The Buzz on Citizen Science Bee Programs

Pollinators have been all the buzz in recent years as research has shown steady declines in populations. We’ve heard a lot about how pollinators are losing habitat and we need to plant more native species; or how pesticides like neonicotinoids are decimating bee populations across the country; or how our tendency for monocropping destroys the diversity of the ecosystem and the pollinators that depend on it. Overall, research regarding bees and other pollinators has come a LONG way over the past decade. Continue reading

Tools for a Pollinator Friendly Farm

We don’t want to be an alarmist blog. But there’s something you need to know.

Here goes:

Modern Agricultural Practices Will Kill Us ALL!!!

Did I get your attention? Good. Now, let me walk that statement back a bit.

The industrial agricultural model, or “conventional” farming, is built on a combination of mono-cropping and use of chemical inputs. This is an efficient system designed to produce high volumes of a specific product (like corn, wheat, soy, or cotton) to meet the demands of a growing population.

This system produces more than enough to feed and cloth our entire planet and has its benefits. The people that utilize this combination are meeting the demand in a way that works, but at what cost? And, to generalize, instead of prioritizing soil health or diversity, farmers who utilize this method are prioritizing scale or the commodification of crops, which isn’t a bad thing! It is a “big ask” to feed the world, and with the use of appropriate technology, more people are able to be fed by fewer farmers. We need to look at farming through a different lens, one that views farms as ecosystems.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Assessing Water Health by Looking at… Bugs?!

This month we’re celebrating one of Minnesota’s most prominent natural resources – our lakes! We love them for swimming, boating, fishing, sunset gazing, and so much more. In order to keep enjoying these things, we need to be ensuring that our lakes are clean and healthy. But how can we tell? One way to tell is to look at the bugs in the water! One of my favorite classes to teach with Happy Dancing Turtle is our Wacky Water Bugs class – here’s a short summary of what we learn. 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!

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

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Canoeing & Mindfulness

Introduction

Hello there! My name is Tatiana. I began working for Happy Dancing Turtle just three weeks ago. I am the new summer activities assistant in the Driftless Region, so I get to spend time planning and facilitating our Eco Camps with Nora! I am very excited about this new position and am learning new things every day. I am also grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts about one of my favorite experiences in nature: canoeing.

Tatiana & her mom, 2006

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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.

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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!

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