Category Archives: Animals

Planting a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden

In May of 2014, I planted a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden along the back of our yard. Here are the details of what was planted!

Background

Sheet mulch and compost started the garden in the back of the yard.

Sheet mulch and compost started the garden in the back of the yard.

I hadn’t originally intended for the garden to look as it does now. In May of 2014, I wanted to buy some shrubs to plant along the back lot line of our yard. I prepared a site with sheet mulch, compost, and mulch, but just needed some plants to fill in the area. I also wanted some fruiting shrubs for other parts of the yard, so I went to the Friends of the Arboretum Native Plant Sale to see what I could find. However, not having ordered the plants ahead of time, I realized when I got there that the shrubs that I wanted were not available. I was not too disappointed though after I saw another option, the Butterfly and Hummingbird Prairie Mix.

About the Plant Mix

The Butterfly and Hummingbird Prairie Mix was a large flat filled with a variety of different native plants to create a habitat for butterflies, birds, and native pollinators. The description said, “The butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and pollinators will thank you for your efforts in planting this mix. These native plants may attract three times as many pollinators as non-native species.” A volunteer at the sale advised me to water weekly for the first 1-2 years to help the plants get established. With 38 plants at $98, this mix would not be easy to plant or cheap to invest in, but I thought I would give it a try.

Design and Planting

When I got home, I looked through the documentation on the plants and felt a bit overwhelmed. Some of the plants like wet sites and some like dry sites. Some can be 1 feet tall and some can be up to 5 feet tall. Some of the plants are perennials and some are supposed to reseed themselves. There were all different colors, sun requirements, and soil preferences. The plants were to be spaced with 1 square foot per plant. I sat down and planned out a design of where the plants could go, knowing that the design might not be perfect. Then I went out and started setting the plants on the ground to see if the design would look good.

It wasn’t easy planting 38 plants in one sitting, but I wanted to get all the plants safely in the ground before the work week started. After the plants were watered, voila! Our backyard featured a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden!

Butterfly Garden 1

Plant Details

Here are the 12 types of plants that were included in this mix.

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Dane County Breakfast on the Farm (2013)

When you live in the city, everyday life doesn’t present many opportunities to see cows or farm fields. Yes, Cows on the Concourse brings cows to the Capitol. Yes, community gardens grow vegetables. But to see a herd of cows and acres of farm fields producing for the masses, you need to go to an actual farm. And this is a good thing for city folk to do. You might be shocked to see that farms are not the way you remember them from your old children’s books. I’m sorry to break it to you, but you probably won’t find a red barn or animals (of every sort with cute names) running around in flowery pastures, rosy-cheeked kids in bib overalls chasing behind.

What are farms really like these days?

My kids greet a calf born only yesterday at the Breakfast on the Farm event.

My kids greet a calf born only yesterday at the Breakfast on the Farm event.

One way to get onto a farm is through the Dane County Breakfast on the Farm. The Dane County Dairy Promotion Committee puts on this large event each June to showcase one of the farms in the area. After a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausage, cheese, and milk, you can take a horse and wagon ride, visit booths with marketing material and ice cream, listen to live music, and walk around the cows and fields. This year a community manure digester located next to the farm was also available for a tour. There are often long lines (it’s better to go before 9 am), but we’ve made this an annual tradition to find some connection with our food and to understand how farms are operating.

But, my fellow city-dwellers, as you go to this event, there are a few questions you might consider.

First, does the Breakfast on the Farm event really show you a typical farm? I often wonder how the farms are selected and how much work goes into preparing them for this event. After all, the Dane County Dairy Promotion Committee and Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board have an agenda to promote the state’s big business. I would take a guess that you are more likely to get your farm featured if you are a traditional family with a beautiful, clean, state-of-the-art setup. What are the other, less-idyllic farms like?

Second, how do you feel about your food coming from this farm? Operations are set up for maximum efficiency. The animals are identified with numbers, microchips, and databases, eat grains delivered from bunkers by machinery, live inside free-stall barns their whole lives, defecate on narrow cement walkways, and are milked three times a day to receive 10 gallons per cow. Our tour guide insisted that this is “the good life” for the cows, but given how most Americans treat their pets, what are we able to believe constitutes a “good life?” You might be fine with this operation or you might consider finding a pasture-grazing, organic micro dairy for your milk. Either way, it’s important to consider how you personally feel about where your food comes from.

The community manure digester in Waunakee, WI, is located next to the White Gold farm.

The community manure digester in Waunakee, WI, is located next to the White Gold farm.

Third, what does it mean that farms are getting so large? Our horse and wagon tour trotted past huge buildings housing 1,150 cows, underground manure pipelines to the digester, 1,700 acres of field to feed those cows, as well as millions of dollars of farm equipment (a tractor costs $200,000 and lasts only five years). As farms grow larger and small farms disappear, will farms become less connected to people and more of a corporate operation? Is the milk industry using its corporate power wisely? Are consumers knowledgeable and comfortable about where our milk comes from? Or are we becoming less and less connected to our animals, land, and food?

I recommend going to your local Breakfast on the Farm event (many counties have one during Dairy month). Bring your kids along and show them what happens before the milk gets poured into their glass at the dinner table.

If you are interested in becoming more connected with your food sources, here are a few ideas. If you have others, please share and I will add to this list.

• Farmer’s Markets (the Dane County Farmer’s Market is the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country)
• CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture, see the Madison listing from FairShare)
• Home Milk Delivery (I haven’t tried this yet but you might look into LW Dairy or MariGold Dairies)
• More tours! (Babcock Hall Dairy, Sassy Cow Creamery)

See you at the next Dane County Breakfast on the Farm, June 14th, 2014!