Gardening

Wildflowers – There Is More To It Than Pretty Blooms

Recently, in a group I belong to on Facebook for beekeepers, someone posted a business card with wildflower seed mixture packet attached in the shape of a bee that a company was handing out. It was pretty clever and cute marketing. Then I got to thinking…what is really in that little bee shaped seed packet and how far is it traveling?

Planting pollinator friendly flowers, shrubs, and trees is blowing up everyone’s social media feeds, yet there is a little more to planting pollinator friendly habitat than one would think.

The original reason I didn’t fully agree with the company’s creative marketing tactic was because business cards travel. Our business cards end up all over the United States, and even the world. We hand them out to people at all sorts of events, mail them in packages, place them with donations, etc. Can you imagine if I planted seeds that originated from another country in the United States, not knowing I had inadvertently brought in a non-native species that isn’t considered a flower here? You are supposed to declare any seeds, soils, etc. going through customs and they should get confiscated as part of the process, but a business card with a seed packet packed away is definitely easy to forget. Minnesota is currently battling palmer amaranth that was brought in through a pollinator friendly planting. I would hate to be that person that planted seeds from a company not knowing that it wasn’t clean seed.

Then I got to thinking about it a bit more. Think about what is really native in terms of wildflowers to the area you live in. For me, it is much different from certain elevations or from one part of the state to the next. If I truly wanted to invest in a pollinator friendly habitat, I would work to find species that were both pollinator friendly and native to my area, as well as hardy for my growing zone. Many gardening centers now specialize in this type of landscaping. When the 30 acres that some of our hives are on was converted to RIM ground, we were able to choose a pollinator friendly habitat mix from the DNR that was specialized for our area. It also made me realize the importance of sourcing seed from my area too. If you are in Minnesota, I highly recommend Albert Lea Seed House for specialized seed mixtures native to Minnesota or working with a local company that specializes in native plantings such as Blazing Star Gardens. We’ve realized the importance of utilizing seed that has inherent genetics to thrive in our area. New research also shows that honey bees prefer blooms in rural areas versus urban areas, so finding out blooms native to your area seems to have increasing importance.

Our hives out on an area that was planted in specific wildflower habitat for our area.

An important and specific item to honey bee health, is understanding the difference between nectar and pollen. Some flowers, vegetables, fruits, trees, and shrubs, require pollination which happens when a bee visits various blooms and transports the pollen on their legs from bloom to bloom. When bees are seeking out blooms to feed off of, they are collecting the nectar to produce honey. Plants vary in the amount of nectar they produce, so it is important to offer a wide variety of nectar producing plants throughout the growing season. Just planting a wildflower mixture, may not actually produce the amounts of nectar that bees need or when they need it most.

Most recently General Mills has been in the news, for giving away wildflower packets of seeds in their #bringbackthebees campaign. Others have posted about whether or not bees are really declining, or ulterior marketing motives, but I’m not really concerned with that. I’m concerned with what happens when a flower such as baby’s breath which is considered a weed in some areas that may be in the packet of flowers, grows in areas where it shouldn’t be planted, and what that can do to other crops or actual native species that are planted.

I love flowers, don’t get me wrong – but planting wildflowers is a little trickier as not everything is native, not everything thrives, and not everything is necessarily even considered a flower depending on your location in the country. The true definition of a weed is a plant out of place.

There are many plants you can plant to help pollinators that will last for the summer in your gardens or flower pots, which you wouldn’t have to worry about coming up every year or potentially spreading and becoming a weed. Flowers like zinnias, cosmos, and marigolds are all simple flowers you could plant around your house and garden instead. When truly establishing a wildflower or native flower area for pollinators, it is best to work with a local source who understands the intricacies of the ecosystem you are planning for.

-Sara

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How Time Flys: 2013 Recap!

I can’t believe 2013 is almost over! Sometimes I really wonder how time seems to move so fast.

Some days, I feel like I’m just getting older! Case in-point: my niece turned 16 and got her drivers license this year, my vehicle hit 155,000 miles and is now over 10 years old, we bought a house, and I got excited about getting a water softner installed! Yeap, definitely getting older!

I wanted to do a little recap about what we all did in 2013. Sometimes I can’t believe the things I’ve already forgotten! I think my resolution for 2014, will be to start a journal so I won’t forget everything! It truly was an amazing year full of wonderful blessings and busy schedules!

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico!

I started off 2013 with a trip to Cabo San Lucas with my friend Karrie and her parents! Her mom & dad have been like a 2nd family to me since about 4th grade! They are organic farmers in my hometown and I’m still fascinated by how they do weed control! Her dad calls my hubby for troubleshooting on their combine too :) It was my first “real” time in Mexico (I’ve been across the border at Progreso) at a resort with drinks, whale watching, fancy restaurants, pool and beach sitting and so much more! It was fantastic and a much needed vacation away from Minnesota weather!

Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas – January 2013 with my friend Karrie!

P!NK in concert! The Xcel in St.Paul!

So normally, a concert probably wouldn’t warrant special attention for me in a year. We go to a few every year. But frankly, P!nk’s concert was pretty darn amazing! The acrobatics involved were crazy and she sang a wide variety of her songs so it brought me back to middle school! I was able to go with a large group of friends. Pictured below are my friends Liz and Karrie. The other reason this warrants a special mention: get out of your bubble! We couldn’t find a place to sit in a restaurant as all were packed downtown St. Paul, so Karrie just sauntered on up to a booth full of women and sat down. We made some great friends (paid for their meal for letting us sit with them) and had a blast!

P!nk concert

P!nk concert in St. Paul!

Traveled to Seed Savers in Decorah, Iowa

So for whatever reason, this year I decided to try out this whole heirloom seeds thing. Needless, to say, my garden did not have much success other than radishes, some spinach, carrots and green beans. No tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce or pumpkins grew. I’ve never had any trouble with them before and my mom is a garden whisperer as she has worked for two different greenhouses, and has never had trouble with her plants before. My mom chuckled and gave me a big old “I told you so” when it came to that one. From now on, I will be sticking to getting plants and seeds that are conventionally grown and are from our local green houses. We have 2 fantastic ones in my area: Donahue’s and Drummers.  On the plus side, we were able to learn a lot from our trip down there. I even wrote a post about it. I learned my lesson, and my mom was right…again.

At Seed Savers Decorah Iowa

Traveled down to Seed Savers in Decorah, Iowa.

We bought a new (slightly used) camper!

We bought a new camper! This was so exciting for us as we love to camp! We had been camping in a 1979 pop-up. Retro orange interior and everything! We sold it for what we bought it for, and purchased this baby: a Jayco Quest 5th wheel! We camped in our yard the first weekend we brought it home.

New Camper

Our new camper!

I Graduated!! (Insert cheers here!!)

I finally graduated! I received a B.S. in Sport Management and a B.A. in English Literature from Minnesota State University, Mankato. I seriously thought I would be done with school. Then I decided to further my education and started my graduate studies during the fall.

Graduation from Mankato

I graduated!

We put another crop in the ground.

This warrants a huge mention in 2013 because we literally didn’t know if we would be able to get a crop in the ground this year. We worked in our crop insurance guy, our seed salesman, a implement dealer and the big Guy upstairs to make it happen. In MN and surrounding states we were involved in a situation called prevented plant. It was a mess. The fields were way too wet, acres were left unplanted and equipment broke. Luckily for us, we were able to change out some of our fields to soybeans, and in some areas of our fields we just pulled up and left it unplanted. However, neighbors weren’t so lucky with whole fields going unplanted.

Corn coming up

We put another crop in the ground

We completed three 5K’s, including the Warrior Dash!

Here’s what happened this year in my training for running. I ran my first 5K in early May which was a hills 5K through a State Park. I didn’t do too terrible all things considered, but ended up pulling a muscle in my back-I know weird. Since then, It made running and doing everyday things difficult. I completed 2 more-one I walked with someone who had never done one before-my momma! Plus, she completed hers with a knee replacement! You go mom! Then I completed the Warrior Dash, which thankfully my friend Nicole stuck with me throughout it because my asthma kicked in full force after the first hill. Go me. But I did finish them all, and the Warrior Dash was a blast. It left me bruised, bloodied and full of mud, but it rocked!!!

After completing the Warrior Dash.

After completing the Warrior Dash.

We traveled! Vacation to South Dakota!

We took our camper across state lines into South Dakota this year for vacation. Mark had not been back to see Mt. Rushmore since he was a kid, so I decided it was time he saw it again through adult eyes (I have been there various times growing up because we stopped on our way to see family in Idaho). We were able to visit Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands and Custer St. Park. We visited 2 different wineries: The Naked Winery and Prairie Berry Winery as well as visited Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City. We went horseback riding, hiking and swimming! It was a blast and a very busy vacation.

South Dakota- Custer St Park

We traveled to South Dakota!

We purchased our first home!

So there’s a ton of things wrong with it: location, it’s not in the country, its tiny, there’s no fenced yard, no heat registers in the main room of the basement, we trip the circuit breaker every time we plug in the vacuum and the kitchen is definitely not big enough. BUT it is our house, our own space and we’ve already made many memories there. It does have good qualities like original hardwood floors, all brand new appliances, a brand new kitchen, new bathrooms, new carpet, and a new furnace, plus a small heating and electric bill. It is closer to Mark’s family’s farm, but further away from my mom’s. In the future, we hope to build somewhere in between the two. It works for now, and it is a big accomplishment for us too!

New house

We bought a house!

Minnesota Farm Bureau

There’s a few things to say here. We completed another year doing the Speak for Yourself program! We were elected to the LeSueur County Farm Bureau board. I completed an internship with the Farm Bureau. We were also chosen to be featured in the Minnesota Farm Bureau building at the Minnesota State Fair! Below is the photo that was used. We also worked up there in the building too, helping answer questions about farming. Most were surprised to find out we were young farmers, and I had a moving conversation with one lady about farm protection and land protection so we can keep farming. It has been an awesome year as members of the Minnesota Farm Bureau!

Mn State Fair Photo

We were featured in the Farm Bureau building at the MN State Fair!

AgChat Conference 2013

I was able to attend not one, but two AgChat conferences this year! Wow. Feeling so blessed. The first time I kind of went on a whim to the regional conference in Rochester, MN, as my fee was paid for with a scholarship. I learned a lot and immediately put it on my calendar to go to the conference! The actual conference was in Charlotte, NC. I met so many amazing people that are farming, blogging, and telling their stories. It was inspirational, motivational, and thrilling. I walked away with a renewed sense of self, and more reason to tell my story. I truly hope I can get to the next one!

AgChat 2013

AgChat Group…Ready to get loud.

We celebrated our 1 year anniversary!

In 2013, we were officially married a whole whopping year! We took 1 year anniversary photos and went to the Cheesecake Factory. I thought the photos would be a great way to commemorate a year and to see where we’ve come in our marriage every year. So from now on, I’m going to try and get photos taken around our wedding anniversary time. It will be fun to see the changes every year!

1 year anniversary

In September, we celebrated 1 year as a married couple!

I painted my own masterpiece!

Okay, so maybe not a masterpiece, but I had a great time painting my own canvas! My friend Nicole, invited me to go to a Wine and Canvas night up in the cities with her. It put me out of my comfort zone, and I had to struggle a bit with the painting, but in the end, I walked away with a new work of art that hangs in my office. I still think it is awesome how different our paintings look when we painted the same picture! I also was able to spend some much needed time with a friend I’ve had since high school!

Painting!

Wine & Canvas

We harvested a crop.

I feel like no matter what, having a harvest will always be a highlight of the year. You just never know if you will have a crop at the end or not. We were really worried about yields with the wet spring, and then having drought conditions in July and August, then having freezing cold temperatures in early September. I’m thankful we were able to get the crop in the bin with very few issues.

Harvest 2013

Harvest 2013

Had a blog post get lots of attention

Some days I write and wonder if anyone is even reading this. Then I wrote a blog post about women farmers wearing makeup. Needless to say, it got some attention. I can’t thank the blogging community enough for all their support and sharing of it. It was pretty awesome, and it gives me encouragement to keep writing.

Women farmers wear makeup!

Women farmers wear makeup!

We were in our first wedding together (not as bride and groom!)

I know, a weird milestone, but we come from two very different towns an hour apart with a very different group of friends. We were so honored to be part of our friends wedding as a bridesmaid and groomsmen (we even got to walk down the aisle together!) because it felt like a milestone for us as a couple. Both Amy and Aaron were my friends before Mark and I were together, so it definitely means a lot for the two of them to include and be friends with my husband. It was a fun wedding, even if it was freezing for the first weekend in October. We danced a lot, Mark told the story of Aaron eating one too many cream puffs at a party we had, and Amy had us take some sweet pics on her parent’s farm. So thank you to Amy & Aaron for letting us be a part of your big day and for giving us a new milestone as a married couple!

wedding photo

Our friends’ (Amy & Aaron) wedding!

Spending time with family

One of the many things I am thankful for in 2013, was being able to spend time with family. We (my mom, myself and Mark) were able to visit my aunt Linda, who is my dad’s sister, and pictured below. She has been battling cancer for, well as long as I can remember now, going through remission then it coming back. The doctors have told her they can’t cure her this time, but try to keep the cancer at bay, instead. Linda is a fighter, so she keeps going back for treatment. I treasured the time I was able to spend with her this fall, because frankly, you just never know.

Visiting my aunt with my mom

Visiting my aunt with my mom

Well, that’s all she wrote for 2013. Thanks for recapping some of my biggest moments with me. I’m ready for a new year though. A new year focused on our farm, my husband, my career, schooling, and personal growth. I have already signed up for a free online class (besides my graduate studies) about agriculture that starts in 2014 and 2 conferences. I also am making sure I include a little bit more time for fun this year as last year was consumed with school, work and internships. I’m also making sure I focus on my marriage, and how we can grow as a couple and bring God as a focus in our relationship. I’m excited for 2014. How about you?

one of the photos from our 1 year married session

one of the photos from our 1 year married session

-Sara

Seed Savers: First Impressions are Everything

So you might think this post is about seeds, gardening and what it all entails, and I might blog about that later (including the story about my cat knocking over 10 seedlings and me crying about it!), but right now I want to talk about perceptions.

I want to know, how do you picture a farmer? Do you picture a bright red barn, overalls and a small, bright green John Deere tractor? Or do you picture large grain bins, laptops, rubber boots, Facebook, 9870 John Deere combine and soil sampling?

Do you picture farming like this? By the way, that would be my uncles and my dad back when they were little!

Do you picture farming like this? By the way, that would be my uncles and my dad back when they were little!

Or do you picture farming like this? This is my husband, his cousin and brother operating a combine, tractor & grain cart, and semi.

Or do you picture farming like this? This is my husband, his cousin and brother operating a combine, tractor & grain cart, and semi.

This is what I want the consumer to understand: our perceptions are constantly being managed every single day. Farming isn’t overalls, small tractors and a big red barn anymore, even though there are those who would like you to think it is. I have a small tractor, it’s a D Case that I’m restoring for nostalgic purposes, not because it has use on my farm anymore. Sure, my outbuildings are red, but they house automatic watering systems, temperature controls, feed mills and more for me to help run a more efficient farm.

This past weekend, my husband and I headed to Decorah, Iowa to visit Seed Savers and check out the coined term “heirloom” plants. (I will do a blog post later about all of our seeds and the interesting things we learned while there!) I wanted to get some interesting seed varieties for my garden and since winter seems to be sticking around these parts of Minnesota, I figured I still have time to start my tomato seedlings instead of buying started plants like I normally do.

Beautiful red buildings are the first thing you see.

Beautiful red buildings are the first thing you see.

What you first see when you pull up are two beautifully constructed red buildings. One their shop where you can purchase a variety of seeds, books, gardening tools and more, and another that is a big red barn that provides shelter for some of their animals. You see a cute little garden area, corralled by beautiful white fencing, with information about how they make sure their plants don’t cross pollinate. You see container gardens as well on one side.

This is what seed preservation looks like...right?

This is what seed preservation looks like…right?

What I’m getting at, is you are meant to believe this is how heirloom seeds work and that everything gardening and organic is cute, red and mother nature just gets to do her business. Your perceptions are managed to believe the plants just grows beautifully out in the open without any human interference whatsoever.

What you don’t see are the 5 large greenhouses up the hill from their education center that are climate controlled, on automatic watering systems and are monitored closely.

One of the many greenhouses at Seed Savers

One of the many greenhouses at Seed Savers

What you don’t realize, is that there is human interference with these plants. They deliberately hand pollinate, bag pollinate [a technique often used by large seed corn manufactures…gasp!] and use spatial planting to eliminate cross pollination from the plants, insects, birds, etc. Wait…what?! You mean mother nature isn’t allowed to interfere with these organic, heirloom plants? You mean that technically these seeds are…wait for it…engineered. Yeap, you heard me right. They are breeding seeds for genetics (as well as a few animals too but blog post on that later!) and because of the work they are doing with them they are engineered seeds.

A board explaining the ways that human hands help engineer the seeds.

A board explaining the ways that human hands help engineer the seeds.

Science is involved in every aspect of agriculture today. It isn’t bright red barns anymore and your old neighbor with overalls and a pitchfork, as much as we would like to think that or as much as mainstream media wants us to think that too.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is AWESOME that Seed Savers is working to preserve seed varieties so we can enjoy a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers in our gardens and on our tables. I am beyond excited to try my Tigger Melons and hope my Alma Paprika peppers grow so I can turn them into some tasty salsa and spaghetti sauce! But it also amazes me, how we as an agriculture industry fail to really let consumers see how we work and how scientific agriculture really is. If we continue to let consumers think that the red barn, overalls, and cute gardens are what we are about, we aren’t doing a good enough job. Farming today, whether it is seed conservation in climate controlled greenhouses or moisture sensors inside grain bins that send updates to our smart phones, is scientific, human controlled and it is constantly changing, updating and adapting to meet many of today’s needs, both from the farmer’s standpoint and from the consumer’s standpoint.

A bunch of different plant and fruit varieties are available at Seed Savers that are hard to find! My favorite find: Valentine Sunflowers since I'm a Valentine's baby and all!

A bunch of different plant and fruit varieties are available at Seed Savers that are hard to find! My favorite find: Valentine Sunflowers since I’m a Valentine’s baby and all!

I’m asking for a greater awareness. Are we aware of how consumers perceptions are being shaped? How can we work to change that? What can you do? And consumers, are you aware of  how your perceptions are constantly being managed? Can you go to a farm and reach out to them to learn about their operations? Can you  keep an open mind on all sides of the food table?

Is this what you picture when you think about a farmer? I bet not.

Is this what you picture when you think about a farmer? I bet not.

I once was told in one of my marketing classes that perception is a person’s reality.  Are we doing the reality of our farming operations today justice?

-Sara