Make a Backyard Bee House: It’s Easy!

Did you know you and your kids can make a special house for bees? This isn’t the bee habitat used by those raising bees for honey; this bee house simply provides a safe place for bees to raise their young.

From the National Wildlife Federation, here’s how:

  1. Take some scrap lumber and drill several 3 to 5 inch deep holes in it—BUT NOT ALL THE WAY THROUGH.
  2. Cover the structure with chicken wire to protect it from birds and other larger wildlife.
  3. Place the house on the south side of a building, like your house! Or on a fence post or a tree. Attach it securely.
  4. Some DO NOTs:
    1. Do not move the bee house once it is established until at least November.
    2. Do not use insecticides near the bee house.
    3. Do not use treated wood to build it.

The Nifty Homestead website encourages you to build “insect hotels,” made from upcycled materials placed between layers of sturdy protective material like old pallets, in which bees can overwinter. Why are insect hotels a good idea? Nifty Homesteader explains: “Insect hotels provide safe areas for solitary insects to hibernate over winter. Big lawns and the lack of dead wood in our yards leaves wild bees, spiders, and ladybugs without a place to live. Building accommodations for beneficial insects like ladybugs or flying pollinators can help benefit both your environment and your garden in the spring.”

When you make a “hotel” for solitary bees (bees whose females are all fertile and build separate nest cells for the baby bees), put it in a location that is sunny but sheltered from harsh weather. Wood nester bees like to nest in cavities they find, like hollow stems or holes in wood. The female will then create individual compartments for each egg. As she goes out to find pollen and nectar for the brood, she pollinates various plants and food crops. She puts nectar and pollen in each compartment before laying an egg in it. You can make a “bee hotel” using materials you find at home or out on a walk that either already have small compartments in them or have small spaces the female bee can then develop, or you could drill tunnels in wood, too. If you open this hotel for business, bees will “check in” for winter!

Sources:
www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Young/Build-a-Bee-House.aspx
www.niftyhomestead.com/blog/insect-hotel/

Celebrate Earth Day by Investing in Your Community and Your Health: Join the Forest St. Community Garden!

By Kerri Kiernan, Master Herbalist

This Earth Day, consider giving back to the planet, to your community, and to yourself by joining a local community garden. The Forest Street Community Garden is celebrating its eighth season and is now open to new and returning gardeners; it is located in downtown Eau Claire, just a couple blocks north of Phoenix Park.

The Chippewa Valley is blessed with several existing community gardens offering rental plots for the public. What differentiates the Forest St. Garden from other gardens is that it also offers a Shared Garden that is run jointly by members who share in the work and harvest. The Shared Garden also serves as a learning community for members to gain experience in basic gardening skills, leadership, teaching, coordinating, and community outreach.

Members of the Shared Garden participate in weekly sessions to maintain the nearly half-acre plot as a collaborative effort. Seeds and transplants are started in early spring, and members work together to plan and prepare the garden as the last frost ceases. During the garden season, the work and the produce is shared amongst the contributing members. Extra produce is harvested and donated to the Community Table, which supplements meal services benefiting Eau Claire residents who may not have access to healthy meals due to lack of finances, education, or due to other life situations.

Besides benefiting the community, Shared Gardeners experience a deep sense of connection to their community, to each other, and to the Earth. Social events such as potlucks and gatherings are often held at the Forest St. Garden Pavilion, where members and plot renters spend time together connecting over beautiful meals made from the very veggies they grew together in the garden.

Besides decreasing carbon emissions, gardening helps to increase physical activity and vegetable consumption and also helps to foster a sense of wonder and gratitude for the bounty of nature. The shared struggle of growing one’s own food serves as a relatable conversation topic between people who may otherwise never cross paths nor have much in common. Any gardener can share their own story of patience, diligence, failure, and success, but it’s the commonality of spending so much time in the dirt, paying very close attention to the rhythms of the weather, and savoring the fruits of one’s labor that bring people together through gardening.

Join the Forest St. Community Garden and learn how to grow food together. Prices increase after June 15. Please visit the Forest St. Community Garden website for more information.

 

To Join the Co-op/Shared garden or to rent a plot at the Forest St. Community Garden, please visit: http://eauclairecommunitygardens.com/ or email: eauclairecommunitygarden@gmail.com

Kerri Kiernan is a local Master Herbalist who works with plants from her garden as well as wild weeds from the Chippewa Valley to help people thrive with handmade remedies and personalized herbal consults. Kerri is the owner and operator of a small herbal business, River Prairie Apothecary, located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and is also the founder CommuniTEA, the Herbalism Outreach & Internship Project located downtown Eau Claire at the Forest St. Garden.

Contact Kerri: River Prairie Apothecary on FB: www.facebook.com/riverprairieapothecary/

www.riverprairieapothecary.com/contact.htm.

Inga Witscher: Organic Farming Rocks!

inga witscher

By:  Jan Carroll

Inga Witscher, host of Wisconsin Public Television’s Around the Farm Table, has been farming for nine years and now runs a thirty-acre certified dairy farm, milking eleven Jersey cows with the lower-tech bucket milking system. She is a fourth-generation dairy farmer, and it was her dad who talked her into moving to West-Central Wisconsin and trying her hand at this farm. The family had lots of experience with big vegetable gardens and an organic creamery as she was growing up. She was not sure about the new venture at first,but it didn’t take long before she felt at home. “I just fell in love with it. It completed me,” she said.

Witscher uses managed intensive grazing for the cows, a method that involves moving the cows to new pasture every twelve hours. This gives each patch of pasture a forty-day rest. Milk from her farm is shipped to Westby, Wisconsin, where it is made into butter, cottage cheese, and cheese and then sold in the Madison area. Witscher notes that even her cows eat locally, since she supports local farmers by buying hay and grain from them.

As a kid, Witscher says, everything the family ate was off their farm. She feels the trend toward organic sustainable farms that serve local markets will continue to grow because people are becoming more aware of it and more educated about it. She feels small and midsize farms will guide the community supported agriculture (CSA) movement. Although it can be an adjustment learning to eat some of the new foods you receive in CSA, she adds that “CSAs are great, because they push you out of your comfort zone.” Also, kids are growing up with fresh organic local food as the norm, so they will expect the same as they grow into adults who buy produce and other farm goods. “Wouldn’t it be great if we got rid of labels of local and sustainable because they had become so common?” she wonders.

Living in the city, it can be hard to connect with local organic farmers. Besides looking for them at area farmers markets, Witscher offers three ways to cultivate relationships with your local farmers:

  • Throw a local-food potluck party, where each guest brings some local organic food or a dish made with a local organic food.
  • She advises, however, to remember that these are working farms, and although farmers love to have you stop by, they will be taking time away from their work to talk with you, so limit your time there, bring a small token of appreciation like a bottle of wine, or offer to help with tasks around the farm, like weeding the garden. Leave your dog at home!
  • Invite local organic farmers to speak to your group or at your event or dinner party. This is nice, she adds, because it allows farmers to get off the farm.

Witscher lists two challenges to small and midsize organic farmers. One is the lack of available land. She’d like to increase her herd to fifty cows, but she’d need more land to do so, and it’s hard to come by. If you can find afordable land, if it hasn’t already been transitioned into organic land, that process takes three years, which is quite an investment since it is expensive to convert regular land to organic land. That process of going organic is also an emotional commitment for the farmer because it can often mean you lose the camaraderie of local conventional farmers. Second, she agrees that organic food often costs more, but she explains that is because the cost of farming is high, especially organic farming. But, she says, even though the cost of organic milk is high, there is a huge demand for it. There aren’t enough organic farmers producing organic milk to meet demand. Witscher says she strategizes often about how to make the farm more financially feasible.

In looking to the future, Witscher would like to have better communication and mutual learning opportunities between organic and conventional farmers, to get to know and interact “just as farmers,” sharing ideas such as cover crops to prevent erosion. In organic farming, “the soil is the foundation of everything else,” she explains. From there, the main thing is to make sure the cows are happy and relaxed, and then fewer other issues arise healthwise. She is happy to report that women “are the fastest growing sector in agriculture,” though it has taken a while to become accepted.’

Season 3 of Around the Farm Table will be on public television later this fall, probably in October sometime. Check local listings for day and time. Witscher says the goal of the program is to promote original local products and to show people what those products are like and how to use them, with recipes and ideas. By visiting and featuring organic farmers from all over the state, Wisconsin viewers can become more educated, and hopefully this will encourage them to try more local foods! Witscher loves the way the program “connects the consumer to the farmer.”

The Science of Happy Gardening

By Dr. Judy Soborowicz

Hard to imagine anyone who is not absolutely grateful for the beautiful beginning to spring in Wisconsin! While spending as much time as life will possibly allow outside in the sun and fresh air, a recent study about soil has me eager to dig into the dirt.  As if we don’t already know how good digging in the dirt feels, the exquisite feeling of sun-warmed black dirt pushing through bare toes is truly hard to beat. As it turns out, there exists a friendly bacteria within soil that acts to promote our brains’ production of natural antidepressants.

According to researchers at Bristol University and  University College in London, our brains are activated to release, and increase efficiency of, the use of our natural serotonin when we are exposed to specific bacteria found in soil. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness, along with regulation of mood, appetite, sleep learning, and memory. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, aggression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, IBS, and fibromyalgia.

Apart from how this neurotransmitter affects the brain, it also helps regulate digestive enzymes and helps to control the movement of food and waste through our gut. Because our gut health is a primary player in immune function, this study is a hint as to why immune function so greatly affects our mood.

How fascinating to consider our brain is set up to feel pleasure gardening, which in many ways, over time, has greatly contributed to our success and survival. Perhaps the positive feeling we get from digging in the soil is a part of what has increased the odds of our enjoying a delicious and bountiful harvest. Research has shown it, many of us have experienced it, digging and planting generously promotes well-being.

Judy Soborowicz practices chiropractic and nutrition at Active Health Chiropractic along with her husband John.  She enjoys writing, researching and lecturing on topics concerning chiropractic, healthcare and experience gained along the way.

Did You Know Compost Can…

Did You Know Compost Can:

  • Suppress plant diseases and pests.
  • Reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Promote higher yields of agricultural crops.
  • Facilitate reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by amending contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils.
  • Cost-effectively remediate soils contaminated by hazardous waste.
  • Remove solids, oil, grease, and heavy metals from storm water runoff.
  • Capture and destroy 99.6 percent of industrial volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated air.
  • Provide cost savings of at least 50 percent over conventional soil, water, and air pollution remediation technologies, where applicable.

700 POUNDS

Amount of material diverted per year from each household when you compost

Yard Waste trimmings account for 31 MILLION TONS of municipal solid waste in the US each year.

6.7% of the municipal solid waste in the United States is food scraps – that’s over 13.2 MILLION TONS per year!