National Bee Awareness Day – August 17

This month we are focusing on the importance of the pollinator. Coming from an urban background (Brainerd, MN so please allow me to be liberal with the term) I have a limited experience with pollinators in general. However, looking into the many types of bees and then looking at the central focus they have on pollinating our yards, gardens, and crops, it can be eye opening to see anything more than the common honeybee.

It’s no surprise that with the popularization of the honeybee in our culture, it’s the most recognized pollinator out there. There are THOUSANDS of species of bees in this world. But, did you know that the vast majority of the pollinating done by bees is NOT done by the socially inclined bee.

Pollinating is done mainly by solitary bees, like Carpenter Bees, Leaf cutter Bees, and Sweat Bees. These species perform the majority of pollination throughout the world. And it’s pretty easy to get them naturally in your garden.

I found out that there are, in fact, stingless bees! Check out this video. Stingless bees don’t make honey at the rate of the honeybee, so it’s pretty neat to see them part of someone’s yard like that.

On campus, we’ve housed several colonies of honeybees, but are currently taking a break from hosting duties. We did this as a method of getting our gardens pollinated adequately, encouraging a natural ecosystem, and, (of course!) for the honey. On some of our collection days, we collected up to 14 quarts of the sticky gooey treasure. But we also fed the bees sugar water before the plants bloomed and kept them safe from natural predators with a fence around their hives. Check out this video from when we harvested our honey.

So, the question stands: What does your garden (or even just your lawn) need to attract busy little bees (stingless or otherwise)? Instead of creating a common green desert of Kentucky bluegrass you should try to grow things that bees will actually like…you know, like flowers.

We put together a quick primer if you’re looking at how you can bring pollinators to your yard. 

However, let’s talk a bit about how important the bee is and why it’s more important that ever to create locations where they can thrive.

The Great Disappearing Bee Trick

I came across an article the other day and the title practically forced me to read it.

“Are Zombie Bees Infiltrating Your Neighborhood?” brings visions of bees flying around, buzzing the words, “Nectar. Nectar!” over and over again. But, unfortunately, it seems that zombie bees (zombees, if you will) are becoming more and more prevalent. Here’s the article for quick reference.

Apparently, a fly species (Apocephalus borealis for those keeping track) is infecting honeybees by laying eggs on their bodies. Once infected the bee will wander off in a stupor, collect pollen at night and loiter around lights, and eventually fly away from the hive and die. Several days later the larvae will hatch, dine on the body, and then find other bees to infect. Pretty weird stuff, right?

Scientists are theorizing that this little fly is one of the causes of the colony collapse phenomenon (the widespread loss of natural beehive colonies throughout the continent.) It certainly looks like it could contribute to it.

There are other ideas that scientists believe are contributing to the phenomenon. Loss of habitat, global warming, pesticides, and even the increase of cell phone are just some of the theories.

A recent National Geographic article cites the increase of neonicotinoids (used in pesticides) as the most likely culprit. Here’s a snippet:


In April 2019 a major study warned that 40 percent of all insect species face extinction due to pesticides—particularly neonics, since they’re the most widely used insecticide on the planet—but also because of with climate change and habitat destruction.

 

They go on to say that “farms using neonics had 10 times the insect pressure and half the profits compared to those who use regenerative farming methods instead of insecticides according a 2018 study. Like agroecological farming, regenerative agricultural uses cover crops, no-till, and other methods to increase on-farm biodiversity and soil health”

How would we pollinate the fields when the most productive cost effective pollinator is gone? Bees account for the pollination of one-third of the US crop-base. That’s a lot of production to replace.

We could focus on the environmental impacts of a loss of bees. Bees are wonderful

beirl

SO MUCH of our agriculture revolves around proper pollination.

pollinators. They account for around 70% of all the crop pollination in the world. Without these creatures, it’s theorized that unless a new pollinator takes the bees’ place, those plants will lose the ability to reproduce. Which means smaller crop sizes. Which means less food. Imagine the strain on the worlds resources.

So, looking at the disappearing bee in both an economical and environmental light, we can begin to see how important these little buggers are to us. Therefore, it’s in our best interest to keep what bees we have happy.

But, the facts are there.

There are less beehives now than there were just thirty years ago.

The Xerces Society (a nonprofit that expounds the values and importance of invertebrates…namely pollinators) has a wonderful article on farmers who are taking acres from their fields and planting flowers and shrubs in an effort to entice more bees. This quote by Mace Vaughan says it all well.

For bees to thrive, they need a diverse diet, so we’re trying to bring pollen diversity to farms, more plants to be part of the bees’ buffet…this isn’t a panacea to pollination woes. This is part of the solution overall.

How to Make Your Lawn Pollinator Friendly

YOU can make your own lawn a pollinator paradise. If you’ve got any size green space around your home, you can help bring pollinators to your area. Here are four simple ways to make that happen.

grassyarea

This grassy area is without much needed food for pollinators, yet it looks like the majority of yards in the US.

Build it and they will come

It’s simple. If you plant pollinator-friendly plants, the many varieties of pollinators will find them.

If your lawn is like the green area above, you probably have zero bees in your yard. This is a picture taken of one of our fields. Dave W. explains that we keep it this way to minimize any growth on the south fence. It looks much like any other green lawn (except it doesn’t really need to be mowed). There is no bug life out here except grasshoppers who thrive on hot open sandy areas.

nativeflowerscenterarea

Now, take a look at this picture taken just across a tiny access road. It’s a field that has been allowed to grow naturally. It has a variety of wildflowers, bushes, moss, trees, and other things that grow in northern Minnesota. This section of our field is alive with all sorts of bees, butterflies, and other insects (yes, including grasshoppers). In other words, without a habitat that supports the insects you want, you won’t get those insects to live there!

Continue reading

Landscaping for Wildlife – A Closer Look at the Upgaard Reserve

This month is Lakes Appreciation Month and (besides delving into how awesome our area’s beaches are) we wanted to showcase some methods that may help you keep your lakes the best they can be.

So, first things first: It’s important to understand that healthy lakes will be able to support all kinds of wildlife, including fish, waterfowl, insects, amphibians, and even larger creatures such as deer and other large mammals.

According to the US Forest Service, wildlife have four thing necessary to thrive:

  • Food – Flowers, nectar, nuts, acorns, berries, grains, or any sort of food you think a critter would like. Animals got to eat, right?
  • Water – This doesn’t have to be a huge pond or stream added to your land. You can easily add something as simple as a bird bath. Animals got to drink, right?
  • Cover – This is basically protection from the elements, such as shrubs, bushes, trees, tall grass, or anything else that provide safety from predators and a place to nest.
  • Space – Animals can be territorial. If you don’t have the space for larger critters, focus on what you can do for the smaller ones. Bluebirds need only 300 feet before they start fighting for area.

If you can provide these four elements on your land, you’ll have a thriving environment for critters in no time, PLUS you’ll have a healthier environment for yourself to boot!

Continue reading

It’s Clean Beaches Week! BLA’s Best Beaches

July 1-7 is Clean Beach Week, and boy does the Brainerd Lakes Area have some doozys! Let’s be frank: They don’t call it the Brainerd Lakes Area for nothing. As we get into the dog days of summer, there’s no better time to make use of the area’s namesake. But before you double-check your packing list and apply your sunscreen, take a moment to see which beach might fit your needs. I grabbed my kids and we spent a hot afternoon doing a little research of the area’s best beaches.

Gull Lake Recreation Area

 

Oscarmud

Clean sand welcomes all sand castle builders.

The first thing you’ll notice is the amount of green shaded area surrounding the beach. You’ll notice it even more when offset by the narrow beach area. This is, as they say, a feature of the beach. You’ll be shaded while staying out of the water, enjoying your picnic, or playing a game of volleyball. 

If you have only time to go to one beach in the area, this is the beach I would recommend for most. It’s got almost everything you’d like. The positives (shady area, tons of picnic tables, care of shoreline, and access to lots of recreational facilities) easily outweigh the negatives (which are the ridiculously small beach and a large horsefly presence).

Whipple Beach Recreation Area

 

whipplewideshot

You’ll love the wide open space for sunning and sandplay, just watch out for burning feet.

Whipple Beach is snuggled just west of Hwy 371 behind Best Buy, about a mile. So, if you’re looking for a beach that is close to the cosmopolitan confines of Brainerd, look no further than the surprisingly sandy shores of Whipple.

The new playground There are many things that will draw you to this location and simply because it’s right in our backyard, it will be visited many times, eagerly. There are so many reasons to enjoy this beach. Bike trails run alongside the sand, playground equipment beckons the kids, a picnic pavilion can generously host groups of all sizes, and changing rooms are available. The only downside I can see to Whipple would be due to its location, it’s always going to be busy on hot days. Moreover, if it’s busy, you’ll be forced onto the Sahara Desert, away from the shady area. But, with clear fresh water only feet away, it shouldn’t be too bad.

Continue reading

A 2019 Minnesota Summer Festival Highlight

Minnesota has a wide heritage that is as eclectic as it is unique. For those of you that have grown up in rural Minnesota, you understand that the summertime is a time to work hard and make hay while the sun shines.

We’ve got to cram all our summer fun in three months, so there is significant overlap on weekends, but there is definitely no shortage of things to do during the warm months.

We love to celebrate our heritage with festivals and get-togethers that range from New Ulm’s Oktoberfest to American Indian powwows.

garlicfestmn

Let’s be honest, garlic’s a pretty weak reason to host a festival, but Hutchinson holds it’s event with gusto, and it’s only getting bigger!

However, there’s really no good list of how many events Minnesota hosts. There’s not a “definitive” list, but some range them between 600 and 1,500 block parties, powwows, concerts, annual town get-togethers, historical reenactments,  and not to mention the the larger events like the State Fair, the Renaissance Festival, and We Fest (the largest camping & country concert in the US).

And it’s not only for the lutefisk and mashed potatoes that people put these things together. There’s big money to be made! According to an article by Andy Greder and Ann Harrington, a significant portion of the $10 billion spent by travelers in Minnesota are dedicated to attending the myriad festivals across the state.

 

You see, Minnesotans love a good get together! There hardly needs to be a reason. However, here are a few of the festivals that might prove to be worth the visit:

Agate Days – Moose Lake – July 13-14
Festival of the Voyageur – Pine City – September 21-22
MN Garlic Festival – Hutchinson – August 10
Potato Days- Barnesville – August 23-24
Bean-Hole Days – Pequot Lakes – July 16-17
King Turkey Days – Worthington – Sept 13-14
Corn Capital Days – Olivia – July 22-28
Dam Festival – Little Falls – June 14-15
Summerfest – Pine River – July 24-28

Getting Your Bike Road Worthy

You’ve been riding your trusty rusty two-wheeler for a month or so now, and you’re looking at your garage thinking, “maybe it’s time to bring out the ‘good’ bike”. But, how do you make sure your good bike is ready for summer riding? Here’s a few quick tasks that’ll make sure your jewel is trail-worthy.

Clean Up Your Bike:

A clean bike extends the life of all the other components, just like a clean car lasts longer. Use a basic biodegradable cleaner like “Simple Green” and take a towel and toothbrush to clean everything from handlebars to back tires. Make sure to use as little water as possible to help avoid rusting. Also, don’t forget to get under the seat!

Continue reading

Mental Health in Rural Agricultural Communities

People who have chosen to work in the farming and ranching communities have a persona of being solitary, private folk. Stoic would be an appropriate definition, working from the wee early hours until sundown, with tradition and pure grit their only tools.

However, several independent developments are culminating together to create a perfect storm making life increasingly more difficult for farmers.

dustyfarmersfilter.png

Aging Producers

The median age of the US farmer is now 55, with fewer people willing to take on family run ranches or agricultural businesses. This forces growers to continue to run their productions longer until they are forced to sell family land, or maybe the operation entirely.

Fluctuating Prices

Additionally, prices for commodities are fewer than they’ve been in years, adding to the stress many farmers face. Milk prices are far below the cost of production. Dairy farmers are getting around $15 per hundred pounds of milk, but “hundredweight” cost approximately $22-$25 to produce. This negative cashflow is so abundant that dairy cooperative Agri-Mark recently sent out suicide hotline numbers along with the milk checks out of concern for the safety of it’s producers.

Continue reading

Exploring The Relationship between Food and Mental Health

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon and you’re getting a bit antsy. Nothing’s going right and you’ve still got a few hours of work before you can head home. You may snip at a co-worker and they’ll notice that you’re getting a little “hangry,” the perfect storm where your mental state is dictated by low blood sugar.

We’ve all been there. It’s nothing a little snack and a walk around the office can’t fix. Just eat this candy bar and you’ll be fine.

That isn’t what I’m talking about.

Some people say, “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee! I need my caffeine.”

That, also, isn’t what I’m talking about.

FoodsToEatForAHealthyBrain

I’m talking about a direct correlation between mental illness and diet. I wanted to explore research that may have real implications about mental health, namely the long term effects that nutrients have on mental illness.

Continue reading

Local(ish) Earth Day Events

happyearthdaybanner

This year’s Earth Day falls on a Monday (this April 22, to be specific). Taking the time off to properly celebrate our communal home may be difficult because of that. However, with the Easter weekend taking place directly before Earth Day, finding the time may be easier. In fact, many of the events celebrating Earth Day will be held during this upcoming weekend.

So, if you’re out of ideas for things to do for Earth Day, here are a few highlights to give you a head start.

Local Events:

Continue reading