“Virginia Bluebell” by Miranda Lambert
There’s no better way to ring in spring, than Virginia bluebells. The flowers are visited by long-tongued bees, butterflies, hummingbird moths, and a variety of other pollinators.
“Sunflower” by Lenny Kravitz
Named for their love for sun, these flowers are sure to brighten your day. You can plant native species to attract wildlife to your yard. Birds will eat the seeds, while many bee species enjoy the nectar and pollen.
“Where the Columbines Grow” by A.J. Fynn
This song is one of the state songs of Colorado for good reason. A valley covered in these blooms is breathtaking. The native blue columbine is pollinated (depending on the elevation) by the hawk moth, hummingbirds, bees and bumblebees.
“Tiger Lily” by Matchbox Romance
I get very excited about this showy wildflower. Bees, hummingbirds and butterflies will be equally excited to see this plant in your yard.
“Kiss from a Rose” by Seal
And about a million other songs. The variety of rose species is equally extensive. All sorts of sizes, shapes and colors are out there. If you’d like to add rose to your yard, just make sure it’s native.
“Lotus Blossom” by Billy Strayhorn and famously performed by Duke Ellington
Though most lotus species found in the United States have been introduced, there are a number of native lily species you can add to your backyard marsh.
“Bluebonnets” by Arron Watson
Although attractive to people, this flower has special appeal to its insect pollinators. The banner petal has a white or blue spot, telling pollinators whether the pollen is fresh and sticky. Take a look in the photo below and see if you can tell the difference!
“The Appleblossom Rag” by James Ritter
The only apple native to North America is the crabapple, a gorgeous spring bloom. Plus, wildlife (like cedar waxwings) will eat the fruit.
“Build Me Up, Buttercup” by The Foundations
You didn’t think I’d forget to add this to the list, did you? It’s a classic. The flower has an open shape, which bees prefer. It provides enough space for the bees to gather pollen. The petals have lines, guiding pollinators to the center of the flower. The lines and other patterns are most visible with UV light, which is the wave length that many bees see.
Now you can rock-out while enjoying plants in your garden! It’s better for wildlife and the ecosystem they depend upon. This is the first step to becoming a Certified Wildlife Habitat.]]>
So what are cover crops, exactly?
Cover cropping is the practice of planting a second, unharvested crop in coordination with the cash crop to prevent erosion and nutrient loss. Farmers grow cover crops in a variety of ways, including growing them year round as a living mulch, planting after harvest or intercropping by growing the cover between rows of the cash crop.
The benefits of cover crops are becoming more and more familiar among farmers and the rest of the agriculture community. Cover crops do all these great things:
But cover crops also have hidden climate benefits! Who knew?
Cover crops increase soil organic matter, including soil organic carbon. Simply put, cover crops make soil healthy and healthy soil sucks up carbon like a sponge – aka sequestering. When carbon is trapped in the soil, its power is used for good and not evil.
Agriculture is responsible for 10 percent of greenhouse gases overall, so any offset would be welcome. We don’t need to keep our heads in the sand about climate change when we can find solutions in the soil.]]>
Remember, the less time you have to spend doing the back-breaking work of raking up your leaves, the more time you have to enjoy the gorgeous fall weather outside and the wildlife visiting your garden!
Autumn is a fantastic time to make your yard wildlife-friendly by adding food, water, cover and a place for animals to raise their young!]]>
On two recent nature walks, peers have identified goldenrods as the trigger for seasonal suffering—a seemingly common misconception. Most species of flowering plants depend on either animals, notably insects, or wind to disperse their pollen. It’s the latter group of wind-pollinated plants, notably ragweeds, that are primarily responsible for late summer and fall hay fever in much of the United States. “Their pollen tends to be small and buoyant so it can be carried airborne by the gentlest breeze,” writes Janet Marinelli in a National Wildlife article about allergy-friendly gardening. Fortunately for gardeners and wildlife lovers, she adds, goldenrods and other plants pollinated by animals “have not only brightly colored blooms but also large, heavy pollen that is less likely to be allergenic.”
According to Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, goldenrods support more than 100 species of butterfly and moth in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic alone—a mere sampling of the wildlife drawn to the plants for both food and shelter. Birds benefit when the wildflowers are allowed to go to seed. Left standing in the winter, these faded goldenrods provide welcome nourishment to avian passers-by.
Grow goldenrods, asters and other late-blooming plants that are native to your region to create an inviting space for wildlife.]]>
Being relatively new to no till and cover crops, I have the advantage of not holding onto prior assumptions.And, being human, I tend to put more credibility in conclusions from those who speak with experience. Too often the only ones saying that no till and covers make soil wet and cold are the people who have never tried either.
To get to the bottom of this I began taking soil temperature readings starting in April. Using a protocol established by Dave Robison and Dan Perkins (Jasper County, IN SWCD, Youtube 2014 cover crops videos) every week I took soil temperature readings at random locations at 4 inch depth in my no till field with a winter-killed cover (radish), my neighbor’s fall tilled field across the fence row, and my lawn to provide a baseline. Here is a table with the results through early July.
|Week||Date/Time||Lawn ( average temp in ⁰F from 4 samples)||No till with winter-killed cover crop||Fall tilled|
|1||April 22 @ 11:15am||42.85||44.45||45.75|
|2||May 2 @ 7:30am||41.98||41.4||40.93|
|3||May 6 @ 8:50am||45.13||44.88||43.43|
|4||May 13 @ 8:35am||54.2||53.68||53.07|
|4b||May 13 @ 7:10pm||53.03||52.96||52.63|
|5||May 19 @ 10:50am||51.83||52.58||52.45|
|6||May 26 @ 11:40am||61.97||68.45||69.17|
|7||June 2 @ 3:30pm||71.02||70.72||70.52|
|8||June 9 @ 5:01pm||70.52||70.32||73.15|
|9||June 16 @ 7:50am||60.07||58.42||57.8|
|10||June 23 @ 11:30am||69.27||68.77||68.5|
|11||July 1 @ 9:00am||66.27||64.15||64.25|
|Average through mid-July||59.46||59.41||58.67|
As you see from the data, there is little scientific basis for the myth of colder, wetter soils in no till and/or cover crops. You may also note that, in fact, the data indicates more times in which the no till/cover cropped soils had higher temperatures. And it wasn’t, as I initially thought, a sampling error by sampling only in the morning or afternoon. Regardless of time of day, no till with covers enjoyed similar or slightly higher soil temperatures. Myth busted. Beyond that simple conclusion though, are a few interesting details to point out. First, tilled soils had a temperature advantage in 3 out of 12 measurements (weeks 1, 6 and 8). Those measurements followed a fresh tillage pass that had not yet received a rain event. As soon as the soils received a rain (which is quite frequent during spring and summer in Wisconsin), the temperature advantage swung back in favor of no till and covers. Second, soil temps from the no till/covers were quite similar to the lawn soil temps. Average temps for lawn and no till/covers came in at 59.46 and 59.41 degrees, respectively, while the tilled field came in .74 degrees cooler at 58.67.
It turns out, the soil surface is only half of the equation (or less). Until now, we have ignored what goes on in the soil; the science we cannot easily observe. In simple terms, scientists are now beginning to account for many other factors such as drainage, structure, and biology. Thanks to no till and cover crop roots, I am slowly breaking through the plow pan located about 16 inches below the surface. That plow pan, intensely present in my neighbor’s soil, prevents excess moisture from draining away. Thus, if one chooses to not address plow pan, one must rely on tillage as a means of aerating the soil. However, repeated tillage breaks down soil structure, further decaying the soil’s ability to move excess water. The end result is not only a tillage treadmill, but that no tilled soils shed excess water much easier, and dry soils warm up much faster and easier than wet soils. Soil biology may also be a factor. With no till and covers, the micro-organisms that normally do not survive tillage and long periods lacking plant roots have a chance to grow. That growing population and the process of digesting and converting minerals and nutrients may actually warm the soil. Note again from the data the fact that the no till and lawn (technically also no till) both typically had higher soil temperatures than the tilled field.
Unfortunately for conservation, water quality, wildlife, and the climate, myths like these have inhibited and delayed adoption of no till and cover crops. But it isn’t just wildlife or water quality that suffers. Misconceptions and assumptions have led farmers to continue soil abuse, costing them time and money now while degrading the long term health and productivity of their soil.
 JR Teasdate and CL Mohler, “Light Transmittance, Soil Temperature, and Soil Moisture under Residue of Hairy Vetch and Rye,” Agronomy Journal 85 N. 3 (1993): 673-680, suggest a reduction in daily soil temperature amplitude under cover crops. Craig Drury et al, “Red Clover and Tillage Influence on Soil Temperature, Water Content, and Corn Emergence,” Agronomy Journal 91 N. 1 (1999): 101-108 suggest no till with and without a red clover cover crop increased soil moisture by 2-5% and reduced soil temperatures by 1 to 2 C during early crop emergence in southwestern Ontario.]]>
The BMGs were written by consulting wildlife experts Bill McGuire and Susan Rupp. An interdisciplinary team of wildlife experts worked with Bill and Susan, and external reviewers with practical expertise provided valuable feedback.
The BMGs are relevant to many areas of the country, but they have a regional focus on the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), which is located in the Dakotas and parts of IA, MN, NE, WY and MT. The region stands at the cross-roads of wildlife and bioenergy because its matrix of shallow wetlands, grasslands, and croplands provides nesting habitat to over half the ducks in the country, and the Upper Midwest’s soils and climate have some of the highest feedstock production potential in the US.
Getting grass-based biomass right in the PPR is also critical because in the last five years, the region’s seen over a million acres of planted and native grasslands converted to cropland, largely due to increased demand for corn to make ethanol. We need the fewer grasslands we have left to do a lot for wildlife—and other ecosystem services, like clean water and carbon sequestration.
Before I started working on the project, I assumed that planting perennial grasses on farmland would be such a clear improvement for wildlife over annual crops like corn soy, which need planting, fertilizing and other inputs every year, that it would be an important victory in its own right. After all, most crops like soy or corn, though they do provide food to some species, offer limited nesting habitat and even less cover after harvest, and the downstream pollution from annual crops, especially corn, are well-known. The advantages of perennials in a sea of annual crops are all true and important—as far as they go.What this project helped me think about are some of the ways that bioenergy facilities and farmers can make improvements for wildlife with practical, low-cost ‘tweaks’ to where and how they plant, manage, and harvest bioenergy crops.
Some highlights of the BMGs are to:
Beyond these and other major recommendations, the BMGs include suggestions related to more subtle interactions, such planting density, how much fertilizer and pesticide to use, the timing of harvest, using a flushing bar on the harvester to reduce bird injuries, and leaving taller stubble along field borders for winter cover and water quality benefits.
Importantly, the guidelines are not intended to be one-size-fits-all; they were written with the understanding that they will be need to be adapted for specific circumstances and operations.
I look forward to working with bioenergy companies on implementing the BMGs, including one company we are talking with already that’s planning on growing tens of thousands of acres of native grasses as an energy feedstock in a few years—and wants to do right by wildlife. I hope to be able to share the details of this collaboration shortly.]]>
Here are some easy ways for you to help wildlife or enrich your local area with your trees after you’ve enjoyed them (and removed all the ornaments) this holiday season.
A brush pile often consists of leaves, logs, and twigs so an old Christmas tree can make a great base. This is the easiest thing you can do with your tree if you have a yard. It directly benefits the wildlife in your backyard during winter months because brush piles and dead trees offer food and needed protection from the chill. We have suggestions for how to make a brush pile and we understand that not all communities allow for them.
There are a number of ways you can use your recycled Christmas tree to enrich your soil by composting it or using the pine needles and boughs to cover your garden bed. Chop the trunk and branches and break your tree down, this will allow you to add some nice insulation to your garden.
If you love to watch birds or want a fun project, you can decorate your tree with edible ornaments or popcorn strings so that you feed wildlife like birds and squirrels. This is a enjoyable activity to do with kids or the young at heart (me) and can help wildlife at a time when food is scarce. Most of the recipes call for peanut butter, fresh fruit (like grapes, berries, or apples), suet and bird seed.
These crafts all make edible ornaments for wildlife:
For more on decorating trees for wildlife:
If you used a real tree this year, let us know what you’re doing with it in the comment section below, or share a link to any places you know of that use Christmas tree donations to help wildlife or the environment. If you have a living or artificial tree, don’t miss out on the fun—ask a friend who has a real tree what plans they have.]]>
Most farmers hold the belief that no till cover crop fields are wetter and colder than conventionally tilled fields. Soil temperature readings showed my neighbor’s heavily tilled soil at 54 degrees and my no till cover cropped field at 63 degrees. (Thanks to Dave Robison for first examining the soil temperature question: http://plantcovercrops.com/myths-debunked-on-cover-crops-and-colder-soil-temperatures-final-report/). Improved drainage has made all the difference. And for me, no till and cover crops provide the best drainage system.
Resource managers and conservation practitioners work to preserve, protect, and understand the lands, waters, and wildlife of our country. What do these professionals need in order to address the challenges posed by climate change in their work? We spent a year asking 195 natural and cultural resource managers, conservation practitioners, and researchers this question.
These professionals work along the west coast of North America in the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NPLCC) region. This is a dynamic and beautiful place filled with dense evergreen forests, spectacular coastlines, some of America’s longest rivers, and such iconic species as salmon, orca, and grizzly bear. While their toolbox is full of strategies and actions applied over the decades, they requested more support to address the particular challenges presented by climate change.
By gathering the most relevant documents, data, and other resources in one place, decision-support systems and tools enable managers and decision makers to make more informed decisions. For the managers, conservation practitioners, and researchers we engaged, decision-support systems and tools were the most requested type of support. These systems and tools may include:
The NPLCC region traverses the Pacific coastline from southern Alaska to northwest California. It crosses state and national boundaries and encompasses federal, tribal, state, and non-governmental jurisdictions. As such, the professionals we engaged emphasized the need to pursue projects and plans that meet the objectives of multiple partners working to address climate change effects on diverse ecosystems. They also emphasized the need to work together to maintain or improve the health and status of the region’s ecosystems over time; in other words, to build or maintain landscape resilience over time. Requested capacity-building activities include:
Some data gaps and information needs identified by the managers, conservation practitioners, and researchers we engaged are shared throughout the NPLCC region, while others are particular to a specific location or ecosystem.Professionals requested assistance ensuring compatibility between existing data and information sources in addition to filling the data and information gaps themselves. Examples of requested science, data, and information include:
The professionals we engaged identified three audiences for targeted communication and outreach: resource managers, conservation practitioners, and researchers; the public and educators; and, decision makers. They also emphasized that promoting effective science communication and outreach will require targeted messaging and a user-to-consumer approach. Examples of requested communication and outreach needs and activities include:
Download the full report: Advancing Landscape-Scale Conservation: An Assessment of Climate Change-Related Challenges, Needs, and Opportunities for the NPLCC (pdf)
Learn more about our work to build capacity to address climate change
Take action in the Pacific Region]]>
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) more than one third of Americans report high stress levels, and one in five say they feel very stressed at least half of each month. Stress impacts our health with physical symptoms like fatigue, headache, stomach upset, and back pain. It can affect our emotions, causing anger, depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.
Children, as well as adults, feel the pressure from peers, schoolwork, and busy schedules. So what can we do?
Eating right, making time for exercise and spending time with friends and family are all important steps. But, a step outside may be the most beneficial. One study, from the American Journal of Public Health, revealed stress levels fall within mere minutes of being outside.
Everyone knows getting moving is great for you; moving around outdoors may be even better. According to Oprah.com, scientists have found that walks in nature reduce markers of stress within the body like decreased blood pressure, heart rates, and lower levels of cortisol.
Get outdoors and get moving with these activities or go to NWF’s Activity Finder for more ways to Be Out There:
Meditation is an excellent stress buster. Why not find a quiet spot in your backyard or local park and enjoy some outdoor introspection? Here are some simple techniques from the Mayo Clinic:
There’s powerful evidence that digging in the dirt reduces depression and anxiety and strengthens immunity. According to Huffingtonpost.com, a 2008 survey showed gardening may help reduce stress, even among those caring for chronically ill family members. Huffingtonpost.com also reports gardening can help lower cortisol levels and boost mood among people who had just finished a stressful task.
So grab your trowel and some seeds or plants and start growing with your family. Get your kids in on the action with these great tips for gardening with kids.
This month, try an easy, healthy, and fun way to reduce stress– spend time outdoors. Where you’re gardening, exercising, or just “be-ing” a new, relaxed you is just moments away!