Thursday, November 20, 2014

Give Thanks for Bees This Thanksgiving



Guest post from Amy Ziff at Veriety.  (Original post here)
From about as long as I can remember Thanksgiving in my family has really been about food first and foremost.  Of course immediately followed by family.  (If not for family, both real and adopted, who would all that food be for anyway?!) Then, not exactly as an afterthought, we would give thanks.  

These days, I’m profoundly aware of the need for gratitude in our lives, and not just as a virtue but because gratitude can have a profound effect on happiness as well. [http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier] 

Of course as a Mom and healthy living coach, I love that this holiday is about food too!  Bringing gratitude and food together leads me to think about where our Thanksgiving food actually comes from. 

I’m grateful for the animals who will give their lives for the feast on our table, grateful for the farmers who grow and prepare our food, including tending to the animals who provide much of it.  And, I’m grateful for beekeepers and their incredible fleet of workers – literally worker-bees! – who, with their pollinator brethren, make many our favorite Thanksgiving dishes possible.  

Did you know that Cranberries, Pumpkins, Celery, Onions, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Carrots, Apples, Pears, Vanilla, even some Coffees all require the work of a pollinator? (In fact 71 out of the top 100 crops providing 90% of the world’s food are pollinated by bees. One out of every three bites of food is pollinated by honeybees alone.  Bees contribute over 20 billion to the US economy and $217 billion to the global economy annually!)  

While researching this column I found out that there is something we can do to extend this gratefulness one step further this thanksgiving.  We can actually thank the bees and other pollinators and speak out to protect them. 

Turns out that bees are dying at alarming rates. A certain kind of pesticide, known as neonicotinoids (neonics), are a key contributor to their die-offs.  (In Europe there is a 2-year ban on these pesticides in order for them to figure out the path forward.) But here in the US neonics are among the most heavily used insecticides. At the same time we’re seeing the loss of pollinators (including butterflies, earthworms, lady bugs, dragon flies, reptiles, and birds).  

Beekeepers report an unprecedented 30% loss in hives over the last eight years.  The bees in this case are the “canaries in the coal mine” sending out a warning for all pollinators.  Studies clearly indicate neonics as a key factor in bee declines.

From now until November 24th we have a unique opportunity to call on President Obama and his administration to take action to protect pollinators.

If you want to give thanks, then take a moment to tell the EPA and USDA to suspend bee-harming pesticides. There is a short window to speak out for the bees and other pollinators.  Visit www. Regulations.gov and submit written comments to comments regarding: EPA docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0806. Or, visit the Friends of The Earth commentary page for this topic. 

Urge the administration to take the following steps: 

o Immediately stop the release and use of neonicotinoids for agricultural uses—including seed treatments—as well as cosmetic and other unnecessary uses pending pesticide re-evaluation.
o Ensure that new pollinator habitat is free from neonicotinoids and other systemic insecticides and that all pollinator-attractive plants planted have not been pre-treated with these insecticides.

Don’t let the gratitude activism stop there!  Have your kids write a note and spread the word to others.  Please share this link on facebook, write a blog post, send out a thankful tweet #grateful4bees.  Lets make sure to thank those who are born to give – the bees, and all the pollinators – and work all their lives making Thanksgiving and every meal possible. 

Thank YOU for taking the time out to read this post and to for taking action. I am grateful to live in a world with people who know the meaning of gratitude.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

13 Green(er) Gifts for the Gardeners On Your List

It is that time of year again. While I am all about less gifts, less consumption, more experiences, if you really want to buy me or any other gardener a present this year, here is what people with dirt under their nails appreciate:

1) Sharpened Tools. Every winter, gardeners tuck away their tools - dulled from months worth of snipping and maybe a bit rusted from being left outside in the first rainstorm of the season.  Some gardeners are organized enough to have their tools "winterized" - sharpened and cleaned - or do it themselves.  For the rest of us, this is an ideal gift!  It has no carbon footprint, extends the useful life of our tools and is a service readily available at most locally owned nurseries.  You can also bring clippers to almost any knife sharpening service.

2) Seeds or Plants from Your Own Garden. If you have your own garden, what is more thoughtful than carefully saved seeds or propagated plants.  Bonus: inexpensive and low impact.

3) Coupon for a Project: Last year, my dad rigged up my bat house in the absolute perfect location (not that the bats have appreciated it yet but someday...).  The year before, my husband built me a potato condo. This year, I'm hoping for a raised bed cover for keeping heat in and bugs out. Hint, hint, honey!

My bat house. 
Continued at The Green Phone Booth

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Birdbath in Every Garden

Many of us aren't thinking about gardens right now. With winter bearing down, our minds drift toward pumpkin pies and holiday spices. But not so fast.

Just because you are not spending oodles of time in your yard now does not mean that the birds aren't.  Many birds are still migrating southward and looking for a place to take a dip.  Plus, if you do not currently own a bird bath, there is still time to put one on your Christmas or Hanukkah list. Here's why you should:

Birdbaths bring beauty and life into your garden. We have far more diverse and interesting visitors to our bird baths than to our two feeders.  The same four or five species that hit the feeders with regularity do enjoy our bird bath but so do migrating birds such as orioles, warblers, grosbeaks and woodpeckers.


Birdbaths offer a lifeline to wildlife during difficult times.  California is in its third year of an epic drought, which has been particularly tough on native wildlife.  The drought is driving animals into densely populated areas, desperate for food and water.  We have had deer and hawks visit our birdbaths this year in addition to the usual songbirds and squirrels.

A thirsty bobcat gets a drink. Photo used with permission from Don Barclift.

Deer in our front yard. Those mostly ignored the plants - looking for water and shade.

Birdbaths even help imperiled pollinators.


Honeybees are frequent visitors to our birdbaths. 

A birdbath on the cheap.  If a new birdbath isn't in the budget - or on the gift list - never fear.  Birdbaths are readily available at garage and estate sales and on Craigslist. I bought two of our five birdbaths second hand - for about $15 each.  High quality bird baths can last generations.

If you cannot find a second hand birdbath, Pinterest is full of ideas for repurposed ones that are free or nearly so: overturned trashcan lids, repurposed frying pans and our pot/saucer below.  I have even seen neighbors put out kitchen bowls of water for the thirsty mammals entering our neighborhood.  No effort to share water with wildlife is too small.

World's cheapest birdbath.

How to situate a birdbath in your garden.  My highest priority in placing a birdbath is purely selfish. Put it somewhere you can see it! I have one that I can watch through the kitchen window and another through the family room window.  Being able to admire the visitors to our garden has turned my husband, my kids and most definitely my indoor cats into avid birdwatchers.  At least once a week, someone will note, "There's a new kind of bird in the birdbath! What is it?"  We get out the ID book and start squinting.

The view from our family room window.

After you have figured out places where you can enjoy your new birdbath, consider your visitors.  Our most popular birdbaths have partial shade with a tree overhead.  Birds regularly land in the tree to explore the situation before dipping in for a drink.  If you have neighborhood cats, it is a good idea to keep the area surrounding the birdbath clear so that cats cannot hide nearby.  More great tips here.

Our hanging birdbath is popular with smaller songbirds and pollinators. 

Making a commitment. If you add a birdbath to your garden, it is all for naught if you don't keep it full. Birds and other wildlife are looking for a dependable source. Refilling it every couple of days will keep mosquitoes from being a problem and will clear out debris.  Moreover, because birdbaths are so shallow, mosquitoes are rarely an issue. I also scrub mine out every couple of months when algae builds up.

I hope I have convinced you to entice beauty into your yard and extend a hand to wildlife.  I hope I have convinced you that we need a birdbath in every garden.

This post is part of the Homestead Barn HopBackyard Farming ConnectionMaple Hill Hop, and Green Thumb Thursday.



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Is the Art of Repair Obsolete?



"You are in luck," the voice said on the other end of the connection.  "They don't make the part any more so we will just give you a new washer."

I guess it is lucky.  A new washer is better than one that does not work but what happened to repairing products.  To replacement parts.  To high quality items that would last and last and last.  At 4 years old, our washer is not exactly ancient yet, apparently, its manufacturer has left it in the dust - or more appropriately the landfill.

continued at The Green Phone Booth

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bombing for Bees

View from the airplane as Cascadian Farms drops hundreds of wildflower seed bombs to help pollinators.

'Tis the season, friends.  Thanksgiving?  Hanukkah?  Christmas?  Not so fast.  It is still fall and, across much of North America, fall is prime wildflower planting season!

I have been ankle deep in native wildflower seed packets for the past month, doling out poppies and lupines before the rain.  Waiting for the cosmos to hurry up so I can put in the clarkia.  Last year at this time, I was involved in the same planting game and I reaped dividends in the spring with my big fat pollinator garden.

My wildflower garden last spring, buzzing with life.

This year, in the midst of planning and planting, an email landed in my inbox about an organic food company's efforts to help protect our pollinators.  Cascadian Farm recently partnered with the Xerces Society. As part of their campaign, Cascadian Farm planted over a million wildflowers. (Check out their fun video of a plane dropping oodles of seed bombs on a prepared field. My kids loved it.)

Cascadian Farm dropping seed bombs by plane.

Sure Cascadian Farm may have a plane and pastel colored seed bombs, but let's not let them get all the glory!  Anyone can plant flowers and create habitat for pollinators.

Here's how you can help if you have a garden:

Because you plant them in the fall and they die in the spring, wildflowers work well as a cover crop in the edible garden.  I usually pair them with late planted vegetables - like winter squash.  As a cover crop, wildflowers offer over-winter habitat to beneficial insects, crowd out weeds, and bring in pollinators like crazy.

These California goldfields grew in a bean tepee last winter. I replaced them with gourds in late spring. 

Use wildflowers as fillers.  I have transitioned a few flower beds to native perennials in the three years.  One day, those beds will be beautiful!  Right now, though, the perfectly spaced one gallon plants look lonely.  Wildflowers in between the perennials bring color and life to a flower bed in transition.

Wildflowers are a commitment-phobic gardeners best friend.  For instance, I have the perfect spot in my garden for an asparagus bed.  Last year, I seeded it with wildflowers because I was not quite ready to make the commitment. Of course, like me, you might be bit by the bug (pun intended) and decide to postpone that asparagus bed for just another year as you toss a few more seeds into the soil this fall.

Even if you do not have a garden, you can take these steps to help pollinators:

If you are feeling crafty, you can turn wildflower seeds into your very own seed bombs. Here's how. You can also buy seed bombs online or in some garden stores.  Then launch them into the nearest empty lot, roadside ditch, sidewalk strip.

Seed bombs dropped by Cascadian Farm.

Put in a pot of flowers on your balcony, porch, window sill, on your sidewalk strip, anywhere.

Join a community garden, donate seeds to a school garden, or help an elderly person add some color to their neglected yard.

Give the gift of flowers.  Seed bombs and packets of wildflower seeds make wonderful (and thrifty) gifts for anyone with a yard.  I save seeds from my wildflowers for re-seeding and for gifts.

Do not use pesticides. This is a biggie! We can plant all the flowers we want but if they are doused in bee-killing insecticides, we are not doing pollinators any favors.

Buy organic fruits, vegetables and everything else.

What are you waiting for?  The wildflowers are calling and fall won't last forever.  Get bombing for bees.

This post is part of the Homestead Barn HopBackyard Farming ConnectionMaple Hill HopTuesday Garden Party, and Homeacre Hop.

I did not receive anything from Cascadian Farm for sharing their video and their Bee-Friendlier campaign. I did it just because I think it is important to help our imperiled pollinators in every way possible.  



Monday, October 20, 2014

Growing Hope

I pulled into the parking lot, squinting at the line of cars in front of me.  It was nothing like this last year, I thought, as the day-glow clad volunteers waved me forward.  "To the far back parking lot," the gentleman advised.  "All the front are full."


I parked and trekked toward the sale, striking up a conversation with another patron.  He was here because his county offered rebates for transitioning lawns to native plants.  We parted ways at the entrance and wended our way through the crowded aisles.


A sign near the front boasted a talk on "The Connection Between Native Plants and Pollinators."

Further inside, several folks bent over pots at the end of one aisle.  A bearded man with a "Volunteer" apron wowed the growing crowd with a tale of a monarch butterfly laying eggs on this species in his own garden.  "I'll take four," one woman announced.  Two others began scooping up plants.

Monarch butterfly on California native milkweed.

A young woman, her toddler in tow, grabbed a volunteer in front of me.  "We are already sold out of huckleberry," she was informed.  "Wait, any other plants for birds?" She left go of her daughter's hand to fish out a dog-eared list from her purse.

This year, the native plant society stocked more plants than they ever had before.  Even so, I was lucky to get the last of the coyote mint, its scent wafting through the sale as I carried my treasures to the front.


Last year, plant sale volunteers had commented on the record number of visitors at the sale.  This year, they were simply speechless.  The drought has created a wave of gardeners "going native".  Some are motivated by rebates.  My community, however, has no rebates but does have a plethora of newly native gardens.  Local nurseries are expanding their selection.  What was once half a table is now four tables, the banner out front proclaiming, "We Carry California Natives."

Amidst bad news, another year of drought forecast, the proliferation of climate change denial, an island of trash the size of Texas, plummeting pollinator populations . . . amidst all this, there is something more.

Hummingbird on drought tolerant California fuchsia. 

There are people who refuse to give up.  Who wage war against climate change with a colorful California flower that attracts hummingbirds.  Who fight habitat loss from industrial agriculture by planting mountains of milkweed.  Who put their money - and their yards - where their mouths are.  There are people who grow hope.  Are you one of them?

My haul, destined for my own native plant garden.

Fall is a great time to plant natives in most of the country.  Local fauna have adapted to local plants for thousands of years.  Help local wildlife but going native.

This post is part of the Homestead Barn HopBackyard Farming ConnectionMaple Hill Hop, and Tuesday Garden Party.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Garden Chores for Children

A garden pest becomes a child's pet - and your garden is the happier!

On a walk with some family members last week, my youngest started a game of identifying the plants we passed.  After he got 9 out of 10 correct, I had to give myself a pat on the back.

Have I been patiently teaching my children botany?  Quietly sitting down with them over photographs?  Not at all.  I've simply been putting them to work in the garden.

For the past several years, I have given my boys simple chores in the garden.  While each has their own "garden bed" planted with various edibles and flowers, for the most part, the garden chores I give my children are designed to take things off of my plate.  I know realize how, in sharing the work load, I am actually sharing my knowledge.  Teaching life skills.  Imparting information that cannot readily be learned in a book.

continued at The Green Phone Booth ...

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