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

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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.

If you Appreciate Your Lake, you should Love Your Soil

Summer is in full swing and our lakes are busy.  What is more paramount to Minnesota than summer time at the lake; swimming, fishing, boating, water skiing, paddle boarding, the list of fun goes on and on.

But many of our lakes are hurting.

Decades of use, and sometimes abuse, have led to water quality declines for many of these precious resources. Just last summer, one of the most popular and enjoyed lakes in our region, Upper Whitefish, had a major weed and algae bloom.  For much of the summer, vast areas of the lake were unusable for recreation. In agricultural regions of our state we’ve unofficially given up on our lakes and rivers, with as much as 98% of the waterbodies in some watersheds failing to meet minimum water quality standards.

What is it that we appreciate about our lakes and how do we protect these values?

 

Upper Whitefish early August 2018 photo Credit: WAPOA, Kent Brun

Over my years as a resource professional I’ve seen results from several surveys on what people value in the Lakes Region. Without exception, ninety percent or more of the people who respond to these surveys say they put a high value clean water.  And that’s where I see the breakdown – the connection between clean water and the health of our soils.

Clean water starts with healthy soil.

Soil health is defined by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem”.  Soil function is the ability of soil to cycle nutrients and water. Eighty five to ninety percent of nutrient cycling is through biology, so without living soil comes the inability of soil to function and to clean water. Impaired water has excess nutrients or temperature, a sign the soil within the watershed is not properly functioning.

To value soil is to value water.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Turtle Talks Podcast – Episode 21 (Part1): Foraging 101, a Q&A With Travis Grimler

A few weeks ago, we were able to sit down with local news reporter Travis Grimler, who is fanatical for foraging! We chatted with Travis for over 90 minutes and picked up so much good information, we were able to split the recording into two episodes. This is the first part.

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Travis brought a bunch of foraging books and examples to the recording.

In this episode, we talk about proper foraging safety, nutrients vs calories, and even The Walking Dead.

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Turtle Talks Podcast – Episode 20: Water Scarcity and You, a Q&A With Bob McLean

We are very fortunate at Happy Dancing Turtle to have leaders who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty. In this episode, we were able to sit down with our very own Principal Executive Officer, Bob McLean, who is also the District Governor Elect for Rotary District 5580.

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The Bob and Colin Show. We’ll see how long it takes to get into syndication. 

We were able to talk about the looming problem of water scarcity, which is troubling many parts of the world, but we also talked about the many people and service organizations that are working very hard to help solve that problem.

We also talk about how you can act locally to help these water stressed areas.

 

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Water, Water Everywhere

Happy Dancing Turtle is fortunate to be located in the middle of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Actually, it’s 11,842 lakes, but who’s counting. A person can hardly drive a mile down the road without passing a lake, pond, river, or stream, often seeing one or the other on both sides of the road. With such an abundance of water around us, it can be easy to take it for granted, which is exactly the reason we make it a point to include lessons on water in all of our youth educational programs.

Starting with our youngest learners, preschoolers at Tiny Turtles learn that around 60% of their bodies are composed of water, which always blows their minds! From there, they brainstorm the different ways that not only people but plants and animals as well, use water. Finally, we discuss different ways that we can use less water, not letting the water run while brushing your teeth being the easiest for them to relate to!

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Tiny Turtles seeing how much of their body is made of water.

Second graders in area schools get a water lesson as well, when Happy Dancing Turtle staff visit their classrooms to teach them about the water cycle and all of the different places on Earth that water is found. One of the kids’ favorite facts every time is that (for all practical purposes) there is the same amount of water on Earth now as there was millions of years ago and that the water they drank after gym just might be the same water that a dinosaur drank!

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Conserving Water in Your Garden

One of the most difficult problems that gardeners face is proper use of water. They either use too much or too little. The ones that use too much will set a sprinkler on and forget about it during the day (wasting way too much water) and the ones that use too little simply forget to set the sprinkler out (for those keeping track, I’m one of ’em!)

So, what do you do if you are either of these bad examples? Do you simply wait for the rain? No! You prepare your garden with a drip irrigation system.

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HDT has their gardens hooked up with hundreds of feet of drip irrigation hoses. Easy to monitor and maintain.

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