Annual Pollinator Mix, Black-Eyed Susan

September 21, 2017

 

I am singing the praises again of the Annual Pollinator Mix from Lacrosse Seeds.  If you want a splash of color in your annual pig pastures, this is a practical way to do it.

I also experimented with a perennial prairie planting, which is considerably more expensive.  I purchased a pound of the Native Pollinator Mix for about $200 and have yet to see any of those plants flower.

Wanting to see quicker results, I picked up a couple pounds of Little Bluestem and Black-eyed Susan from Agrecol Seeds in Evansville, Wisconsin.  The Black-eyed Susan did well, pictured below.

I’ve mowed the weeds in my prairie a few times this summer and am excited to see what grows there next year.  My interest is growing in all the different native pollinators.

Everyone talks about the plight of the European Honeybee, which isn’t even native to North America, but I care about everybody else.  For example, how about this fella on the Black-eyed Susan.  I can’t even figure out what he is, but he’s cute.  He’s fat and orange.  He is what I imagine Cupid would look like if he was an insect.

 


American Toad Tadpoles

June 20, 2017

 

May was a wet month with rain every couple of days.  My pig wallows filled with water.  One wallow that had yet to see pigs this spring was used as breeding grounds for the opportunistic American Toad.

The frog species on our farms almost exclusively use my parents’ pond for breeding since it was built in 1992.  Toads are not as picky and will breed in any standing water, sometimes to the detriment of the resulting tadpoles as often these water holes will dry up if the rains stop.  And that is what happened here as the first two weeks of June saw warm temperatures and no rain.

I was looking forward to thousands of baby toads in my yard, so I intervened with a garden hose, adding water every day or so until we got two inches of rain a few days ago.  Now I’m starting to find the little toads hopping around.

The tadpoles almost seem to shrink as they develop legs.  Its as if the fat tadpole body repositions itself into the skinny legs as the tail shrinks.  I love the American Toad.


Annual Pollinator Mix, Planned Pig Pasture

April 23, 2015

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I was wondering what to plant for my annual pig pasture when I stumbled across an Annual Pollinator Mix on the Lacrosse Forages blog.  I ordered it from my local supplier, and with some delays, finally planted it April 16th.

The Annual Pollinator Mix contains eight different flowering plants with many of them legumes.  Its supposed to improve the soil and benefit pollinators.  My thought is it would make a decent pig pasture as well.  I also planted two bushels of Jerry oats per acre.

The Jerry oats cost $8.20 per bushel, so at two bushels per acre the cost for the oats is $16.40 per acre.  The Annual Pollinator Mix cost $181 per 50 lb bag.  I planted 18 lbs per acre so the cost for the Annual Pollinator Mix is $65 per acre.  I actually hadn’t figured out the cost until now, and its pricier than I expected.  It better be pretty!

I came across a short Ted talk and video by Louie Schwartzberg about pollinators.  Its really good, and did I mention its short?

I’ll keep you updated as the pasture progresses.


Native Beneficial Insects

January 26, 2015

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The above photo was taken August 10th.  It’s my Native Pollinator Garden which I grew from transplants, planted in June.  Insects were attracted to the garden, with a favorite plant being Hairy Mountain Mint, small white flowers near the top of the photo.

The orange and black beetles, pictured below, blanketed the Mint.  I had never seen this beetle before and I immediately thought, “Oh no, I’ve attracted a new pest.”  Looking back, it’s amazing to see my negative bias.

 

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This winter I picked up a new book from The Xerces Society, “Farming with Native Beneficial Insects“, and in there was a picture of my beetle in the Predatory Insects section.  The Goldenrod Soldier Beetle eats insect larvae and eggs, aphids, and slugs.  The adult Soldier Beetle needs nectar and pollen to survive, which they were getting from my garden.  My garden was doing exactly what I wanted it to do, but my negative bias kept me from recognizing it.

In the photo below you can see what I think is a Blue Mud Dauber Wasp, which provides size comparison to the Soldier Beetles. I should also say Soldier Beetles are related to Fireflies, which we see plenty of on summer nights.

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The photo below is of some type of Tachina Fly.  I’m amazed to say I’ve also gained an appreciation for flies.  I guess the ability to see insect nature up-close is helping me appreciate it.  I enjoy seeing the megafauna like deer, turkey, bald eagle, but you never get to really examine them unless they are dead.  Most of these insects, however, don’t mind your nose being a foot away.

It’s not all peaceful though.  Much is written about the plight of the Monarch butterfly, probably exaggerated, but I try to leave some Milkweed growing and keep an eye on the Monarch population.  I’m happy to say I’ve seen many Monarch caterpillars, but am sorry to say I haven’t seen any pupate.

I watch the caterpillars daily.  Once you know where they are it’s pretty easy to find them again.  One day I checked a big caterpillar twice, only to find it shriveled to a third of its original size, with a predatory Stink bug in the process of sucking the remaining juices out of it.

Even though I was disappointed the Monarch caterpillar was dead, I left the Stink bug alone.  I realized it’s always a balance, and beyond creating a decent habitat, there is little I should do.

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It’s All There!

September 18, 2014

 

 

DSCF1925The 2014 Midwest Wild Harvest Festival was held at Badger Camp, overlooking the Wisconsin river valley.  I loved it.  The people were friendly and excited to learn.  The instructors were inspiring.

I learned about food preservation from Leda Meredith.  Sam Thayer was his usual irreverent self.  And Doug Elliot was as entertaining as he was informative.

Below is the largest poison ivy vine I’ve ever seen.  Doug said loggers used to eat a little bit to immunize themselves against its effects.

 

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I visited with Doug over the course of the weekend and I heard him say, “It’s all there,” several times.  It’s a vague enough saying you can use it just about anywhere.  I think the first time I heard him say it was out on a nature walk, and the next time was in exclamation of the excellent chili, (great food, by the way).

It’s all there, that’s your motto isn’t it?” I asked.

“Well I don’t know if it’s my motto,” Doug said.  “But’s it’s not a bad one to have.”

“It just about says it all,” I said.  “I think I’m going to make it my motto.”

And I am.

I think about my boys who used to love to put lego projects together.  We would scissor open the bags containing all the tiny pieces, and they would follow the instructions step-by-step, ending up with the prescribed toy.  I remember the drama that would ensue if one piece was missing, as now it wasn’t all there, and everything was ruined.

Now we have a drawer filled with loose lego pieces.  My five-year-old nephew makes a bee-line to that drawer when he comes over.  He happily builds something excellent, and then we let him take it home.  We joke that we are slowly transferring the contents of the drawer to my sister’s house.

But we never worry about drama with the lego drawer.  I think it’s the combination of  passion with autonomy, and the sense that it’s all there.  Nothing is missing, and they are confident in their abilities to create something cool.

 

 

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Attracting Native Pollinators

September 8, 2014

 

 

 

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I lost my mind for a couple of months this past spring.  I purchased and planted, weeds.  As with many insanities, mine started with the premise of a good cause.

I’ll admit to being a sucker for good copy, and the marketing department at Prairie Moon Nursery has got to be one of the best.  They don’t even call their spring catalog a catalog:

“Native Gardner’s Companion. Presented by Prairie Moon Nursery. Seeds and Plants of Authentic North American Wildflowers for Restoration and Gardening.”

There isn’t even the word catalog anywhere on the cover.  They aren’t in business to sell me something.  They want to partner with me to restore North America.

I had an open area in my permaculture windbreak which could use something, but I didn’t want large trees or bushes.  So, in the interest of restoring North America, I purchased the “Butterfly and Hummingbird Kit for Moist Soils” from Prairie Moon.  Below is a photo taken June 20th, a couple of weeks after planting and mulching.

 

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This next photo was taken August 10th.  It was fun to see results so quickly.  The flowers are already attracting many native pollinators.

 

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Attracting Native Pollinators” is a book published by the Xerces Society.  The Xerces Society works for invertebrate conservation.  I read their book and I studied the Prairie Moon Nursery catalog and website, as well as the Prairie Nursery catalog and website.

As a consequence of all this learning, I now see flowers.  It amazes me every time I learn something new and my vision changes.  We see with our brains, not our eyes.

So I couldn’t help but notice this huge colony of pink flowers along Highway 23 between Darlington and Mineral Point.  It’s Joe Pye weed, a great flower for native pollinators.  The top photo in this post gives you a closer view.

And I realized how crazy it is for me to plant wildflowers thinking I’m helping the native pollinators.  If I really wanted to help the pollinators, I would start a movement to stop cutting and spraying herbicide along the roadsides.  There are acres and acres of excellent habitat alongside every road.

 

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Hummingbird Moth Caterpillar

June 30, 2014

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The forage peas continued to grow, reaching over four feet in height.  They are flowering now and producing pods.  I snapped these photos when I turned the sows into fresh pasture.  The caterpillar in the bottom photo is a big one, and the second one I’ve seen, so I decided to try and identify it.

It looks like its a White-lined sphinx caterpillar, (Hyles lineata), commonly known as the Hummingbird moth.  This is exciting to me because I’ve only seen a Hummingbird moth once in my life.  They’re really cool because they look like a hummingbird, until you watch their movements and realize they’re too slow to be a hummingbird.

I read a book this winter, “Attracting Native Pollinators,”  by the Xerces society.  It’s all about what we can do to improve the habitat for our native pollinators.  In a future post I plan to share some of the fun plantings I’ve done this spring.

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