Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

How Green Was My Garden: Gardening, Social Media & Bacon go to the Fair

Social Media Breakfast MSP 26 is being hosted at the Minnesota State Fair Progress Building on Friday May 21st from 8am to 10am discussing Urban/Organic/ Gardening & Farming.  Your venerable  blogger (yes me) will be trying not to embarass herself as the moderator of a very good panel of guests assembled to discuss how they use social media to promote their businesses, sell their products and connect with their communities.

Panelists include:

* Susan Berkson, Minneapolis Farmers Market (MPLS Farmers Market on Facebook)
* Debbie Morrison, Sapsucker Farms
* Barbara Hegman, PlantJotter
* Lee Zukor, Simple Good & Tasty
* Kirsten Saylor, Gardening Matters

Generous sponsors include Organic Valley and Mother Earth Gardens. At the event will be a mini-market with several vendors and organizations displaying their messages and wares. Please stop by for some bacon and lively discussion of how farmers, growers, advocates, markets and more are using social media in the vibrant world of sustainable growing.

Boom! Goes the Neighborhood: Spring means unexplained explosions return to South Minneapolis

For at least four Spring/Summers a series of unexplained explosions have rocked the Longfellow/Seward neighborhoods of Minneapolis.  911 Operators have been inundated with phone calls from concerned residents whose homes are shaken from these loud earth-shaking sonic booms.

These explosion noises began four years ago during  very hot summer and I shrugged them off as transformer explosions as they seemed to correspond to power failures as well.  But they have continued every season since.  A discussion with the Minneapolis Police Department reveals that there has been an ongoing investigation into the source of the explosion noises and while they have been able to rule out certain causes such as a natural source (river/sewer, etc) they have been unable to find a reason, person, cause responsible for them.

The explosions got much more attention when St. Paul was host to the Republican National Convention with Homeland Security very much involved in the investigation, setting up nighttime surveillance by the river.  Obviously neither they, nor the Minneapolis Police Department are willing to divulge specific details regarding the ongoing investigation but the explosions continue so they have been unable to “solve” the case.

While this is disturbing for someone like me, who lives two blocks from the Mississippi River which is the location from which these explosions are originating, between Lake Street & Ford Bridges, I am reassured by who is working on the case. The attention the Bomb Squad and MPD Third Precinct investigators are giving to this matter is the best for which Minneapolis and St. Paul residents (they are just across the river after all) can hope.  They have been thorough and Inspector Lucy Gerold & Sergeant Wally Krueger have been extremely responsive to my inquiries, living in one of the neighborhoods most affected.

Frustrating investigators is that the explosions can only be heard and they have been unable to discover much evidence, which is why they have asked for cooperation from anyone who may be able to help. If you see anything suspicious by the West River or East River Parkways at night you are asked to call police and if you hear the explosions you are also asked to first check  if you can see anything (a light flash, smoke, etc) then call 911 to report from where you think the explosions originated. Pinpointing the location will help investigators and responders.

Saturday, May 15th, the response to the explosions (there were two, one at 10:15pm and another at 11:30) was swift and this time the State Patrol helicopter was sent to the riverfront to circle to determine whether they could see any activity or evidence.

As Twitter expands you will see greater buzz there in response to these noises.  If you search my historical stream (@quick13) you will see a history of how often they have occurred with tweets like “another explosion tonight” dating back over two years.  Last night someone even created a hashtag for them: #bignoisempls.

The explosions follow a pattern, usually beginning at a specific time, like 10pm and if there is a second one, following at a specific time after, like 11pm or midnight. If the first explosion is at midnight then the second explosion is at 1am or 2am. There is always a regular interval pattern, and there are almost always two or three explosions. One explosion is usually louder than the other.  Rarely there are three explosions in one evening.

There is concern there is something dastardly behind these explosions, but after four summers of enduring them, I am beginning to believe there is a more innocuous explanation.  But then again, in today’s world we have too many reasons for doubt, especially when it comes to things being blown up.  Whatever happens, after four years of having disturbed sleep makes me hope that the investigation can be resolved, if not for my own personal health, but that of the foundation of my home, and perhaps the foundation of the fine City of Minneapolis.

How Green Was My Garden: The Underground Tapes

You have seen them on the market, seed tapes, they make gardening look so simple, just lay down a row of tape for a perfect row of carrots or onions or other traditional varieties of flowers or vegetables.

But did you know it is relatively simple to make your own seed tapes? I made my own this year for some carrots. In a few easy steps you too can quickly make easy to place seed tapes, no more blowing seeds and you can have perfectly straight rows.

The first step is materials which are just flour, water, toilet paper & seeds.  Because I am an organic gardener I used 100% recycled content toilet paper, brands such as 7th Generation or Marcal Small Steps are good, and organic unbleached flour, which is available at most coops or grocery stores and organic seed, I used Botanical Interests Carnival Blend Carrot Seed.

Start by making a paste with the flour and some water, it should be the consistancy of runny yoghurt. Then pull a stretch of toilet paper in a managable length. Then you are ready to make some seed tape!

Paste & Toilet Paper

Place small dots of paste along the bottom of the toilet paper spaced however far apart your seed packet specifies. Then in each of the dots place a seed.

Seeds on paste dots

While the paste is still wet fold the bottom of the toilet paper up on the dots and press lightly, and fold over once again. The moisture of the paste will seal the toilet paper to form a seed tape. Two or three folds are all that is needed so if you have excess just trim the paper with scissors.

Finished tapes

After you have completed your tapes you are ready to plant them in your garden! Prep your bed as you would if you were direct sowing seeds and just lay the tape down, covering lightly with 1/4 inch of soil, and water lightly.

Planted tape before covering

Follow the instructions on your seed packet before placing in seed tape, meaning if the seeds require any special treatment, like soaking prior to sowing, do that before making your tapes.

Seed Tapes are a great way to ensure straight rows for your crops and to make certain you won’t have to thin your plants after sowing seeds.  For those of you with children in your life making seed tapes can also be a fun activity for the little ones to do to get them involved in the garden, and it wouldn’t even matter if they ate the paste!  And just like in Mission Impossible, the seed tapes will Self Destruct, leaving little evidence but your lovely harvest at the end of the season.

Saint Paul to lose Bicycle Advisory Board

In a story by the East Side review , Bon voyage, BAB? , it’s reported that Saint Paul’s Bicycle Advisory Board wants to disband and form a new transportation board.

St. Paul Ward 4 City Council member Russ Stark – also a bicycling enthusiast, as well as another onetime board chair of the BAB – presented such a resolution to the full council two weeks ago.

While he desires to dissolve the BAB, Stark’s hope is simply to start fresh with a similar citywide body, one devoted to deliberating and championing not just cycling but all manner of individual and mass transportation. And it appears the rest of the council has backed his move to approve a new transportation committee of the St. Paul Planning Commission, one that can consider transportation issues from the absolute beginning when the city takes a look at zoning, neighborhood issues, or major infrastructure investments.

Stark’s proposal calls for a new committee with eight St. Paulites interested in:

• transit, including bicycle and passenger rail

• pedestrian/walkability issues

• freight and logistics industries, including trucking, rail, and airports

• accessibility representatives or people with disabilities

• commercial corridor representatives, such as business owners

• downtown building or business representatives

When asked about disbanding the board, current head Rob Barbosa stated

“Some of the board members are extremists,” Barbosa says, “and they don’t understand there’s a grass roots process” to getting stuff done.
“I told Russ that I’m all for moving BAB into another organization that has more teeth. I would say that BAB is dysfunctional,”

I’m not certain how a new board with a broader objective would have any more power than the BAB or be more effective in representing bike transportation, but I suppose the devil is in the details.

How Green Was My Garden: The Big Cover-Up

Last year the biggest trend in gardening & garden supplies was container gardening, specifically in specialty bags (see HGWMG post “Its In the Bag”) for everything from lettuce to potatoes. This year it is crop protection tools, everything involving row covers.  From pop-up insect screens to season extending hoop houses & cold frames, it seems the crop cover business is exploding.

Crop protection tools are exploding because they help gardeners achieve many goals. One of the most important in Minnesota is season-extension.  By using a cover to insulate your plants you can help to warm the soil & keep the plant protected from chillier temperatures, thereby allowing gardeners to plant earlier & get plants to their full potential without as much concern for the weather.


Too much sun & heat can also be an issue, causing delicate plants to wilt or bolt too early so a shade cover can be used to shield those plants from the elements.  For organic gardeners who would like to prevent insects (like the dreaded squash vine borer or cucumber beetle) from attacking plants, covers can be used to help prevent them from landing on your crop, but remember, the covers also prevent beneficial insects from landing, especially bees, so this tactic must be used judiciously.

In some areas birds are the biggest pest, in others rabbits or squirrels, with a crop protecting barrier these pests cannot penetrate to your plants, allowing them to thrive.

Some of the easiest row covers to install are floating row covers, basically specially made fabric you can lay over yourcrops to prevent insect damage or insulate the plants to protect them from extreme temperatures (hot or cold).

There are a few methods for using row covers, you can just float on top of plants & tack into the soil with landscape pins or you can build a structure to lay the fabric upon.  Hoops are the most common support structure, which can be made from several materials, everything from half hula-hoops to more sturdy conduit.  I purchased a hoop bender from Johnny’s Seeds to make tunnel hoops. Garden’s Alive sells different types of protective fabric that can be draped over the hoops from lightweight insect covers to frost protecting fabric.

Also available are numerous ready-made products like pop-up covers & tents that can work like greenhouses or can be kept up all season to prevent damage from insects or animals.  The pop ups work especially well on raised beds, especially smaller ones which can be very convenient for short season extension and seasonal insect prevention and allows for easy storage of the tents when not in use. These also come in different fabrics, the polyeurethane plastic for greenhouse effect and then the mesh fabrics for either insect or bird protection.

If you are really ambitious and have a large garden space you can construct a hoop house, which is basically a permanent structure like a greenhouse, but is made of polyethylene instead of glass. Crops like tomatoes, peppers and strawberries, which generally need hotter, extended growing seasons are grown in hoop houses or high tunnels

Commercial growers have been using the season extending row covers for years and now they have found their way to the home gardener.  With so many options for so many purposes you should be able to find one that suits your needs from container gardening to larger production gardens, so get out in your garden & Hoop it up!


Who has the power?

Strib reports “AG’s office asks PUC to turn down Minnesota Power’s rate request.”

The Minnesota attorney general’s office on Wednesday asked the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to reject Minnesota Power’s $81 million rate increase request.

In a filing with the PUC, the AG’s office noted Minnesota Power requested the new hike on Nov. 2, 2009, just one day after the PUC granted the utility a $20.4 million rate increase.

“What’s unusual about this is that this company essentially turned around before the ink was even dry on their last rate increase then filed for another increase for $81 million,” said Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.

Did you get that? They were given a 20 million rate increase and then immediately asked for an additional 80 million.

What is up with that?


The Buckthorn invasion continues

You’ve heard of Buckthorn right? The beautiful, yet nasty shade tree that is often used as a hedge is quickly becoming the invasive plant scurge of Minnesota and in many cases it is already threatening our native ecosystem.

A bill that would allow cities to make Buckthorn removal mandatory has been put on hold.
Strib reports

A bill that would let cities require property owners to battle the invasive shrub has advanced in the House but stalled in the Senate. Among the concerns? That for one property owner in particular — the state — clearing the plant could consume more resources than are available.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Paul Gardner, DFL-Shoreview, but is the inspiration of an 85-year-old North Oaks woman who has gamely battled buckthorn on her property and has channeled her considerable energy to getting it out of her wooded city.

“The injustice is even if you clear your property yourself, [your yard] still can be reseeded by people who have the buckthorn and have ignored it,” said Joan Brainard, noting that birds spread the seeds.

Gardner’s bill would have taken a larger swipe, by giving cities statutory authority to “adopt an ordinance to eradicate buckthorn on all public and private property within its geographic boundaries.”

Sadly, considering the State budget woes, it was probably a wise move to table the bill for now.
I can attest to the nastiness of trying to remove this plant. It grows along my fence lines and removal has been a growing issue for my since I bought the house 3 years ago, not only do the berry seeds have an incredible rate of turning into a tree, but the wood is notoriously hard and quickly dulls chainsaw blades.

Have you done battle with Buckthorn?


How Green Was My Garden: Let’s get it started in here

“Everyone who enjoys thinks that the principal thing to the tree is the fruit, but in point of fact the principal thing to it is the seed. — Herein lies the difference between them that create and them that enjoy.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Seedstarting. Not too long ago it was only for hardcore gardeners with casual gardeners usually purchasing seedlings ready to plant from big garden centers.  But the rebirth of vegetable gardening, especially urban gardens, has caused a huge surge in seed sales & folks trying their hand at seedstarting. 

Locally Mother Earth Gardens has offered seminars on seedstarting for years but in the past two the free seminars have reached capacity for reservations as soon as they are announced.  Their beginning seminars are full of people who are just starting their gardens as well as those who have never started their garden from seed before.  The seminars were so successful the neighborhood garden store added an advanced seminar. 

Advanced Seedstarting Seminar from Mother Earth Garden

During the advanced seminar we shared stories about how long we’ve been gardening, the best gardening books, and most of the time was spent sharing each gardener’s tips for everything on fruit trees, pruning raspberries and of course pest control. 

Seedstarting is simple once you have the right tools.  The most common mistake is hoping that sunlight in Minnesota is sufficient for good germination & plant growth.  The spring sun locally is not good enough and must be supplemented with grow lights.  There are many more options this season than ever before for setting up the best light system for your seeds.  I purchased hanging lamps  and just use a wire rack shelf from Target for all the trays but if you would rather have a ready-made system there are many options available, though they tend to be a bit expensive. 

The other key to good seedstarting is heat.  I keep my seeds in the utility room next to the water heater & furnace so it gets very warm in there. But there are many heat mats available as well to help you maintain that warmth. 

Humidity control is also important for good germination of your seeds, so making sure you have the plastic greenhouse lids on your trays until they are big enough for thinning out is key.  Different shapes available from large domes for bigger plants & short ones to greenhouse shaped units

Moisture is the final key to good seedstarting.  The plastic domes will help you maintain good water levels in your soil but you need to maintain tht with proper watering, not too wet (seedlings will rot & be suceptible to damp off) and not too dry.  Watering from above is okay as long as the spout on your watering can disperses the water without disturbing the soil.  Or you can water from below in the trays, just make sure you only water enough for the plugs to absorb & they aren’t sitting in standing water. 

Seeds at Mother Earth

The biggest advantage to seedstarting yourself is the increased selection of plants you can choose.  There are so many heirloom varieties and unique hybrids to choose from when using seeds that would never be available at your farmer’s market or garden store.  I usually purchase some seeds in stores in my neighborhood like Minnehaha Falls Nursery or Mother Earth & supplement those with ordering from garden catalogs.  The best part of February is pouring over my seed catalogs to choose what I will grow this year. 


This year I am adding some new lettuce varieties as well as a melon, interesting cabbage & brussels sprouts & filet beans to my garden, things that would only be affordable and even found through seed catalogs. 

Some good choices for organic seed catalogs include  Minnesota’s own Peter’s Seeds, TomatoFest, Botanical Interests, John Scheepers, Seeds of Change, and Seedsavers

It is a bit late for starting some veggies from seed, like onions & leeks, which I started in late February.  But in the right conditions you should be able to still get your seeds started on most all other vegetables now and early April.  The University of Minnesota Extension service has a great guide for a good seedstarting schedule. 

Because of our early warm weather you can get a jump start on direct sowing on things like peas, lettuce, radish, spinach and carrots.  You can just put those directly in your pots or raised beds, or in the ground if it is in a sunny location and has warmed up enough. It is best to wait just a bit longer on things like squash & beans because as we all know in Minnesota there is always a chance for more cold, including a hard frost or snow. 

So if you have never grown your plants from seeds, it is very easy & affordable with a few tricks & tips.  There will always be crop failures, it happens to nurseries too. But you can still be successful & have the great satisfaction of growing your own food from seed to table and have a fantastic variety of flowers too! So what are you growing from seed this year?

How Green Was My Garden: Ring the Bell for Sustainability

The Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota is hosting a great panel discussion with Local Growers about sustainability & why it is important.  Here is the release:

Sustainable Foods and Farming Local Growers Panel
Tuesday, March 23, 7-9 pm at the Bell Museum Auditorium, East Bank, U. of Minnesota

Why is sustainability important for land and for people?

What is being done in Minnesota to help reduce environmental degradation? Why should we care? Four local growers will share their stories of gardening and farming using organic and sustainable practices, native plants and alternative market structures.

Speakers: Jim Riddle, organic farmer, sustainable agriculture educator Tony Thompson, grower of corn, soybeans and native plants Courtney Tchida, with the U of M’s Student Organic Farm Norm Erickson, a grower of hazelnuts for food and fuel

Tour the Bell Museum’s Hungry Planet Exhibit before the panel starts! Following the panel, audience members will be able to ask questions and share information about opportunities to get involved in the local foods movement in the Twin Cities and beyond.

Sustainability Studies Minor,

How Green Was My Garden: SciGirls go gardening at Dowling

From a TPT Press release, the SciGirls, a Public Television nationally broadcast program, filmed a recent episode at Dowling Community Gardens, one of the oldest Community Gardens in the Twin Cities.

We’re pleased to announce that Dowling Community Garden, the oldest continuously gardened community garden in the Twin Cities, was featured in an upcoming episode of the nationally-broadcast SciGirls.


Friday April 2, 5:30 PM on tpt 2

Sat. April 3 7:30 AM on tpt 2

Sunday April 4 10:30 AM on tpt Life


108 Science Cooks!
Izzie cooks up a taste test with Claire and her friends, who make comfort foods more nutritious (without sacrificing the delicious).

WHAT IS SCIGIRLS? A new weekly series that premiered on PBS stations and online nationwide February 13, 2010. The bold goal of SciGirls is no less than to change how millions of girls think about science, technology, engineering and math – or S.T.E.M., the hottest topic in U.S. education today. Each half-hour episode follows a different group of enthusiastic, real SciGirls, who collaborate, communicate, engineer and discover. SciGirls is funded by the National Science Foundation with additional support from ExxonMobil. To learn more visit

We’re especially pleased to have Dowling included in this episode that features smart eating among our children, and to support this important series that empowers tween girls to embrace science, technology, engineering and math.

We were thrilled to partner with our own Public Television station, tpt, to make this series possible. The episode will air nationally, but is created and filmed completely in our Twin Cities. We love that a show empowering girls to embrace STEM utilized the Dowling Community Garden – a gem of a historical resource located on school property!

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