Blog: What’s the Buzz? Bees, Pollinators: Great Resources for Preservation

 

 

I am deeply honored to have the pleasure of interviewing Gunther Hauk again this week. His wisdom, his experience as a biodynamic farming expert and honeybee expert make him one of our true elders.

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Spikenard Farm and Honeybee Sanctuary, in Floyd VA, a few years ago. I lived near Culpeper, VA at the time and got up early to make the 5-hour road trip so I could arrive by 9:30 am. After introductions, Gunther, of course, puts all volunteers to work and we got an assignment. We seeded an additional wildflower area for the bees. We harvested weeds for the compost pile, all accomplished in a light misty rain. He hoped for an opportunity for me to experience a swarm, but not that day. We ended the morning with stimulating conversation and lunch.

I felt honored to be a part of their workday. The folks I met deeply cared for and respected the honeybee species in particular but also nature in all its complexity. I recorded my experiences here. Go to my blog post: Beauty and the Bees: https://www.judithdreyer.com/gardens/beauty-and-the-bees/ for more.

Needless to say, I had much to ponder on the ride home. I hoped to capture something of the essence of their efforts through my writing. When the podcast series began I thought of Gunther and I am so grateful for his time and sharing over this past year.

Today though I want to share something about pollinators. Pollinators are more than honeybees. The Polliantor.org site says this:

    • “More than 1,000 of all pollinators are vertebrates such as birds, bats, and small mammals. Most (more than 200,000 species) are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths and bees.
    • In the U.S., pollination produces nearly $20 billion worth of products annually.
    • Monarch butterflies have declined by 90% in the last 20 years.
    • 25% of bumble bees species are thought to be in serious decline.”

I found this great offer from the pollinator.org site. They have planting guides for all types of ecoregional climates. I happen to be in the Eastern Broadleaf Forest area. The guides are colorful with great tables and resource information. I highly recommend them.

What can we do today?

  1. Donate to your favorite nature organization. Support their work. Pick a local one like a land trust and one national. Spikenard Farm and Honey Bee Sanctuary and Pollinator.org rely on donations to continue the great work they are doing. “The Pollinator Partnership’s mission is to promote the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education, and research. Signature initiatives include the NAPPC (North American Pollinator Protection Campaign)National Pollinator Week, and the Ecoregional Planting Guides.”
  2. Buy Heirloom and organic seeds. There are so many great companies, often local, such as Truelove Seeds ( my podcast guest 2 weeks ago) to buy from and support.
  3. Plant pollinator-friendly plants, add more if you can.
  4. Consider replacing lawn with more natural foliage that supports our pollinators. At the Garden’s Gate has a practical chapter on how to do so.
  5. Start a seed saving bank at your local library.
  6. Learn about one new beneficial bug. Learn to properly identify it, its habitat, how it mates, what it needs for food and where it fits in with its local ecosystem. For me, I am going to learn more about praying mantis.

What critter will you choose? Let me know. I enjoy all your comments and stories.

Please share. Thanks again. Judith

Blog: What’s in a Handful of Dirt?

 

 

Dirt, soil, the very earth we stand on is capturing the heart and the mind of science.

Scoop up a handful of soil. The dirt you hold in your palms forms the basis of the life around you, from the earthworms crawling in your garden to the raptors hundreds of feet in the air. But soil is not just a lifeless pile of earth. Symbiotic fungi living in plant roots—known as mycorrhiza—help the plants extract vital nutrients. Other microbes break down decaying plants and animals, replenishing the materials used by the plants.”

There is so much we are learning about soil, the intricate, complex and captivating root system and microbe community beneath our feet. Do you garden and have a compost pile? Have you spread out that composted material on garden beds and marveled at the transformation of various materials? While I have tossed kitchen scraps and lawn clippings into a bin it wasn’t until I met the compost kings at several master Gardener demo gardens in VA that I really began to appreciate the process. We often referred to the men who managed the compost bins as our ‘compost kings’, a title they rightly deserved. From managing the bins temperature, receiving garden materials from weeded beds, to turning them over and then doling out, they were true stewards of this precious material. We then had the pleasure of taking this soil and using it in various garden beds. Soil that’s healthy and viable has a rich smell, deep brown color, holds together fairly well. Some call it ‘black gold.’

In today’s world, we have to acknowledge that we have not been good soil stewards. We have lost over one-third of the earth’s topsoil in just 100+ years. tillage farming, mono-crop farming was born from expansion after WWII. Today, family farms are almost an endangered species.

My podcast guest this week, Kimberly Kresevic, Founder of InSoil Health shares a microscopic photo of soil microbes. She brings her microscope out to farms and shows folks, in present time, what is in their soil. Are there enough microbes to indicate the soil is healthy and thriving? If not what can one do to amend that soil, cultivate and /or innoculate the soil to increase viability?

Mycorrhizal fungi act like mediators within this vast underground world. They are traders too. This tree over here wants more of this nutrient, fungi find a supplier and in exchange they receive food. They love carbs and thrive on carbs from plants.

Microbes: are also multifunctional: they help remove essential elements from rocks, keeping those minerals and more into play. They also help to break down organic matter. We know that various forms of decaying matter are rich with nutrients and the decaying process makes them bioavailable.

It is said that one teaspoon of soil contains a million life forms. Pretty incredible and yet we have so much to learn.

What can you do today to protect our soils?

    1. Look closely at your yard. Are there any more natural plantings you can include? Is so, make that a part of your action plan.
    2. For the beginner and novice gardener, consider leaving or cutting weeds down to the roots only. The root systems of these plants support and keep the mycorrhizal network alive and thriving.
    3. Fill in any bare spots. Make that a part of your spring cleanup. Plant an edible shrub if the spot is big enough. Use wildflowers. Add milkweed or other pollinator-friendly plants. Weeds, wildflowers need little to no attention, are drought resistant and build soil and sequester carbon.

We got an electric mower to keep the paths in our garden manageable and at the same time keep the roots intact. We keep the clippings wherever they land. One new act we added last year is now part of our routine. What are your spring plans this year? What can you do to grow more viable, healthy soil?

I appreciate all the comments. Please share. Thanks. Enjoy.

Blog: 4 Reasons Why Frogs are Ecologically Important Today

 

 

 

I live on property not only bordered by state forest but with a pond in the far back yard. Last spring I got to really hear the mating sounds of frogs, a specific chorus of sounds that said, ‘Hey, look at me. I’m a worthy mate’. Frogs mating sound slowly builds, climaxes and then recedes, a beautiful symphony for the mid-spring concert already going on.  I loved listening, learning about them first hand and then watching hundreds of eggs pool around the edges and finally hatch into tadpoles.

What’s the sound all about?
( photo courtesy of j. dreyer)
Most often it’s only the male frogs call, and calls are species-specific though there are dialects by region (croak, croak, croak yall). Dialects allow males to self-sort and avoid competing with males from other areas that are far away or outside their region. Male frogs call to attract mates and to advertise their fitness to females. Mostly mating is done at night under cover of darkness so frogs use vocalizations instead of visual displays. Calls are produced in the larynx and are amplified by one or more vocal sacs. These sacs are thin membranes of skin that are either directly under the chin or extending from chin to mouth. Female frogs may respond to the males to encourage their advances with short croaks or other sounds (some females object quite vocally if they don’t find the male’s advances desired).”

Why are frogs so important? 

  1. They are a mid-food chain species. I didn’t know this but they are both predator and prey. They eat blooms and algae and they are food for a variety of critters including birds, fish, snakes and more.
  2. They are an indicator species. They thrive in freshwater habitats and need suitable land to survive. They are also thin-skinned, highly permeable so they can absorb chemicals and other toxins such as bacteria.
  3. Don’t like mosquitoes? Well, who does? They help control insect populations not only grabbing them for chow,  but they also eat the larvae which can transmit diseases.
  4. Some poisonous frog toxins are currently researched for their potential for creating other drugs.

My podcast guest this week, Katherine Hauswirth, a writer, and naturalist shares that she got involved in a Frog watch program here in CT. She joined a Frog Watch team, learned 11 different frog sounds in order to monitor frog populations and health in her ‘neck of the woods’. If you live in the NE here’s a really cool site that gives you frog sounds. Also, FrogWatch USA has more information based on your particular state. I highly recommend you check them out.

Frog species are hurting. They need clean fresh water and uncontaminated land. How can we help? Be mindful of them in your landscapes. Many gardeners I know leave dishes of water for them in the garden. I happen to be fortunate in that we have a wildlife pond in our backyard, teeming with various species. Our frogs and toads sing and create a chorus of sound from spring through fall, especially enchanting at dusk. When hiking, leave them alone in their habitats. If you have children who like to pick them up, remind them that frogs and toads are thin skinned and gently place them back down to the ground.

What can we do to help? Pick your favorite species. If frogs happen to be one of them follow the links above and help in a local frog watch. If another critter has your heart and your eye look into the Defenders of Wildlife.

From the Defenders of Wildlife:

    1. Adopt an Animal. A symbolic adoption helps several animals in the wild.
    2. Take Action. Visit our Wildlife Action Center to send a message to government leaders.
    3. Speak Up for Wildlife. …
    4. Stay Informed. …
    5. Become a Defender of Wildlife.

Wildlife needs us whether we like them or not. So many species are seriously threatened, including frogs. What action can you take today to make a difference to our wildlife, nature? Got a favorite nature story? Share your stories and know I enjoy hearing from you. All comments are appreciated. Thanks. Judith

Blog: Stinging Nettles: Urtica Dioca, Good for Soil, Good for Us

 

 

So many of my podcasts are concerned with growing good soils. Nettles pops up as a great plant, a must in fact for growing good soils and for adding nutrition to our spring diet. If you don’t have any nettles, can you think about dedicating an area just for them? A new addition that will contribute so much to your garden? Seeds are available too if you can’t find a neighboring gardener willing to share.

Nettles are one of my favorite spring herbs. Their reputation to “sting” usually makes many wary or loathe this plant. Yet they are a powerhouse of nutrients not only for the soil but for us too. In biodynamic farming, nettle is a major player in composting. Why?

Biodynamic farming, founded by Rudolph Steiner, encourages its farmers to use nettles in a preparation called BD504. “Stinging Nettle has enormous healing potential. Working in conjunction with Mars, (Steiner worked with the planets, moon cycles etc) BD504 plays a huge role in resolving soils with an imbalance of iron,  magnesium, and sulfur. Excess iron can cause many problems and often presents itself in the form of very tight soil with hardpan or crust. This tightness locks in the iron and other trace minerals, which in turn exacerbates the problem. BD504 preparation loosens the soil texture allowing the nutrients to release, disperse and be absorbed by plants.”

This plant also contains formic acid, phosphorus, and a trace of iron. The square and downy stems are covered with tiny sharp spikes that release an acrid fluid when touched much like a bee sting. Interestingly the juice of the crushed nettle leaves can be rubbed on the sting for relief. Each of these spikes or spines is composed of small cells that contain this fluid. Once dried or cooked the sting is neutralized. However once discovered and tried it makes for a nutritious pot herb or tea.

The Details:
Name: Stinging Nettles: Urtica dioca
Parts Used: the whole plant
Where Found: Nettles are found in most temperate regions and seem to follow man’s migrations. Nettles can indicate a soil rich in Nitrogen.
Young Shoots: Nettles are best gathered in the early spring when they are less than one foot tall. Later in the season they get gritty and accumulate crystals, cystoliths that make them unpalatable to eat. I gather for two reasons, one to cook and eat that day, or two, to make a pot of tea with the fresh herb or two, and then dry the rest for later use including winter.
Stems: Nettles have been valued for its fiber. While in herb school we separated the fibers found using the cut and dried stems gathered late in the summer. We then wove our own cordage. This fiber was also used in clothing, sailcloth and sacking material.

Compost tea: after I gather young nettles for kitchen use, pot herb and tea making, I gather some and place in 5-gallon bucket. I cover about 3/4 full with water. I stir it frequently for about 3 weeks. At the end of three weeks, I add molasses, about a tablespoon to 1/4 cup and let it ferment a bit. When done I dilute the tea 1:10 with water. Then I give each plant a cupful. You can also dilute the tea 1:20, 1 part tea to 20 parts water and use as a foliar spray which can deter bugs and even fungi, such as powdery mildew.
At the end of the season, plants are cut back to the ground and added to the compost pile.

Recipe for nettles as a potherb and/or tea:

  1. Gather tender aerial parts in spring
  2. Wash and chop, wear gloves as they will sting
  3. Place in a pot, about 1 handful and cover with water. Bring ot a boil and simmer a couple of minutes.
  4. Drink the tea water and add the greens to rice, veggies, pasta dishes.

My podcast guest this week, Craig Floyd, manager for the Coogan Farm in Mystic CT celebrates all plants including nettles. Bright green parts poke up at the beginning of spring offering nourishment both for us and our soils, a treat after winter’s greys and browns. Nettles has been a part of my garden. I wouldn’t be without them. I encourage you to appreciate this little stinging plant more for it offers much. The sting reminds us to quiet down and approach them with respect.

Enjoy perusing the seed catalogs and consider nettles.

Judith

Podcast: Holistic Nature of Us: Meet Craig Floyd, Coogan Farm Manager

Description: Do you garden? If so, have you ever wondered what the potential of a single non-hybrid tomato plant could be? My guest this week, Craig Floyd, manages an 11,000+ square foot acre garden for the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic CT. Passionate about sustainable farming; he gives us detailed advice about soil health, water needs and practical tips for any level gardener. It’s exciting to meet folks like Craig who are out there walking the talk, growing fantastic gardens. He relates how troubled children, teens and those with disabilities are transformed by walking in his gardens, how the soil heals. Fascinating? Definitely!  I hope you will join us and leave your comments. They are appreciated.

About My Guest: Craig Floyd. Farm Manager for the Coogan Farm in Mystic CT. Craig manages 11,000 sq feet as part of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. He’s passionate about using his extensive farming experience creating a sustainable, healthy no-till,, no-spray garden in order to give quality food to the needy. He watches children with emotional and physical handicaps change as they roam the garden. It works for adults too. I encourage everyone to put the Coogan Farm and Nature Center Trails on their to-do list this year. It’s worth it. and if you have the time, why not lend a hand? Volunteers are always welcome.

Transcript: #47 Craig Floyd (1)

#47 Craig Floyd (1) Craig Floyd potting soil mix

Blog: 25th Anniversary of Untied Plant Savers 2019

 

 

 

 

Plant saving, plant preservation for future generations are just two of the goals for United Plant Savers. Those of us in the herbal field rely on their up to date ‘at risk’ and ‘to watch’ plant list. Rosemary Gladstar and other concerned herbalists created an organization that was/is deeply concerned about the depletion of our plant populations. They began twenty -five years ago, in 1994, when herbalism experienced a resurgence. Many wild plants hit the airwaves like St John’s Wort and others creating intense demand. These grass root herbalists took their concerns, created UpS, United Plant Savers, and put those concerns into action.

In Rutland Ohio, the first UpS sponsored botanical sanctuary was born where species like American Ginseng, Goldenseal and others are propagated and replanted all over the country. Today many sanctuaries exist all over our country including personal backyards all the way to well known botanical gardens, all striving to propagate, educate their communities on the importance of respecting and using plants with mindfulness to species needs.

UpS also offers the opportunity to apply for grant money to fund your community project. It worked for me. Two years ago, with the grant money awarded to the  Garden Path Garden Club in Tolland CT, we created the Turtle Teaching Circle. With parents help and students, a 20′ diameter circle was placed near the children’s garden with 12 stumps marking the places on a typical native American Wheel. Each place on the wheel has a trail quality sign featuring an ‘at-risk’ or ‘to-watch’ plant native to New England. The project is near a community trail with easy handicap access. Students are taught about gardening and seed saving.

We still see a decrease in plant populations due to popularity. I have been to the sanctuary in Rutland Ohio. Meadows and woodlands, forest and trails highlight the diverse habitats needed to preserve ‘at-risk- plants and more. They offer classes in herbalism with experts guiding foraging experiences that are respectful of habitat, plant-specific needs, and place in complex ecosystems. Sustainable regenerative gardening practices are key to the survival of our plants.

I hope you will go to their website and explore their articles, their resources and maybe get to one of their events. They will be honored and highlighted at this year’s International Herb Symposium in MA. If you use herbal supplements and garden, add another herb to your planting list this year to conserve our plant resources. If you use herbal supplements and don’t garden, please consider a donation to UpS.

I have been a member off and on for these past 25 years. We are activists, environmentalists, herbalists, folks who simply care about this earth and her resources, each in his or her own way. Check them out. This is a fantastic time for the organization, a time of honoring the work done and where and how we need to focus today on our journey, our partnership with the earth.

Enjoy. Judith

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