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Posted by on in Environmental Stewardship

In doing the research for this post, I found out some really interesting things about mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae fungus is popular. It has a following. It's kind of like the underdog of soil health. Where there's a debate on how to best increase your soil quality, the majority of of the crowd cry out something like, "Compost!" or "Fertilizer!" or even "Rotational Grazing!" But, in the back of the crowd stands the mycorrhizae backers, asking, "Have you heard of Mycorrhizae? No? OK, I'll send you the information, again."

Thb2ap3_thumbnail_mycorinfographic.jpgere's an international group of mycorrhizae supporters who's entire goal is to bring information of the minuscule fungus to the masses. The International Mycorrhizae Society is dedicated to building awareness through journals, lectures, and even international conferences. So, why is this group interested in championing the mycorrhizae? Why should they put their resources into promoting these tiny guys? 

Because, mycorrhizae appears to work!

Pairing mycorrhizae with certain produce and almost any tree crop is proven to make those plants grow better. And there's a science behind it that seems to work. 

First off, what in the world is mycorrhizae? 

Mycorrhizae (pronounced My-Ko-Rise-Ah) is a symbiotic relationship between a plant root and fungus. Myco (meaning "Fungus") and rhiza (meaning "Root") literally translates to "fungus-root". And, at a quick glance at a plant's root that is covered in the fungus would normally cause concern. You'd see the root covered in a fungal "sheath". "Ew, gross", you may say. 

But, it's this sheath that brings the benefits to the plant. Take a look at this pic. The rosemary plant on the left grew without mycorrhizae present near the roots, while the rosemary plant on the left had this b2ap3_thumbnail_rosemary.jpgmycorrhizae sheath encasing its roots. It increases the square footage of the root, which then increases its ability to take in water and nutrients.

And speaking of taking in water, plants that have mycorrhizae help increase the water storage capacity of the soil around them. The fungus makes the roots act like a sponge. This adds to the soils ability to retain moisture, which, in turn, adds to the topsoil layer. Now, if you've learned anything by reading these blog posts, keeping water on the land instead of letting it run off is key! So, consider mycorrhizae as another tool that will help your garden and farm increase its soil quality.

 

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Posted by on in Food & Water Security

Today, I wore shorts for the first time in five months. I checked the weather app on my phone (which has been notoriously inconsistent, btw), and it promised that by 4pm, central MN would have a high of around 70 degrees. And, now after just looking at that same app, it says it's 63 degrees. Close enough! Spring is here! b2ap3_thumbnail_Weatherapp.pngRight? The main reason those of us in central MN can't wait for winter to be over is because of the cold or the long night cycles, or the inability to go OUTSIDE comfortably. Cabin fever, they call it. A simple google search will bring you stories of pioneers going nuts because they were unable to deal with the overbearing dark, the relentless chill, and the lack of anything green. 

Well, just like they tell ambitious young fellas looking for promotion: "Dress for the job you want." Only, allow me to paraphrase that a bit in saying "Dress for the season you want." That's why I'm wearing shorts. If I believe it enough and (honestly) trick my body into thinking that 50 degrees is warm, spring is just around the corner. 

So, to get to the meat of this post, it's finally nice enough to get outside. Instead of sticking to the trails, the sidewalks, or the highways, I might recommend going into the woods to go mushroom hunting. To be specific, morel hunting. 

A morel is a mushroom that is notoriously difficult to find. Morels are difficult to grow in an artificial environment. Some morel hunters are able to get $50 a pound simply because of its elusiveness. However, a b2ap3_thumbnail_Ulmus_rubra_leaves01.jpgsmall community of mushroom enthusiasts have turned finding the hidden treasure into a popular outdoor activity.

First, you want to head out to a forested area. Morels like to sprout near cedar, maple and elm trees. They thrive off of decay, so check for dead, felled trees. Any areas that are disturbed like burn cites or flood planes work well for morels, as well. Also, if you find one, stick around the area. Get down on your hands and knees see things from two inches high. Morels like to grow in separately, but together. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_morels-in-bag_20150406-185405_1.jpgBe sure to use a carrier that will allow your morels to have air. Use an old orange or onion mesh bag. Using a plastic bag will speed up the decomposition process and your morels will get "squishy," not ideal for eating. 

One thing to be mindful of when looking for morels to know the differences between them and "false morels". These guys look similar and grow in similar habitats, but these "false morels" are pretty poisonous. Where real morels have a "honeycomb" look, while the "false morels" looks like a purple brain with it bulbing out. Real morels have their cap attached to the stem, while the "false morels" aren't. And the defining way to tell the difference is to simply cut the mushroom lengthwise. If it's hollow inside the stem, it's a morel. If it's got a spongy interior, it's a "false morel". Take a gander at this quick video to help you find the right ones.

Ok, so now you've probably gone searching for days to find the elusive morel. So, now what? Morel's have been described as having a musty, smoky flavor. Being priced at $50 a pound, they've got to taste good, right? Here's a little recipe that will turn your treasures into something else!

Iowa Fried Morels

1 cup flourb2ap3_thumbnail_friedmorels.jpg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
25 medium fresh morels
6 tbsp. butter
lemon wedges

1. Season flour with a pinch of salt and a pinch pepper, then divide between two small bowls.

2. Combine eggs with 1/4 cup water in a third small bowl.

3. Clean and trim morels. Melt butter in a large straight-sided skillet over medium heat.

4. Prepare morels for frying by dipping them into first bowl of flour, then into egg, then into second bowl of flour. Shake off excess flour, then cook, in two batches, turning once, until crisp, 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with salt, and serve with lemon wedges.

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Posted by on in Food & Water Security

On April 1, 2015, California Governor, Jerry Brown, issued a statewide mandatory 25% reduction in water usage for cities and towns. This would include water used for home use (watering lawns, showers), businesses (golf courses, cemeteries, etc.) and certain agricultural productions (irrigation using local water sources). The goal is to save at least 1.5 million acre feet of water.

In the land 10,000 lakes we (at least, I do) take for granted how fortunate we are to be surrounded by water. My sister lives in Berkeley, CA and has been keeping me updated on this current drought. She tells me of people hosing down their driveways and watering their lawns as if there is no water scarcity.

Looking at the problem of water scarcity in CA it looks like we can attribute it to a simple two factors; lack of rainfall (or snowfall) to replenish the aquifers and overuse on the consumer-side. While I can not attribute for all cases in all instances, there can be two options to help minimize the effects of this drought: capture what little water falls and use less of the water that is captured.

There are hundreds of sites that will give you good help if you want to use less water in the bathroom, in your garden, or in your home in general. I recommend you take a look to see if you can implement them into your home. Here's a couple highlights.

Using low-flow toilets and faucets with aerators (which are extremely cheap!) are a good simple way to start. Standing in theb2ap3_thumbnail_FaucetAerator.jpg shower for as little as five minutes less can add up to hundreds of gallons saved. Imagine if you added a low-flow shower head! Even less water used.

Now, without getting into the reasons behind the drought (what a divisive issue climate change is, right?) and the fact that building in deserts is probably a bad idea for a water-deprived state, let's look at an idea that might best capture what little rain does fall in the state.

According to the CA Dept. of Food and Agriculture, California produces nearly half (HALF!) of all US-grown fruits, nuts, and veggies. CA produces 90% of all tomatoes, 95% of all broccoli, and an astounding 99% of all almonds purchased in the US. In other words, CA is an agricultural juggernaut. And it is, in part, due to the water needs of the farmers (which is high, as seen) that it is difficult to use less water.

b2ap3_thumbnail_soil-in-hands.jpgSo, how about retaining the water that DOES fall on agricultural sites? One idea is to increase the soil organic matter in agricultural fields. This would require less irrigation (and then less water loss due to evaporation). Jim C. covered this in his latest blog post. Here's a snippet (bolding is mine):

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. 

You can read the entire post here:  International Year of Soil

To explore this idea further, lets do the math on how this would play out in California:

Governor Brown's goal is to reduce the usage 1.5 Million acre ft of water.b2ap3_thumbnail_almondtreessmall.jpg

1 acre foot of water equals = 339,768 gallons

1% of soil organic matter (SOM) can hold on to 25,000 gallons apprx.

So divide those 25,000 gallons into the 339,768 and to get 13.59 acres to hold one acre foot of water per 1% increase in SOM.

 

So, if you want 1.5 million acre ft of water, (1.5 million X 13.9) you'd need 20,300,000 acres (20.3 million) with a 1% increase in SOM.

With 43 million acres with an agricultural designation in California, (and around 27 million acres dedicated to crop use) that's under half of all agricultural acreage that would need offset the Governors' goal. In fact, you can pare that down even further when you consider other uses of land (ie lawns, golf courses, etc) that could add more organic material.

It seems doable on the surface and without adding aquifers or desalinization plants can be done inexpensively. In fact increased soil organic matter reduces the need for fertilizers and other inputs leading to possibly more profitable farming. In fact the Organic Trade Association claims organic farms are, on average, 35% more profitable. And we haven't even mentioned the benefits of carbon sequestration, flood mitigation or pollinator habitat that come from diverse farming systems.

Again, this is just a concept. But, with another harsh summer being predicted for California, something should be done to mitigate the water loss. With this two-prong idea, maybe something can be done.

What are your thoughts on the drought? What solution ideas do you have? I'd be eager to hear. Just tell us below.

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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.

b2ap3_thumbnail_jimcpresentationblanknotes.jpg

b2ap3_thumbnail_homemadeteaRAD.jpg

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