Insects Are Important Because of Their Diversity

Spring is finally here and with that comes lots of critters-- including insects! Oftentimes, insects have a negative connotation for people, but many (if not most) actually have an important role in our world. Instead of reaching for the nearest spray can of pesticide anytime you see something munching on your flowers, first determine if it actually is a pest or not! One of the easiest ways to do this is to download apps that help you identify items in the natural world. One that I really like and can be used for plants as well is the iNaturalist app, available for free! It allows you to narrow down to a few possibilities and is quite accurate.

This male twelve-spotted skimmer is a dragonfly that is fast and will guard its territory. Its larvae will eat mosquitos before they hatch.
Japanese beetles are a non-native, invasive beetle. Once they are adults, spraying pesticides is ineffective.

That scary bug could actually be a beneficial "good bug" that eats problem pests. Accept a little damage and give nature time to work. Accept a few pests, as long as they are not harmful to the long-term effects of the landscape. Natural predators often bring pests under control, but they need time to work. Monitor your landscape to spot signs of pests, but don't spray at the first sign of damage — nature may control it for you or plants may outgrow the damage. If a pest or weed problem develops, use an integrated approach to solve the problem. Physical controls like traps, barriers, fabric row covers or plants that repel pests can work for some pests.

A holistic approach can be an effective tools for controlling pests such as insects, weeds, and diseases. Be sure you need a pesticide before you use it. Ongoing pest problems are often a sign that your lawn or garden is not getting what it needs to stay healthy. You need to correct the underlying problem to reduce the chance of pests reappearing. Remember, a holistic — or integrated pest management — approach is the most effective way to manage pests.

A longhorn beetle on an upright yellow coneflower. Note the pollen that it is eating.
Start with prevention.

  • Mow higher. Most grasses should be mowed to a height of two to three inches. Taller grass has more leaf surface and deeper roots and eventually chokes out many weeds.
  • Clean out diseased plants so disease doesn't spread.
  • Pull weeds before they go to seed and spread.
  • Identify the problem before you spray, squash or stomp (see paragraph above on ID). Whether it's a bug, disease or weed, you need to identify it to know how to effectively manage it. Carefully read and follow pesticide product label instructions. Avoid overuse of pesticides. When you have a small problem area, treat just that area, not the entire yard. Remember, most bugs are good bugs. Only about 5– 15 percent of the bugs in your yard are pests.

For more information and amazing photos go to the following link: Those Other Flower Visitors | The Prairie Ecologist 

Eastern bluebirds benefit from less pesticide use and will feed their nestlings with the caterpillars that feed on your shrubs and trees.
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Wetland Restoration in Anoka County

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) is seeking to restore previously drained or filled wetlands and adjacent uplands to develop wetland credits for the Local Government Road Wetland Replacement Program (LGRWRP). This program provides wetland mitigation for qualifying road construction, repair, and rehabilitation projects conducted by local road authorities such as cities, townships, and counties.

Opportunities are available for landowners and local government entities in throughout the state including Anoka County.

Restoration opportunities include:

  1. BWSR easement signup which operates the same as Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)
  2. Credit development and sale to BWSR through a third party
  3. Credit development in partnership with BWSR

The difficult part of this program was that BWSR wanted projects that were relatively far along in the process since wetland banking starting from scratch is a 4 to 5 year endeavor for the first credits to be established. The funds they were using had a 3 year deadline for completion.

At first, we did not think we had any projects far enough along, but then I reached out to a landowner in Oak Grove who had a significant portion of his proposal completed so we are hoping that this is a good fit for the BWSR program. This project north of 221st Ave NW would restore over 60 acres of wetland that have been drained for decades for farming. It is in the headwaters of Lake George.

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Christmas Tree Care and Fun Facts

Ever since I was a young girl, my family has had a 'real' tree. Our trees were cut from our farm and some were 'Charlie Brown' trees but I have great memories of going out into the woods.

With my own family, we have a tradition of going to our local Christmas tree farm. It's definitely a memory-making experience and my girls always enjoy marching down the rows of firs, spruce, and eventually a white pine, which also happens to be my favorite conifer. I even manage to teach the girls a thing or two about how to identify the different species.

Why buy a real tree vs. a manufactured one?

  • An acre of Christmas trees can remove 8,000 pounds of carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Are biodegradable and recyclable (into mulch).
  • Provide more than a holiday decoration:
    • Habitat and shelter for birds and small animals.
    • Shade and cool the soil.
    • Help prevent erosion.
    • Provide year-round beauty in our Minnesota landscape.
    • Buying locally gives us a fresh tree and supports local businesses. Here's a list of local tree farms from the MN Christmas Tree Association: https://mncta.com/choose-cut if you don't have a favorite already.


Christmas Tree Care

Make a fresh cut. Before you bring the tree into your home and place it in a stand, re-cut the trunk at least one inch from the bottom just before putting it in the stand. Even if you just cut it, this re-opens the tree stem so it can drink water. Christmas trees are very thirsty! It is not unusual for a tree to drink 2 gallons of water the first day it is in the stand.

Choose a spot away from heat sources. Heat sources like heat registers, space heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves, televisions, computer monitors, etc. speed up evaporation and moisture loss of the tree.

Water immediately. After making the fresh cut, place the tree in a large capacity stand with warm water. The stand you use should hold at least one gallon of fresh water.

Don't add anything to the water! Research has shown that plain tap water is the best. Some commercial additives and home concoctions can actually decrease a tree's moisture retention and increase needle loss.

Check the water level daily. Do not allow the water level to drop below the fresh cut or the stem will reseal and be unable to drink.

What can I do with my tree after the holiday season?

In Anoka County, Christmas trees can be dropped off for free once they've been cleaned of all tinsel, ornaments, lights, etc. Check out this link for more information. https://www.anokacounty.us/359/Compost-Sites

These trees are chipped and recycled into mulch. Mulch moderates soil temperatures, suppresses weeds and helps hold soil moisture.

After removing indoor decorations, you can also set your tree in its stand outside and decorate it for our winter birds. (No need to water it). The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust recommends a variety of homemade treats such as suet cakes, branches of berries, popcorn, pinecones smeared with peanut butter, and other treats. We simply set ours out by our bird feeders and the birds love the extra cover from wind, cold and predators. In early spring, we bring it to our local compost site.

Will we ever run out of trees?

The National Christmas Tree Association reports that for every tree that is cut, 2 to 3 trees are planted the following spring. So the more trees sold, the more that are planted. And the more trees planted, the more carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, releasing even more oxygen. This helps reduce our carbon footprint.

This information was adapted from MN Extension https://extension.umn.edu/yard-and-garden-news/christmas-tree-care-and-fun-facts 


More information can be found here: https://www.treetriage.com/tree-removal/christmas-trees/

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Top Ten Winter Bird Feeding Tips

White-Breasted Nuthatch

10. Make sure seed is accessible and dry. Hopper or tube feeders are good at protecting seed from wet weather. Sweep snow off of platform feeders, or clear a place on the ground where you can scatter seed for ground-feeding species such as sparrows, towhees, juncos, and doves.

9. Make a windbreak. Make a windbreak using your old Christmas tree or the remains of a brush pile. Consider planting shrubs next to your feeders where the birds can rest out of the wind and escape from predators. Consider clearing a small area of snow off the ground to scatter seed if it's too soft to support their weight.

8. Keep extra feeders for use in bad weather. We keep an extra-large-capacity tube feeder in the garage for use when nasty weather comes. It not only gives the birds another place to eat, which means more birds can eat at one time, but it also cuts down on our trips outside for refilling the feeders. Other extras to consider having: peanut feeder, suet feeder, satellite feeder (for the small birds to use), and a hopper feeder.

7. Scatter seed in sheltered places. Not all birds will venture to your feeder. Some species prefer to skulk in the thickets, brambles, and other secure places. For these species, consider scattering some seed (black-oil sunflower, sunflower bits, peanut bits, mixed seed) under your deck, in your hedges and bushes, or even along the edge of a wooded area. Dark-eyed juncos especially prefer to feed on food scattered on the ground along with tree sparrows and white-throated sparrows.

6. Put out high-energy foods such as suet, meat scraps, and peanut butter. Fat gives the biggest energy boost to winter birds and without enough energy to keep them going, many songbirds would not survive a cold winter night. Suet (the fat removed from processed beef), meat scraps, and peanut butter all provide fat to birds that eat them. If you don't have a suet feeder, use a mesh onion bag. Suspend it from a tree branch or iron feeder hook. To feed peanut butter, drill one-inch holes in a foot-long section of a small log. Insert a screw eye into one end of the log. Smear peanut butter into the holes and suspend the feeder from the screw eye. And, no, peanut butter will not stick to the roof of a bird's bill and choke it to death.

5. Use a birdbath heater wisely. A water heater can keep your birdbath open in the coldest of weather, which is good but place several large rocks in your bath so there is not enough room for a bird to bathe, but still plenty of places for a thirsty bird to get a drink. When the weather warms up you can remove the rocks and let your birds get on with their hygiene.

4. Offer mealworms in a heavy dish or small crock. Use a heavy dish so the wind can't blow the worms and dish away. This is a high protein snack that many birds enjoy and can be found in most feed stores. They are relatively expensive so use them sparingly on the coldest days or in the spring when an unexpected cold snap can leave migrants without much to eat.

3. Furnish your bird houses. Imagine you're a bird roosting in a nest box on a cold winter's night. Wouldn't it be nice to snuggle down into some dried grass or dry wood shavings in the bottom of the house? Layer three to four inches of clean dry meadow grass in the bottom of bluebird boxes after the last nesting of the summer. Wood shavings work well, too. Don't use sawdust, however; it can retain moisture once wet, which does not help the birds keep warm.

2. Plug the air vent holes in your bird houses with removable weather stripping. We use the claylike weather stripping that comes in a roll (Moretite is one brand) to plug the air vent holes in our bird houses. Good ventilation is necessary on a scorching summer day, but it's a real liability for birds seeking winter shelter. Think how cozy the birds will be in a well-sealed house.

1. Be ready for big changes in weather. If you keep abreast of the weather developments you'll know when bad weather is coming, and you'll be able to stock up on seed, suet, and other goodies. You can also be ready to take on some of the activities listed above. Conversely, when the weather breaks, take advantage by cleaning and disinfecting your feeders (one part bleach to nine parts hot water). Whatever you do, don't let yourself be caught totally unprepared for harsh winter weather. 

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What can I do with my wetland?

Whether you call it a swamp, marsh, or low area, it is most likely a wetland and it is most likely regulated by someone.

ExcavatingAnoka County residents frequently inquire how to improve their land for waterfowl or other wildlife. A common practice in Anoka County is pond excavations in seasonally saturated areas, or cattail-choked wetlands to provide an open water habitat. The Wetland Conservation Act regulates excavations in the permanently and semi-permanently flooded areas of type 3, 4, or 5 wetlands and also regulates the placement of spoil and the depth of the excavation in all types of wetlands. Other jurisdictions including the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources may have regulatory authority on wetland excavation projects.

DrainingThere is potential for pond excavations to drain adjacent wetland areas. Typically, in Anoka County, if the hydrology is predominantly groundwater driven, a pond excavation can be designed that will not drain adjacent wetlands. However, there is an increased likelihood that a pond excavation will drain adjacent wetlands when wetlands hydrology is primarily surface water, or when the excavation is connected to a drainage ditch. This is an issue that is best addressed by your local government or the Anoka Conservation District during review of a specific project.

Filling: Filling of wetlands must be avoided during pond excavations. The spoil from the excavation must be placed in an upland area. A qualified wetland professional may be needed to ensure that the destination of the spoil is upland.

Proper erosion control practices must be incorporated as well. If you have questions, contact the Anoka Conservation District for assistance. Contact us.

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