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Posted by on in Environmental Stewardship

Well, folks, it's here. We are about to enter into the busiest phenological time of the year! Unfortunately, I am going to miss a huge portion of it! Okay, to be honest, it's not that unfortunate; I'll be in Peru! Before I depart, here is an update on what I've been seeing and what you should be looking for in weeks to come!

Migration has, quite literally, taken off. Many of the birds that I have recently been seeing in our area actually overwinter in other parts of the state, particularly in more southern regions. Since they had the closest wintering grounds, it makes sense that we seen them first! Even though many bald eagles now winter around here, there has been a very noticeable increase in their numbers - particularly in juveniles. I saw seven bald eagles on my drive home in just one afternoon. Most of them can be found foraging winter's leftovers on the ice or the side of the road.

Two juvenile eagles scavenging breakfast on the ice near Pine River, 3/30/15.

Bald eagle scavenging road kill on 3/30/15. It let me get quite close before taking off!

It continued eating its "snack" out on the ice (3/30/15).

During the last two weeks, I have seen a tremendous increase in trumpeter swans, Canada geese, and American crows. I have also noticed more dark-eyed juncos, purple finches, American tree sparrows, American robins, and common goldeneyes - all of which may winter in other parts of Minnesota, but have been absent from my area for a while. The first hooded mergansers, common mergansers, and wood ducks have returned from the south, the grouse are starting to drum, and I've already had my first tick - so be on the lookout! I have yet to see my first spring wildflower, but with temperatures on the rise and moisture in the forecast, it won't be long now! Tonight, I even spotted my first red-winged black bird singing its song from the wetland near my house!

"We're back!" - My first sighting of Canada geese on 3/12/15. Migrating trumpeter swans take a nap 3/26/15.

Common Goldeneyes (left, 3/19/15) & Hooded Mergansers (right, 3/31/15) returned about two weeks ago.

Wood ducks, common mergansers (left, 3/31/15) & red-winged black birds (right, 3/31/15) are more recent.

So while I am gone for the next couple weeks, I need everyone to be my eyes and ears -  observe our wonderful spring phenology! Here is what you should be watching for:

Early April: Arriving back - great blue herons, American white pelicans, turkey cultures, harriers, and eastern phoebes. Come early butterflies (species that overwintered as adults, like some of the Commas & Tortoiseshells) have already been reported!

Mid April: Many ducks will be returning to the wetlands (blue-winged teal, northern shovelers, pie-billed grebes, etc.). Look for sparrows (song, fox, & white-throated), yellow-rumped warblers, and northern flickers. You might see a garter snake trying to warm up in the sun! Be listening for chorus frogs, wood frogs, & spring peppers. Coyote and red fox pups are born, but they'll spend some time in dens, meaning we won't see them for a while still.

Late April: Loon "scouts" may be back, even with ice on the lake. Ospreys will return if there is enough open water. Frogs will begin to lay eggs if the weather is warm. Chipmunks are back out and active, especially under the feeders! We may even see a dragonfly! Green darners migrate, so the adults will return to lay eggs before they die.

Our mild winter will likely have some animals/plans ahead of their typical schedule, so be vigilant! Get outside and feel the sun of your face. Take a 15 minute stroll through your yard each day to notice the changes going on near you. As always, enjoy!


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Posted by on in Environmental Stewardship

Hosting a DIY workshop event so close to the success of Back to Basics seemed like there might be a chance for burnout. Only two months after B2B, we hosted our first spring Resilient Action Day Friday, March 27. If participants reactions are any indication, we needn't have worried.

With an increase in workshop options compared to our fall RAD event, there were more ways for people to be able to get their hands dirty. Here's some highlights!

Two of the most popular workshops were hosted by Sue Peterson from Azariah Acres in Pierz, MN. She talked fresh herbs and food preservation. Participants were encouraged to choose seeds that they wanted to see grow through the summer.

There were plenty of workshops for the animal lover. In one workshop, participants learned everything about bats. They even had time to create a bat house to take home.

Monarch butterflies are becoming less and less a sight to see in Minnesota. Coralee Cox and Beth Hippert from the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District were able to share different plants that can entice monarchs to visit your neighborhood.

Mushroom cultivation can be a great way to get outdoors. Participants had a chance to inoculate their very own miatake mushroom logs to take home. Here you can see Matt Ratliff of Fruit, Nuts, & Vegetables Farm demonstrate how large in diameter you'd like your log to be.

Hannah K. encouraged participants to make their very own condiments. Recipes demonstrated ranged from ketchup to mustard to mayo to salad dressing. They got to take their creations home to try for dinner.

Jim C. and Diana Kuklinski talked at length on permaculture. They went for a permaculture walk and offered advice on ways to maintain a permaculture environment in their own homes.



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Posted by on in Uncategorized

Knowing which seeds to plant when can be a daunting task. There are many books and (now) computer programs that can help you make your decision for which climate you're in. However, choosing between open-pollinated, hybrid, or heirloom seed varieties doesn't necessarily have to be based on where you live, you can choose on the variety of seeds based more on your philosophy rather than your climate.

Seeds Savers Exchange out of Decorah, IA (Go NORSE!) has a great primary on the difference between the three types of seeds.

For more information, I recommend you go to the Seed Savers Exchange website. Their blog is a tremendous resource for choosing which seeds could be best used. They have thousands of varieties for sale and naturally keep and protect them for future use.

  • Open-pollination is when pollination occurs by insect, bird, wind, humans, or other natural mechanisms.
    • Because there are no restrictions on the flow of pollen between individuals, open-pollinated plants are more genetically diverse. This can cause a greater amount of variation within plant populations, which allows plants to slowly adapt to local growing conditions and climate year-to-year. As long as pollen is not shared between different varieties within the same species, then the seed produced will remain true-to-type year after year.
  • An heirloom variety is a plant variety that has a history of being passed down within a family or community, similar to the generational sharing of heirloom jewelry or furniture.
    • An heirloom variety must be open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms. While some companies create heirloom labels based on dates (such as a variety that is more than 50 years old), Seed Savers Exchange identifies heirlooms by verifying and documenting the generational history of preserving and passing on the seed.
  • Hybridization is a controlled method of pollination in which the pollen of two different species or varieties is crossed by human intervention.
    • Hybridization can occur naturally through random crosses, but commercially available hybridized seed, often labeled as F1, is deliberately created to breed a desired trait. The first generation of a hybridized plant cross also tends to grow better and produce higher yields than the parent varieties due to a phenomenon called ‘hybrid vigor’. However, any seed produced by F1 plants is genetically unstable and cannot be saved for use in following years. Not only will the plants not be true-to-type, but they will be considerably less vigorous. Gardeners who use hybrid plant varieties must purchase new seed every year. Hybrid seeds can be stabilized, becoming open-pollinated varieties, by growing, selecting, and saving the seed over many years.
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Posted by on in Food & Water Security

The 68th UN General Assembly declared 2015 the International Year of Soils (IYS).  http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/68/232&Lang=E  

Building Soil Health

Happy Dancing Turtle is passionate about healthy soil.  The quote that hangs in the garden shed and has become the motto of the "garden people" here at HDT is "That's why we make compost" by Dr. Elaine Ingham.  It came from a fortunate conversation I had with her a few years ago at the MN Dept of Agriculture Organic Conference where she was presenting.  Our conversation was early in the morning at the buffet line, before the crowd began to show.  I told her how much I admired her work on soil biology and that I was likely one of her biggest fans.  At the time I was studying Gary Zimmer's methodology of balancing soil chemistry and our conversation turned to how complicated it is to balance all the soil nutrients.  After a few minutes I commented as such, that I was overwhelmed by all the interconnections in soil chemistry, when she stopped me and said, simply, "well Jim, That's why we make Compost".  Compost is the buffer that prevents nutrients from being tied up in the soil.  Compost feeds the soil biology that in turn convert nutrients to useable forms that plants can uptake and utilize. 


Protecting Water Quality


Healthy soil has huge potential to heal our planet and our bodies.  Increasing the health of our soil requires increasing soil carbon.  Increased soil carbon leads to not only more balanced soil nutrients but increased water holding capacity.  Genetic engineering promises to create drought resistant crops by modifying their genetic structure so the plant needs less water.  While this may address a symptom, it fails to solve the problem. Through diverse crop rotations, the use of cover crops and compost, and integration of properly managed livestock, farmers are increasing soil carbon at amazing rates.  Producers achieving a 2-4% increase in organic matter in less than a decade have been reported across the country and around the world.  A one percent increase in soil organic matter equates to approximately 25,000 gallons of additional water holding capacity per acre, leading to resilience to drought and, over large acreages, the ability to mitigate flood severity. Infiltration rates in excess of eight inches per hour have been recorded.  

Ecological Agriculture

Ecology is the scientific analysis and study of interactions among organisms and their environment. The science of ecology is very complex, incorporating the studies of biology, chemistry, and physics, to name a few.  Ecological based agriculture, often called agroecology, looks to the natural systems for answers on how to best grow our food and restore our precious soil and water resources.  Ranchers have found that just one hour of high stock density grazing per year, done at the right time of year, on the right kind of forage, and for the right length of time, can increase soil organic matter by 1/2 to 1 percent.  Just one hour in a year.  The theory is that this technique mimics the large herds of migrating of herbivores that dominated every grassland and savanna biome prior to human settlement.  These large migrating herds stayed in tight formations for protection from predators and weather and moved often to find fresh forage.  They often wouldn't return to the same land for a year or maybe several years, giving the land time to recover.  Modern technology allows us to mimic these herding patterns with the use of portable solar electric fencers and low cost, high tech poly-strand stainless steel electric fencing.

Increasing crop rotations and incorporating cover crops to keep living roots in the soil year around supports the soil microbial communities.  One important member of the soil ecosystem is mycorrhiza fungi.  This beneficial fungus forms a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, increasing water and nutrient uptake. In turn the plant feeds carbon, in the form of sugars back to the mycorrhiza that is converted to glomalin, a glycopotien which is believe to help seal the mycorrhiza stands and help transport water and nutrients. It is believed to improve soil aggregate structure and decrease soil erosion. 

Agriculture that mimics natural systems has great potential to not just sustain our resources, but restore and rebuild our natural environment.  Nature is inherently diverse and to preserve and restore the natural resources vital to life we must diversify agriculture.  Livestock confined to feedlots and buildings and fed a diet of grains grown in simple rotations does not equate to diversity.  Economically viable methods of agroecology are becoming more prevalent, despite the lack of support from government, industry, and land grant universities.  It brings people back to the land and reforms the connections to our natural environment lost in an era of cell phones and facebook.  It is this type of agriculture that can rebuild our soils, reinvigorate rural economies, sequester carbon, and restore water quality.   

Gabe Brown: 2012 Growing Green Award


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Posted by on in Uncategorized

March is World Water Month. This is the time to think about how important water is to ourselves, our neighborhoods, our culture, and our world. Water is powerful. Water is calm. Water is essential. For the month of March, we will be showing the importance of water and how water influences our lives.

First off, take a look at these photos take by Edward Burtynsky, photographer. His topic is simple: Fresh Water - How We Use It.

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Tagged in: TED Talk water
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