Late Summer Visitors

Guest Blog By: Amy Yarger, Horticulture Director, Butterfly Pavilion

Believe it or not, the second half of summer is the best time to go bug hunting in the garden. The several weeks of warm temperatures and long days have allowed insects to reproduce and new generations to grow up and spread out.  This year, because of our wet spring and summer, certain butterflies and other insect species seem to be a little behind their normal schedules. However, they are catching up fast according to local reports, and every gardener can benefit from knowing what is buzzing in the garden.

To get an accurate sense of your garden’s pollinator diversity at this time of year, visit your garden on a warm, sunny day and watch one flower for five minutes. Sunflowers are a great choice – their small central disc florets can supply food for everything from the tiniest solitary bee to a two-tailed swallowtail butterfly. If someone gives you a hard time for just watching a flower instead of weeding , just tell him you are performing a scientific observation. After all, this is what thousands of citizen science volunteers do for The Great Sunflower Project every summer. (Check out https://www.greatsunflower.org to learn more.)

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For example, today I saw at least four species of sweat bee, including the emerald-like green sweat bee, two species of bumblebee, leafcutter bees and digger bees. One of my favorite things about this time of year is the appearance of digger bee nests. Digger bees are fast-moving but docile – fuzzy, big-eyed speed demons that nest in bare spots in the ground. I can never get a good photo of them, but at least they don’t mind if I’m standing in their midst. They are a good reminder to leave some bare patches in your habitat garden– the nests only last a brief time, and the pollination is worth it.

Sweat bee.  Photo by Amy Yarger.

Sweat bee. Photo by Amy Yarger.

Leafcutter bee - note how it carries pollen under its belly

Leafcutter bee – note how it carries pollen under its belly. Photo by Amy Yarger.

Hunt’s bumblebee on fernbush.  Photo by Amy Yarger.

Hunt’s bumblebee on fernbush. Photo by Amy Yarger.

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The second half of summer is a golden time, with all sorts of brushy, long-lasting flowers that attract some surprising pollinators. On the goldenrod today, I spotted a blister beetle eating pollen. These insects may eat more than they carry, but the shallow flowers of goldenrod fit their small, chewing mouthparts. As the blister beetle makes its way across the inflorescence, the pollen on its body hits other flowers. Soldier beetles are also appearing in the garden right now – I call them “date and mate” pollinators, because they are often found “multitasking” with a partner on late summer flowers.

Blister beetle on goldenrod.  Photo by Amy Yarger.

Blister beetle on goldenrod. Photo by Amy Yarger.

Soldier beetle.  Photo by Amy Yarger.

Soldier beetle. Photo by Amy Yarger.

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I also see plenty of cabbage white butterflies, which usually appear early in March and are persistent and unwelcome guests until the cold weather sets in. This species was introduced from Europe in the 19th century and is a pest on anything in the mustard family. I’m always happier to see our native checkered white, which has more dark markings on the margins of its wings. A sunny afternoon also brings visits from yellow sulfur butterflies and the giant two-tailed swallowtail. These swallowtails like to “adopt” a territory, so it’s likely we’re seeing the same individuals as they make their daily rounds.

All the flourishing native grasses in mid-summer bring lots of skippers into the garden; many skippers lay their eggs on grasses. Skippers are the teddy bears of the butterfly world with their wide, furry faces and bodies. They also have distinctive hooked antenna and a funny, jerky flying pattern. I’ve been seeing mostly western branded kippers this year, but some years, especially if you grow leadplant or honey locusts, you may see the larger silver-spotted skipper. These are dark brown with silver spots (of course) on their forewings.

But it is the monarch butterfly that really typifies the slide into late summer. Our first monarch arrived June 7th this year, but as we get closer to August, we see more of them. My volunteers and I check our milkweed weekly for eggs and caterpillars as a part of the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (go to www.mlmp.org to learn more). No caterpillars in the garden has made it to adulthood so far this year, but there’s still time, fingers crossed. The migrating generation will begin to appear in September and October; Colorado doesn’t get the huge numbers that eastern locations do, but I’m always grateful to see this “royal” butterfly.

Monarch on butterfly bush by Shaun Swistak

Monarch on butterfly bush by Shaun Swistak

Many of us are not ready to let this buzzing, blooming season go, and the good news is that we still have several weeks to enjoy flowers and their visitors. Take a closer look and get the most out of this “season within a season”. You may be surprised at all the pollinators you see!

Welcoming Bees to Your Garden!

Guest Blog By: Courtney Jepson, Youth Programs Coordinator at The Gardens on Spring Creek

The bees at the gardens on spring creek

The Gardens on Spring Creek currently hosts two swarms of honey bees and a small colony of Leafcutter bees. These beneficial insects offer much more than just their pollinating abilities to our facility, they invoke a sense of wonder in children who were previously afraid of bees, their creatively constructed homes allows us insight into their lives and a constant reminder as we walk through the garden and see evidence of their work.

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Leafcutter bees harvest small circles from leaves to form their nest cells. While the individual harvesting of leaf pieces is not harmful to the plant overall, any sort of mass cuttings or large colonies focusing their energies on a small amount of leaves can of course cause injury to the plant. After removing ¾ inch circles from plant leaves, the leafcutter bees then create nest “cells” inside of a burrow or pre-drilled hole. For those of you who are handy and would like to create a leafcutter home, a 4×4 and a ¼ inch drill bit is all you will need. There are of course, variations to the bee hotel. See below for other options. Once the female bees have collected their leaves and claimed their new homes they will begin to prepare the nests for eggs. Female leafcutter bees are solely responsible for their young and they will spend the next two months, the duration of their life, gathering supplies and laying 30-40 eggs in their leaf-lined nests.

Leafcutter bees harvest small circles from leaves to form their nest cells.

Leafcutter bees harvest small circles from leaves to form their nest cells.

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The honey bees that currently take up residence at the Gardens on Spring Creek have more than doubled the size of their hive in the past few years causing the first half of hive one to swarm this past week and begin looking for a new home. When swarming occurs, half of the drones leave with the current queen to select a new location for their hive. A new queen emerges from the bees that stay behind and the cycle begins again.  With the bee population having been severely depleted in the past few years, we are thrilled to see our bees take this huge next step!

The honey bee hives have a Plexiglas window built into the side which allows our adult and youth classes a rare view of these bees creating honeycombs and honey. Feel free to stop by The Gardens on Spring Creek anytime Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturdays 9-4 or Sundays 12-5 for a look in yourself!

BEE hotels

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hotel1

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additional resources

Leafcutter bee info –
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05576.html

Building bee houses –
http://permaculturenews.org/2014/09/02/lets-invite-leaf-cutter-bees-gardens/
http://www.foxleas.com/bee_house.htm

Receive Recognition on your Wildscape – Application Process

Who is a Habitat Hero?

Habitat Heroes are people, schools, organizations or communities that practice a form of landscape stewardship, called ‘wildscaping’ – landscaping designed to attract and benefit birds, pollinators and other wildlife, large and small.  Whether the landscape you tend to is a residential yard, a few pots on a balcony, a public park or schoolyard garden, Habitat Heroes believe in growing a healthy community.  By combating the loss of open spaces and creating green corridors that link your wildscape to larger natural areas and providing habitat for wildlife, we can feel good about doing something positive for ourselves, the environment and our wild friends.

The good news is that gardeners can make a difference!  Featured here is a 2014 Habitat Hero awardee - the Freudenburgs’ residential wildscape in Colorado Springs.

The good news is that gardeners can make a difference! Featured here is a 2014 Habitat Hero awardee – the Freudenburgs’ residential wildscape in Colorado Springs.

Why Create a Wildscape?

Your wildscape can stitch together the landscape and contribute to a mosaic of wildlife habitat!

According to the EPA, residential lawns cover more than 20 million acres in the U.S.  If all those yards were transformed into small habitat patches, the additional wildlife habitat would be comparable to increasing the area of the entire National Wildlife Refuge system by 20%.  The wildlife benefits would be enormous, and we’d all experience the joy of doing something positive for nature and our environment.

Help bring conservation home, one garden at a time!

Help bring conservation home, one garden at a time!

What components make up a Habitat Hero Garden?

Water Conservation – use less water (and thus less energy) by planting natives and regionally adapted plants;
TIP: Turf grass requires 4x more water than plants like perennials or shrubs.  Save water by replacing sterile turf grass with a variety of regionally adapted native plants.

Protect Water Quality – keep our local water sources clean by not using pesticides and eliminating harmful runoff;
TIP:  Identify your watershed – learn where the water that drains off of your property goes.  Which rivers, streams, lakes, or other water bodies are affected by your actions?

Eliminate Chemical Use – contribute to a more sustainable and healthier world
TIP:  Almost all songbirds feed their young insects; provide nesting materials for birds and you’ll be providing a natural pest control for your garden.  A stellar example are Barn Swallows, they feed their young 8,000 insects per day – chemicals are no match to Mother Nature.

Plant Natives – replace turf grass areas with a variety of native perennials, shrubs, grasses and trees – creating a garden rich in textures, bloom times, color, vertical structure and food sources;
TIP:  Regionally adapted or native plants have evolved in our harsh growing conditions – these plants are hardy and do well in our region.

Control Invasive Plants – that degrade habitat in and beyond our yards;
TIP: Learn how to identify invasive and non-native species per the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Noxious Weed Species ID list.

Support Wildlife – plant bird and butterfly-friendly species for year-round food, cover and shelter to support a diversity of wildlife.
TIP:  Providing food when provisions are scarce help birds and other wildlife, so aim to have plants that bloom during the shoulder seasons – early spring and late fall.

Ways to become Involved with the Habitat Hero Program

Workshops – Attend one of our workshops to learn about wildscaping tips & techniques, attracting wildlife in an urban environment, planting a Habitat Hero demonstration garden, and more!  These events are designed to appeal to both the novice gardener and veteran alike.

Youth Programs – Our goal is to connect young minds with nature and encouraging them to become the ultimate Junior Habitat Hero!  Activities are designed to spark a sense of curiosity of the world we share with other creatures.

Volunteer – Whether you are a plant buff, want to get your hands dirty at a planting event, or enjoy connecting with community members – we would enjoy your helping hands.
Email audubon.habitathero@gmail.com for more information.

Read our blog – Visit our website to learn gardening tips and techniques, hear from a collection of guest bloggers, view recommended plant lists based on your wildscape zip code, and find the most up-to-date information on upcoming events and news.

Community Plantings – Members of the community have the opportunity to lend a helping hand in shaping the place where they live by planting a  garden in an area of town that needs some sprucing up – whether that be a park or a roadway median.  We are partnering with City agencies, CSA’s, schools, nurseries and other municipalities to plant Habitat Hero Demonstration Gardens that offer both environmental benefits and are   aesthetically pleasing.

Awards – From August through October apply to become a Habitat Hero to receive recognition on your outstanding wildscape!  Receive an all-weather garden sign to display, gift card to High Country Gardens and a Colorado Wildscapes book – plus the added bonus of bragging rights!

Help design and plant Habitat Hero Demonstration Gardens like this one featured outside the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.  We are always looking for volunteers to lend a hand!

Help design and plant Habitat Hero Demonstration Gardens like this one featured outside the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. We are always looking for volunteers to lend a hand!

Application Process – Receive the Habitat Hero Award

The applications will open on August 15th and close on October 15th.  We will announce the Habitat Hero Awardees in our blog in November 2015. 

Help us bring conservation home, one garden at a time and create a bird-friendly community!  Your wildscape could be recognized as a Habitat Hero garden if it adheres to the principles above.  It’s easy to apply, so start thinking about how you can show the greatest habitat diversity in providing food, shelter and water for wildlife.  Also think about creative solutions your wildscape can provide such as water savings through the use of regionally adapted plants.  As your gardens are in full bloom this summer, start snapping photos and consider what makes your wildscape special and how your garden may be a bone fide Habitat Hero garden. We look forward to hearing about your unique garden and all the wild friends you attract.

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Display the all-weather Habitat Hero Garden sign to acknowledge your garden as an outstanding wildscape!

The Buzz About Pollinators

What is a Pollinator?

Pollination is the act of transferring pollen grains from the male parts of a flower to the female.  Every organism from plants to humans have a common goal in creating offspring to continue the survival of the species.  One way plants can produce offspring is by making seeds, and an important way pollen transfers from plant to plant is via pollinators.  Pollinating animals, include bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, flies, moths and more!  So how does this connect to us?  Well, one third of our food is the result of pollinators’ activities.   Imagine your favorite peanut butter jelly sandwich — without pollinators, there wouldn’t be fruit for jelly or peanuts for peanut butter!   It is more important than ever to create wildlife-friendly gardens that help support the survival of these key species.  Read on to find out how you can be a part of protecting pollinators!

National Pollinator Week

national pollinator week

During National Pollinator Week, we highlight and share the importance of pollinators including bees, birds, butterflies and bats!

Pollinator week originated 8 years ago when the U.S. Senate deemed it as a necessary step in addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations.  Pollinator Week has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. The growing concern for pollinators is a sign of progress, but it is vital that we continue to maximize our collective effort.  Learn More

What you can do to help

Be a Habitat Hero and help grow a healthier community by planting a diversity of regionally adapted or native pollinator plants.  High Country Gardens is showing their support for pollinators by donating $1.00 to the Pollinator Partnership for every purchase from their selected favorites of pollinator plants.  In addition, they will also donate 50 cents for every photo you post on Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram with the hashtag: #HCGPollinators.  This is a great way to provide a desirable place pollinators can call home and donate money to the largest non-profit organization in the world who are exclusively dedicated to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems.

Plant gayfeathers which are a large growing, showy drought tolerant species that is highly attractive to bees and butterflies all summer long!  Additional bonus – High Country Gardens will donate $1.00 to the Pollinator Partnership for every purchase of this plant.

Plant gayfeathers which are a large growing, showy drought tolerant species that is highly attractive to bees and butterflies all summer long! Additional bonus – High Country Gardens will donate $1.00 to the Pollinator Partnership for every purchase of this plant.

HabHeroEdibleGarden_Image

Gardening is made easy with the Habitat Hero Edible Garden, a carefully selected, pre-planned garden with an array of both edible crops and flowering plants to attract pollinators to your garden.  By creating this synergy between pollinators and crops, we empower pollinators to thrive while producing a more bountiful garden!  The Urban Farm Company proudly supports the mission of Audubon Rockies by donating a portion of the proceeds.

Bee-Healthy-Conf-logo-10-750

The Western Apicultural Society is “Putting the Bee in Boulder” at this year’s annual conference hosted by Colorado State Beekeepers Association in Boulder, Colorado from October 1-3.  To learn more about the conference, speakers and registration – click here.

Other Resources

Bees’ Needs
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Monarchs and Milkweeds – Citizen Science Project
Project Milkweed
The Nature Conservancy – Pollinator Lunch Video
Whole Foods – Protect Pollinators

Fritillary butterfly drinking from an aster (Photo Credit - Pat Hayward, Plant Select)

Fritillary butterfly drinking from an aster (Photo Credit – Pat Hayward, Plant Select)

Plant a pesticide-free, pollinator-friendly garden to help with the dramatic decrease in pollinator populations!  BEE KIND to Planet Earth!

Habitat Hero Community Plantings

You’re invited to join us digging in the dirt and creating bird-friendly gardens throughout Fort Collins!  Even though we haven’t seen much sunshine lately, it’s springtime!  Habitat Heroes is partnering with the City of Fort Collins, local nurseries and CSA’s to plant Habitat Hero Demonstration Gardens around town that you can watch grow and enjoy through the seasons.

Here are three family-friendly events we hope to see you at.

HAPPY HEART FARMS POLLINATOR GARDEN

DATE: Thursday May, 28
WHERE: Happy Heart Farms, 2820 W. Elizabeth St., Fort Collins, CO 80521
TIME: 5-8pm

Happy Heart Farm crew members hard at work in the veggie beds.  Photo Credit – Happy Heart Farms

Happy Heart Farm crew members hard at work in the veggie beds. Photo Credit – Happy Heart Farms

Dennis and Bailey Stenson (founders of Happy Heart Farms) have been stewards of biodynamic soils.  They pioneered the first community supporting agriculture farm in Colorado 29 years ago, located in Fort Collins.

Join us while we plant a Pollinator Garden that will boast a 200′ X 20′ bed filled with native wildflowers, perennials, shrubs, grasses and even wild plum trees!  This bed will not only provide essential habitat for pollinators but be an oases for people to enjoy with a flagstone sensory garden circle with seating areas that offer stunning views of the nearby foothills.

Contact Ray Wharton, apprentice at Happy Heart Farms to sign-up for this event at raywharton@gmail.com

POUDRE RIVER FESTIVAL – HABITAT HERO GARDEN NEAR THE FC MUSEUM OF DISCOVERY

DATE: Saturday, May 30
WHERE: Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, 408 Mason Court, Fort Collins, CO 80524
TIME: 11-1pm

BeforePhoto_FCMuseum

Before Photo of the soon-to-be Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden outside the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery

Join us at the Poudre River Festival which is a free, family-friendly festival that celebrates the Cache la Poudre River.  In addition to educational activities, there will be several volunteer opportunities that help to restore and enhance wildlife habitat along the river with hands-on service projects.  We’ll be planting a Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden along the Poudre River bike trail, on the west side of the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.  What better way to spend time with the family outdoors than digging in the dirt and planting a garden that will be a mainstay in your community?

Sign up by contacting Jamie Weiss at audubon.habitathero@gmail.com

PLANTING ON THE WILD SIDE GARDENING WORKSHOP – BATH GARDEN CENTER & NURSERY

DATE: Saturday, May 30
WHERE: BATH Garden Center & Nursery, 2000 E. Prospect Rd., Fort Collins, CO 80525
TIME: 3-6pm

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This interactive workshop “Planting on the Wild Side,” presented by Be A Habitat Hero, is a must-do activity!  Learn planting tips and techniques for creating “wildscapes” – landscapes designed to attract and benefit birds, pollinators and other wildlife large and small.  This event goes beyond the basics and includes planting a Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden.  Being a Habitat Hero means stitching the landscape back together by planting regionally natives, conserving water, and eliminating pesticides in our wildlife-friendly gardens.

Hear from, Connie Holsinger, Habitat Hero Project Founder, and her vision in creating this program alongside Jamie Weiss, Habitat Heroes Coordinator and Alison Holloran, Audubon Rockies Executive Director as they provide the essentials of being a Habitat Hero and how you too can bring conservation home one backyard at a time. Frankie Coffren, BATH Garden Center & Nursery Manager will also follow-up with tips needed for planting a successful garden and discuss soil preparation.

Sign up by registering at Brown Paper Tickets – $5.00/person

In addition, here is your chance to have your 5 minutes of fame as this workshop will be filmed for footage of the Hometown Habitat documentary.  Hometown Habitat is a 90-minute environmental, education documentary focused on showing how and why native plants are critical to the survival and vitality of local ecosystems.  Entomologist Doug Tallamy provides the narrative thread throughout the film.  Tallamy is known for his research, books and lectures on the misuse of non-native plants in landscaping, and its effects on habitat and species loss.

A big “Thank You” to Terra Foundation for funding Be a Habitat Hero and to all our other supporters!

BATH Garden Center & Nursery
Fort Collins Museum of Discovery
Green Roots Garden Design
Happy Heart Farms
High Country Gardens
High Plains Environmental Learning Center
Plant Select
The Gardens on Spring Creek
The Urban Farm Company

Twin Spruce Teens Team Up for Planting

As Habitat Heroes our goal is to work with the community to practice a form of landscape stewardship called “wildscaping” – landscaping designed in mind to attract and benefit birds and other wildlife.  And this was exactly the mission of Twin Spruce Junior High and their after-school Teen Room/Science Club project.

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Students Alex Vance and Gracie Postelwait are hard at work planting this bird-frindly garden at Twin Spruce Junior High.

This school in Gillette, WY has an unkempt garden bed in an alley way that was neglected and became a trash repository over the years.  Katie Brunson, eighth-grade science teacher, Master Gardeners, and the students determined that fixing up the garden would be a great project and learning opportunity.  This is where Audubon Rockies, Habitat Heroes Coordinator, Jamie Weiss helped with their vision – by putting together a garden plan with multiple phases to help with the transformation of the large 100’ X 30’ planting area.  Not only would this garden be aesthetically pleasing and offer the much needed facelift, but also provide habitat for a community of wildlife ranging from insects to pollinators and birds!  A Habitat Hero garden can be as simple as lining a few potted plants on a balcony, replacing sterile turf grass in your residential yard with native shrubs, grasses perennials and wildflowers, or even a schoolyard garden among concrete sidewalks, buildings and playgrounds, all of which provide refuge with food, water and shelter for critters large and small.

With guidance from local Master Gardeners over the weeks leading up to the planting event, phase one of the garden transformation included removing weeds, clearing space for new plants and mulching.  Weiss then joined the crew on Earth Day, Wednesday April 22, to help facilitate the planting of wildflowers and lead a workshop demonstrating how food webs need plants, to bring in other insects, birds, mammals and reptiles.  Without plants, the relationships between these other critters are greatly diminished and once healthy ecosystems begin to unravel.

One of the gardening challenges we had to face was the harsh climate of Northern Wyoming which receives only10 inches of rain annually, strong winds, extreme temperature variations from day to night and a garden that requires little up-keep and maintenance.  Working with High Country Gardens, we selected hardy plants that we knew could thrive in these demanding conditions and came up with a great selection of grasses and native wildflowers to create an eye-catching design and offer pronounced garden diversity of bloom times, vertical structure, textures and colors while providing great habitat for wildlife.

Dakota Sunshine Maximilian’s Sunflower was a real crowd pleaser as the students look forward to its growth and seeing this mature plant reach a height of 6 feet and a large sunflower disc that can be a foot across!  This easily recognizable plant is a show-stopper and brings back nostalgia, reminiscent of memories with nature and hot summer days.  The seeds offer great nutrients for songbirds throughout the winter when food provisions are scarce.  We also planted Llano Indian Grass, which provides vertical structure creating a middle canopy layer next to the spruce.  This showy grass also serves as a windbreak and provides texture for your garden with the added benefits of providing seeds for birds and offering nesting materials and shelter.

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Dakota Sunshine Maximilian’s Sunflower comes into bloom that coincides when students return to school at the end of summer.

Jeana Garden Phlox and Husker Red Beardtounge are medium sized perennials that were planted in the middle of the garden as their pink and white flowers, respectively, are a magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds alike.  Firefly Coral Bells and Purple Dome Aster lined the paved walkway winding through the garden.  The Firefly Coral Bells is an early bloomer which provides much needed food early in the season for hummingbirds, while the Aster has an extended bloom time through the end of summer into early fall attracting an array of insect pollinators.

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Planting of the Llano Indian Grass which offers nice texture and vertical structure to a garden while providing shelter, nesting material and food for songbirds.

The students will continue to improve the garden by planting a blend of wildflowers to create a high country meadow.  The hardy, drought resistant seed mix contains over 20 natives species that will thrive with little maintenance and are great for attracting pollinators.  Other features to be added in time will be a paved walkway through the garden with benches for sitting and contemplation.  The goal for this bird-friendly schoolyard garden is to encourage students to ponder questions from their observations, hands-on experience and discoveries – like, “What season do the juncos and finches flit around the plants enjoying seeds?” or “How does the garden change both visually and by the creatures that it attracts throughout the year?”

We look forward to hearing from the students and seeing photos of this garden as it transforms and evolves into a beautiful space that is enjoyed by the students and faculty at Twin Spruce and the wildlife that call this schoolyard garden home!

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These adorable plant labels will help other students identify what plants are in this schoolyard garden.

 

Help pollinators by planting a garden

By Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension, Boulder County

When planting a butterfly garden, one of the challenges is learning – and accepting – that the plants you put in are going to be eaten.  A good butterfly garden is designed to provide food for the caterpillars along with flowers with nectar for adults to sip.  Most gardeners understand that this is part of butterfly gardening, but sometimes butterflies can be capricious, and leave their larvae on gardens planted for food or cut flowers.

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Phlox ‘Jeana’ is a new garden phlox introduction notable for its multi-month bloom time and colorful lavender-pink clusters of sweet fragrant flowers which are highly attractive to butterflies.

When this happens, instead of assuming the munching bug is a pest, check books or Extension offices for identification of the caterpillar before squishing or spraying to get rid of it.  Chances are, that insect is a good guy in disguise.

The best gardens are teeming with life, and we can do a lot to help protect and encourage a wide variety of living creatures.  Start by planting a garden and fill it with plants that nourish and support a healthy, living system.  Loss of habitat ranks high on the list of serious threats to pollinators and monoculture lawns do little to offset the loss once subdivisions go in.

Animal and insects aide pollination of a staggering three-quarters of the world’s flowering plants. Food and textile crops, trees, flowers – many rely on the quiet but diligent activities of bees, moths, flies, bats, birds, ants, butterflies, wasps, and beetles.  But changes to agricultural practices and conversion of farms or open lands to subdivisions are taking a toll on the nesting sites and food sources for these creatures.  A diverse garden is one way to provide both food and housing for bugs, birds, and mammals.

You can help restore some of the lost resources by preserving nesting or foraging sites in your yard. To do this, include sources of water, areas for nesting or egg-laying and nooks or crannies for over-wintering. Water features, small bubbling fountains, or bird baths often serve as a watering hole for many insects; you and your family can watch the visitors enjoy the drink you provide.  Use mulch to help provide hiding places and capture moisture for wandering bugs or spiders.

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A simple, yet functional water source.

Many bees require an undisturbed location for nesting sites.  Some use openings in rock walls or hollowed out canes from roses or raspberries.  Others burrow tunnels into soil.  Spend time outside watching what visits your yard, creating a list of the types of insects you see.  Check out the Bee’s Needs program with the University of Colorado for help in identifying your bees.  Once you get an idea of who is visiting, you can plan for providing the right conditions they need for nesting sites.

When planning the garden, put in plants that bloom in succession, so flowers with nectar and pollen are available all season long.  Plants with shallow blossoms, such as mints, alyssum, or fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium), attract pollinators and beneficial insects, while cone flowers (Echinacea) are good for nesting.  Native plants are important for all of our bees, so if you can, incorporate those as well.   Be thoughtful when gardening about keeping plants for pollinators healthy, and if problems arise, never use pesticides while plants are in bloom or on plants near to those in flower.

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Photo – Jacelyn Downey, taken on the trails in Northern Wyoming near Moorcroft. A pasque flower being pollinated by a bee.

 

Activities for all ages to enjoy on Earth Day

The backyard serves as a constant source of wonder and fascination for all ages and is the inspiration for Earth Day activities.  These activities are designed to spark curiosity and generate questions from explorations and discoveries in your backyard, nearby park or at school about the world we share with other creatures.

Gardening

Plant an edible garden full of vegetables and herbs, along with some native pollinator plants and watch as a healthy ecosystem grows before your eyes.  The learning opportunities are endless – What are the perfect growing conditions required for a plant to grow?  How much sun and water do they need?  What are the different parts and functions of a plant? How do plants rely on pollinators to flower and reproduce?   Gardening teaches us sustainable backyard gardening practices and we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor!

Need help deciding on the collection of native plants and design element?  The Habitat Hero Birdwatcher Pre-Planned Garden from High Country Gardens has a variety of perennials, shrubs and ornamental grasses designed to attract and benefit songbirds, pollinators and other wildlife.  Another great option is the Habitat Hero Edible Garden from Urban Farm Company which has a collection of both flowering plants and edible crops – with my favorite plants being Orange Butterfly Weed and Red Heirloom Tomatoes.

Gardening is a great activity for all ages!

Gardening is a great activity for all ages!

Birding

Set up a good ol’ fashioned peanut butter and bird seed crusted pinecone outside your window and watch as birds begin to flock to your makeshift bird feeder.  You can either quietly observe as the songbirds pluck away the seeds or you can be a more active observer using field guides to determine the species and learn facts about them.  Record your observations and findings in your nature journal.  Do you notice different species during different times of the day, month, or year?  Can you tell the difference between male and female birds of the same species?  Can you begin to identify species of birds based on just its call?

Insect Safari

Any nutrient-rich soil is filled with an array of organisms feeding off the microbes and decaying organic matter.  Roll over some rocks, look under logs or dig and watch all the insects scamper.  Grab a magnifying glass to see all of their intricate details and with over a million insect species worldwide, you are guaranteed to find at least one to examine!

Art in Nature

Taking the time to observe and record in our nature journals is a nice break from our modern fast-paced world.  Grab a sketch pad and some colored pencils, crayons, chalk or even paint and capture what you see, feel and hear around you!  Don’t worry if your work of art is not frame-worthy, just enjoy your experience connecting with nature and its beauty.

Earth Day Events

The City of Fort Collins is hosting their annual tree planting along the Cache la Poudre River on Saturday, April 18th at 9:00am.  For more details and to register for this free event – Click HERE

Organized by the Sustainable Living Association, Earth Day Fort Collins is an all-day celebration in Civic Center Park, on Saturday, April 18th.  Stating at 11:00am, this event has it all, with a combination of activities for the entire family, featuring informational booths and displays, arts & crafts, live music, speakers, local food and a beer garden.  Admission is free and attendees are asked to bring nonperishable items for the Food Bank.

On April 22nd – Habitat Hero is celebrating Earth Day by planting a wildflower bed at Twin Spruce Junior High in Gillette, Wyoming.  This school has a large planting area and children that are a part of their gardening club work with the Master Gardeners during afterschool programs to prep, plant and maintain the bed.  Stay tuned for more details and photos of this transformation project and to learn about this Habitat Hero success story at Twin Spruce!

“Before” Photo of the garden at Twin Spruce Junior High prior to our Earth Day planting event of wildflowers and grasses!

“Before” Photo of the garden at Twin Spruce Junior High prior to our Earth Day planting event of wildflowers and grasses!

Enjoy Earth Day on the 22nd, and keep these activities as a reference to enjoy throughout the year.  By connecting with nature, and learning more about our environment and appreciating the natural wonders around us, we can ultimately bring conservation home!

BEES, NEONICS AND THE ORGANIC WAY

I would like to introduce Mikl Brawner, owner of Harlequin’s Gardens located just north of Boulder, Colorado.  He speaks to us and brings his knowledge on neionicotinoids, as they are a hot topic right now.  Our audience is hungry to learn more about this chemical and learn the tough questions to ask nurseries and garden centers to ensure that the plants they plant in their backyard do not harm wildlife, and ensure we are truly creating bird-friendly communities!

A demonstration garden at Harlequin's Gardens.

A demonstration garden at Harlequin’s Gardens.

By Mikl Brawner
All photo credits are given to Harlequin’s Gardens

Pesticides were never a good idea. They were designed to make money from petroleum, not to benefit the public good. Pesticides, fungicides and herbicides are poisons that were developed to kill life. Not only has this approach poisoned our earth and ourselves, it has failed to control Nature. Our soils are less productive, and weeds and pests have adapted by becoming resistant. Stronger poisons are not the answer.

In the last 20 years, the new “nicotine” pesticides (neonicotinoids) have become the industry standards because they are less toxic to people and animals than the old organophophate pesticides, and that is good. But the neonicotinoids (neonics) are even more toxic to insects; they last 3 months to 5 years; all parts of the plants are poison, and the poison goes into our water.

So now it has become difficult to buy landscaping plants that do not contain neonics. From the root hairs to the pollen, this systemic poison kills or undermines the health of honeybees, wild bees, butterflies, beneficial insects, ladybugs, earthworms, soil insects and some birds. We are heading into a dead end.

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Sweet Cecily has clusters of small flowers which attract many pollinators. Many herbs like oregano and yarrow have flowers of this type.

Insects are not enemies of plants; they have co-evolved together. They coexist where there is balance and where nutritious soils grow strong and healthy plants. This is not romantic thinking; it is the basis of the organic way that has proven effective all over the world.

At our nursery, Harlequin’s Gardens, we have been growing plants to sell for 23 years without using toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Like most sustainable or renewable energy systems, the costs are higher in the beginning and lower as time goes on. We pay extra for nutritious soil ingredients, but we spend little time and money on pest management.

My wife, Eve, in our pesticide-free greenhouse where plants are grown without any chemical fertilizers

Brawner’s wife, Eve, in their pesticide-free greenhouse where plants are grown without any chemical fertilizers.

This year the plants we buy from other growers will be 100% neonic-free. We have hired a custom propagator to grow pesticide-free plants for us. And we just purchased the one acre property next to us to build an energy-efficient commercial greenhouse go grow even more pesticide-free plants. We don’t need any more proof that neonics are killing our bees and undermining the vitality of our environment.

This year we will also be carrying beekeeping supplies to support honeybees and beekeepers. We will be teaching classes on beekeeping and organic gardening, and we will be carrying soil-building supplies and non-toxic pest management supplies.

Science and history will prove that supporting Life is a more sustainable, economical and successful method than poisoning life. This is the 21st Century direction that will replace petroleum-thinking.

“We cannot command Nature except by obeying her.”  Francis Bacon

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Many natives like this penstemon attract and support local pollinators and beneficial insects.

 

How love of beer, good people, and creative collaborations are helping to save a rare Colorado butterfly

By Rob Schorr
My name is Rob Schorr and I have been working as a conservation biologist in Colorado for 17 years.  I stumbled upon my dream job at a little-known, but very important, conservation organization called the Colorado Natural Heritage Program back in 1997.  CNHP is tucked away in a corner of Colorado State University in Fort Collins and has been collecting information on the location and condition of rare species throughout Colorado since the late 1970s.  What I spend much of my time doing is studying the condition of populations of rare animals in Colorado.

The species I have come to know and love because it brought me to CNHP is the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.  As many may know, this little mouse is only found from southeastern Wyoming to Colorado Springs, Colorado and rarely ventures far from river systems that are moist, heavily vegetated, and usually pretty challenging for me to navigate through.  I’ve separated walls of willow, rose, stinging nettle, alder, currant, and wild hops in search of Preble’s mice and their habitat.

Female hops blue butterfly in tangle of wild hops

Female hops blue butterfly in tangle of wild hops

The beginnings
It was during one of many search efforts that I began to notice how prevalent wild hops is along some drainages of the Front Range of Colorado.  Other than for my general love of Colorado beer and for its tenacity when trying to pass through it I didn’t pay it much attention.  However, in 2011, when my zoological colleague Jeremy Siemers and I were conducting a biological inventory at the U.S. Air Force Academy we spent quite a bit of time focusing on wild hops and the fluttering visitors that might be using it.  You see, wild hops is a favorite plant to several butterfly species and one of these species is only known from the Front Range of Colorado.  That species is the hops blue butterfly, or, as us zoology types like to refer to it, Celastrina humulus. The hops blue butterfly is about the size of a quarter, only found from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, and lays its eggs on the male flowers of wild hops.

Over the obligate beverage for such conversations, Jeremy and I brainstormed on how we could better understand the ecology of this gorgeous, poorly-understood butterfly.  The inspiration was in our hands.  We both believed that this butterfly and Colorado’s general love of all things beer was the perfect stage for developing a novel partnership for conservation.  We believed melding beer and conservation would be a partnership many Coloradans would love to celebrate.  We toasted our glasses and I worked on my sales pitch.

Female hops blue butterfly with wings open

Female hops blue butterfly with wings open

The partnership
I’d like to think that it was because of my smooth-talking salesmanship that I wrangled one of the most beloved Colorado breweries into entertaining this idea, but the truth is I approached the right brewery and the right people.  Odell Brewing Company not only thought a partnership was in order, but decided to brew a beer in recognition of the hops blue and called it Celastrina Saison.  They further demonstrated their commitment to conserving unique pieces of Colorado diversity by donating $1 for every bottle sold.  After its release in May 2013 it flew off the shelf and quickly became more scarce than the butterfly it celebrated.  In December 2013, Odell Brewing Company presented CNHP with a check for $12,000 to study the ecology of the hops blue butterfly.

The Celastrina Saison announcement poster from the tapping event at Odell Brewing Company

The Celastrina Saison announcement poster from the tapping event at Odell Brewing Company

Celastrina Saison!

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The author, Karla Baise (Odell Brewing Company) and David Anderson (CNHP) at the donation event

Now what?
Boggled and nearly tearful, I accepted the check and began brainstorming on how best to use the funds for conservation.  Considering it was more than twice what Odell expected to donate and about 4 times what I ever expected to receive, I felt the need to develop a slightly different plan for these funds. A lifetime’s supply of beer flashed through my mind, but was quickly erased by the lack of storage space in my basement.  What did stick and is now evolving is to set aside these funds within Colorado State University as a way of funding honors undergraduate students to conduct research on rare species in Colorado.

The obvious first species to address was the butterfly.  I was graced by two dedicated honors undergraduate students, Callie Puntenney and Emily Vavra, who in the summer of 2014 surveyed habitat at the U.S. Air Force Academy to produce the first population estimates for the hops blue butterfly.  This research sets the first baseline estimate to assess how well hops blue butterflies are doing at the Academy.  CNHP hopes to recruit more honors students to continue this work, and more to address other rare species in Colorado.  We are actively trying to build these funds through a crowd-sourcing project at CSU called CHARGE!

 

Emily Vavra working in the field collecting data on hops blue butterflies

Emily Vavra working in the field collecting data on hops blue butterflies

Callie Puntenney presenting her honors undergraduate research

Callie Puntenney presenting her honors undergraduate research

How you can help
Since this project began I’ve been approached repeatedly from citizens interested in helping (and finding more Celastrina Saison).  The first thing I stress with all of the conservation-minded and beer-loving constituents is that we need to continue to provide habitat for the hops blue butterfly.  The habitats that have made the butterfly, and the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, rare are much less common than they used to be. Broad, meandering creeks that support hops, willow, snowberry and a great variety of plant and animal life are harder to find.  Many of the Front Range’s streams and rivers have homes and other development too close to support these plants and animals, and the streams have been forced into concrete-lined paths.  So, I ask anyone interested in conserving the butterfly that they express their desire for open space and lands that allow streams and wildlife to flourish, and allow the citizens of Colorado to enjoy them.  The second thing I ask is that people do not use the wild hops as a resource for their own brewing.  As tempting as it is to cull the flowers from wild hops, these flowers are necessary for future hops plants and future hops blue butterflies.  Lastly, if people are interested in supporting conservation research on Colorado species, I ask them to visit our CHARGE! project and discover how they can support student research on rare species.

Monument Creek at the U.S. Air Force Academy is a broad, meandering creek that supports the hops blue butterfly and the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse

Monument Creek at the U.S. Air Force Academy is a broad, meandering creek that supports the hops blue butterfly and the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse