Book Review – The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes that Inspired The Little House Books

Book Review
The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes that Inspired The Little House Books
By Marta McDowell

Did you grow up traveling the prairies and woods with the Ingalls family? I got lost in Laura’s adventures as she grew up and never paid any attention to the details about the30 Little House 2 flora in the different locations. This book uses many passages from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books to chronicle the agricultural practices, home gardens, seasonal chores, and daily activities the Ingalls family engaged in to grow, harvest, and preserve food for storage.

The book makes use of archival territory and plat maps of locations the Ingalls family lived from Wisconsin to Minnesota to North Dakota and more. It also verifies many events and observations Laura weaves into her stories by including newspaper articles, agriculture circulars and historical photos. Plants mentioned in her stories are often depicted by not only original Garth Williams line drawings, but also period botanical illustrations and contemporary photographs.

31 Little House 3While McDowell’s book is not a how-to-garden directive, it does show the deep connection to the seasons and land that beloved children’s author and pioneer Laura Ingalls Wilder shared subtly through her childhood stories. It is satisfying to see that even with changes to our climate and the urbanization of Laura’s frontier landscapes that many of the plant species continue to thrive.

~ Review by Elizabeth Waddington

2019 Master Gardener Regional Convention—Rexburg, ID, June 28th

This was the second year that Sharon, Brian and Amy took on the Rexburg convention. And as before, the educational opportunities were exceptional and the campus gorgeous.

Out of the 14 educational offerings, 6 could be selected for the day’s classes. From these Amy chose: Backpacking for Wildflowers; Herbs in Your Landscape;; Nature, A Prescription You Cannot Fill in a Pharmacy; Spiders got you Spooked; Want to Have Your Own Nursery?; and From Root Cellars to Walipinis

Here are the highlight of the things learned from these sessions:

-Instead of baggies of wet paper towels, in “Backpacking for Wildflowers” we learned how to make our own Tissue Culture Media. This simplifies plant collecting enormously. With these light weight, plastic test tubes, filled with about an inch of media, you can now take much smaller cuttings of plant starts, and easily preserve them, for days if needed. Here’s the recipe:

Add 4 cups of distilled water to a saucepan26 Regional 2
Dissolve 1 tsp. MiracleGro into solution
Dissolve ¼ cup cane sugar into solution
Add 1 tsp. Dip-N-Grow liquid rooting hormone to solution
Add 1 Tab. Agar
Heat until it boils, stir.
Remove from heat and dispense 15-20 mL into plastic, lidded tubes

-In “Herbs in Your Landscape,” it was most impressive to see how many herbs are really quite beautiful as ornamentals…and why not use them as features in our landscapes. Some that were impressive were using certain lavender varieties (Twickel Purple & Phenomenal) for short hedging; lime mint was not only a lovely variety, but what a wonderful addition to those summer-time Mojito’s; the oregano variety Dittany of Crete has a fuzzy leaf and is a most beautiful plant; pineapple sage actually has some lovely ornamental red flowers.

-We learned in “Nature, A Prescription You Cannot Fill in a Pharmacy,” that in today’s world, nature is literally a prescription to improve health. Dr. Robert Zarr, in 2017, founded Park Rx America, so that health professionals could write park prescriptions for patients of all ages suffering with obesity, mental health issues, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. It turns out humans need green space for stress relief, to lessen depression and anxiety, for lowering blood pressure, and on and on. Biophilia, also called BET, suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life…we need it. This is something we probably all know, but this somehow really drove the point home.

-“Spiders got you Spooked” was just plain fun and interesting. The big message was that the Aggressive House Spider (Hobo) is no longer on the venomous bite list. It was a spider whose identity had been grossly misrepresented.

-Inspiration was given through “Want to Have Your Own Nursery,” to take our Metra greenhouse and put it to work, even though it would only be for those months that wouldn’t require heating…May to Oct. An opportunity for vertical garden growing and blessing our communities food services with vegetables such as pole beans, winter squash and tomatoes, as well as demonstrate to the public the value of vertical growing in small spaces.

-Then finally Walipini Construction. First off, besides being fun to say, what’s that all 27 Regional 3about? For curiosity’s sake a closer look had to be invoked. Turns out this is a wonderful green-house structure that takes on much of the same dynamics as an earth house. The greenhouse floor is dug into the ground and walls are bermed with soil to create an underground green-house. A bit of work for sure, but what benefits to have the consistency of soil warmth through winter, and only a roof to maintain.

And for a bonus, we were taught28 Regional 4 how to make a Linnaeus seed packet…yes we are talking Carolus (Carl) Linnaeus here. Was so awesome to have in our hands the very packet he used when collecting seeds.

As Master Gardeners, you all can take in this most awesome resource for advancing your horticulture education. Do consider coming along in 2020.

~Submitted by Amy Grandpre

Leafcutter Bee (Megachile rotundata) Tour

July 19, 2019 — Hosted by John Wold, Ashlawn Farms, Laurel, MT

Attendees: Sheri Fredericksen, Gordon Clark, Mary Davis, Kyle and Pat Neary, Nan Grant, Carolyn Jones, Sue and Marvin Carter

Ashlawn Farms was established in 1909 and homesteaded by John Wold’s grandfather who moved west from Northwestern Minnesota. The name of the farm comes from the many ash trees located on the property. The family farms several crops, including some on dryland acres located south of Laurel. Leafcutter Bees (Bees) play an important role in the family’s alfalfa seed business which started in 1986.

In early years, a harrow was used to try and open the alfalfa flowers to allow pollination to occur, however, it was a practice that was destructive to the plant. During the 1970’s, farmers realized that bees worked extremely well to pollinate the alfalfa.

The alfalfa seed business is extremely weather dependent. Once the alfalfa plants begin budding, the Leafcutter Bee larvae, which have been stored in tubs during the winter, are placed into screened boxes. 19 Leafcutter 2The temperature in the incubation room is gradually increased to about 85 degrees for the larvae to mature into swarming Bees. Once the Bees begin swarming, they are hungry and ready to go to work. Ideally, if the weather can maintain about 80-85 degrees, the Bees are released to begin pollination of the alfalfa.20 Leafcutter 3

The Bees have no typical “queen;” however, the females do all of the work. The boxes containing the nesting holes are put into trailers and towed to locations where they are spaced out appropriately to pollinate the alfalfa. (The placement of the nesting boxes is 23 Leafcutter 6due to the Bees nesting range of 300 feet.) In total there are approximately 3,000 nesting holes per box. The trays of mature Bees are transported to the field by pickup (in the evening or morning) when the temperature is cool, and placed into the top of the trailers which can house 18, 24 or 28 nesting boxes. The screens are then removed. Once the temperature begins to rise, the Bees begin to swarm as they leave the boxes. The Bees are very weak and the first thing they do is learn to fly and begin to feed to gain strength. Once they build up strength, the females then choose a nesting hole.24 Leafcutter 7

Once a female Bee claims a nesting hole, it is hers and will not be used by another female while the eggs are being laid in the hole. The female Bee lines the hole with “cuts” of leaf material from nearby plants creating a sort of cocoon for depositing the pollen and nectar and laying the egg. The female Bee opens the alfalfa blooms and sucks the nectar and gathers the pollen from several 21 Leafcutter 4flowers on her belly and carries the pollen back to her nesting hole. (Since the females carry the pollen on their dry bellies, each flower they enter to gather more pollen is pollinated by the pollen that has been carried from the previous bloom.) The female Bee scrapes the pollen off inside the nesting hole, then spits the nectar into the pollen creating a paste-like food source for the larvae to feed on prior to diapause.1  When enough pollen and nectar has been collected, she then lays the egg and seals it with cuts of leaf material to protect the egg from predators. Female Bees literally wear their wings off flying into and out of the nesting holes and have a life span of about 5-6 weeks; the males live only about 2 weeks once they fertilize the females.

Approximately 6 gallons of Bees2 per acre are required to adequately pollinate the 22 Leafcutter 5alfalfa blooms. Great care is taken to ensure the alfalfa is not over-pollinated as it can have a detrimental effect to the alfalfa seed yield.

Once pollination is complete, the boxes containing the larvae are retrieved from the field and placed into the incubation room (at a temperature of 50-55 degrees) for the following year.3 The alfalfa plant is sprayed with a chemical defoliator causing the plant to dehydrate so that it is ready to harvest. One pound of alfalfa seeds equals approximately 250,000 seeds. Depending on the amount of alfalfa acres, the family’s total yield can vary year to year.

Leafcutter Bees have a gentle nature and although they have a stinger, would only sting if threatened. A sting is comparable to a mosquito bite. The Bee is renowned for their superior capability with pollinating alfalfa.

I “bee-lieve” a good time was had by all and the tour was very informative.

~ Submitted by Sheri Fredericksen

 

Footnotes

  1. Diapause is a predetermined period of dormancy, meaning it’s genetically programmed and involved adaptive physiological changes, i.e., from the time the larvae are placed into a cool temperature to the time the incubation room temperature is increased to make the larvae mature.
  2. Approximately 10,000 bees equals one pound.
  3. The larvae will remain in diapause until the incubation room temperature is increased the following summer to begin the metamorphosis cycle into mature Leafcutter Bees.

Book Review – The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Signs

The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Signs
By Peter Wohlleben

This fascinating little book does indeed have much information on using nature’s signs to predict the weather, a useful skill for home gardeners. Among the indicators explored are wind patterns, clouds, flowers that close prior to storms, and bird songs. Then the book goes on to be a wealth of more information on many aspects of reading nature to help us garden. Even though the author is German, generally his information and advice translates well to our latitude and longitude.

The topics covered vary widely from basics to interesting unusual tidbits such as what elaiosomes are (a small fatty, sugary morsel attached to seeds to entice ants to carry both home, thus spreading seeds far and wide) or synanthropes (animals born wild but who thrive in close association to cultivated human environments like the Eurasian collared dove that showed up in our yard last year and stayed). One of my favorite stories is about the flower clock created by the eighteenth century Swedish natural scientist, Carl Linnaeus. He discovered that different flowers open their blooms at different times of the day, enabling him to create a flower “clock” with different types of flowers for each hour. Equally interesting was learning that birds often sing at specific times of the day, so that after one learns their calls, one could roughly know the time when a certain bird sings.

There are several chapters with decidedly practical advice and applications for gardeners: how to work in cooperation with rather than at war with nature, increasing soil health to increase garden health, adapting to climate change, in addition to accurately predicting the weather.

There are also chapters that increase our enjoyment of the natural world: using all of our senses not just the visual, and discovering new and interesting information about many aspects of nature.

As in his other books, Mr. Wohlleben writes in a flowing, readable manner that effectively translates up-to-date scientific information into layman’s terms. I hope you will soon read and enjoy The Weather Detective, so much more than a guide to predicting the weather.

~Review by Ann Guthals

Dandelions

by Elizabeth Waddington

Do you love sunflowers? Then you should embrace the pesky dandelions in your lawn since they are in the same family. Both are cheery yellow, can be used as accents in floral arrangements, especially if you have grandchildren picking the dandelions, and are

JAS 13

artwork by Elizabeth Waddington

attractive to pollinators for your garden and fruit trees. The family is Asteraceae (Asters/Sunflowers) and the Species is Taraxacum officinale (Common dandelion). The name (recorded from late Middle English) comes from French dent-de-lion, translation of medieval Latin dens lionis ‘lion’s tooth’, because of the jagged shape of the leaves.

What is your tolerance level for these non-native plants, aka “weeds” in your yard? If you don’t mind them, leave your dandelions to attract the pollinators who help with our neighborhood fruit and vegetable crops. You may have a good reason to not have them blooming for special events; I will be nipping off the yellow blooms when my toddler grandchildren come to visit, but otherwise leaving them until they go to seed (no, I don’t want THAT many, thank you!)JAS 14

But what can you do if your tolerance level is zero dandelions in your prized putting green turf? You can use a commercial weed and feed granular mixture in a drop or broadcast spreader when they are actively growing which will cover your entire lawn. You can spot treat with a weed killer that only targets broadleaf plants and will not harm the lawn (usually in a spray container with a nozzle). Or you can manually extract them with devices designed to pry them up by the root. Note that you need the whole root in order to eradicate the plant and that is easiest after a heavy rain. The small blue and white JAS 15digger is simple to use but takes skill to get deep enough to remove all of the root. The large red and silver “jumper” is like using a pogo stick on the dandelion. Or, as my husband asked, “What ARE you doing?” It does take a hunk of sod out with the weed so consider it to also be an aerating tool. You can always hire a commercial yard care company to maintain your lawn, but does that give you satisfaction?

Soil Testing

Soon, hopefully, it will be time to think about planting lawns, vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees. Are you planning on a good harvest and growth? What are you doing to insure those results? Are you planting in good soil or just dirt? Does it have the capacity to hold water and nutrients or is it holding too much water and not enough nutrients? Do you know the PH of your soil/dirt? Checking in our area are two labs that can do soil tests for you. There is paper work to fill out, besides your name and location, like what do you want tested (N, P, K), pH etc.? What are you planning on growing, lawn or garden?

To gather your soil take a hand trowel and dig down to about 6” in about six different places in the lawn or garden and put it all in a pail mixing it together (discard the grass, thatch, rocks, worms and roots). From that amount, fill a 1 gallon zip lock bag with your name on it to half/two thirds full.

While working at the ACE greenhouse I met the true over achiever. He came in every couple days telling me how he had hauled buckets of sand, then manure, then compost. He had a very small vehicle which held two buckets in the rear, two buckets in the back seat and one bucket in the passenger seat. This was not a one trip for each of the above, but many trips. He was so proud of himself I could barely ask if he had ever had the soil tested for his garden. He hadn’t.

By mid-summer he came in quite deflated. His dream garden hadn’t produced anything. He did however have the soil tested and it was high to very high in N, P, and K. I felt so sorry for him all I could think to say was that maybe by next year it would be a better garden space.

In order to build anything you must have a good soil foundation. Thinking only about the end product is just dreaming. Local companies who provide soil testing for home gardeners:
B & C Ag Consulting – taking Soil Tests between 10 am and 2 pm on Mon., Wed.and Fri. 315 So. 26th St, Billings – 259-5779 http://bncag.com/ MG price $30.
Energy Laboratories 1120 So. 27th St, Billings – 252-6325
https://www.energylab.com/services/soil/ Lawn and garden analysis with recommendations $85.

Submitted by Sheri Kisch