4 Ways to Keep Your Garden Happy in the Heat

Using straw (and weeded vegetation) as a mulch can keep your garden happy.

While you’re out and about during the summer, it’s important to remember that your garden is also likely under the effects of the heat. Let’s review what you can do to help keep your soil and little green buddies happy and thriving in the hot summer months.

  • Water early in the day: If the sun is shining brightly while you water your garden, the moisture you provide will evaporate away. So, water early, by 10 am at the latest. If you’re watering solitary plants (as opposed to a grass bed), point your watering can to the base of the plant. 
  • Use a drip irrigation system. These babies can keep a continual, but minimal, supply of water to your plants, keeping them happy and perky. You use less water, and your plants thrive. Win-win.
  • Apply mulch to keep the soil moist: Covering your soil is a must if you want it to retain any water during a heat wave. Add a mulch of organic material such as compost, leaves, or even dried grass clippings. The extra layer shades the soil and acts as a lid to keep the moisture near the roots. Also, be sure to water before adding the mulch. 
If you add a drip irrigation line close to the base of your plants, you can use much less water and keep them up to the heat.
  • Consider using a shade tunnel. These handy things will do two things for your plants. They’ll act as a wind barrier, keeping moisture where it needs to be and not accelerated by blowing wind. Shade tunnels will also keep leafy greens perky and able to thrive.
  • Finally, while it’s certainly too late in the MN summer to start planting new perennials, you might want to consider for the next growing season plants that do well in direct sun and heat. Veggies like sweet potatoes, okra, peppers of many varieties, tomatoes, and cucumbers all love direct sun and heat. That’s one way to turn a scorching summer into a positive.

Let us know if you have any ideas for dealing with summer heat. Leave a message in the comment section below. Happy gardening!

How to Beat the Heat (Advice for Humans AND Animals)

It’s been a scorcher this summer.

That’s the hard part about being a gardener. There is a non-stop list of work to do, so being able to take time off during the peak heat is pretty-much a non-starter. With little rain, extreme heat and the hottest month ahead of us, we thought it would be a good idea to revisit a post we did a few years back that shows what our gardeners do to stay cool during the hot months.

Cover Your Skin

You can see Rochester wearing a wide-brim hat to keep the sun off his neck.

Wearing shirts and long pants that cover your skin is one method they recommend. In the times with high heat, the clothes (if lighter, like white or sky blue) will repel the heat. Cotton is the best fabric to use as it allows perspiration to occur. If you can avoid jeans, you’ll be better off, as well.

Also, if you can cover your face with a sun hat or even a baseball cap, your skin will appreciate it. Since your head is the first thing to receive the suns rays, it will be taking the brunt of the heat. Simply using a hat will minimize your exposure to the heat, allowing you to stay cooler for longer.

Work Earlier in the Day

The crew works early in the morning before the day starts to warm up. As it’s usually cooler earlier in the day, it’s a perfect time to get exerting projects done.

It’s not a particularly unique idea, but working when it’s cooler out is a no-brainer. In fact, I just read that trash collectors in Washington DC are expected to start working during the early morning in this summer to get most of their routes done before it gets too hot.

In the same vein, they take the time to take breaks. Our garden crew takes a few minutes every hour to come inside, have a drink of water, and relax. Staying out of the heat seems like a simple solution, but it works!

Drink Something With Electrolytes

Hay Time Switchel is a drink long used by farmers and harvesters.

If you can’t get out of the heat, then it’s important to combat the effects of the heat. Working in the sun causes your body to sweat. (No kidding!) Sweating is important to stay cool, but the salt (electrolytes) lost in the process is necessary for proper function.

Drinking water is great, but you still need to replenish the lost salt in your system. That’s why “Gatorade” has such a following. But, you don’t need to go out and buy a sports drink. You can make your own. We’ve got a recipe for Hay Time Switchel that will get you back on your feet.

Hay Time Switchel

  • 1 Cup light brown sugar
  • 1 Cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 Cup light molasses
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 quart cold water

Combine all ingredients and stir well.  Makes 6 seven ounce glasses.  This can be refrigerated, but old timers made it with cold spring water and said nothing quenched a thirst or cooled a dusty throat in haying time as this drink.

Keeping Your Animals Cool

I had a chat with a coworker who fosters lost and injured wild animals, along with normal pets. She’s got a lot of experience involved with the caretaking of animals and she says that animals don’t really need much help from humans.

“They’re smarter than us,” she joked. She says they’ll find a way to cool off, whether that’s removing themselves from the sun, rolling in mud (if they’re pigs), and dunking under water. She even described how squirrels will lay on their belly with their arms and legs stretched out and “heat dump” on the ground.

Squirrels will “heat dump” to cool off during the summer.

But, the one thing she says we can do is just keep their coping mechanisms in mind. If they like shade and water, keep it around for them to decided when to use it. Keeping clean water sources such as shallow bird baths for your feathered friends and even deeper dishes for larger wildlife are accepted and used when needed.

Do you have any ways to keep your pets and animals cool during the hot stretches? Let us hear ’em in the comments below.

Welcome Home Little Chickens

Happy Dancing Turtle will be the home for fifty chickens for the summer. We plan on keeping these beauties on campus for around through August, when they’ll be collected and butchered. (It was explained to me that they’ll live a really good life and then have one bad day.)

You may not know that baby chicks can be shipped right through the mail. We got a neat call from the Pine River Post Office last week. Just listen to the happy little ones!

You’ll never guess what we got in the mail!
Meet one of our “chicken tenders.” Avery will be making sure the chicks are well taken care of during their stay at HDT.
Look how happy the little chirps are!

Our chicken coop is something a little different. It used to be a car park where we stored our garden and maintenance equipment. With an upgraded storage space on campus, we reused the space for a coop.

Eco Camp at Home

Eco Camp at Home is taking registrations now. You can register right now for July and August sessions.

For over ten years, Happy Dancing Turtle has been home to Eco Camp, week-long day camps focused on coaxing out a curiosity for sustainability and nature in young ones. It is, without a doubt, the highlight of our year. We love interacting with the kids, showing them new things, and just being goofy. Just look:

However, we made the prudent decision to suspend our in-person camping experiences this year, due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Staying distant at this time just makes sense even though it just breaks our hearts to be away from your smiling faces.

However, that does not mean we are going to suspend the mission of getting you an environmentally focused educational curriculum. Oh no! We’re not going to give up that easily.

That’s why we’ve designed our new program that gives you (essentially) the same experience of Eco Camp, only in the comfort and safety of your own home.

Introducing Eco Camp At Home, one our Home Grown Stewards programs. We will deliver to your home a box of activities that will bring the Eco Camp experience to you.


Our eco-counselors will give you the best environmental education…only from a safe distance.

Each morning, campers will have a chance to meet with their camp counselors in a brief Zoom meeting, where they’ll set the theme for the day, do a group activity, and connect with their fellow eco-campers to share what they’ve been working on.

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World Environment Day – Teaching Our Children

It should never be understated the importance of raising awareness amongst future generations, our children, of sustainable practices. It is essential that future generations see our planet in a different way than we do, i.e. that they don’t see it as a source from which to extract any needed material to satisfy any slight desire.

worldendayToday, Friday, June 5 is World Environment Day. It’s a day that was created to bring political and social awareness to the environment on a global scale. It’s intention is to make aware that our planet is, indeed, all of ours. We are the planet’s caretakers.


Dave taking the time to show some gardening techniques.

Since World Environment Day’s inception, and it’s grand motivation, many great things have been done to help ensure that we can live in symbiosis with our planet. Awareness has risen on the importance of our place in the environment. Worldwide campaigns against deforestation, global warming, food waste, and air pollution have brought these concerns front and center. However, in the last several years, there have been political and commercial agencies that have disregarded these lesson.

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Home Grown Stewards Program

homegrownstewardslogodraft3For over a decade, we’ve been home to the sustainability-based children-focused Eco Camp. It’s our favorite time of the year, to be honest. Getting to interact with kids just discovering the wonder and awe that is found on our planet is definitely a highlight.

Unfortunately, with considerations to distancing guidelines, we have decided to give our in-person programming a break while everyone is able to socially distance.

However, that leaves us with an opportunity to try something we haven’t done before:

We’re very excited to introduce our new virtual summer programs: Home Grown Stewards.

We’ve put together three programs that can best help you on your sustainability journey, and they all can be done remotely, virtually, or digitally.

We’ve been working hard on designing an alternative to our in-person programming. We want you to be able to continue to explore our great outdoors, create that delicious feast from your own garden, and learn all about our wonderful planet, from the safety of your own home.

Program Coordinator Michelle Hoefs describes how difficult making the change was for her and the rest of our staff, “Obviously, we would so much rather be spending the summer with campers in person. Kids need interactions with other kids and also adults that aren’t their parents. It’s good for their development. So, we designed programming that allows for a small part of that interaction.”

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The New Farmers Market

Minnesota residents craving fresh produce won’t have to wait long, as farmers markets are beginning to open across the region — with some coronavirus-related restrictions in place.

According to Governor Walz’s stay-at-home order, farmers markets are deemed essential, but in more ways than one. They are a direct line to your producer. Short of heading out to the farm itself and buying right out of the barn, farmers markets are the most direct way to talk and learn and create a relationship with your local farmers.

According to the Minnesota Farmers Market Association (MFMA), markets are not included in the partial closure of Minnesota restaurants and bars and are encouraged to resume opening for business. However, there are a few caveats, as providing a safe environment for everyone is still paramount.


New guidelines are implemented for farmers markets this year.

The MFMA suggests alternate delivery routes, such as drive-through options or single-direction flow. Food sampling is banned and social distancing of six feet is required. Additionally, hand-washing stations must be available and are encouraged to be used with gusto.

Markets across the state have been brainstorming ways to make sure that both farmers and customers will be able to continue this positive relationship all the while ensuring both parties will relatively safe during this pandemic.

Some methods include one-way traffic flow for people walking through the markets, creating layouts with stalls facing in opposite directions, and even adding empty tables between vendors and customers to ensure that social distancing takes place are all being considered for markets as they begin opening up.

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Farm to Home During Stay at Home

Some bad news has arisen concerning food production. As the coronavirus pandemic has supply chains disrupted, farmers and producers are being forced to destroy their crops, dump milk, and butcher livestock. The reduction in commercial demand is mainly due, among many other reasons, to fewer people eating out, going to restaurants, and fewer school lunches being produced.

However, that doesn’t mean that people are interested in eating less often. (Personally, I’ve been eating more often while working from home). See, people are less interested in eating at these food establishments and there are many reasons for this.

Simply put, because of a shortage of safety gear and preparation and also through an abundance of caution and a powerful need to still eat, consumers have been going straight to the source to ensure their own food supply.

NPR has a great article on the phenomenon. 

There are a lot of benefits to purchasing directly from the producer. Buying from local farms means fewer hands on your produce, which, incidentally, leads to fresher produce since the food is grown nearer to the purchase point. Buying directly from the producer is utilizing a distribution method that is perfectly geared towards a time that encourages social distancing. It’s been in place for generations!


Using food from your own garden is best, but CSA is the next best.

Through CSAs, customers get the weekly or bi-weekly deliveries at open-air pickup stations or directly at the farms with little interaction needed.

People are coming to the realization, I think, that fresh food is one of the most essential elements to survival, and with news that food supply chains are now becoming stressed, purchasing food from local producers may be more essential than ever.

Under normal conditions, many local CSA farmers say they operate under tight budgets, especially in the spring, before the harvest (and purchasing) occurs. That’s changed in recent weeks, because the pandemic has brought with it heightened awareness of quality food, and more specifically, from where a consumer’s food originates.

But, where do you start? What are your options? Let’s take a quick look at what you can do locally, and why it’s important.

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Fighting Food Insecurity at the Local Level

Food insecurity is already more widespread in this country than most know. On a daily basis, one in seven households with children are affected by the lack of access to food, or food insecurity. The majority of these children depend on meals that they receive at school from the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program. There are over 14 million children that benefit from the school breakfast program, and almost 30 million children benefit from the National School Lunch Program.

Moreover, now that schools are wisely closing their doors in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, these programs are no longer a viable way to ensure food insecure families are able to procure the much need nutrition.

Even during this economic and public health crisis, the US is making more than enough food to feed all its residents. Getting as much of it as possible to those in needs is the challenge, but one that can be met with swift and creative action.


Full Tummies is an effort in the Brainerd Lakes Area to feed families.

Food banks, food shelves, and charitable food distribution centers are ramping up to fill that gap. Unfortunately, these food banks are already reporting increased demand while seeing operational challenges, such as fewer volunteers being able to step up and fewer donations from retail sources. Demand for charitable food assistance is expected to remain at elevated levels for the foreseeable future.

So, what can we do about it now?

If you have the ability, volunteer at your local charitable food assistance program. They need the help. If you have the means, donate spare food or dollars. They will have the ability to make it spread as far as it can go.

Locally, I’ve found no fewer than four organizations in our tiny community that are putting together food distribution services for families in need and they all need help.

Check out Full Tummies, organized by The Baxter Cafe and teamed up with The Raboin & Francis Law Firm, Pan-O-Gold Bakery, and Hubbard Radio to get food to kids who need it. They offer pickup on the weekends at the Baxter Cafe during the hours of 8am-11:30, but you need to call first (218-829-1739). What a tremendous effort!


Another organization doing its part to help in the area is The Journey North’s Ruby Pantry. The next Pop-up Pantry food distribution is Tuesday, May 12 at the church’s parking lot. You’ll want to show up early to avoid the crowds as it is always a busy time. They are looking for volunteers, as well. So if you’ve healthy and looking to give time during the pandemic, here’s a way to make a difference.


Operation Sandwich more than sandwiches!

One more program called Operation Sandwich, organized by Bridges of Hope, is offering one meal a week to families in need. Simply go and pick up at the Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen on Oak Street. In the past, they have offered daily pickups during the summer for children without lunch, but have pivoted to helping entire families in need.


The PR-B Community Meal has had to change up it’s service to a delivery and takeaway program, but it’s meeting the needs to an increased clientele base. What a service!


One program that has been offering hundreds of meals for months (even before the pandemic became widespread) is the Pine River/Backus Community Meal Night. Increase in demand has risen four fold in the tiny area, but this organization is meeting the need. Delivery to isolated people in need has been added to the already busy take-away efforts. If you are able to volunteer to this worthwhile endeavor, give Chef Brian a message at the local Facebook group.

If you are looking for more ways to help, check out this flyer for food options in the Brainerd area. 

Food insecurity doesn’t have to be an issue in our abundant country. We just need help in packaging and distribution. One good way to make sure our surplus of food gets into the system is by buying local. Shop through your local farmers and producers. CSAs and Farmer’s Markets are opening up now and can use your support, as well. Close that loop Keep the food close. We can all get through this.

Arbor Day 101

Arbor Day is an international holiday that encourages celebrating participants to plant and care for their trees. Did you know that the word arbor is the latin word for tree. The first Arbor Day celebration was organized in a small town in Spain in 1594, but the first recognized celebration in the United States was in the Kansas Territory in 1872 where an estimated 1 million trees were planted.

Across the world, Arbor Day has been celebrated at different times due to the rotating nature of the seasons affecting the prime date for planting trees. For example, New Zealand honors Arbor Day on June 5, while in Namibia, the holiday isn’t celebrated until October 8.


Jim will be the first to tell you the importance of trees, whether they’re incorporated in your farm via agroforestry practices or simply providing shade on a hot day.

In fact, Arbor Day was only considered a regional holiday in the US until 1970, when, of all people, Richard Nixon initiated a national observance to take place on the last Friday in April (for this year, April 24, 2020).

*On a local note, late April is a perfect time to plant trees in Minnesota.*

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