Archive for July 2009

Gear for Roadtripping

July 7, 2009

Having just returned from a 4500-mile roadtrip, I’d like to recommend the following essential gear.

Thermos Nissan 14-oz. Leak-Proof Travel Mug

mugsWhat I love about this vacuum-sealed mug:

  1. Keeps coffee or tea hot for at least 6 hours
  2. Keeps ice water cold for at least 6 hours
  3. Doesn’t leak
  4. Has a great handle, and it fits in the car cup holders

It’s a little pricey, but worth it for sitting in the car for hours at a time. Available through Thermos and several online vendors in smoke, espresso, and stainless colors.

REI MultiTowel Lite X Large Towel

towelsWhat I love about this microfiber towel:

  1. Folds up into a tiny package
  2. Dries extremely quickly
  3. Has a clasp for hanging
  4. Is absorbent

At $26.50 it’s a little pricey, but worth it for traveling and camping. Available at REI in orange and green.

Bye-bye turfgrass. Hello native plants!

July 4, 2009

In my last post I talked about why to garden with native plants. Well, in an effort to provide food and shelter to wildlife (namely bugs and birds), H and I turned much of the front yard into a native plants garden. To see photos of the yard and all the new baby plants with their common and scientific names, visit EcoStride’s Flickr site.

Here are the steps we took:

  1. Learned about native plants and their requirements (Web sites, books, seminars)
  2. Drew a plan (It was hard to stick to, but you have to start somewhere)
  3. Ripped out lawn with rented sod cutter (You must be very strong to attempt this)
  4. Created border with pavers and added bird bath, large rocks and stepping stones (Hardscaping adds interest and improves the overall impression)
  5. Shopped for plants (A full day of shopping)
  6. Planted trees and shrubs
  7. Spread out wood chips (We had wood chips from a non-native tree we cut down)
  8. Planted native plants
  9. Shopped for plants again to fill in empty spots

May was a busy month of planning and implementing this garden. The portion of lawn we converted to native plants is roughly 450 square feet. If you’re wondering how much we spent on plants (so that you can start planning your own native garden) the answer is $450, so that’s $1 per square foot. We bought 1 small tree, 6 shrubs, and 210 plants. Most of the plants were just little “plugs”. To promote biodiversity we planted 5 species of woody plants, 7 species of grasses, and 39 species of forbs (flowers).

I find it ridiculous that the large, local garden stores sell hardly any native plants. I had to drive 45 minutes for a good selection, which I found at Prairie Restorations and Landscape Alternatives. These companies are committed to native plants and the environment.

Working on such a big project in the front yard can be quite a conversation starter. Neighbors and strangers alike would stop to talk about it. We also found plenty of takers for our old, weedy sod.

I still cannot picture what the yard will look like when these plants grow up, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Hopefully next year we can do something similar in the backyard.

Why Native Plants?

July 1, 2009

Minnesota native plants are those species that grew here naturally before European settlers arrived and began introducing plants from other areas. In the book Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota, Lynn Steiner explains the importance of native plants:

Unlike most introduced plants, a native plant fully integrates itself into a biotic community, establishing complex relationships with other local plants and animals. Not only does a native plant depend on the organisms with which it has evolved, but the other organisms also depend on it, creating a true web of life. This natural system of checks and balances ensures that native plants seldom grow out of control in their natural habitats.

Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist, recently wrote a very compelling book, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. His research shows that most native insects either cannot or will not eat non-native plants. Most insects are specialists and only eat plants with which they share an evolutionary history. Insects play a very important role in ecosystems. In fact, 96% of birds rely on insects and spiders to feed to their young. To protect biodiversity, we need to restore native plants wherever possible, including in our yards.

Tallamy describes how we have turned our yards into sterile environments:

All too often the first step in the suburbanization of an area is to bulldoze the plant assemblages native to our neighborhoods and then to replace them with large manicured lawns bordered by a relatively few species of popular ornamentals from other continents. Throughout suburbia, we have decimated the native plant diversity that historically supported our favorite birds and mammals.

Habitat destruction is widespread across the state. In Minnesota’s Natural Heritage: An Ecological Perspective, John Tester states that less than 1% of the tallgrass prairie remains. Nearly all of the Big Woods has been cleared for agriculture. Most of the red and white pine stands have been logged. Loss and degradation of habitat has been the primary cause of species becoming rare and endangered. Back in 1989, Minnesota had listed 57 species (plant and animal) as endangered, 49 as threatened, and 181 of special concern.

So little habitat remains for our wildlife, that we need to do what we can, where we can. Even a non-native plant that appears to do no harm is taking space that could be occupied by a native species. Not to mention that non-native plants often become invasive and compete unfairly with the native species.

We often hear that native plants don’t require much watering or pesticides. But the most compelling reason to garden with native plants is that our ecosystems are depending on us. Tallamy goes on to say,

… Gardening has taken on a role that transcends the needs of the gardener. Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife. It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to “make a difference.” In this case, the “difference” will be to the future biodiversity, to the native plants and animals of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them.