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Dawn Pape, a proud Master Gardener volunteer and mother of two young boys,  holds a Master’s degree in environmental education. She can be reached at dawn@lawnchairgardener.com

How to Raise Mason Bees: Start By Feeding Them

Native plants are basis of our food supply

Native plants are basis of our food supply

Even though I call myself a “lawn chair gardener,” my aim is not actually to promote laziness, but to and make life simpler by working with the Earth’s natural processes, rather than against them.

I started on my journey over thirty years ago when the lake I grew up swimming in was no longer swimmable. Seeing the Earth’s imbalance motivated me to start changing the status quo—literally in my own backyard…and front yard too! And since most land in this country is privately owned, our actions can make a big impact—either positively or negatively.

Did you know that we’ve lost 50% of our songbirds in the last 40 years? And monarch populations have declined by 90% in the last two decades? And these are just showy species that people pay attention to. What about all of the unsung heroes out there like native “solitary” bees that account for 90% of the bees worldwide and do the majority of the pollination? Their populations are declining too.

15,364 scientists from 184 countries signed “A Second Notice” which is an open letter to humanity pleading for humans to cut greenhouse gases and reverse the trend of collapsing biodiversity. They are seeking to raise awareness that a mass species extinction is currently happening. This is the sixth mass extinction in the last 540 million years.

How did we get here? It’s simple. Across the US, we’ve taken away 95% of the base of the food chain—native plants, or the plants that are indigenous to a region. And we’ve replaced them with urban spaces, agriculture, invasive plants, ornamental plants, and lawn. Did you know that we have three times more lawn than we do our largest agricultural crop of corn? And ornamental plants that are often non-native or cultivated for showy traits offer little nutrition to native insects and wildlife.

When I do pollinator puppet shows with kids and talk about these concepts, the kids understand right away that if we pull out the foundation of the ecosystem, the tower will collapse. Maybe we can learn something from the kids’ honest perspective.

There’s no doubt about it, this is heavy stuff. But let’s ask the kids. What do we need to do to fix this problem? Put the base layer of blocks back—the native plants! It can be done.

So let’s get to work! Let’s “flip” our yards, our schoolyards, community center spaces—all the grassy areas that aren’t actively used as play or gathering spaces and replant the ecological communities that were once there so we can support the pollinators that sustain us! Pledge to Plant for Pollinators and Clean Water at this website. It also has links to help you get started. if you have further questions, ask me. I’m a garden coach.

 

The Many Health Benefits of Gardening

lovely gardening table with sunshine

Credit:jill111, Pixabay

Guest Blogger, Maria Cannon

Regardless of whether you grow flowers or vegetables, gardening can help to improve your health in a variety of ways. Working in the garden has spiritual rewards, eases stress, improves your mood, and provides exercise. In addition, gardening vegetables gives you access to fresh, healthy produce. It’s clear to see that gardening positively affects your life in every aspect.

Mental Benefits

Being able to get your hands dirty while digging and actually creating something can provide some people with a spiritual calmness. According to Rodale’s Organic Life, “mounting evidence shows that a number of health and behavior problems, including anxiety and depression, are directly linked to the amount of time you spend outside.” Gardening is a sensory experience that connects people to nature, which is great for stress relief. In fact, one study suggests that gardening can promote relief from acute stress.

Our lives are constantly in motion, and sometimes we forget to take time to slow down and relax. However, experts say that humans have a limited capacity for the directed attention required by our constant need to be plugged into tablets, computers, and phones. When that capacity gets used up, we become irritable, distracted, and stressed. To combat this attention fatigue, we need to replenish ourselves by engaging in an activity that requires an effortless form of attention. Gardening is considered one such activity, and thus reduces stress.

According to one study, gardening can also improve depression symptoms. Depression brings a whole host of other issues, including changes in sleeping and eating habits that negatively impact overall health. Additionally, around 30 percent of people diagnosed with a mental illness will abuse either alcohol or drugs. Keeping your mental health in check helps to keep your overall health in check too.

Exercise

Gardening gets you out in the fresh air and sunshine and gets your blood flowing. There are a variety of different movements in gardening, so you get some exercise benefits as well. Since people find gardening to be pleasurable and see it as reaching a goal (having food to eat or increasing their home’s curb appeal), they are more likely to stick with it. This is because when exercise has a context, it reinforces you to keep at it. Many duties of yard work fall under gardening, so it can be adapted to fit your individual needs.

Light gardening – such as weeding, digging, and planting – are great for strength or stretching exercises. Since light gardening is a low-impact exercise, people who find more vigorous exercise to be challenging, such as the elderly, disabled, or chronic pain sufferers, may find gardening to be exactly what they need. On the flip side, some gardening can be an intense workout. Cutting down and digging up bushes, hauling wheelbarrows of dirt, and push mowing your lawn are sure to give you a full-body workout and increase your heart rate.

Brain Health & Nutrition

Gardening can be good for your brain. Some research suggests that maintenance of physical activity, especially daily gardening, can help lower the risk of developing dementia by 34 percent when compared to non-gardeners. This held true even when a range of other health factors were taken into account.

Several studies have also shown that gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables than those who don’t grow gardens, and those healthy eating habits are passed on to their children. Not only do the children eat more fruits and vegetables, but they’re also more adventurous about trying new foods. The food you grow yourself is the freshest food you can eat, and because home gardens are typically filled with fruits and vegetables, it’s also full of healthy foods. Also, the fresher the food, the more tasteful the food, so food straight from your garden is packed with intense and enjoyable flavors.

Getting Started

“Most of us can roll up our sleeves with a surprisingly small amount of effort. Remember, you can start small, even with just a single plant or two,” says Good Housekeeping. If you lack space, start a garden in containers. If you lack experience, start with plants that easier to maintain and require little effort, such as lettuce and carrots. The Internet and bookstores are full of resources for gardeners of all levels.

You can also check to see if you have a local garden club or community garden near you, and you can learn straight from experienced gardeners. This spring, start reaping the many benefits of gardening.

Gratitude: A Mindful Solution to Pollution

Positive psychologists are fascinated by what raises our mood, but it was Aristotle who identified two pathways to conscious happiness:

Fulfillment: Using our gifts and talents on behalf of what matters to us

Contentment: Experiencing pleasurable moments and being satisfied with life

This time of year people spend a fair amount of time searching for the perfect gifts to make their loved ones content. Acquiring new toys and gadgets does make us happier—for a while. A new toy, or even car, is exciting as the dopamine kicks in, but eventually the brain gets familiar with the new item and searches for something else new. The “feel-good” just doesn’t last. This phenomenon is known as the “hedonistic treadmill,” or the tendency to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events.

As a capitalistic society, “Got to have it! Got it! Want something else!” is not only the norm, it is the underpinning of American culture. But, not only is this behavior of constant consumption ultimately unfulfilling, it is destructive to our Earth. Right now we inhabit the planet with nearly 7.5 billion other people. In trying to understand this enormous number, consider that more people have been born in the last 50 years, than the previous 4 million years. Logically, more people on the planet means more consumption of finite resources.

In 2009, Swedish and Australian scientists Johan Rockström and Will Steffen led a group of prominent scientists, including Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, that proposed a framework of “planetary boundaries” designed to define a “safe operating space for humanity.” The group identified nine “planetary life support systems” essential for human survival, and attempted to quantify just how far these systems have been pushed already. They then estimated how much further we can go before our own survival is threatened; beyond these boundaries there is a risk of “irreversible and abrupt environmental change” which could make Earth less habitable. Their research indicates that three of these boundaries—climate change, biodiversity loss, and the biogeochemical flow (aka nitrogen cycle) boundaries—have already been crossed.

The possibility that three planetary boundaries have already been crossed is jaw-dropping and daunting. Since most of us aren’t world leaders, it’s hard to know where to start and what could make an impact. What is the remedy to this “never enough” syndrome? Gratitude. As it turns out, dopamine and other uplifting chemicals are released by the acts of gratitude and savoring. This is because our dopamine output increases not only when we experience something pleasurable the first time, but again when we remember it—so we get a double dose, or triple! It encourages our brains to pay attention to what we have and give it a lasting effect and meaning.

So does this mean you should just show your loved ones pictures of what you gave them last year and tell them that you hope they still like it? That might not be popular, but what if gifts weren’t the focus of festivities? What about making a group activity like caroling, volunteering, baking or a sleigh ride the focus? What if families taught their children to have a different relationship with belongings? It’s true that some material goods are essential and life-saving, a lot of stuff is just stuff. It’s not the gifts that make the season great, it’s the gratitude for all of life’s blessings. Happy holidays!

Is It Time for Yard 2.0?

10/13/2016

A question I wish people asked themselves is: ‘If the only time I go out to my yard is to mow, do I really need this area as lawn?’

Americans love their lawns. And, there’s no doubt about it, lawns make a fantastic place to picnic and recreate. A tidy lawn represents social status, obligation to neighbors, and even patriotism. A weedy lawn, on the other hand, is a symbol of laziness, a social faux pas, and sometimes even considered rude.

But, let’s reconsider lawns for a minute. We water and fertilize lawns so they will grow only to complain about having to mow our lawns. And what do we do with the cut grass? Bale it and sell it? Eat it? No. At best, clippings are left on the lawn so they can act as a fertilizer. At worst, the clippings are bagged and thrown away, not even allowing those nutrients to be composted or go back into the soil.

Many fashions have come and gone over the past few hundred years, but lawns have had staying power. Historically, lawns have served as a status symbol for European aristocrats who showed they were wealthy enough not to need to grow food on every square inch of their property like peasants. In essence, they could afford to waste the space. With world population and consumption of resources steadily increasing, people are starting to question whether this consumptive style makes sense in today’s world.

The EPA estimates that one-third of all water used in American homes—7 billion gallons per day—goes towards landscape irrigation (2008). I n the Twin Cities, many cities cite a 50 percent increase in water use during summer months—largely due to lawn irrigation. In 2002, lawn care industries in the United States used 21 terajoules of energy in the production of pesticides, fertilizers, and gas-powered lawn mowers—more energy than used by the cattle ranching and vehicle manufacturing industries combined (Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment-Carnegie Mellon University 2002). Unlike cattle and cars, however, lawns don’t transform their intense energy inputs into anything principally functional or consumable.

Lawn alternatives

To achieve a low-input lawn, there are many alternative plants that grow in a wide variety of sun and soil conditions and still provide homeowners with the look of a lawn. Benefits of these turf alternatives abound: they are more drought and salt tolerant (think road salt), and may also provide food and habitat to pollinators. Examples of alternative lawns include everything from native plants like Blue Grama and Prairie June Grass to fescue blends, self heal, and white clover. Nurseries that specialize in native plants are typically very helpful in helping consumers determine which alternative would work well with their soil and sun conditions, and foot traffic. And, the University of Minnesota Extension Service is a wonderful resource too: turf.umn.edu/low-input-lawns/.

For the homeowners who have decided they don’t need some (or all) of their yards as lawn, native wildflower plantings are another alternative. Wildflowers provide higher quality nectar and pollen than their cultivated counterparts. To boot, native wildflowers come back year after year without replanting, don’t need to be fertilized, and typically have long roots so they don’t need watering after their first growing season.

For do-it-yourselfers and those who would rather hire alike, BlueThumb.org provides everything a person needs to know to transform their yards—native plant nurseries, how-to videos, grants, landscapers, designers, installers, garden coaches and folks to assist with maintenance.

Another question I hope people ask themselves is: “How great will it feel to look my grandchildren in the eyes and explain how grandpa and/or grandma helped make sure they had enough drinking water?”

Written by Dawn Pape on behalf of the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission (BCWMC), a local unit of government comprised of the nine cities that drain to Bassett Creek, focused on protecting water. BCWMC is a member of the West Metro Water Alliance. www.bassettcreekwmo.org.

 

The Nature-Lover’s Guide to the State Fair Urban Jungle

NatureLoversFairRouteGetting There

8/23/16

metrotransit.org/StateFair

The busses and free shuttles still provide amazing service to the transit hub and the gate on Snelling. Or, if fair-goers are bent on American individualism, new Uber users can get up to $20 off their first ride by entering the code MNSTATEFAIR16 when signing up at t.uber.com/MNStateFair16. Uber has two designated drop-off and pick-up points: northeast end of the fairgrounds near Snelling & Hoyt (Gate 2 at 1806 Hoyt Ave.) and outside the northwest end of the fairgrounds (University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus CECC turnaround at 1890 Buford Ave.) To get home, use the Uber app to request a ride and follow the phone instructions to locate a driver.

 

First Stop, Eco-Experience (Open daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.)

Located at Cosgrove St. and Randall Ave.

www.ecoexperience.org

For people who love nature—and want to protect it, visiting the Eco-Experience building is a must. A partnership between the State Fair, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and more than 150 organizations and businesses across the state, the Eco-Experience has it all. There are engaging exhibits around each turn and the “Sustainability Stage” features hourly demos/shows on reduce-reuse-recycle how-tos, healthy cooking, innovations in green technology, leisurely landscaping using native plants, transportation and more. View the schedule at www.pca.state.mn.us/ecoexperience/shows-and-demos.

Before entering the building, be sure to join the West Metro Water Alliance’s campaign Pledge to Plant—for Pollinators and Clean Water near the enormous windmill blade sticking out of the ground at the building entrance. There is even a native plant scavenger hunt near the pledge station to familiarize fair-goers with suitable native plants that offer benefits beyond just looking beautiful.

Inside, a 15-foot Paul Bunyan donning a new outfit and calls attention to a giant-sized waste problem: Minnesotans throw away nearly 12 grocery carts of clothing and textiles every MINUTE. Another symbol of Minnesota—hockey. Check out the Watershed Partners’ storm drain goalie exhibit to find out how to be a local legend in protecting water.

 

Kemps Little Farm Hands (Open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily)

Located at Cooper St. and Randall Ave.

To quote father of conservation Aldo Leopold, in the Sand County Almanac, “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” Exiting the Eco-Experience through the west door leads right to the Little Farm Hands area, especially for fair fans ages 3 to 10. Kids get to take a journey from the farm to the grocery store by riding a tiny tractor, milking a cow, gathering eggs, planting crops. New this year, kids will explore why soil erosion occurs, the importance of pollination, the work of honey bees, how water travels in a cycle, and what rain barrels do. They can also meander through a new path in the “Field of Knowledge” to look at soybeans, wheat, a straw bale garden, and a variety of sunflowers.

 

New Fair Food!

http://www.mnstatefair.org/pdf/16_new_foods_list.pdf

As the wee ones enjoy the farm, the adults can try one of the 34 new fair foods: Iron Range Meat & Potatoes. Envision a hearty portion of seasoned beef with a layer of cheddar cheese, topped with mashed potatoes, baked, and drizzled with a wild rice gravy at Giggles’ Campfire Grill, located on the southeast corner of Lee Avenue and Cooper Street at The North Woods.

 

Selfie Spot. Click. #mnstatefair

Next site, Agriculture Horticulture Building , of course! But first take advantage of two of the selfie spots on the way. Five iconic fairgrounds spots are marked them with a Selfie Spot badge on the ground. Stand on the badges to snap fabulous State Fair photo memories. To find the exact locations, visit http://www.mnstatefair.org/pdf/Selfie_Spot_Locations.pdf.

 

Agriculture Horticulture Building Open daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (8 p.m. on Labor Day)

Located between Underwood St. and Cooper St., north of Judson Ave. (or between the Ye Old Mill and Space Tower)

New this year is the “Garden Kaleidoscopes & Floralpalooza: Color Your World.” Peer into garden kaleidoscopes to see fantastic flowers transform into mesmerizing images of color and movement as a player piano accompanies the wonderful sights.

At this point, it’s probably been at least an hour since food was sampled, so visitors might want to find one of the 17 new fair foods that surround the Agriculture Horticulture Building and come back for a seat at the Minnesota State Horticulture’s “Dirt Stage” (near the Skyride). There’s never enough seating at the fair, but there’s plenty of shaded benches in here while for visitors to learn as they lunch.

 

Hen House at the CHS Miracle of Birth Center Open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily (3 p.m. on Labor Day)

Located on Judson Ave. between the River Raft Ride and the Coliseum, across from the DNR park.

If the little ones are getting restless, head over to the new hen house at the Miracle of Birth Center. Discover more about how farmers use different egg production systems to produce safe and wholesome food, and see a backyard chicken coop up-close.

 

Animal Barns Cattle, Sheep & Poultry (including 4-H rabbits) and Swine open daily 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Horse Barn is open 8 a.m.-9 p.m.

Located on the west end of Judson Ave.

Cattle, pigs, horses, sheep, poultry; the fair isn’t complete without checking out the animal barns
DNR Building: Nature Rocks Open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Located between Carnes Ave. and Judson Ave. along the west side of Nelson St.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) area is another “not to miss” area for nature lovers! Enjoy music on the DNR Volunteer Outdoor Stage and loads of other demonstrations from flying raptors to fly fishing and from comedy to paddle boarding. View the fish pond and learn about state parks, ATVs, fishing, hunting, birds, bees, DNR K-9 unit, campfires, aquatic and terrestrial invasive species, forestry, lands and minerals, moose, boat and water safety, laser fire extinguishing, prairies, biking and wildlife. http://dnr.state.mn.us/events/statefair/schedules.html

 

Wrapping Up with a Natural High

By this time, visitors’ feet may be reminding them to head back to the transit hub. But here’s a tip: slip over to the Giant Slide to round out the fair experience and grab some more fair food for the ride home.

 

Written by Dawn Pape on behalf of the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission (BCWMC), a local unit of government comprised of the nine cities that drain to Bassett Creek, focused on protecting water. BCWMC is a member of the West Metro Water Alliance. www.bassettcreekwmo.org.

Calling Everyone Who Likes to Eat, Drink and Be Merry: Please Pledge to Plant for Pollinators and Clean Water

Pledge to Plant...for Pollinators and Clean Water!

Pledge to Plant!

5/19/16

West Metro Water Alliance, Blue Thumb—Planting for Clean Water® along with scores of other partners are launching the Pledge to Plant for Pollinators and Clean Water Project (bluethumb.org/pledge). Adding native (wildflower) plantings, raingardens, and shoreline plantings to landscapes increases pollinator corridors/habitat and protects water by capturing and filtering runoff. The project’s goal is to get landowners to plant 10,000 native plantings (of any size) to protect pollinators and our 10,000 lakes by 2020.

Why Pledge to Plant?

The Environmental Pollution Agency identifies runoff as the leading water quality threat to our urban lakes and streams. Turf grass (a.k.a. “green concrete”) and other impervious surfaces such as streets and parking lots typically prevent water infiltration and lead to increased polluted stormwater runoff reaching lakes and streams. In 2015, American beekeepers lost 40% of their colonies. Monarch butterfly populations are struggling and research suggests other pollinators are also suffering serious declines due to loss of habitat and overuse of pesticides. By leveraging governmental mandates to educate the public on water quality and the growing public awareness of the plight of pollinators, this project aims to unite two audiences to achieve our shared goals.

How to Make the Pledge and Do a Planting

Residents can get started by pledging at bluethumb.org/pledge. The bluethumb.org website makes it easy for residents to navigate this new way of approaching their yard by providing all the resources needed for people to plan, purchase and plant their pollinator/water-friendly gardens. Under “find help,” visitors can find native plant nurseries, landscapers, designers, installers, hardscape products, or just the right native plant for their growing situation using the plant selector tool. The plant selector allows users to search by color, sun requirements, time of bloom, etc. There are also grants, how-to videos, and cost-calculators, workshops, available speakers and more.

Be Merry?

Most people realize the pollinators that help supply much of our food are in peril. And, our waters benefit from having water filtered with lovely raingardens that double as pollinator habitat. Where does the “merry” come in? Easy. Planting for pollinators and clean water is good for the world and doing good has been proven to have health benefits sometimes called a “helper’s high.” So lift your glass, enjoy those berries and be merry! —and thank you for spreading the pledging to plant campaign.

Who Can We Thank for Starting this Project?

The project was started by West The West Metro Water Alliance (WMWA), a partnership between watersheds, county, and parks agencies in northwestern Hennepin County. This partnership grew from a recognition that the individual organizations have many common education and public outreach goals and messages that could be more efficiently and effectively addressed and delivered collaboratively and on a wider scale. The group collaborates on various projects to provide education about pollutants affecting our lakes, streams, and rivers, and how local residents can help to improve the quality of their local waters. Other key partners include Blue Thumb—Planting for Clean®, a unique partnership of private and public organizations working for cleaner water by reducing stormwater runoff with native plantings, and Metro Blooms, a nonprofit that promotes and celebrates gardening, to beautify communities and help heal and protect our environment.

What’s Next?

New educational resources and exhibits will be developed for partners to foster positive social pressure for converting impervious areas to native pollinator habitats for clean water. This project will map new and expanded plantings and compile partner data on existing plantings to determine baseline data of managed native plantings, demonstrate impact and provide information for policy makers about existing pollinator corridors, patches and bare spots.

 

Year-Round Harvest–Even in Minnesota!

12/09/2014

It’s 25°F in Shoreview, but inside my covered garden it’s a delightful 83°F—and I just harvested

Winter Harvest

Zone 4. Bring it.

arugula, baby kale, spinach and tatsoi for a savory salad. When I tell people about my new covered gardens, reactions range from excited (‘Wow! I didn’t even know that was possible!’) to absolutely bewildered. I have several reasons why I have extended my gardening hobby into the winter. Namely, I enjoy growing healthy food for my family and reducing our carbon footprint by eating locally. I also get an emotional boost from seeing vibrant greens against the snow. And, I always love a challenge. Anyone can plant during fair weather, but can I keep this garden going all winter?

I have even wondered if my covered gardens are the settled, suburban, 40-something’s version of winter camping. There was a time when braving the elements in negative temperatures was a thrill for me. Now, perhaps I’m living somewhat vicariously through my tough little greens as I sit inside my comfortable house reading the temperature in the garden via my remote thermometer. I am still thumbing my nose at old man winter, but my plants are doing the hard work for me.

The next question curious people want answered is how are my covered gardens built. Mine were built in a factory somewhere and shipped to me (for my dear husband) to assemble. I briefly considered building my own cold-frames, but the cost of the cedar, hinges and poly-carbonite covers, called “lights”, quickly made me realize I couldn’t even buy the materials for the cost of the kit I ordered online. Handy people may enjoy building their own cold-frames, but the directions typically instruct a person to use old windows or storm windows. The risk of old windowpanes shattering and/or lead paint near my garden made the kit seem like an even better idea to me.

Another key to year-round harvesting is knowing what and when to plant. Warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers will perish in this environment, but cool season crops work well. Gardens need to be planted at the end of the summer so plants have time to establish. The plants do not continue growing in cold weather so they do not need to be watered. In essence, cold-frames amount to extra-large refrigerator crisper drawers where the greens are stored until harvested.

As I mentioned, this is a new venture for me and I enjoy a challenge. However, I thought the biggest challenge would be the weather. Much to my surprise, I learned yesterday, that my biggest challenge are the rodents that tunneled their way into the cold-frames, made clever subway systems, and devastated my harvest. Live and learn! Next year I’ll be installing hardware cloth below ground.

Now, if only I could figure out how to miniaturize myself so I could fit inside that cold frame, I wouldn’t be longing for a mid-winter escape to a tropical climate.

Shoreview resident Dawn Pape holds a master’s degree in environmental education. Author, public speaker, Master Gardener volunteer and mother of two boys, she can be reached at dawn@lawnchairgardner.com.

 

Weed-Free Yards Without Chemicals

5/16/2014

toddler boy with dandelions

Dandelions!

If only we could bottle my son’s excitement about dandelions and sprinkle the potion on the “old school” yard maintenance crowd who still regards dandelions as weeds. That’s right, dandelions are increasingly being considered an early spring flower critical for the survival of honeybees.

In early spring when there are few flowers available for foraging, perhaps the single most valuable early spring wildflower is the dandelion. If a honeybee hive survives the winter, beekeepers know the bees will be safe from starvation if they can stay alive until dandelions bloom. Dandelion pollen is moderately nutritious and the nectar is abundant. It doesn’t normally produce enough nectar to produce honey above and beyond what the bees will use for themselves, (so a person doesn’t generally see dandelion honey for sale), but it gives the bees a huge boost and adds to the health of the hive.

Helping honeybees is in our own best interest, of course, since they our nation’s leading crop pollinator. Imagine the labor costs of hiring workers to pollinate the nation’s crops by hand to our produce fruits, vegetables and nuts. While honeybees are clearly not the only hard working pollinators, their recent deaths from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) starting in 2006 have captured the world’s attention. To date, CCD has been defined as a series of symptoms, but the cause and the cure remain complex and elusive. But CCD is not the only problem facing honeybees. In 2010, the overwintering losses were at the same unsustainable rates of over 30% but the cause seemed to be less from CCD than from other problems. Habitat loss combined with a class of insecticides, neonicotinoids, seem to be the big cuprits that are making survival for our insect friends a challenge. Neonicotinoids (aka neonics), related to nicotine, attack the insects’ nervous systems. Neonics, are systemic, meaning they permeate the whole plant, including the nectar and pollen and they persist for years unlike other insecticides. The neonics do not kill the insects on contact, but impare the insects’ ability to navigate back to their hives or nests. In addition, insects, like bees, feed on the nectar and bring pollen back to their brood slowly weakening the whole colony with these neuro-toxins making them more susceptible to disease.

A very simple way to help honeybees is to refrain from killing or removing the dandelions in lawns. Perhaps all a person needs to do is view the cheery little yellow flower as a desired flower rather than a weed. I haven’t given up on my lawn, I swear. (Although I keep putting in more and more functional gardens so I have less and less lawn.) But I think bees have enough strikes against them these days. If Ican help their plight by doing nothing, it seems like a pretty good deal for both of us. I can feel good about enjoying a little time in my lawn chair and not feeling a sense of guilt for not keeping up with up with the neighbors’ with attentive yard care. I am, after all, a self-proclaimed Lawn Chair Gardener.

Remember: a “weed” is an unwanted plant. If you want all the plants in your yard, you won’t have a single weed!

2/12/14

Countdown to Spying Green Grass: Planting Seeds of Change

By Dawn PapeFineFescueLawnYarrow Lawn

It’s that time of year again when a person starts wondering if green blades of grass will ever reappear. In considering lawns, a manicured lawn may either invoke a smile or scorn. For some, lawn care is a hobby and a source of pride with perfected mowing patterns as beautiful as a patchwork quilt. Others might sneer at this same green lawn for being a burden, boring or even for consuming excessive amounts of water, fertilizers, weed killers and fuel for powering mowers and leaf blowers.

Whether a person thinks grass is delightful or distressing, it is remarkable to realize that the expansive green lawns have been fashionable for nearly 400 years. We can thank the Clover LawnEuropean aristocrats for rooting lawns deep into our culture. Lawns have long been a status symbol because having (unproductive) lawn meant that the land baron was wealthy enough to not use the land for buildings or agricultural production. And, before lawnmowers, only the rich could afford to hire the many hands needed to scythe and weed the grass. Our country’s founders, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, embraced the lawn as a status symbol on their own estates as well. About one hundred years later, the trend trickled down to the American middle-class as they aspired to live like nobility.

Mending Fences with Fine Fescues

Enter fine-fescue lawns a.k.a “potential peacemaker”. A lovely lawn that consumes fewer resources just may be possible using fine-fescue seeds. Fine-fescue lawns reduce water consumption because they have deeper roots systems (about 9-14 inches). Typical lawn grass roots only extend down about 1-3 inches. Deeper roots mean the plants can find their own water and don’t need to be “on life support” with an irrigation system.  Fescues’ dense growth also crowds out weeds so herbicide input is reduced or eliminated. An added benefit is that fescues only need to be mowed a few times a year rather than weekly. Fescues do especially well in many situations, except for in heavy foot-traffic and compacted soils. Yarrow or low-growing clovers are alternatives for compacted soils. Clover has the added benefit of supporting beneficial pollinators whose pollen gathering territories seem to be ever shrinking.

Finding fine-fescue mixes can be a challenge, but a quick search for “Eco Lawn Seed Mix” or “No Mow Lawn Seed Mix” will surely locate a retailer for you – many ship for free. I already hopped online and ordered mine from Prairie Nursery. Even though the ground isn’t anywhere in sight, I want to be ready when the thaw comes.

 Whichever Lawn Type You Choose:

  • Mow at 3” – the roots of turf-grass will grow deeper if you mow at 3”+ (and shallower / weaker if you mow short).  Deeper roots help make the lawn more drought-tolerant, and reduce compaction.  3” tall & thicker lawns choke out dandelions and other weeds.
  • Use a sharp mulching blade for a healthier lawn.
  • Avoid mowing during droughts
  • Check soil compaction severity and depths with a wire-flag when the soil is most to determine if aeration is needed
  • Prepare the soil when starting a new lawn from scratch by loosening compaction and adding compost. It will pay off immensely.
  • Experiment with lawn types in small trial plots
  • Aerate (“Core-Plug”) to break up shallow soil compaction (< 3”) within existing lawn areas, helping water to soak into the soil. “Top-dress” with compost after aeration to help build healthy soils for the lawn by adding crucial organic matter.

This long-standing tradition and all that the lawn symbolizes also helps explain it is hard to unseat the most prominent landscape feature across the U.S.

 

 

10/16/13

Getting the Lead Out

Boy amazed by airplane

Airplane!

By Dawn Pape

My ten-month-old’s delight in spying airplanes overhead hooked me on watching planes too. On more than one occasion, I packed picnics and we headed over to a grassy soccer field near the local airport for optimal airplane observation. In fact, I found myself wishing the airport were busier so there wasn’t a lull in our entertainment. Such good clean fun… (insert record scratch sound effect here).

Well, I thought it was good clean fun until I learned that small planes (piston-engine aircraft), typically holding 1-6 passengers, still mostly run on leaded aviation gasoline, or avgas. (Commercial jets use kerosene-based jet fuel.) Avgas is the single largest source of lead emissions in the country, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Lead is a well-documented neurotoxicant that is particularly harmful to children. In recent years, serious harm to cognitive and behavioral functions including intelligence, attention, and motor skills has been demonstrated in children with much less lead in their blood than previously thought to cause harm. Although both of my kids “passed” their lead tests when they were infants with results stating “at or below 5 μg/dL” (micrograms/deciliter), I wanted the result to say zero. Nada. Zip. Your kid is lead-free because I realize there is no safe level of lead exposure.

My family lives four miles away from the Anoka County-Blaine Airport as the crow (or piston-engine aircraft) flies. I thought surely that is a “safe” distance until I learned that a little less than half of lead emissions from piston-engine aircraft linger near airports, the remainder disperses far and wide during flight, according to the EPA. Great. We can’t even assure ourselves that we are safe from the lead if we live an acceptable distance from the local airport. As a gardener, soil health is the crux of a great garden. I ponder whether I should have my soil tested for lead. If so, how often? How can I be sure that the compost I get to amend the soil doesn’t have even more lead in it? Just how healthy are the vegetables I grow?

David Bellinger, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School who studies how neurotoxicants affect brain development, points out that although such low levels of lead exposure may not affect any one child in obvious ways—it’s hard to notice the loss of a few IQ points—the effects can add up for the population as a whole. In April 2012 he published a study calculating the cumulative deficit of IQ points among U.S. children aged 0–5 years that were attributable to a variety of chemical exposures and medical conditions. Lead exposure overall accounted for a nationwide loss of nearly 23 million IQ points, a figure exceeded only by the loss attributable to preterm birth. (Bellinger DC. A Strategy for Comparing the Contributions of Environmental Chemicals and Other Risk Factors to Neurodevelopment of Children. Environ Health Perspect 120(4):501–507 (2012); http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104170.) “That has some societal impact,” Bellinger says. “It’s prudent to interrupt any exposure pathways that can be interrupted. If we know how to prevent exposure from a certain pathway, it’s probably going to be beneficial to do so.”As a mother, I cannot help to agree with Mr. Bellinger. As a member of society, I cannot help but wonder how many IQ points were lost in the prior generations by the very fact that we still have leaded aviation gas.

 

9/9/13

Counting My Blessings

Toddler in Garden

Morning, Maxwell!

By Dawn Pape

I love to grab my early bird toddler and a cup of coffee to greet the day in my garden. I can’t wipe the smile off my face as my 17-month old bundle of love with rubber band wrists and hefty thighs does his Frankenstein-like run up and down the garden paths with glee and pride. He knows he’s cute and he’s so proud of himself for making it across the stepping stones. This time of year my mind isn’t filled with a garden to-do list because my garden is what it is for the year. It’s a time of acceptance, abundance and enjoyment.

I am completely present—not worrying about what needs to be done or sorrows of yesterday. I spy on the actual early birds hopping around in my garden. I never knew watching birds could be so entertaining.  (I always thought bird watching was for old people. I must be getting old!) This morning I learned that cardinals visit my purple cones flowers. Sometimes my toddler watches too. I enjoy the short snuggle and shared experience before he’s off and running again.

I am grateful—grateful for the day, my health and loved ones. I am grateful for the warm sun, the cool breeze and my plentiful harvests. I marvel at how a few bucks of seeds and a few plants has given me a kitchen full of groceries. And, most of all, I am grateful for all of those (hopefully fairly compensated) wonderful farmers in Costa Rica that pick the shade-grown coffee beans to support my morning ritual that has become an integral key to keep my sleep-deprived life afloat.

I celebrate my successes. Ha! I kept the deer and rabbits out using rabbit fencing and fishing line strung at chest height. I picked plenty of peas, peppers, potatoes, rhubarb, lettuces, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, beans, cucumbers, squash, herbs and tomatoes. Best of all, the harvests are still coming. Every year I set out with high hopes, but low expectations. When my plants actually bear fruit, I am delighted and thankful for whatever they have to offer. Even though the fruits are fun, I simply appreciate the beauty of all of the plants. Of course the flowers were beautiful, but the chartreuse potato leaves and lettuce were just as cheery and eye-catching.

I know my morning garden time is winding down when my thoughts start moving toward the future. Even though I am pleased with my garden, I start thinking about how to improve next year’s garden. The very fact there is always room for improvement must be what makes gardeners keep planting year after year. I realize I should’ve followed my own advice and used my timer more regularly to keep my cucumbers and squash watered. As a result, a few plants withered away. I also need to draw a line in the (compost amended) sand with my prairie sage and common milkweed. They definitely overstepped their boundaries and need to be kept from spreading.

Alas, my neighbor reminds me with the sound of his lawn mower that it’s time to leave my great herbaceous teacher and start the day’s to-do list. Now let’s just see if I can keep the feelings of acceptance, abundance, gratitude and joy with me all day long.

 

8/20/13

Minnesota State Fair for Gardeners

By Dawn Pape

Avid Minnesota State Fair attendees have rituals surrounding their annual visit. I certainly have my favorite destinations year after year, yet I like new experiences too. Besides feasting on fried fair food, I enjoy the numerous stages scattered throughout the fair grounds where I can hear music or learn something new. I know I’m having a pretty nice day when my biggest decision is whether I should grab my cheese curds and listen to some music or munch on mini-donuts while taking-in a talk on gardening.

One of my stops is “The Dirt,” stage located on the northeast side of the Agriculture Horticulture Building (next to the Skyride). This stage has presentations starting hourly from 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. There is so much to be learned on this stage; specifics about individual crops from apples and giant pumpkins to tomatoes and mushrooms. For bigger picture people, there are presentations about saying goodbye to ornamentals and transforming yards into functional yards that offer food and habitat for people and wildlife. Other topics include straw bale gardening, composting and bee keeping. To view the full schedule visit (http://www.mnstatefair.org/entertainment/ag_exhibits/thedirt.html). And, while in this building, visitors can attempt to stump the Master Gardeners volunteering around the corner.

Moving north through the fair, I always need to see what innovations are happening inside the Eco-Experience Building. This building is easy to spot because there is an enormous wind-turbine blade in front of the building as well as lovely raingardens that filter the stormwater runoff from the surrounding streets. Inside this building on the “Sustainability Stage” stage visitors can see presentations, cooking demonstrations, films and music on the hour from 10:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. The topics are even broader in scope including not just gardening but all things eco-friendly. From cooking local food demonstrations and getting local foods in schools to sustainable countertops and going off “the grid,” there are too many topics for me to choose just one.

I am already planning my visit. Partly, yes, it’s because I have been invited to speak on both of these stages, but the other part is that I just can’t wait to find my new favorite fair food and settle in to learn something new. After browsing through the 40 new foods online (www.mnstatefair.org/fun/new_food/), I may have it narrowed down to either the Mini Donut Batter Crunch Ice Cream, Deep Fried Olives or English Toffee Fudge Puppy (Belgian Waffle). If I can make it to enough interesting presentations, I just might have to try all three.

 

7/30/13

PRESS RELEASE:My Nativeggie Garden or Nedible Garden

Lawn Chair Gardener’s Yard Recognized for Exceptional Eco-Friendly Practices 

Recognition ceremony will be held on Monday, September 16th at 7:00pm

Shoreview, Minnesota — July 30, 2013 – The City of Shoreview’s Environmental Quality Committee unveiled its winners of the Annual Green Community Awards at the Slice of Shoreview last weekend. Hailed as the Shoreview’s highest honor, the Green Community Award program recognizes property owners for best management practices related to water, energy use and general initiatives. The goal of the program is to inform, motivate, and educate Shoreview residents by highlighting conservation practices that display innovation and conservation leadership.

Dawn Pape’s lush, beautiful gardens intermingle standard garden vegetables and herbs with native plants. Combining edibles and flowers generally eliminates the need for chemicals because the randomness of the planting pattern makes it difficult for pathogens and insect pests to find their next host. Also, the flowers attract beneficial insects that prey on insect pests. Pape’s yard also includes Shoreview’s first residential raingarden that takes street run-off.

A self-proclaimed “Lawn Chair Gardener,” Dawn Pape specializes in using native plants. These plants are inherently low-maintenance because they don’t require fertilizing, pesticides or even watering after the first season they are planted. Native and edible gardens encourage water conservation and filtration, energy conservation (especially with fewer “food miles”), increased habitat and biodiversity, less air pollution and fewer chemicals needed.

“Pape has set the standard for conservation,” said Jessica Schaum, Shoreview Environmental Officer, “Her yard demonstrates that lovely, abundant gardens that offer food for both people and beneficial native critters aren’t mutually exclusive.”

“This award is an honor to me to showcase my values. My hope is that when my kids are grown-up, having a purely aesthetic yard with only grass and ornamental plants that consume so much water without providing food or habitat will be as foreign to them as putting asphalt under playground equipment – which was common practice when I was a kid,” offered Pape, “We need to think about our children’s water supply and use our resources wisely.”

About the Other Winners:

Five Shoreview families and one business are being recognized for their efforts to improve Shoreview. The awards recognize homeowners and businesses that plant shoreline buffers, install raingardens, install solar panels or geothermal systems, and take other actions to improve the quality of water and reduce environmental impact. In many cases these actions can also save money.

Garth and Wanda Bender-5992 Scenic Place

When the Benders needed a new furnace they installed a geothermal system instead of a traditional gas furnace. As a result their gas usage dropped so much that Xcel has called them twice to find out if there was something wrong. Installing the system also allowed the Bender’s to qualify for reduced pricing on part of their electricity usage.

Cummins Power-3850 Victoria Street

Cummins moved in to the old Medtronic building and installed solar panels on the roof. They remodeled the space replacing the old fixtures with high efficiency lighting and occupancy sensors. There is also a skylight in the center of the building to bring daylight in.

Karen Eckman-966 Cobb Road

Eckman has installed two rain gardens and a dry creek bed lined with native bushes and grasses. These features capture rainwater that used to run off her sloping yard and instead infiltrate it into the ground. Eckman notes that her sump pump runs less in the spring and during storms and that she sees more birds, bees and butterflies on her property. She also helps organize the annual Landscape Revival native plant sale.

Kent and Diane Peterson-1070 Bucher Avenue

The Petersons installed a buffer between their property and the wetland that connects to Rice Creek, a system to infiltrate rainwater and a native plant garden. As a result irrigation and fertilization is minimal, and all of the precipitation that falls on the property, except the driveway, infiltrates on the property instead of running off.

Rebecca Lucas-718 Arbogast St.

Rebecca installed 20 solar panels on her garage roof. During peak times the system produces additional electricity that she sells back to Xcel. Many people may not know that Xcel is required to buy the additional energy produced by residential solar systems and pay retail rates for it.

All winners will be honored at the recognition ceremony Monday, September 16th, 2013 at 7:00pm in the City Council Chambers.

Lawn Chair Gardener, LLC was founded by Dawn Pape who has worked in education and the environmental field for 18 years and has been a Master Gardener for 14 years. The purpose of the company is to promote eco-friendly multi-purposed gardens through lectures, a book and garden plan templates. For more information, contact Dawn at 651-485-5171 or dawn@lawnchairgardener.com

 

7/17/13

Bugged By Mosquito Control

By Dawn Pape

Minnesotans habitually complain about the weather, mosquitoes, or both. I figure if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. This year, the mosquitoes truly are awful and, spoken like an authentic Minnesotan, I’m attributing this miserable fact to our abysmal weather. According to Metropolitan Mosquito Control District, the mosquito population was three-times as high as the 10-year average in mid-July. With this year’s late, nearly non-existent spring, the spring and the summer mosquitoes hatched about the same time.

I confess. I am feeling a little cheated. After being cooped up with an infant and a pre-schooler from November to May due to wind, rain, snow, cold, then more rain, I was really looking forward to some fresh air this summer. But now the mosquitoes (and deer ticks) make a daily invasion into my sunny yard. Yes, my yard is largely sunny but we are being bitten as if we are in deep shade. My pre-schooler’s legs look like he has a case of chicken pox and I spotted my neighbor sporting a mosquito net hat while she gardened.

This intense desire to be outside has made me desperate to the point where I considered suspending my principles of having a “no-spray” yard and I looked into controlling the mosquitoes on my property. I called a couple “natural” mosquito control companies that spray properties to knock down mosquito populations. A guarantee to get rid of the mosquitoes and ticks with absolutely no threat to my children? Hallelujah! It sounded too good to be true! And then I realized it was too good to be true.

One company boasted of using “no synthetics” in their garlic extract spray. This terminology signaled to me that there was more to this spray. Even though “no synthetics” sounds “natural,” does it really matter if a chemical is a naturally occurring or man-made chemical? There are plenty of dangerous compounds that exist in nature. After several rounds of inquiry, I discovered methoprene (a biochemical mosquito larvae disruptor) and bifenthrin (general insecticide) were in their “all natural” solution. Methoprene, the chemical used by Metropolitan Mosquito Control District, seems pretty innocuous.  It’s the bifenthrin that had me furrowing my brow. Even though the concentration of this general insecticide is low, common sense tells me if it can kill ticks, it could kill a monarch caterpillar. I was promised that the spray wouldn’t kill beneficial insects, but I should probably note that I had to explain to the man I talked to what I meant by “beneficial insects.”

Is this “green washing” marketing related to the overall decline of beneficial pollinators? Vera Krischik, a University of Minnesota entomology professor researching insect declines, paints a disturbing picture as she describes that honeybees, bumblebees, parasitic wasps and many other kids of beneficial, pollinating insects are noticeably absent this year. Krischik points to reduced milkweed and other flowering plants in agriculture and backyards. I wonder if our desire to spray something for a quick fix isn’t another part of the problem.

The mosquitoes are still bad, but being a Minnesotan (pronounced Minnesooootan), I have ample gear to allow me to interact with nature even if the elements aren’t entirely cooperative. My family and I will be following the lead of my neighbor with the mosquito netting, but we may take it a step further with full bug net suits to avoid using bug-sprays for a fifteen-minute stint on the swing set.

 

6/25/13

Parallels of Plants and Parenting

By Dawn Pape

Parenting gives a person many new skills: the ability to step in at the right time to avert a toddler from injury, the ability to tell the difference between real medical emergencies and perceived ones by the listening to the pitch of a cry, the ability to use silliness, songs and/or rhymes to temper a tantrum. But let’s not forget the lesser-hailed ability to feel guilty about absolutely everything. I’ve had conversations with other parents who feel guilty about sending kids to daycare and others who feel guilty about not sending them to daycare. I’ve even had friends confess to me that they feel a bit guilty about not feeling guilty for their parenting missteps.

I am prone to guilt. Maybe my guilt stems from my Lutheran upbringing, the Mid-western culture or, perhaps, it’s genetic as my sisters seem to suffer from excessive guilt too. I am a self-proclaimed “lawn chair gardener” and my garden has been a sacred “guilt-free” zone for me – until recently. I didn’t want to do it, but common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) was encroaching on most of my crops so pulled some of it – not all of it, but some of it.

This is where the guilt comes in. Have you heard about the plight of the monarch butterflies? According to Monarch Watch, last winter the over-wintering monarch population in Mexico reached its lowest level in two decades and there was a 59% population decrease from the previous year. I want to support these beautiful pollinators and I know that pulling out their ever decreasing habitat isn’t helping them any. Monarch larvae feed exclusively on milkweed plant species and have the unique ability to process the chemical deterrents (cardenolides) making unpalatable to predators.

Beginning in mid-March, monarchs fly north from Mexico to lay their eggs on newly sprouted spring milkweed in the southern United States. A month later, this spring generation emerges as adults. They fly north, seeking newly sprouted milkweed plants. Members of this second generation reach Minnesota and lay eggs here in late May and early June. Their eggs develop into a third generation of monarchs that begin to emerge in early July. They lay a fourth generation of eggs in July and August. Most other Minnesota butterflies can survive the harsh winters. However, no stage of monarchs can survive long periods of freezing temperatures. When the days begin to cool and shorten in late summer, the season’s last adult monarchs migrate nearly 2,000 miles to high-altitude forests of central Mexico. This generation has undeveloped reproductive organs and remains in a state called diapause, waiting for spring to mate and signal their return to North America when milkweeds sprout once again.

Next year, I have decided that I will maintain milkweed sections and pull the excessive milkweed before the monarchs have returned to lay their first generation of eggs. That way I can provide habitat for the monarchs and leave my guilt in the house.

 

5/28/13

Plotting My Defense (Or a Little Bit of Crazy)

By Dawn Pape

White-Tailed Deer

Daring Dang Deer

How did I end up with a 24-foot long, regulation sized soccer goal in my garden? I blame the deer and rabbits for my latest bout with craziness. Let me explain. Last spring I had a baby and published a book so my garden took a back seat. I know, in the past, I have touted the virtues of sacrificial plants and accepting the local fauna. I considered myself a tolerant person and thought I wouldn’t mind sharing some of my produce with the wildlife. Then, those glutinous deer and rabbits took advantage of my generosity. They ate most of my vegetables – right down to little unrecognizable nubs. This year I decided I am not going to take the deer and rabbits lying down. I decided it was time to plot a defense – or, perhaps, fence ‘da’ plot.

Deer deterrents work – for awhile – until the deer study the situation and realize the scarecrow motion sensor sprinkler or fake owl isn’t a true threat. Suburban deer are notorious for figuring out decoys. My theory is that they deer have too much time on their hands since they don’t even need to look too far for food with virtually endless landscaping buffets available for their choosing. And, to my knowledge, deer don’t really have too many other hobbies. That leaves them with nothing better to do than to spy on plants and figure out their plan of attack. I imagine the deer discussing in which yard they would like to dine for breakfast as people discuss going out to eat. “I am in the mood for fresh tomato plants,” offers one. “Oh good idea, then we could head over to the tan house on the corner for some pepper plants for dessert,” replies the other deer.

Deer Deterrents

The problem with sprays, powders, etc. is that you don’t really know when you need to reapply until the damage has been done. The directions say to reapply after rain. How much rain? What if there is a dry spell? Do you need to reapply then? I relied on sprays last year and apparently I didn’t it apply it often enough. Other problems with sprays include expense and smell. I’ve never tried the sonar devices that apparently send out high-pitched frequencies to scare the deer, but I’ve read reports that they aren’t very effective.

Fencing

Minnesota Extension Service literature states that exclusion is the best method of keeping deer and rabbits out. I decided this sounded like a good route for me to take because I do not want to have to expend the mental energy on changing my game plan on a daily or weekly basis attempting to outsmart the deer. I just wanted to fence them out and be done with it so I bought a bunch of long poles and deer netting and went to work. After I was about half-way done erecting the fence, I realized my poles were too flimsy and I was going to be rebuilding this fence after every gust of wind. Plus, it turned my garden into a junky looking scene that could have been from the Beverly Hillbillies show. To avoid being nicknamed the Clampett family and to install something more permanent, I looked into getting cedar posts with decorative cross beams that I could wrap deer netting around. The cost of putting the in the cedar posts was much more than I wanted to spend and the city wasn’t wild about me putting in the posts that close to the road. Next, I thought wrapping netting around tomato cages to fence off individual plants. But how do I individually wrap pole beans, squash and cucumbers? Of course, I considered stringing up fishing line at knee height and chest height but that thought was quickly squelched considering the safety of my small children. After that, I pondered buying a small greenhouse or hoop house and wrapping it in deer netting instead of thick plastic to make a little animal free tent. That was also cost-prohibitive. That brought me to the regulation size soccer net that serves as a structure to wrap the deer netting. Does it work? Yes, so far so good. Does it look silly? Most certainly. I am still searching for the sure-fire, attractive way to keep critters out of my garden. Does anyone want a regulation size goal and net? It’s in great shape and I’ll give you a deal.

 

 

5/12/13

 

Putting Principles into Play

Dawn Pape

pre-schooler standing by River Birch

Sr. Photo at age 3?

My principles were put to test this week when I discovered dozens of ground bees nesting under the edge of my deck – right in the path where my children play. My first reaction was to eradicate the bees immediately to protect my children. Then, I reminded myself that ground bees are beneficial pollinating insects. It’s estimated by the Pollinator Partnership that approximately a third of our food is due to the handy work of these good guys and their beneficial buddies. Perhaps we should be thanking a pollinator before each meal instead of purging them. Furthermore, my children and a couple of their friends had played in the area all day without injury.

Ground bees are interesting creatures that become active in early spring. Female ground bees can sting, but rarely do. Males of some species may behave aggressively around nesting areas, but they lack the ability to sting. In general, ground bees are not aggressive and only sting in defense if threatened. Ground bees are solitary bees. However, it’s not unusual to find dozens of ground bee nests in one area if conditions are suitable for nesting. Each female digs her own burrow in bare, dry patches of the lawn or garden. As females excavate their nests, loose soil is mounded around the nest entrance. Their nests look like anthills with larger openings and a bee flying in and out of their burrows. Males fly over the burrows, patrolling for potential mates.

Some solitary wasps are ground nesters too. Like ground bees, they are not aggressive. However, bumblebees also nest in underground burrows, though they typically use abandoned rodent burrows rather than excavate a new one. Bumblebees live in social colonies so if there are multiple bees entering a nest, they may be bumblebees and will aggressively defend their nests. Yellowjackets also nest in the ground, and like bumblebees, often move into old rodent burrows. It’s usually preferable to leave ground bees alone. Since they like dry soil, getting rid of them is as simple as turning on the hose and watering their holes with about an inch of water a week. Another tactic is to apply a thick layer of mulch or establishing a thicker lawn so the bees cannot easily burrow in.

I decided to use this experience as a teachable moment to relay to my three-year old son the importance of protecting the “good bugs.” Instead of watering the area to evict the bees, my son and I built a temporary fence around the area with lawn chairs and wire plant cages to remind us to stay out of that area for a few weeks until the bees leave their nests. Since nesting activity is limited to spring, they won’t stay for long. Now, that we’ve learned to live peacefully with the ground bees, what do we do about the deer, rabbits and dreadful deer ticks?

 

4/26/13

Ready, Set, Grow! (Or Ding, Dong the Snow is Dead)

By Dawn Pape

Snow is a little like house guests. It’s always great to see it come, but it’s also okay when it’s gone too. This year, the snow really wore out its welcome. I wrote a couple months ago that February seemed like the longest month of the year. I take that back. This year it was March—and April!

Since I was officially out of indoor child-friendly activities months ago, it makes this season all the more exciting. To start the season off on the right foot, here are some steps you may want to include into your repertoire.

Clean Tools

Clean tools are important for minimizing the spread of diseases. An easy method for cleaning tools is to spray them with a disinfectant spray like Lysol®. This is much easier than mixing up a bleach concoction and more effective for minimizing the spread of disease according to University of Minnesota Extension Educator, Kathy Zuzek.

Clean Up Debris

Cutting perennial plant stems down to just a couple inches above the ground and seeing the new growth emerging is fun. For large gardens, using a string trimmer is a quick way to say goodbye  to last year’s garden and welcome the new-comers. (I also enjoy using a string trimmer because it gives me such a feeling of power.) Next, I use a metal rake with flexible tines to gently rake off the debris and allow the new growth to emerge. I find it easiest to rake everything onto a large tarp rather than messing around with bags.

Soil Preparation

Although it may seem cruel to suggest waiting even longer to get out in the garden, it is important until the soil dries a bit before planting. If soil sticks to shoes or the shovel, it is too wet. A good soil moisture test is to press a small amount of soil in one’s hand. When the moisture is right, the soil crumbles and breaks into small clumps. If it is too wet, it stays molded in a ball.

Now is a great time to have soil tested for the amount of fertilizer to apply before planting. A routine soil test gives information on any lime requirement, phosphorous and potassium needs and estimated nitrogen requirements. For information on soil testing, contact the University on Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory.

Planting

Early “cool-season” crops such as lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and onions can be sowed immediately after the garden is prepared. However, wait until the danger of frost is past (typically mid-to-late May) before transplanting tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and similar “warm season” crops. Tender crops such as cucumbers, pumpkins and watermelons can be seeded in mid-May if the soil is warmed up. To warm the soil and help those crops germinate more quickly, place “hot caps” over the soil one week before planting. You can purchase hot caps, but milk jugs with the bottoms cut off make good “hot caps.” Keep the hot caps on until the plants emerge and are growing vigorously.

It’s such a treat to get outside again and with each new gardening season, comes high hopes and dreams for a perfect season. As Barbara Winkler stated so well, “Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle…a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl; and the anticipation nurtures our dream.”

 

 

4/9/13

Plan Your Garden Like a Super-Model: Easy, Breezy, Beautiful

By Dawn Pape

3 Legged Stool

3 Legged Stool

Companion planting is a method of gardening where plants that are thought to be beneficial to one another are planted close together. There are plenty of reasons to use companion planting, but insect and disease control tops my list.

The key to controlling pests is having beneficial bugs do the patrolling for you to keep the slugs and thugs at bay. Beneficial insects are attracted to gardens that have an array of flowers with varying bloom times interspersed with herbs and vegetables. This is where the “edible garden” concept trumps the traditional garden plot where everything is planted in rows. Many insects are attracted to certain plants and won’t bother other plants. When things are in rows, the insects and diseases don’t have to work too hard to find the next plant to attack. When edibles are planted here and there, mixed in with other types of plants, the insects and diseases often never find the other plants to infest.

Oodles of good books and websites exist about companion planting, but these resources inevitably resort to lengthy lists of companion planting pairs long enough to make a person’s eyes cross. What’s more, there is a lot of conflicting information on these lists because companion planting is as much of an art as it is a science. Since I find these lists intimidating and unapproachable, I have simplified companion planting to two basic concepts: 1. opposites attract, 2. companion planting the Covergirl® way.

Opposites Attract

Much like people, opposite plants attract. (But, unlike couples, they won’t spend the rest of their lives driving each other crazy.) Plant sun-loving plants with shade-loving ones so the sun-loving plants can offer shade to their companions. Plant deeply rooted plants with shallow rooted plants. Plant short plants with tall and fast growing with slow growing because the plants will have different space requirements. Plant early bloomers with late bloomers and heavy-feeders (that need nutrient rich soil) with light-feeders.

Covergirl® Gardens

Assuming most people are familiar with the Covergirl® slogan, “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful. Covergirl,” I hope aligning companion planting principles with this slogan will make it easy for gardeners to remember. (It is not my intention to have readers squirm uncomfortably at the silliness of this, but I realize that this may be an unintended consequence.)

I have simplified the three main components of companion planting to a good ol’ three-legged stool. (Most respectable theories are three legged stools, right?) The first leg, we’ll call “Easy” or rather “Easy Peas-y”, refers to, uh, um, yes, peas and other edibles that we are trying to protect from pests.  The next leg is “Breezy,” includes herbs that are fragrant in the breezy. Herbs are great for confusing pests since they are so fragrant, it is thought that pests get disoriented and cannot find the plants they are seeking. The final leg of our three-legged stool is “Beautiful” which refers to flowering plants that provide nectar and habitat for beneficial insects. If these three types of plants vegetables, herbs and flowers are planted in proximity, pest and disease problems will be greatly reduced.

Now, I wonder if I can get top Covergirl® models Ellen DeGeneres, Sofia Vergara or P!NK to endorse my theory to have it gain a little more attention…

 

 

2/21/13

Anyone Can Afford a Quick Tropical Trip

Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Zoo

Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Zoo

By Dawn Pape

Six years ago, my husband and I got married in February because we decided it would be the perfect time of year to take an annual warm-weather destination vacation to celebrate our anniversary. Even though February is the shortest month of the year, I think many Minnesotans would agree that it feels like the longest. This is the time of year when classroom teachers start counting the days until spring break and stay at home parents admit to being absolutely stir crazy.

 

The years my husband and I have not managed to flee to a warmer climate, we make sure we escape to the place where we exchanged our vows – the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Zoo; a.k.a the “wedding factory.” Did you know Como Conservatory typically has three weddings per day on the weekends? What’s even more amazing is that the conservatory is open to the public from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. every single day of the year! Yes, some folks get up pretty early to say, “I do,” and complete the ceremony before the place opens and two weddings typically happen after hours.

Visiting the conservatory is like taking a quick (and budget) tropical trip. The beauty of the Valentine-like pinks and reds are a photographer’s dream. There is simply a stunning shot around every bloom. The intoxicating smell of the lilies causes me to take long, slow, deep breathes. Before I know it, my tense shoulders are relaxed and my cracked hands are reveling in the humidity.

Visiting the conservatory always puts me in the mood to get back to gardening. Since planting is still a ways away, this time of year is perfect for planning, attending workshops and looking into grants available to residents. I must not be alone in my longing to reconnect with the earth because a person doesn’t have to look very far to find local calendars filled with gardening workshops and conferences. I am looking forward to the Wild Ones (a group that promotes native plants and natural landscapes) annual conference on March 2 in Plymouth. This year the theme is “Reading Our Landscape.” The keynote speaker, Darrel Morrison, is kicking off the conference talking about landscape design as ecological art and I am honored to be presenting at the conference in the afternoon. To find out more about the conference, visit http://www.designwithnatureconference.org/

In March and April, there will be dozens of workshops on designing and planting raingardens. Raingardens seem to be the latest gardening craze in the Upper Midwest. Perhaps what makes raingardens so appealing is that they are both “show horses” and “work horses.” To an average person not attuned to gardening, raingardens (should) just look like a nice flower garden. But raingardens also serve a higher purpose by filtering dirty stormwater runoff. Raingardens are proven to have amazing positive impacts on our struggling area lakes, streams and wetlands. To find out workshop details, visit http://www.bluethumb.org/calendar/. This website compiles listings from over sixty organizations. As an added bonus, many grants are available to homeowners to help them install raingardens. Grant information for the metro area is also found on the BlueThumb.org website on the “grants” page.

Just like every great vacation, as we leave the conservatory, I am wishing I could stay longer. Do you think the bride and groom will notice if I crash their wedding? Probably. I have an 11-month old and an extremely talkative 3-year old. It’s pretty tough to go anywhere unnoticed.

 

 

1/27/13

Winter Seed Sowing – Get a Jump Start on Spring

By Dawn Pape

Growing plants from seed is a fantastic way to save on plant costs. Using the method I am about to describe, is the easiest and cheapest way I have found to start hundreds of plants for under $20. It’s also fun to get your hands dirty and plant in the winter. An additional benefit is not having to dedicate valuable indoor living space to flats of plants and bulky grow lights that could raise your neighbors’ eyebrows.

My favorite method of winter sowing involves planting seeds in milk jugs and setting the jugs outside until spring.  The milk jugs serve as mini-greenhouses. The seeds get a jump-start on the season and start growing a good month or two before you could get them planted in the ground. Since we have a short growing season, this is a big deal. Plant perennials (plants that come back year after year) in January, February or March. Plant annuals, herbs and vegetables between April 1-20. After late April, seeds can be directly planted in the ground.

Supplies Needed

Empty milk jugs, utility knife, potting soil, seeds, watering can, large storage containers or laundry tub, garden marker (a special marker that doesn’t fade), plant labels, clear or white duct tape. Tip: Do you need a bunch of milk jugs in a hurry? Contact area coffee shops to have them save them for you.

Steps

Winter Sowing Steps

Winter Sowing Steps

 

1.  Cut four 1-inch slits in the bottom of each milk jug with a utility knife.2.  Starting about 5 inches from the bottom, cut around the jug horizontally with the utility knife. Be sure to leave about one inch of the jug uncut. It will act as a hinge for opening and closing the jugs.

3.  Add a few inches of soil in the jug up to about 1-2 inches below cut line.

4.  Water the soil well so you see water coming out of the bottom. This is why having it in a tub is necessary!

5.  Add seeds and cover them with soil. As a rule of thumb, a seed should be sown at a depth equal to its longest side. Adding soil over the top is not needed if seeds are very tiny.6.  Add a plant label inside the container with the plant details. (You can do this step later, but it’s nice to do when you have the seed packet handy.)7. Close cover and duct tape the jug back together. Clear or white duct tape is best because darker colors get hot and gooey from the sun, making it hard to get the tape off in the spring without shaking up the plant.

8. Label and date the outside of the jug.

9. Place the jugs outside where they will get sun and precipitation. Make sure there’s no cap on the jug so the rain and snow keeps the soil moist.

As the weather warms up, you may need water and open containers during the day so the seedlings don’t overheat and close the containers at night if temps are too cool. On hot spring days, you might want to move your containers to receive less sun so they don’t completely dry out. You can cut off the lid entirely when weather warms up, usually after May 15. Wait for mature roots before dividing and planting.  Spring will be here before we know it.

 

1/1/13

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness in 2013

Mother with kids in lawn chair

Happiness is a Balanced Life

By Dawn Pape

The pursuit of happiness is deeply engrained in our culture. This is apparent by the fact that it is stated in our Declaration of Independence. This time of year, I enjoy self-reflection, the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start anew on my quest for a healthy, balanced, happy life. And this year, to adequately incorporate all my goals for 2013, I think I might need to move to Ikaria, an isolated Greek island in the Aegean Sea.

A typical day on Ikaria goes something like this: wake up naturally, work in the garden, have a late lunch, take a nap and visit with neighbors in the evening always bringing something fresh from the garden to share. To me, this simple lifestyle sounds like a permanent vacation. To find out that this island is the world’s biggest hotspot of exceptional human longevity seems fitting. There are more healthy people over 90 here than any other place on the planet. Sure, I could have this schedule here in the U.S – for a day or so – but there are so many distractions, it’s hard to keep life so simple.

From what I can surmise, the art of happiness has a few common threads. Happy people have lasting, healthy relationships. Happy people practice gratitude. Happy people live in the moment and enjoy people, places and ordinary things they encounter everyday. Happy people also enjoy giving. The very act of giving multiplies happiness because acts of kindness and charity amplify a person’s feeling of well-being. It just feels good to be able to do something nice for someone else. The people on Ikaria have built in these threads into their daily routine.

As happiness is a way of life, so is gardening. Gardening puts the gardener in touch with the rhythms of the earth and supports eating locally in harmony with the seasons. There is a time to sow, tend and reap. Vegetable and herb gardening connects people connect to their food. Not only is the gardener harvesting (at least some of) their food, they are, most likely, cooking healthy, inexpensive meals that bring people together. Flower gardens are essential for pollination and bring delight to all the senses – sight, scent, touch, taste and hearing. Gardening is a bonding activity for families as well as a place to escape to for some peace. Gardening can be a stress reliever and a workout with the added benefit of not feeling like a workout.

No matter what type of gardening a person enjoys, gardens give a sense of accomplishment and something to look forward to every day. Nurturing plants and seeing things grow is therapeutic and life affirming. Tending a garden causes the gardener to be in the moment and meditative while simultaneously has the ability to shift one’s viewpoint outward. Happy people have difficult times, but are able to bounce back because they know better times are probable. Just as gardeners have tough years when their crops flop and flowers fail to thrive, a gardener perseveres and plants a garden the following year with the hope that next year might be better. The act of planting a garden is optimistic.

I think Arthur Smith, British comedian and playwright, sums it up well with this thought, “If you want to be happy for a short time, get drunk; happy for a long time, fall in love; happy forever take up gardening.” Happy New Year!

 

12/10/12

Sleepless in Shoreview – Using Moon Shadows to Help Plan Your Garden

Snow Angel

Snow Angel

By Dawn Pape

There is something magical waking up to a quiet world covered with snow. I inhale the tranquility of my cat sleeping next to my glowing Christmas tree with the flocked trees out the window in the background. My son is buzzing with excitement at the prospect of playing in the snow after breakfast. I love being snowed in and not having any pressing place to be. It’s a great excuse to hunker down and hibernate. I feel like it’s what people are supposed to be doing in the winter.

When I hear people grumbling about holiday stress, I wonder if people would feel so stressed, if Christmas happened just after the summer solstice when the days in northern climate are at their longest and it seems natural to stay active until 10 p.m. The Latin origins of the word “solstice” translate to “sun stands still,” but as a society we’re doing anything but standing still a few days before Christmas. Nature’s signals are telling us to slow down, take it easy and to go internal. But, instead, we’re running around like crazy trying to get presents purchased and wrapped. No wonder people are crabby. It’s just not natural.

As I play with my son outside in a rousing game of hide and seek, I think about how different my new frosted yard looks. In fact, it looks like a blank canvas. Suddenly new garden ideas are popping into my head and I’m wondering if herbs would receive enough light near my hiding spot by my garage. Thankfully, I don’t need to wait until summer to figure out how much sun this area will receive.

I just need a sleepless night to take a late night stroll to view the shadows the full moon casts on my yard. Since the full moon is opposite the sun, as the sun gets lower in the sky during the winter, the full moon will be higher in the sky. In the summer, the opposite is true. This month, the full moon will be on December 28th (at 4:22:40 A.M.). It will be at the same angle as the sun will be on June 20. If you already have plans for the wee hours of the 28th, you have a window of time to watch the shadows. December 19th, the first quarter moon, will correlate with the spring equinox on March 21st. On Christmas night, the moon will be the same as the sun on May 21st. After your New Year’s festivities, you might want to wind down with a magical moonlit walk that will be similar to the sun angles in the latter half of July when flowers are in full swing. (However, depending on how much you celebrated, you may or may not remember your garden ideas. Or, your great ideas might evaporate after your morning cup of coffee.)

Suddenly, I am jolted back to the present as my 3-year shouts with glee as he has discovered me and I run so he has to work to tag me. Let’s be truthful. The reason we buy our kids their boots a size too big isn’t just so they will fit for two years. It’s because it’s harder to run in boots that don’t fit and it wears kids out. I fully intend to exhaust my son with a game of chase, a fleet of snow angels followed by shoveling the driveway, so I am ensured that he takes an afternoon nap. This will allow me a few minutes to sip hot chocolate by the fire and do a little reading and dreaming of gardens to come. Decadent! Happy New Year!

 

11/25/12

Gift Ideas for Green Thumbs

Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree

By Dawn Pape

Do you have any gardeners on your Christmas list this year? Here are some items from my own wish list as well as some ideas from my Facebook fans. (Thank you, fans, for your input!) Gardening is a relatively inexpensive hobby – especially compared to collecting antique cars or gambling. My old clogs were demoted to gardening shoes over 10 years ago and are still in service. Even though seeds are cheap, there are many other gadgets that are really handy.

 

Secret Santa level ($5-25)

–           Gardening books or magazines. There is no shortage of exceptional gardening books available. Depending on the type of gardening your pal likes to do, these books and magazines might be of interest:

  • Traditional Yard Care, Perennial and Vegetable Gardening
  • Month-By-Month Gardening in Minnesota, by Melinda Myers
  • Northern Gardener Magazine http://www.northerngardener.org/

As the name suggests, this magazine exclusively covers gardening in a northern climate is filled with timely feature articles that cover all areas of gardening

  • Functional Landscaping Including Edible Gardens, Native perennial gardens and/or Raingardens
  • Edible Landscaping-Now You Can Have Your Gorgeous Garden and Eat it Too, by Rosalind Creasy
  • Landscaping with Native Plants and Prairie-Style Gardens, by Lynn Steiner
  • The Blue Thumb Guide to Raingardens, by Rusty Schmidt, David Dods and Dan Shaw
  • A Lawn Chair Gardener’s Guide, by Dawn Pape (Oh, how could I resist putting this on the list?)

–           A flowerpot filled with gardening tools and gloves.

–           A houseplant to make it a truly thoughtful gift, consider how much space and light the gift recipient has in their house.

–           Amaryllis bulbs to plant inside to brighten up the winter. If your pal has small children and/or pets, let your friend know that the bulbs are poisonous.

–           Garden hose timer

–           A garden knife is a very versatile tool that is a little like a microwave or a smart phone. Once you have one, you’ll wonder how you lived without it.

–           Gift cards to local nurseries and garden centers. If you’re looking for small, local nurseries this directory may help you in your search http://www.bluethumb.org/partners/

 

Dear Family Member or Friend level ($50-250)

–           Cold frame. A cold frame is a box with a transparent-roof used to protect plants from cold weather. Essentially, a cold frame functions as a miniature greenhouse to extend the growing season

–           Deer deterrents –

  • 7-8 foot high “deer fencing”
  • Wireless deer fence that gives the deer’s nose a static shock to condition them to avoid your yard
  • Motion-activated sprinkler to repel animals them with a short, startling burst of water.

–           Indoor grow lights and trays to get those seeds started indoors.

–           Heated birdbath to keep our little feathered friends hydrated all season

–           Trellis or Arbor

–           Steppers made of flagstone, decorative, commemorative. There are kits at craft stores too

–           Comfortable chairs so your loved one can relax and enjoy viewing the garden

–           BPA free garden hoses (so it’s safe for the kids to drink out of them)

 

Got Something to Prove level (or Better Not Goof Up Again level) ($300-500)

–           Small greenhouse

–           Hire a company to design and/or install a garden.

–           Benches

I would love to hear from other gardeners what your favorite gifts are. As for me, I’ll be able to tell who actually reads my columns by what shows up under my tree.

 

11/4/12

Turning Over a New Leaf

Collecting Leaves to be Composted

By Dawn Pape

When I was a kid, my mom and I raked our leaves onto a big tarp, “burritoed” it up, hauled it across the street and dumped the leaves into the “swamp.” We thought it was the “natural” way to dispose of our leaves and we were quite pleased with our cleverness to save ourselves the labor of bagging. We didn’t connect that putting our leaves into the wetland was actually polluting it by overwhelming the system with excess nutrients. Excessive nutrients can result in algal blooms. As the algae die, they decay and rob the water of oxygen. The algae also prevent sunlight from penetrating the water. Fish are deprived of oxygen and plants are deprived of light and can die. Animals that depend on these plants for food or shelter leave the area or die. The chain effect goes on and on. Looking back, I scratch my head at how we considered dumping leaves into a wetland was a good idea. It is refreshing to me to see how far we’ve come, as a society, in the last couple of decades with some of our views towards natural resources.

For starters, the Wetland Conservation Act, enacted in 1991, makes it a misdemeanor to dump anything that ‘does not originate in the wetland into the wetland.’ In addition, yard vegetation is now banned from the trash. There has been a societal shift towards understanding that leaves and grass clippings should be composted because they are natural resources containing valuable nutrients. The popularity of compost is apparent in the spring as gardeners engage in competitive compost collecting from the county compost sites in an effort to get their share of free compost (and woodchips) before the sites run out.

Why do gardeners get all googly-eyed about good compost? Compost is the gold standard of soil amendments. It has almost magical properties because it virtually eliminates the need for gardening chemicals. How? It is super nutrient-rich eliminating the need for fertilizers. Compost grows healthy plants and healthy plants are more disease and pest resistant. Therefore, the need for pesticides and fungicides is radically reduced, if not eliminated. To boot, compost helps control erosion and drains well. It loosens up “tight” clay soils and adds nutrients to sandy “poor” soils.

Since my youth, people seem to view wetlands in a more positive light. There is a general knowledge that they are like giant kidneys filtering our water, sponges that absorb flooding, and are resting and nesting spots for wildlife. They also provide food, habitat and cover. On top of those benefits, they generate revenue from eco-tourism activities like hunting, fishing, bird-watching and photography. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an acre of wetland can store 1-1.5 million gallons of floodwater. About half of our bird species nest or feed in wetlands and, although wetlands total only 5% of land surface in the U.S, they are home to 31% of our plant species. Amazingly, 75% of commercially harvested fish are wetland-dependent.

The tricky thing about wetlands, is that they aren’t always wet! There are eight different types ranging from fresh meadows, shallow marshes, deep marshes, bogs, wooded swamps, shrub swamps, seasonally flooded basins, and open water wetlands (or your cattail pond). Since there are so many types, wetlands aren’t always easy to identify and there are plenty of folks who may be unknowingly illegally dumping in wetlands like I did in my errant youth. As we discover over and over, the need to keep on learning never ends.

 

 

10/23/12

Fall is the Best Time to Implement a Zero Tolerance Policy

Chinese or Amur Silver Grass

Chinese or Amur Silver Grass

By Dawn Pape

I like to think of myself as a pretty tolerant person. However, when it comes to invasive species, I practice a zero tolerance policy in my yard and I wish I could enforce my policy elsewhere I see invasive plants, animals and insects. This impassioned statement may sound odd coming from a self-proclaimed “lawn chair gardener.” Why am I so spirited about the eradicating invasives? Because they are a sizable economic and environmental drain on our society and some even pose health concerns. According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, 35 billion dollars are spent annually on controlling invasive species nationwide. Furthermore, after development, the second biggest reason for loss of habitat is due to invasive plants, animals and insects.

After new acquaintances discover my interest in native gardens, many friendly folks have cheerily proclaimed that they let their yard “go natural” too. Whereas I appreciate the sentiment because I realize that they are most likely trying to find a commonality with me about not using chemicals, the term “natural” makes me cringe. At this point in the conversation, I am usually trying to figure out if my new pals know the name of each species in their yards (like a native restoration project) or simply lets anything – invasive or not – grow. Many people don’t realize that some plants (animals and insects too) must be controlled – by law – if they show up on your property.

The first step is, of course, plant identification. There are many resources and live people available to help residents with plant identification:

What is surprising to many folks, is that attractive plants intentionally planted in residential landscapes are on the Department of Natural Resources’ “hit-list.” For example, Amur or Chinese silver grass (pictured), often incorrectly referred to as pampas grass, is a lovely, common ornamental grass with a fluffy plume that grows 3-10’ tall. These prolific seed producing grasses are a huge problem because they grow in a thick monoculture, excluding and replacing other beneficial species. Another garden favorite is the yellow iris or yellow-flag iris. These plants also displace wetland plants. The Japanese barberry shrub is yet another landscape favorite that, that invades oak woodlands and oak savannas. Research in the eastern part of the country indicates that these shrubs are a breeding habitat for deer ticks too. Russian olives and Amur maples are other examples of common trees that are a little too successful in sowing their wild oats.

The basic method for invasive plant removal is to chop the offending plant down and treat the stumps or stems with herbicide. Fall is the best time to control many invasive plants because they plants’ energy is going into their roots so the herbicide is most effective in killing the plant. A preemptive ounce of prevention (a.k.a. herbicide) in a surprise ambush early on will most likely prevent trench warfare later.

 

 

10/8/12

Discussing the Birds and the Bees Butterflies

Female Monarch

Female Monarch on Purple Coneflower

By Dawn Pape

Not long ago, my three year-old son, who is obsessed with all things potty-related due to his relatively new bathroom skills and, perhaps, the simple fact that he is a preschool-aged boy, surprised me with a question. As we were relaxing in the yard watching a monarch flit from flower to flower, he asked, “Mommy, do boy butterflies have penises?” His deeply contemplative tone and facial expression made me realize that he wasn’t trying to be crude. I attempted to answer the question matching his matter-of-fact tone while working hard to stifle my chuckle. I replied that I didn’t know and that we would have to look that up. Then I proudly shared with him the only nugget of information I knew related to this topic: male monarchs have thinner black webbing within the wings and a black spot on each of the hind wings over a vein. The female’s webbing is thicker and lacks the spots. We determined the butterfly in our purview was a boy. This fact prompted a cheer from my son as he evidently felt camaraderie with our new insect friend.

Three year olds are notorious for asking, “Why?” But researchers echo young children with all of their unanswered questions regarding monarchs. Why do monarchs migrate so far — 2,000 miles or more? Why do they come back to their original location so far north, when flower nectar and milkweed plants are readily available in more moderate climates? How does an untrained monarch get its unwavering sense of direction to arrive at the exact same location year after year?

This time of year, it’s beautiful and exciting to see hundreds of brilliant orange monarchs gather on my purple New England asters preparing for their big journey. Since I like the same plants butterflies like, it’s easy for me to provide them with nectar as they visit my purple coneflowers, monarda, black-eyed Susans, blazing stars, boneset and coreopsis. Another thing butterflies and I have in common is that we like a succession of blooms all growing season. They need the continuous nectar supply and I like the on-going color – it makes me feel like an accomplished gardener. I purposefully provide a couple types of milkweeds (butterfly weed and swamp milkweed) to support the monarch larvae. Monarchs specifically need the chemicals from milkweed plants to give them a poisonous defense against predators like frogs, birds, mice and lizards. As luck would have it, additional butterflies benefit from other plants I happen in have in my yard and garden such as our river birch, red-osier dogwood, dill and parsley.

I started to wonder about my son’s initial question regarding butterfly anatomy. The short answer to his question is “yes,” but I discovered some astonishing facts about male butterflies reproductive prowess too lengthy to detail here. (If you are interested, you may want to check out this link about BUTTERFLY REPRODUCTION.) However, my son has long since forgotten about the question and I will save this involved information for a future discussion about the “birds and the bees.” Or, on second thought, maybe I’ll let my husband do “the talk” and I’ll stick to questions about actual birds and bees.

 

9/19/12

Giving is as American as Apple Pie – Even If It’s Not Homemade Pie

Baby smiling with apple

Enjoying the Harvest

By Dawn Pape

I don’t bake. True confession: when asked to bring cookies to the daycare holiday program, I bought packaged pop-in-the-oven cookies and left them anonymously. I have an extraordinary sweet tooth. So why would I want to bake tasty treats only to have them tempting me all day? Many days it is just me, the kids and the sweets at home together…alone…all day…with no witnesses. The sweets have little defense and my family would not be shocked if I had gotten rid of the evidence by dinnertime and acted like nothing happened.

In the past, I have felt guilty this time of year that I don’t bake and utilize the delicious, abundant apples we get from our two apple trees. My mom used to sit and peel apples for hours and make bars, pies and crisps galore. I swear not a single apple went to waste. As for my family, we eat as many apples as we can, but I am only ambitious enough to make applesauce and baked apple chunks for the baby. However, this year my conscience is getting off scot-free thanks to The Minnesota Project’s program called Fruits of the City. My apples didn’t go to waste, didn’t attract deer, I didn’t have to do a thing AND I received a charitable donation receipt.

The Fruits of the City program is in its fourth year of capturing fresh fruit that would otherwise go to waste and redistributing it to those in need. In 2011, they partnered with Second Harvest Heartland to glean over 31,000 pounds of fruit. Last year, about 100 homeowners and four orchards donated apples and 125 people volunteered to pick fruit. This year, they have more than doubled the number orchards donating fruit and, as of mid-September, they already had collected 15,000 pounds. My own trees contributed 110 pounds – which translated into a $165 charitable donation receipt.

This year has been a tough one for apples because we had unseasonably warm weather in March that fooled the apple trees into getting a jump on the season only to have many trees’ buds damaged by an April frost. This means apple harvests are down and harvests are about two weeks early.

I was a bit reluctant to join the program because I knew that many of my apples were less than perfect. However, I learned that the fruits are handed over to food shelves and kitchens that make sure their clients are served only high-quality food. The blemished fruit is peeled and the rough spots cut out in the food preparation process.

If you are interested in participating in the program, visit www.fruitsofthecity.org. The program is still looking for tree owners and volunteers to pick (“gleaners”) through October. Fruits of the City also puts on workshops to educate homeowners on fruit tree care to maximize harvests. Next year, I hope to participate in some of these workshops so I can donate fewer blemished apples.  For this year, I am just happy I was able to help feed people rather than the deer.

 

9/10/12

The Way is the Goal – A Gardener Never Quits Tweaking a Garden

raingarden blooms in September

September Raingarden Blooms

By Dawn Pape

I love to sit out on my deck and collect my thoughts with a morning cup of coffee as I eaves drop on the birds. Lately, I am relishing the crisp air that accompanies new shoes and backpacks. After the hottest summer on record, cooler temperatures are a welcome treat. Even though my heart sinks to see my perennials’ blooms winding down and my favorite season drawing to a close, I survey my gardens and am already scheming for next year.

As a self-proclaimed, “lawn chair gardener,” I’ve learned to make things easy on myself. Over the last 15 years, I’ve come to the realization that even though I think I will always remember what type of lettuce worked especially well, it is a little like remembering the milestones for my kids. As time passes, I simply forget! That’s why this time of year, as I take stock of my gardens’ successes and “growth opportunities,” I make notes and take photos. I sketch out plans and make lists of plants desired for next year. I keep the empty seed packets of successful plants in hopes of replicating my good fortune with the same type of seed.

As I peer down at my yard, I smile at what worked well. My raingarden is showy with brilliant cardinal flowers in the center (even if they did get a little tall this year and had to be supported so they would stand up). Putting the ‘Phantom’ Joe Pye Weed cultivar in front of ‘Shenandoah’ Switchgrass cultivar proved to be a good move. They compliment each other well and appear to glow in the evening sun. I enjoyed the succession of blooms that gave me color all season with several pinks, yellows, purples and even orange and red. As for my edible plants, the “Fourth of July” heirloom tomatoes were great. I picked my first tomatoes on July ninth! (I will excuse them for being five days tardy.)

The main problem with my gardens this year was the deer. Oh dear. I feel a little hypocritical because I am always telling my three year old to share, but sometimes it really isn’t fun to share. I have some sacrificial hostas for the deer, but the deer got a bit greedy and helped themselves to the beans, peas, tomatoes, squash and sunflowers as well. Next year, I am determined to defend what is rightfully mine.

Finally, I vow to host more garden parties to enjoy my gardens with others – even if they aren’t perfect. As a lawn chair gardener, I accept imperfection. I realize that part of the joy of gardening is that gardens are never finished; a gardener never quits tweaking a garden. Perhaps some day I will have several hours a day to be an obsessive gardener and really show-off my gardens, but right now with an infant and a pre-schooler under foot, there are plenty of days when I am satisfied with just getting a few hours of sleep at night.

 

8/1/12

Introduction to Lawn Chair Gardening

Lawn chair gardener with her two boys

Lawn Chair Gardener with Her Two Boys

By Dawn Pape

Gardening is a lot like raising kids. There is certainly no single “right” method to do it and a person may try many approaches in a single season. I am a self-proclaimed “lawn chair gardener.” Even though I am passionate about gardening, I take relaxed approach. To me, the term “lawn chair gardener” refers to gardeners who have rounded lives and take a balanced approach to gardening. For example, lawn chair gardeners do not fight uphill yard battles like trying to grow grass in dense shade. Just choose a plant that likes it there and forget about it. As my husband puts it, lawn chair gardeners are pleased with “80% of the returns for 20% of the labor.” Whereas I love my garden, I want to maintain relationships with family, friends, kids, work, and, perhaps (gasp!), even develop other hobbies. Being a lawn chair gardener allows me to spend more time with my kids and involve them in gardening as much as possible.

Does a lawn chair gardener mean a lazy gardener?  I think some people would say, “Oh, yes,” but I disagree.  Even when I was single with no children, I didn’t want to take the time to cater to the special needs of certain plants or be bothered by needy annuals that demanded daily watering and guilted me into limiting my vacation schedule so they wouldn’t thirst in my absence.  No, in my world, flowers shouldn’t require lining up a caretaker when you go out of town.

If this no-nonsense style of gardening is appealing, join me in my new column geared for both experienced and inexperienced gardeners with an interest in a balanced life and a more balanced world. My aim is to take some of the complexity out of gardening and open people’s minds to view their yards differently. It’s for people who enjoy being outside and hope to squeeze in a couple hours per week (or month) to garden. My expertise is in native plant and vegetable gardening. I developed an interest in this gardening niche because these gardens have a positive impact on the world by creating eco-friendly yards that provide food and habitat for both people and wildlife.

In writing this column, I promise to draw upon university research as my training as a Master Gardener volunteer over the last decade has taught me. I will lay out practical tips for planning, planting and tending native and edible gardens. I also like to cook healthy meals that don’t take much time to prepare. (Does this make me an “arm chair cook” too?)  I will offer simple recipes on how to use your bounties and tips on how freezing the surplus. I will also be looking forward to input and questions from my readers to incorporate into the column.

Perhaps some day I will have a few hours a day to be an obsessive gardener and grow every morsel of produce my family consumes. But, I am 41 years old, have a three-year old and a newborn and work part-time. Right now, there are plenty of days when I am satisfied with getting a few hours of sleep at night.

 

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