More Fun, Less Stuff During the Holidays

I remember as a kid how excited I was for the holiday season to come. When the first snow flakes started to drop and the sunsets show up earlier and earlier, the surety that the most “wonderful time of the year” was just around the corner hit our little minds.

But, as a child, I was sure that the holiday season hadn’t started until well into the last month of the year. My birthday is December 3, so it was very important to me that both “holidays” were kept separate. No holiday creep allowed, here! Nowadays, it’s much different.

16424434108_a327ee761d_o

Boxes and boxes!

Just this year, I saw holiday decorations in department stores even before Halloween showed up on the calendar! But, it’s not just the stores pushing this trend. It’s US, TOO! There is a demand for more deals on more stuff. Americans consume over 40% of toys produced globally. 12% of the population lives in North American and Wester Europe but accounts for 60% of the private consumption in spending.

We’re buying more and more stuff!

And yet, there are many reports that show a direct relation between stress and clutter. The amount of stress we experience at home is directly proportional to the amount of stuff we have accumulated.

Continue reading

Minnesotan Fall Agritourism Destinations

haybalepumpkin

Agritourism:

It’s kind of a made-up word, right? Some people use “agritainment,” instead. (Agriculture and tourism. Agriculture and entertainment. Makes sense, yes?) The basic gist of the term is a fun outdoor activity that focuses on farms, orchards, or any sort of food production location.

This is not a new tactic. Local producers have incorporated into their economic repertoire (along with CSA subscriptions, farm to school programs, and farmers markets, to name a few others) for generations.

I mean, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hay rides, cider festivals, and Halloween themed events are ingrained in our culture. Some of my best memories with my family are centered around agricultural destination events.

IMG_20190922_144048

My kids love our annual trip to The Farm on St. Mathias where we pick out our pumpkins and try to beat their corn maze.

Continue reading

How Much Sleep Do We REALLY Need?

It’s a game that I like to play with myself, sometimes. I’ll be binge watching a show (lately it’s been Westworld or The Good Place) and once the closing credits appear, if it’s been a particularly good episode (or a cliffhanger), I decide that one more episode probably wouldn’t hurt me…that is until I pause the feed, check the clock, run the numbers, and see that morning alarms are only a few hours away.

Lot’s of fun, right?sleepingsittingup

There is solace in knowing that I’m not alone in this behavior. More adults are getting less sleep. According to the CDC, over 40 percent of adults aged 18-60 are getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night. Is it because of the binge culture? They say it’s a variety of factors, but the end result is that fewer sleep is had.

But how much sleep is enough? How do we get the right kind of sleep? Should we just sleep when we’re tired?

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

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!

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