history include becoming a political symbol, with members of the Freedom Party wearing it at the opening of the Austrian parliament in 2005, and being the favorite flower of Kaiser Wilhelm.


Erythrina cristina galli, also known as the ceibo or Cockspur Coral Tree, was declared the national tree and flower of Argentina on December 2nd, 1942. This species in the Fabaceae family usually grows in forests along waterways and in swamps and wetlands. The tallest varieites are found in the Argentine provinces of Salta, Jujuy and Tucuman.


The tulip is the obvious national flower of the Netherlands. Even though the tulip is not "official" (there hasn't been any decree of any sort to make it the national flower) it's the flower that the country is best known for. The Netherlands produces three billion tulip bulbs a year, making it the most prominent producer of tulip bulbs in the world. Tulips were first introduced into the Netherlands by Carolus Clusius in 1573. The tulips he planted at Leiden University began the infamous "tulip mania" where some single tulip bulbs were said to cost ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. Tulip mania ended when the tulip market crashed extraordinarily. In the Netherlands today, the tulip has come to symbolize the briefness of life and tulip festivals are held annually.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Spirea Pruning

Today, after working six hours at the farm, I got home and decided today was the day I was going to prune the spirea outside my duplex. My inner gardener cringed in horror every time I walked out my door and saw the sad sad state these poor spirea shrubs were in. I live in a rental duplex and am in no way responsible for grounds maintenance, but I honestly don't think these shrubs have been prune in years. Spirea are pretty tough plants, so they were still growing and flowering some under all that dead material, but I knew they would be much much happier if I could give them a little breathing room. I knew it wasn't the most optimal time of year to be pruning, but spirea can take a pretty rough pruning once and a while, so I knew I probably would be doing more good than harm.

Look at these poor things. Hidden under dead branches and weeds.
One determined gardener with pruners comes to the rescue!

Honestly, I didn't think it was going to take two hours. But after working a full day on a farm, I still was determined to get the job done. It's still a little weedy because the tiny patch of "lawn" behind it is mainly weeds and there's really not much I can do for that. I had a pile of dead sticks and weeds that was about 3ft tall by the time I finished. It was worth it to see how much happier the plants looked. One of the neighbor ladies who walks by with her dog approved also. 


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Harvest Excitement

Harvest day at the farm is my absolute favorite. It's the real reason I do the work I do because it's so incredibly satisfying to pick those ripe raspberries or that perfect head of lettuce and know that it's going to end up on someone's plate. Today, I had the pleasure of adventuring through the jungle that is the perennial herb/fruit tree/berry plot to find the seasons first berries, some mint and even a few cherries! The lettuces my coworkers harvested looked scrumptious as well. One of the other highlights of the day, besides the berry picking, was harvest basil. My mouth waters just thinking about how good that basil smelled.


Speaking of basil, I planted that in my personal garden plot at the farm today. I can't wait to add it to my pasta dishes soon! I also planted my tomato plants (finally!) over the weekend and I'm excited for the next good soaking of rain to send them shooting out new growth. Minnesota has been ending June slightly damp from all the rain that's been coming through. But the upside to that is that after most of the major storms we've had, hot sunny weather has followed, meaning that the plants grow like crazy!

Our squashes shot out a couple of inches after the last storm and, over the weekend an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) practicum took place on the farm and gave us a heads up on some squash bugs that decided they wanted to lay their eggs on our beauties. We spent most of Monday on our hands and knees, examining each individual squash plant for these nasty buggers. Squash bugs lay copper colored eggs in clusters on the underside of leaves and just picking them off won't stop them from hatching. You'll need to drop the eggs in soapy water in order to kill them.


We also found a few live bugs and some tasty grubs for our boys out in the chicken pasture. We've got a little under 200 Red Ranger broiler chickens in "chicken tractors" that we move along the field. The chickens get to be outside and have new ground to peck at every day and we get our field fertilized. 


We'll be sad to see them go, but in a few weeks we'll have another batch of broilers to raise from chicks. And who doesn't love little fluffy chicks?