Our Mission:

Our Mission: To enable individuals and communities to take an active part in the cultivation of systems that provide the highest quality fruits, vegetables, herbs and other yields, in a way that benefits themselves, cares for the land and environment, and provides a surplus to use, share and reinvest into the system.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Monarch Watch, now is Critical!

Enjoy this amazing video clip from "Wings of Life" narrated by Meryl Streep.

I remember smaller "flocks" of monarchs like this as a boy in the oak timber around my parents home.  I have not seen anything close in a long time...

This week I had the pleasure of visiting with "Chip" Taylor, Director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.  Dr. Taylor has been at the forefront of education and outreach, and more recently, a champion of conservation.  A honeybee expert and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, Dr. Taylor founded Monarch Watch for research and to teach people about Monarch butterflies thinking if we know them we will save them.

"In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught." Baba Dioum, Sengalese poet and naturalist

The current state of affairs has moved Monarch Watch to a more active conservation role.

Although Monarchs can occasionally experience periodic population crashes of up to 80%, due to poor breeding conditions or harsh weather in overwintering areas, they can rebound with favorable conditions the following year or two.  However, populations have been in overall decline the 20 years for a variety of reasons. 
  • Herbicide tolerant plants have led to cleaner fields and surrounding areas.  Much of the monarchs host plant, milkweed which is highly sensitive to glyphosate, was eliminated.
  • With high commodity prices, due in part to the ethanol mandate, 24 Million acres of grass, range and shrub lands (habitat) were converted to crop production from 2008-2012.
  • Over 2 million acres of land are lost annually to urban/suburban sprawl - as much as 500,000 acres in the monarch summer breeding areas.
  • Roadside Management practices using herbicides and frequent mowing encourages the formation of grasslands to the detriment of many species of wildlife food and shelter.
Unfortunately, the population has been critically low for the last three years, and an 80% population crash now would be DEVASTATING.

What can we do?  We live in Iowa, the Corn Belt.  Well, that's the good news!  We are right in the heart of the Monarchs Summer breeding grounds.
Planting milkweed in our landscapes can have a direct effect helping Monarchs.  Monarch butteflies lay their eggs on the leaves of milkweeds.  Planting nectar plants, especially wild flowers, will give monarchs the food they need to prepare for their Fall migration.  Nectar plants will help all our pollinators; butterflies, hummingbirds, even bats and bees.  Bees, both native and honeybees, are also experiencing stress.
City and suburban residents are starting, but even more is needed to compensate for the loss of habitat.  Rural areas are in real need of regenerative milkweed/pollinator habitat.  These plantings provide places for Monarchs to leapfrog across wide areas.  The new Farm Bill, through the USDA, provides incentives for the establishment of pollinator habitat.  Installation costs can be reimbursed up to 50% for CRP, or 75% for EQIP acres.  See the following fact sheet for more information:

Abundant Design is proud to be working with Monarch Watch and can provide a wildflower & milkweed installation that qualifies for designation as an International Monarch Waystation.  We can even register it for you and install a weatherproof sign that highlights your conservation efforts and educates your neighbors.  Contact us for an estimate and watch for more details in the products and services page
Be watching for more on this topic, and another special announcement.
If you are a Do-It-Yourselfer I encourage you to go to MonarchWatch.orgPlantGrowFly.org or follow the links for resources to install your own Monarch habitat!
Now is the time, answer this call to action!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring is here ...and World Water Day

Spring is Here!

Spring has been teasing us for some time here in Central Iowa and it has finally arrived.
The crocuses are blooming under our peach and apples trees.  The tulips are racing to catch up!

The returning Canadian Geese are pairing up, some deciding they'll skip the rest of the trip and become "locals."

Last week I thinned my tomatoes and peppers in their starting trays, maybe a little later than I could have. 
And now they have been transplanted into pots that I hope will give them room to grow until the soil warms enough. 

(For more on these frugal pots click here)
Once the ground is above 50° I will move them out.  Any before this and their growth can slow enough that they won't grow as fast as they would've had I just waited a few more days.
Now is also a good time to plant most greens.  I planted a couple varieties of spinach but didn't get to the Parris Island Cos lettuce, my favorite tasting.  Maybe this week yet...
We also planted a couple rows of peas, Little Marvels and Mammoth Sugar Snap.  Very few of these make the trip from garden to kitchen last year :)

World Water Day  

March 22nd has been designated World Water Day. You can learn more about World Water Day, and how you can help others around the world through these following organizations.
World Water Day homepage
We often don't think about lack of water here beyond a droughts effect on local agriculture or our lawns.  But we have had some dry years lately and there are things we can do to conserve water right here in our own landscapes.
Increasing your soil organic matter by only 1% can hold more than 20,000 gallons of additional water in the ground.  This increased water holding capacity can help your grass, plants or crops survive longer dry spells with less stress.  Drought stress can cause lawns to go dormant and brown, flowers and gardens to wilt and crops will lose yield.
You can learn more about saving rain water in barrels and more in my post from last July.
Have a great week!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Fitness for Gardening

Welcome back!
This week I have a great follow-up to our Nutrition Month post.  We are going to look at getting winter weary muscles back in shape for this years gardening season.  For this week's post, I've enlisted the help of a couple of my fitness and bike riding friends to put together these exercises to get our bodies "garden ready."
 Note: Always consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any exercise program.

Fitness for Gardening
For those of you that love to garden, we have a strengthening and stretching program that is just for you!  You put in the time and effort into improving the health of your garden.  Now let’s use this gardening specific program to produce a healthier you.
Studies shown that continuous movement through moderate physical activity such as gardening for 30-50 minutes 3-5 days of the week can have significant health benefits. Some of those health benefits are listed below.

Health Benefits
   * Decreased risk of high blood pressure
   * Decreased risk of diabetes
   * Contributing to healthier bones, muscles and joints

In addition to taking care of your cardiovascular health, it’s important to consider strength and flexibility exercises to add in the reduction of potential injuries. Below is a list of exercises for strengthening and lengthening the muscles to help improve the comfort of the gardening experience.

Special thanks for this weeks post go to:
   Troy Henrich, CSCS, NSCA-CPT
   Meagen Kirts, ATC; Exercise Physiologist, ACSM; Fitness Nutrition Specialist, ACE

Have a great week!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Nutrition Month

Bulbs peeking through
Spring isn’t waiting for the calendar or following the groundhog’s prediction this year, at least that is how this week's forecast looks.  Our garlic, tulips and crocuses are popping through.  Now would be good a time to get those birdhouses we made hung out so when our migrating visitors return they will know where the best nesting sites are.

March is Nutrition Month
Nutrition provides the essential macronutrients (Protein, Carbohydrates, Fats, Vitamins and Minerals), micronutrients and other substances in food that provide our bodies' needs for energy, maintenance and health.  Good nutrition is the proper proportions of these; poor nutrition is when these are out of balance.
Poor nutrition has been linked to chronic problems, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, unhealthy eating and inactivity contribute to well over 300,000 deaths each year!  That's about the same as tobacco, and 13 times as many as are killed by guns
Good nutrition is key for optimal health, athletic performance, disease prevention and overall well-being.  There are many guidelines about what constitutes a healthy diet, with a fair amount of debate on many of the details.  But one thing is consistent-
"Eat your fruits and vegetables!" 
Fruits and vegetables are at the top of nearly every set of healthy eating guidelines and recommendations, for good reasons.
          -Vitamins Minerals Fiber AntiOxidants Phytochemicals
          -Most fruits and vegetables are lower in fats and calories, and are filling
          -Diets high in fruits and vegetables are linked to lower incidences of cancer, cardiovascualar disease and diabetes
Try these fun printable activities for your kids, from the USDA:
Fresh produce is at its peak of flavor and nutrition! 
Farmers Market Season is also just around the corner.  These are a great opportunities to get super fresh fruits and vegetables.  They also are a good chance to get to know your farmer and their growing practices, which builds community and gives you a chance to learn their growing practices.  You can also find fresh produce through a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm or roadside farm stands.
Ultimate Freshness
For the ultimate in freshness, consider growing your own!  No one can grow and deliver fresher fruits and vegetables than you can get from your own yard.  Herbs gathered from the deck or patio plantings, tomatoes picked out of the vegetable garden, or even the apple you pick and eat as you walk around your backyard will be bursting with flavor and loaded with nutrition.  You'll also know its history and all that went into its production, giving you peace of mind. 

Apples sliced for homemade applesauce
Now is the time to be planning your garden layout and starting your peppers, tomatoes and other things that need to be given a head start indoors.  It's also a good time to order that fruit tree you've been wanting as nurseries still have most varieties available.  The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is this year!
If you don't think you'll have time or are afraid you'll put it off again this year, now is also a perfect time to contact me to plan a design and landscape installation.  Like I said before, most varieties of trees are still available and selection will become more limited as time passes.  I can also install compost bins or rain barrels to help you live a more sustainable lifestyle.
"Healthy, sustainable food production methods give us food that is nutritionally better and with fewer pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones." Marion Nestle

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 2015

Yesterday's inaugural seed exchange went well, and the enthusiasm of the exchangers was truly amazing!


Also, thank you to the Waukee YMCA for letting us use their Community Room.

There were TONS of seeds!  Many flower seeds, purely ornamental as well as edible flowers, were brought in.  Three tables were filled with seeds for vegetables, fruits and even trees.  Everything from new and leftover store bought packages to smaller and expertly labeled packets from area seed savers.  Guests stayed and talked about all sorts of topics ranging from homestead planning, fruit tree grafting, rainwater collection and guerrilla gardening.

Congratulations to our prize winners - Jessica, Willow, Bailey and Cory!!! ...and I'm glad the sprinkler timer went to the one who wanted it most! 

I had a lot of fun myself.  Even better, this event taught me what worked and how to make an event like this better, and gave some ideas for similar gatherings and even more.

We have another event planned for this weekend!  Friday night, I will be giving a talk on gardening and edible landscaping projects at the Area 515 Maker Space in downtown Des Moines.  For more information, go to the events page or to the Facebook event page.

Spring will finally arrive this month, but don't grab your trowels just yet.  Our average last frost is between April 20-30.  For help determining when to plant your seeds you can follow this link to the Old Farmer's Almanac.  I've got bell peppers started, onions just germinating, and some tomatoes and jalapeƱos I picked up at the exchange just planted today.

Other odds and ends:
Although I'm not a fan, don't forget to set your clocks ahead when you go to bed this coming Saturday night for the beginning of Daylight Savings Time.

Here's a new video from the USDA-NRCS that I enjoyed.  It highlights the holistic or systems approach to agriculture, versus the symptom and cure style we often find ourselves in.
It still talks about herbicide usage, but if we could get most of the growers in the US to adopt these practices we would be so far ahead of where we are now.  I know that's not the end goal, but its a start!  Vector changes...

Have a great week!