More Than Milkweed!

ILFHeaderFarmer Partner, Nathan Anderson, opened his farm to a pasture restoration and monarch habitat field day on Tuesday, September 10th. It was a great day to explore the hard work Nathan and his family has done to remove cedar trees and nurture the native grasses and flowering plants.

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“Our primary goal for this work was livestock management for profitability, but we were seeing these added benefits (to improving the pasture) to creatures needing nectar – like monarch butterflies. That keeps us motivated to keep going and provide these flowering plants in multiple areas on our farm,” stated Nathan.

IMG_5165From our initial stop in the pasture, Nathan pointed to a large cottonwood tree (pictured behind him). “In 2017, when we were just starting on improving the pasture, you couldn’t see that tree due to all the cedar trees. To date we have worked to remove cedars from about 20 acres and have plans to keep working on it.”

The native grasses and flowering plants are working to reclaim the area now that the competition from the cedar trees has been removed. Adam Janke, ISU Extension Wildlife Specialist, pointed out that this time of year is especially difficult for creatures that rely on nectar.

IMG_5178“The corn and soybeans that cover the majority of Iowa do not have nectar available this late in the season. With the rotational grazing Nathan is using on this land, resting portions while the cattle graze elsewhere in the pasture, those grasses and flowering plants can be a value nectar source,” noted Janke.

From a monarch habitat perspective, providing milkweed plants is important for them to lay eggs and access food source early in their lives. Just as important are flowering nectar sources throughout the year to assist on their migratory journey.  That journey is completed by four generations of monarchs and research has shown that the majority of third and fourth monarchs originate in Iowa and the Midwest.

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As you travel the state, you will notice the monarchs making their way south for the winter.  To help future generations of monarchs, consider adding a diversity of flowering plants on your property to help provide them some food on their return journeys this time of year.

For more information on monarchs, visit the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium website. For resources on pasture restoration, visit your local Natural Resource Conservation Service office for technical and financial assistance opportunities.

Liz Juchems

Water Rocks! Launches New Pollinator Classroom Presentation

The Power of Pollinators classroom education module extends the Water Rocks! portfolio designed to assist teachers in teaching about environmental science in Iowa

Water Rocks! has announced the launch of “The Power of Pollinators, its newest conservation-focused, interactive classroom presentation for upper-elementary and middle school classrooms. The new Pollinators module was developed with assistance and input from Iowa State University experts as well as classroom teachers across Iowa. Water Rocks! piloted the programming with Turkey Valley Schools fourth and fifth grade classes in late October.

“Turkey Valley Schools have shown leadership in conservation thinking through the establishment of native prairie and butterfly garden projects, and inclusion of critical conservation lessons in multiple grade levels across the district,” said Ann Staudt, director of Water Rocks!. “The pilot experience allowed us to learn as much as we taught. The teachers and students were very motivated to help fine-tune the learning modules.”

Turkey Valley 4th grade students and teacher Robyn Vsetecka show off their school garden plot. The students chose to plant a mix of vegetables and flowering plants to attract pollinators.

Conservation takes center stage at Turkey Valley Community Schools; their native prairie plot was established over twenty years ago on school grounds.

Water Rocks! classroom education modules are designed primarily for grades four through seven. Content is adjusted in collaboration with each classroom teacher to ensure the best outcomes. And, each module is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

“The Water Rocks! team really grabbed the attention of the students and helped them quickly learn new vocabulary and scientific concepts in a high-energy and fun way,” said Robyn Vsetecka, fourth grade teacher at Turkey Valley Schools. “They covered a lot ground, but the approach wasn’t overwhelming for those students unfamiliar with pollinators, yet still informative and engaging for the ones who already had some experience.”

Students eagerly listen to instructions as they prepare to compete in the Monarch Migration Madness game.

Pollinator Jenga was quite a hit with the students and teachers alike at Turkey Valley!

The Pollinator module uses a variety of visual aids, interactive games and on-your-feet activities, to facilitate age- and grade-appropriate learning for all learners. Favorites among the students were the Pollinator Jenga game, Monarch Migration Madness game, and seeing bee houses.

“We were delighted to see the students’ faces light up when we helped them realize that each could make an impact on supporting pollinators by doing things a simple as planting wildflowers or even adding potted plants on a patio or balcony,” noted Staudt.

To learn more about Water Rocks! classroom education modules, or to request a free school visit, please go to https://www.waterrocks.org/classroom-visits/.

 

Pollinator Power

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Megan Koppenhafer, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2017-2018.

Lawn care consumes many families as the weather warms and things start to green up. This year as you foster your lawn we would like to encourage responsible lawn care to support our precious pollinators. Pollinators help keep our crops and gardens growing. You may have heard a lot of conversation about planting pollinator gardens to provide habitat and food for these little critters. These gardens are a great solution for protecting our pollinators, but a more holistic approach is even better.

Lawn mowing frequency was explored in a study titled To mow or to mow less: Lawn mowing frequency affects bee abundance and diversity in suburban yards by Susannah B. Lerman, Alexandra R. Contosta, Joan Milam, and Christofer Bang.

The researchers found that mowing the lawn less frequently, every two or three weeks as opposed to every week, provided more grass biomass and flower abundance for the bees in an herbicide free yard. Three weeks provide a more ideal diversity in bee species, while two week mowing regimens led to the highest overall abundance of bees.

What does all this mean for the average lawn grower? Well, it shows that there is a low cost alternative for those lawn mowers looking to preserve bee habitat. Not applying herbicides or insecticides will benefit those bees by preserving the habitat and by directly removing a pollinator exterminator. Here’s your excuse to mow a little less often and enjoy the spontaneous lawn flowers a little more!

Example of a typical yard from the Lerman, et al. study. The minimal landscaping and bare patches in the lawns were common. The yard sign explained project objectives and informed neighbors about their role in improving the sustainability of their neighborhoods.

For more information please check out the full article, To mow or to mow less: Lawn mowing frequency affects bee abundance and diversity in suburban yards, by Lerman et. al. Also, check out this Proper Lawn Mowing guide by ISU Extension and Outreach to keep your yard looking green when you do go to mow it!

Megan Koppenhafer

A Big Boost for Pollinators

Over the past few weeks, the City of Cedar Rapids has received a great deal of positive press for their plans to convert 1,000 acres into prairie/pollinator habitat! Their new 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative will begin taking root this spring as acres and acres of diverse prairie are seeded throughout the city, in large part to restore habitat for native pollinators – birds, bees, and the iconic monarch butterfly.

Where exactly do you fit 1,000 acres of perennial vegetation inside the City of Cedar Rapids?  Anywhere and everywhere!  They are starting this spring by seeding 188 acres of diverse prairie throughout the city. Numerous unused public land areas have been identified, including within community parks, select areas of golf courses, roadway medians, along trails, as well as in some less glamorous areas such as sewage ditches and water retention basins.

Future plans in the five year project also include working with homeowners to voluntarily convert 10% of traditional mowed lawn areas to perennial vegetation for pollinator habitat. They are also partnerships happening beyond the city limits to include Linn Co. Conservation and the Eastern Iowa Airport (who is already on the forefront of numerous conservation practices – read more about the field day ILF held there last fall).

It’s a truly fascinating project, and an excellent example of unique collaborations coming together to “make things happen” in the conservation world. Funding to date has come from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources-REAP Grant and the nonprofit Monarch Research Project. While the City is certainly a key partner in this work, the 1,000 Acres initiative has been fully funded outside of city and county budgets.

Learn more about the 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative on the Cedar Rapids Pollinator and Natural Resources Initiatives page, as well as an article in Popular Science: A small city in Iowa is devoting 1,000 acres of land to America’s vanishing bees.

Ann Staudt

 

 

Buzzin’ About Pollinators

While many pollinators across the country and across the globe face great uncertainty, the Water Rocks! team recently released a new music video celebrating pollinators and the amazing work they do! Inspired by the one and only T.Swift and her infectiously catchy pop tune “Shake It Off,” Please The Bees takes us back to the days of summer school and a colony of students that are unBEE-lievably bored out of their minds. The minutes pass like hours until a few special guests show up and turn the hive upside down…   Watch Please the Bees now!

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Check out Please the Bees on the Water Rocks! website, YouTube, and TeacherTube.

We are also pleased to announce that Please the Bees will be receiving recognition at the 2016 Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards Gala on April 16. Stay tuned for further details!

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Bees-05(monarch)Beyond the bees, another pollinator that has been the subject of much media attention is the iconic monarch butterfly. Since 1996, eastern migratory monarch populations have declined 84 percent, largely due to the loss of native milkweed plants. A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, on which Iowa State University scientists collaborated, investigated the very real possibility that monarchs could face “quasi-extinction” in the next 20 years. Read the full news release for more information: Iowa State University researcher helps to forecast the chances of monarch butterfly survival.

Our treasure lies in the beehive of our knowledge.
     We are perpetually on the way thither,
        being by nature winged insects and honey gatherers of the mind. 
-Nietzsche, 19th-century philosopher and poet

Ann Staudt