Category Archives: Events

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.

Advertisements

Discovering the Pests on our Apples

With two apple trees and a pear tree in our backyard, I see that pests are quite fond of these fruits. When looking at our apples and pears, spots show us that they have had visitors. Wanting to keep our property natural (without chemical sprays), these pests will likely come to visit every year. But who are they and what are they doing to our fruit?

The Coddling Moth leaves a dark chunk of fiber under the apple.

The Coddling Moth leaves a dark chunk of fiber under the apple.

Today the West Madison Agricultural Research Station had their yearly open house which enabled me to learn more about our apple pests. One of the tents had a fruit intern with some examples of apples with pest markings. He talked about three common pests: the Coddling Moth, the Plum Curculio (beetle), and the Apple Fruit Maggot.

The inside of the apple visited by a Coddling Moth.

The inside of the apple visited by a Coddling Moth.

The Coddling Moth is what you might hear of as the typical apple worm. A moth lays her eggs on the fruit and when they hatch, the larvae burrow into the fruit to eat the core of the apple. The apple tree will usually drop these fruits after sensing the internal damage. It’s a good idea to look for apples with the Coddling Moth marking while doing your early summer thinning and remove them first.

A scab forms on the apple from a Plum Curculio.

A scab forms on the apple from a Plum Curculio.

The Plum Curculio is a beetle that lays its eggs under the skin of stone fruits. Yes, an apple is not a stone fruit, but this little pest doesn’t seem to realize that. As the apple grows, often the eggs are crushed by the growing fruit preventing baby beetles. A scab-like blotch forms on the apple and sometimes the apple is also flat or indented by that spot.

Spots are left behind by the Apple Fruit Maggot.

Spots are left behind by the Apple Fruit Maggot.

The Apple Fruit Maggot also lays it’s eggs inside the fruit. These maggots leave behind sting marks on the outside of the apple and brown railroad-like tracks inside the apple. An indentation is also often observed on the side of the apple.

So, what can be done about these pests?

If you want organic apples, the fruit intern noted that there is a clay that can be applied around the fruit, but it needs to be applied to each fruit often as it washes off in the rain and cracks as the apples grow. An easier solution on the Vegetable Gardener website is to tie brown paper lunch bags over the apples when they’re young. It sounds like there are also pheremone traps that can be purchased to catch some of the pests.

The fruit intern emphasized that although these pests cause cosmetic damage, these apples are still edible. It seems that nowadays most people are used to blemish-free grocery store apples and are quite disconnected from an understanding of their food sources. The most benign markings scare people away. But the fruit intern noted that these apples were just fine to eat. In fact, he planned to eat these unmarketable apples, every bite of them, after the open house was over.

Now that I know who the pests are that are visiting, I’m less afraid of what’s in our apples. But until I come to terms with eating worms, I think I might still compost the parts of the apple with spots and brown trails.

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!

Photos from the People’s Garden

FPL People's Garden SignLast Saturday, after attending the Fitchburg Fields Garden Fair, I stopped over at the People’s Food Forest Garden next to Forest Products Laboratory for their work day. This garden is an effort that is part of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative. According to the fact sheet, “this unique garden was designed to provide a sampling of the USDA’s efforts to teach others how to nurture, maintain, and protect a healthy landscape.”

USDA People's Food Forest Garden

USDA People’s Food Forest Garden

I enjoyed seeing permaculture practices up close. Being on a hillside, erosion and runoff were problems prior to the addition of swales and berms that slow and absorb rainwater. The garden is centered around a hawthorn and three crabapple trees, with additional plantings to create guilds that support these trees. There are fruiting plants such as currants, highbush cranberries, elderberries, bush cherries, and strawberries. Yarrow and bergamot attract beneficial insects. There are nitrogen-fixing plants like lupines, and nutrient accumulators like comfrey. Chives and daylilies along an edge help keep back the grass and weeds.

Creeping Charlie

Creeping Charlie

During Saturday’s work day, I helped pull up Creeping Charlie along the edge of the garden. Other volunteers spread new mulch, investigated the swales, and pruned bushes and trees. The day was windy with some brief sprinkles and hail, but it was relaxing and enjoyable, sitting under a crabapple tree with wonderful plant smells in the air, focused on that Creeping Charlie with little purple flowers.

On Thursday evening, the Madison Area Permaculture Guild toured the gardens for our monthly meeting. Below are some photos I took of the plants.

Hawthorn tree

Hawthorn tree


Crabapple tree with an edible apple graft

Crabapple tree with an edible apple graft


Comfrey

Comfrey


Yarrow

Yarrow


Lupine

Lupine


Bayberry

Bayberry


Virginia Blue Bells

Virginia Blue Bells


Lavender

Lavender


Prairie Indigo

Prairie Indigo


Currant

Currant


Clove Currant

Clove Currant


Elderberry/Sambucus

Elderberry/Sambucus


Bush Cherry

Bush Cherry


Strawberry

Strawberry


Daylilies

Daylilies


Chives

Chives

If you would like to visit the garden, it is located by the westside of the University of Wisconsin campus off Observatory Drive. The address is 1 Gifford Pinchot Drive and the garden sits between the Forest Products Laboratory building and their Research Demonstration House.

Making Urban Permaculture Happen

I’m very impressed by a recent project undertaken by Joshua Feyen, also known as the Urbane Farmer (http://blog.joshuafeyen.com/). A city homeowner right here in Madison, WI at 1933 E. Mifflin, he planned and coordinated a work day to plant a fruit forest in his 30’x30′ front yard. He sketched out a plan, had two trees removed, collected a huge amount of materials, and coordinated many volunteers to come and help for four hours. They made berms and swales, laid down sheet mulch, planted fruit trees and shrubs, and throughout the whole project, made a time-lapse video!

That orchard planting is what permaculture is all about. What was once a useless plot of grass was transformed into a productive and healthy area. Permaculture design principles were mindfully considered to create a plan. Resources not typically utilized by many city dwellers were gathered together to revitalize the land. People worked together in the spirit of progress. I’m sure there were many details to plan, research to do, challenges to overcome, and perhaps some doubts along the way, but that’s what we all need to face to save our planet, one project at a time.

As my husband and I go about planning projects around our house, we often find ourselves getting stuck. Part of it is finding time since we have two little kids, but part of it is also identifying the best techniques and resources. We want to remove the landscaping timbers on one side of the house, but an axe and wrecking bar barely make a dent. We want to add soil on the south corner of the house, but where can we get good soil at a good price? I want our vegetable garden to be a success, but which obstacles should we tackle first? How do we plant around a large fruit tree without disturbing its roots and where can I get some comfrey? There are many questions along the way for each project and it’s not easy to put together all the puzzle pieces to make a project happen quickly and successfully. But we must try to keep moving forward.

Thank you to Joshua Feyen for this inspiring project and for documenting the process so that others can learn from it!

Dane County Landfill Tour

This week I had the opportunity to take a tour of the Dane County Landfill. One of the tenants of permaculture is “care for the earth,” and I believe it’s important for everyone to understand the impact that our garbage has on our community. Everytime we go to the store and buy packaged goods, toss old belongings that we no longer want, or use wasteful products like disposable diapers, we are adding volume to acres of disposed solid wastes. I appreciated seeing and learning about this process to help be more mindful about reducing my environmental impact.

Garbage trucks arriving at the Dane County Public Landfill weigh their solid wastes and pay for their disposal.

Garbage trucks arriving at the Dane County Public Landfill weigh their solid wastes and pay for their disposal.

I was impressed by the processes used by the landfill to efficiently manage the solid wastes they receive (recyclables and compost are taken elsewhere). Dane County waste management operations and residents deliver solid wastes to the facility where it is weighed and payed for, at $48 per ton. Dane County taxpayers do not pay anything towards this facility. The incoming weighed solid wastes provide all the revenue for the landfill to operate, and the facility does not try to make a profit. Each day (6 days a week), 600 tons of of solid wastes come into the landfill. As we stood by the driveway, we watched a steady flow of trucks line up in the weigh area. The wastes are compacted to a quarter of the original volume and then added onto a nearby dump site. At the end of the day, six inches of soil is added over the dump site to prevent waste from blowing away, eliminate odors, and reduce flies and rats. When one phase of the landfill is full (at about 60 to 100 feet in depth), it is covered with plastic, clay, soil, and grass.

Where does all our garbage go? Solid wastes are dumped at the Dane County Landfill.

Where does all our garbage go? Solid wastes are dumped at the Dane County Landfill.

Started in 1985, the Dane County Landfill has grown to its current 76 acres, able to hold 7 million cubic yards of refuse. It will reach capacity by December of this year. Proposals are in progress to expand the current site to either another 27 acres within this public space or to purchase additional adjacent properties. Selecting and managing a site involves following DNR regulations to prevent public disturbance, contamination, and other safety precautions. Landfills take care to avoid groundwater contamination by layering the bottom of a dumping site with clay and plastic and testing groundwater on a regular basis. In addition, the bottom of the site has gravel and a drain for the 15,000 gallons of leachate (liquid wastes) released each day, which goes to a public sewage treatment facility at $.01 per gallon. Concern for neighbors is expressed through payments to pre-existing property owners within 1 mile of the site (between $2000 and 8000, depending on the distance). One of the many other regulations is that landfills need to be sited a minimum distance from airports, as they often attract birds which are hazardous to airplanes.

The volume of solid wastes is reduced with a 50-ton compactor truck.

The volume of solid wastes is reduced with a 50-ton compactor truck.

Landfills need to have a gas control system in place, as the breakdown of solid waste without oxygen releases such gases as methane and carbon dioxide. Large pipes placed around the landfill site suck out the gases to be burned for the production of electricity. Even after landfills are filled, the gases need continued monitoring. There are numerous former landfills in Madison such as by Monona Terrace, University Avenue, Elver Park, and Cross Country Road in Verona. If methane is exposed to open air, it can be explosive, so it’s good to be aware if you are near one of these sites. However, I am not aware of where to get a list of all the former landfill sites.

Although it would be wonderful to be able to recycle or compost all our wastes, landfills are currently a necessary part of our lives and will be around for a while. Our tour guide highlighted many ways that they are responsibly managing the solid wastes that they receive and encouraged us to reduce our wastes and recycle, which was very good to hear. Thank you to the Dane County Landfill for the tour.

Madison Food Camp 2013

This past Saturday, I attended the Madison Food Camp where food, cooking, and gardening enthusiasts gathered together to exchange knowledge and tips. The day was broken into five time slots offering 36 different presentations. It was difficult to select only one session each hour with so many interesting choices. I decided to go to four sessions that would enhance my current projects (vegetable gardening and composting) and one session where I would learn something completely new (eastern sourdough tradition).

At the Raised Bed Gardening session, Megan Cain (the Creative Vegetable Gardener) taught part of her longer class entitled “Design and Install Your Own Beautiful + Abundant Vegetable Garden.” She went over removing sod, fencing, building a raised bed, filling it with soil, and mulching. Some new things that I learned were:
• a tool called a sod cutter can be used to remove grass
• black locust wood (locally sourced) is great for making a raised bed
• a compost/soil mix which works well for raised beds can be obtained from Purple Cow Organics
• raised beds should be filled to the very top with compost/soil as it will settle
• mulch should be added around a garden’s fence so that weeds and long grass don’t take over at that edge zone (we’re going to have to do this!)
• mulch (e.g. hay/straw) can be put on top of the vegetable garden (unless you’re waiting for seeds to germinate) to protect the soil from heavy rainfall and erosion and to keep the soil moist, as raised beds warm up and dry out quicker.

The Goodman Center's compost piles out back.

The Goodman Center’s compost piles out back.

At the Ins and Outs of Home Composting, master composter Isaac Sinnott described the basic process of composting and types of compost bins. I appreciated the presenter’s knowledge about composting in Madison and at the UW. The material was geared towards beginners, but I’d love it if there was an advanced composting session next year with more anecdotal stories and getting into the chemistry and research related to composting. We were invited to check out the compost piles at the back of the Goodman Center (the event location).

The Goodman Center's finished compost next to a compost screen.

The Goodman Center’s finished compost next to a compost screen.

Some things learned were:
• the city of Madison composting pilot program is going well and going to be expanded to the rest of the city (see http://www.cityofmadison.com/streets/compost/organics.cfm for more information)
• the UW-Madison Office of Sustainability collects campus compost and has a couple dorms with “pulpers” that add water to paper and food waste to be composted
• compost can be purchased from Purple Cow Organics or at the West Madison Agricultural Research Center (compost produced by UW-Madison)
• one attendee had heard of someone who used a blender (designated just for compost) to shred their kitchen scraps before they compost them

Hoop Houses and Other Season Extenders was led by Sara Herpolsheimer, a Madison resident with a number of vegetable garden beds and a hoop house. She talked about vegetables that survive the colder Wisconsin weather, methods for creating microenvironments around your vegetable gardens, how to build hoop houses and cold frames, and tips for caring for those plants. Although I don’t do much extended season gardening at this time, I took notes and am sure to find this information beneficial in the future. For example:
• “cutting celery” is a useful plant to grow for both its celery stalks and parsley-like leaves
• broccoli and cabbage can be picked throughout the fall if the weather is mild
• overwintering plants mulched with hay (carrots, parsnips) become sweeter over the winter and should be picked when the ground thaws in the spring
• covered plants don’t need to be watered during the middle of winter, but should be kept moist as temperatures come back up around the end of February
• plants should be kept from touching the covering plastic as it can get hot
• double coverage should be used from Thanksgiving to Groundhog’s Day when the days are short and the plants are in stasis
• milk jugs can be used to temporarily cover plants if there is danger of cold weather
• a remote thermometer is handy for staying on top of temperatures in a cold frame
• univents can be purchased to open cold frames as the temperature rises
• the Habitat Restore is a good place to look for materials to create cold frames

Learning how to use a knife properly saves time and effort when cooking.

Learning how to use a knife properly saves time and effort when cooking.

The Knife Skills session, taught by Toby Lunt, demonstrated proper knife grip, cutting techniques, and care for knives. I took four pages of notes. Clearly I didn’t know much about knives before! Some information and tips included:
• only three knives are needed in a kitchen: a long chef’s knife for meat and vegetables, a long serrated knife for bread and tomatoes, and a short paring knife for coring apples
• use a pinch grip with index and thumb to grip the blade at the balance point and then wrap the rest of your fingers around the handle
• knives work best when going in two directions (e.g. forward and down, back and up)
• with your left hand, curl your fingers into a claw to hold the food
• cut round foods in half or cut off part of an end so it sits flat on the cutting board
• when chopping a vegetable, don’t cut all the way through for the horizontal and vertical cuts so the vegetable retains its shape until the final 90 degree cuts are made
• when slicing a vegetable (e.g. onion), cut against the grain in a semicircle
• put a wet towel under a cutting board so it doesn’t move around a lot
• don’t use hard cutting boards like bamboo or it will dull your knives
• a honing steel (or a “hone”) can be used to pop microserations back into alignment and is better to do frequently than sharpening knives, which makes the blade smaller

An added benefit of the cooking sessions is getting to sample the delicious foods.

An added benefit of the cooking sessions is getting to sample the delicious foods.

The Eastern Sourdough Traditions session peaked my interest since I have been experimenting with baking bread this year. Although my breads are European-style round loaves, presenter Trevor Brown showed how to make flatbread sourdough dosas. From South India, this type of bread is made by soaking rice and lentils, pureeing them into a paste, stirring in some salt, fermenting them for 2 days, and then thinly spreading on a griddle to fry. They made some during the session and they were good. I’m looking forward to trying this recipe and eating them with some other Indian food.

The day proved to be very valuable. Whereas I usually learn about a topic by digging through books, this opportunity to hear personal experiences and mistakes provided details that books just can’t tackle. For example, reading about how to build something always sounds easy, but hearing about the pitfalls and difficulties of building something is more realistic. A list of materials for making a raised bed looks as simple as a grocery store list, but finding sources and products for what you need is like finding a needle in a haystack without recommendations. And seeing vegetables in books is pretty, but hearing about people successfully growing and making use of those vegetables here in Madison is more helpful.

Thank you to Slow Food Madison for organizing this event and I’ll look forward to attending again next year!