Tips for a well-rounded native pollinator planting

Kurt Wolf, Farm Bill Biologist

Native pollinators are all the buzz with bees and butterflies, but they also benefit a large abundance of wildlife. Using a mixture of native grasses and wildflowers (forbs) can be a fun and enjoyable conservation effort. You can have a positive effect on pollinators by planting a small wildflower garden. If you’re more ambitious, go all out with a habitat restoration project on a landscape level.

When considering a pollinator planting diversity is king. Wildflowers are not the only component in a great seed mix. Native grasses are a very important ingredient when creating structural diversity. The mix should include a minimum of six wildflower species (10-12 is best) with two species per bloom period (spring, summer, and fall), two milkweed species, and four native grass species. This will insure adequate foraging for nectar loving insects during the growing season and structural integrity within the planting. Milkweed is the limiting factor when managing for monarch butterflies. The milkweed plant is the only host species a monarch butterfly can lay its eggs on. Although milkweed provides the monarch butterfly with a host plant it is not enough to fulfill the monarch’s need for nectar.

Monarch butterflies need an abundance of forage to produce enough energy to complete reproduction. The young monarch butterflies that hatch in summer are dependent on nectar to fuel their long migratory flight as they leave Michigan in route to Mexico. There are several milkweed species available. Milkweed provides a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors to pollinator plantings, but most importantly they provide the monarch butterfly with a host plant for reproduction. Native grasses should be used sparingly as to not overcrowd the wildflowers. When choosing grasses for a pollinator planting it is a good idea to include several species that grow from spring to fall. A mixture of Canada or Virginia wild rye, Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, and prairie June grass will provide a good starting point. Native grasses provide structural stability to the wildflowers and offer great escape cover for small animals and insects.

When purchasing your conservation seed mixture make sure to have a list of soils found on your property. To ensure that the seed mix is compatible with the climate and soils found in Michigan, shop local or ask seed vendors for Great Lakes genotypes. For more information stop into the conservation district or give us a call.

Kurt Wolf, Farm Bill Biologist serving Saginaw, Gratiot & Clinton

What is a CSA?

Rebekah Faivor, CTAI Soil Conservationist

What is a CSA? By definition it is “community supported agriculture”, but those three words can mean so many different things to so many different people.

To a farmer, it is a great way to market produce on a weekly basis to a local customer. Farmers can connect directly with customers in person, via text, or email to talk about what is in season, trendy recipes, and farm updates. New vegetable varieties can be introduced in CSA vegetable boxes to receive direct feedback from the customer. Farmers looking to learn more about starting a CSA can visit the Michigan Farmers Market Website at http://mifma.org/farmbaseded/ and choose the “Birch Point Farm’s Labor Considerations for CSA Models Resource Guide”.

To an average person, it means a box of vegetables that arrives on a weekly or biweekly basis from one farmer or a group of local farmers. There are multiple ways for these boxes of vegetables to get to the customer: they can be delivered to their door, picked up at the farmers market or local meeting location, or picked up directly at their local farm. Vegetables in the box can be chosen by the farmer, ahead of time by the customer, or at the farmers market stand based on what is seasonally available. Prices can range from $10 per week to $50 per week depending on the amount of vegetables (full or half shares) and how they are grown (organic, natural, or conventional). Customers looking for a local Michigan reference to CSA can check out Taste the Local Difference’s website.

To a vegetable enthusiast, it is a way to get a weekly subscription of vegetables from a local farm to try new and trendy vegetables that may not be at the grocery store.  This weekly interaction is a great way to get to know their local farmer and growing practices. Some farms even let enthusiastic CSA subscribers help at the farm as part of their CSA responsibilities.

Upcoming CSA events:

National CSA Day is February 28th, 2020

2020 Greater Lansing CSA Fair: Sunday, March 22, 12:00 – 3:00 pm — People’s Church in East Lansing

Local CSA’s in Clinton County:

CBI‘s Giving Tree Farm  https://www.facebook.com/givingtreefarmlansing/

FireFly Ridge https://www.facebook.com/CSAFarmers/

Faivor Fresh Produce https://faivor-fresh-produce.square.site/

Ten Hens Farm https://www.tenhensfarm.com/

Goldenrod Gall Fly

Eric Bak, MAEAP Technician

Back in August we learned about ragweed and goldenrod producing pollen and what it does to our allergies.  Let’s take a closer look at the lesser problematic plant, goldenrod. 

Goldenrod with gall

How many times have we really looked at a goldenrod plant?  Have you ever noticed a round ball or growth in the top one-third of the plant stem?  This is called a gall.  This gall is produced by a goldenrod gall fly, which is related to the fruit fly, and is in the same family.  The fly’s eggs are inserted near the developing buds of the plant.  After hatching, the larvae migrate to an area below the plant’s developing buds.  Then they cause the plant’s tissues to form into the hardened, bulbous chamber around them, called a gall.  These galls serve as a food source for the larvae and shelter from rain, wind, ice and predators.  This time of year, the black-capped chickadee and downy woodpecker will target these galls and eat the nutritious larvae inside.  The larvae are also host to a few different parasitic insects.  If the larvae survive through the winter, they emerge to repeat the process all over again. 

So, the next time you see children picking these round galls to use in their sling-shots, remember how Mother Nature had a hand in making them. 

Inside of a gall

You’re Invited to our Annual Meeting on March 24th!

The Clinton Conservation District Staff & Board invite you to join us Tuesday, March 24th for our 66th Annual Meeting! Please RSVP by March 19th to seth.gibson@macd.org or by calling our office. 

This meeting is FREE and includes a hot buffet-style dinner courtesy of generous local businesses and organizations.  This meeting is family-friendly and open to the public.  We will be electing board members, so Clinton County residents 18 and better are asked to bring proof of residency to participate in the election. 

Dr. Jen Owen, Associate Professor, Director of Michigan State Bird Observatory, Center Coordinator for Corey Marsh Bird Observatory

Our keynote speaker, Dr. Jen Owen, has become known locally for turning the former MSU Muck Farm into the Corey Marsh Bird Observatory. This 300+ acre property in Bath Township has a long way to go before it is prime real estate for some bird species but many (over 150!) have been observed here since 2018. Corey Marsh is open to the public, parking is available at the field office off Peacock Road.

Dr Owen leads an interdisciplinary research program that studies the interface between wild bird, human and environmental health. Corey Marsh will hopefully become a center of interdisciplinary undergraduate research in coming years. Dr. Owen will discuss with us the current research topic of her team: how habitat quality and food availability affects a bird’s ability to meet the demands of the migratory period. Dr. Owen also researches the role of birds in the spread and maintenance of zoonotic pathogens.

Let us know you’ll join us by March 19th by calling the office at 989-224-3720 x5 or emailing seth.gibson@macd.org

Owning property is such a blessing… Resources for being a great steward of your land

Katie Hafner, Soil Conservationist

Owning property is such a blessing! But it comes with responsibilities.

Growing up in town, I spent most of my youth walking down to the creek and fishing under the bridge, asking for permission on nearby woodlots, or stomping around public land (an almost 30-minute drive!). I just bought a house on 70 wooded acres. I finally have hunting, fishing, and exploring land all to myself, and although I know a fair deal about wildlife biology and habitat management, I have been overwhelmed with all there is to do to “maintain” my land. I have drawn maps, read books, and sought advice anywhere I can find it. 

There are several things I have found to be helpful in my quest to be a better steward of my land:

Get a forest management plan.

Walking your forest is a great start.

A forest management plan, or FMP, is an inventory and management guide that can be written specifically for your property by a qualified forester. They can help you identify the key features of your forest/land, point out any invasive species or potential threats, develop a plan towards your specific goals, and point you to any potential grants or funding that may be available to get all this done. There is cost share to get one of these plans! The Natural Resource Conservation Service (located with FSA and the Conservation District) can help you apply for funds cover the cost of one of these plans. Contact your local USDA service center for more details. Clinton County– 989-224-3720 

Join a local group or co-op.

I am involved in the Maple River Wildlife Association. This group is a Michigan United Conservation Clubs member and we work on local habitat projects, help educate youth and veterans about natural resources, and swap hunting and habitat successes and failures once a month at our meetings. There I have gained knowledge and tips on how to better manage my own property. There are several other groups in the area that have the same goals!

Look around on the MSU Extension website.

Every week, MSU Extension experts publish a variety of articles online that pertain to forests. Some articles apply to my property more than others, but they are always worth the read. All the information can be found here.

Fruiting bodies of a fungus that feeds on decaying wood

Buy some field guides.

What better way to get to know your property than to try and figure it out yourself? It is worth the money to buy Michigan-specific guides. Sometimes generic publications don’t identify plants or animals to the species. For beginners, the “Peterson Field Guides” are a great start.

Talk to your neighbors.

There are wonderful people in my community that have lived in my township all their lives. It is amazing to find out what they know about your land, and what it looked like 50 years ago!

Actually get out and explore!

Take the time to turn off the TV and get to know your land. Go out with your guides and a camera. Try new hunting spots, dig some holes, go out before dawn, take notes. 

I guarantee the more you know about your land, the more you will fall in love with it.

We have a new Mission Statement!

The Clinton CD Board recently adopted a new Mission Statement to help quickly demonstrate our role in the community. The process of telling people what we do and demonstrating our role is ongoing and always evolving. From helping farmers through the USDA-NRCS application process, to holding tree sales and addressing water quality concerns, the Clinton CD strives to provide a multitude of services. 

Mission Statement:
Provide information and technical assistance for Clinton County citizens to better understand, plan, manage, protect, and use natural resources.

Because conservation districts are funny, unknown entities to most people, we often also share a “What We Do” statement. The purpose of this statement is to give a bit of background about how we view conservation in our community. Here is our revised What We Do: 

What We Do:
The Clinton Conservation District was established in 1954 to carry out programs for conservation and the wise use of natural resources for current and future generations at the local level by local people.

As always, please call or email us if you ever have any questions. We try our best to point you in the right direction, even if we cannot help! 

Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones!

— Clinton CD Staff

Spring Tree Sale 2019

Private landowners work with MAEAP to encourage wise management of Forests, Wetlands and Habitat in Clinton County

Eric Bak, MAEAP Technician, Clinton County

The Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) is an innovative and proactive program that helps farms of all sizes and all commodities prevent or minimize agricultural pollution risks.  Some examples of practices that have been put in place to help farms achieve verification include nutrient management plans, pest management plans, buffer/filter strips, cover crops and restricting livestock access to local lakes, rivers and streams.  MAEAP is voluntary, confidential, and non-regulatory.    MAEAP takes a systems approach to assist producers in evaluating their farms.  One of the systems is Forest, Wetlands and Habitat.  This system helps assess how effectively you manage your land while protecting the environment and incorporating Best Management Practices.  

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Neighbor Lady Bee Farm — Fall 2019

Two Clinton County residents are making great use of their land with the production of honey.  Two years ago, Neighbor Lady Bee Farm (Lisa and Brennen Falor) enrolled with the Farm Service Agency in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).  As part of CRP, they rented the no-till drill managed by the Clinton Conservation District and planted eleven acres with different flowers and grasses.  The planting really took off and the honeybees were able to take great advantage of the field filled with pollinator friendly species.  With only six hives on the farm this year, they harvested over 600 pounds of honey.

After attending a workshop and training session at Michigan State University, Lisa was introduced to the MAEAP program.  Lisa is currently working with the Clinton Conservation District MAEAP Technician, Eric Bak, and Wildlife Biologist, Kurt Wolf, to become MAEAP verified in the Forest Wetland and Habitat system.

We’re Hiring!

The Clinton Conservation District is seeking interested applicants to serve as CTAI Conservation Program Assistant. This full-time (40 hours/week) position will be employed by the Clinton Conservation District (located in St. Johns, Michigan) with primary duty station located at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) State Office in East Lansing, Michigan. This is an administrative and technical support position under the day-to-day supervision of the USDA-NRCS with oversight provided by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).

The Conservation Program Assistant position will focus on processing and tracking Farm Bill contracts, including uploading and certifying complete documentation.  The position will have responsibility to work with staff in the NRCS state office, and staff and partners located in NRCS field offices statewide.  While a base knowledge of agriculture and conservation is helpful, it is not required. A successful applicant will have better than average computer proficiency and experience completing administrative tasks. Knowledge of how to upload documents and utilize Microsoft Office systems and other software is a must.

Starting pay rate will be dependent on experience $16-18/hr.  Benefit package includes paid holidays, sick leave and a flex plan.  A valid Michigan driver’s license is required.  Interested applicants should submit a resume, answered supplemental questions, up to 3 references, and a cover letter indicating relevant experience.  Please submit full application packet electronically to Kelcie Sweeney, Executive Director (kelcie.sweeney@macd.org)  or mail/drop off to the St. Johns USDA Field Office/Clinton Conservation District, 2343 N US 27, St Johns Michigan 48879. First applications will be reviewed on December 16th at 9am, applications received after this time are not guaranteed review.

What Makes a Trophy?

By Seth Gibson, Water Resources Coordinator

Michigan deer season is full swing. In addition to traditional buck poles, social media has been full of pictures of everyone’s harvest. It’s impossible to look at all the pictures and not compare your own trophy to all of those posted on the various hunting pages. It’s even more difficult to find a post without at least one hunter bragging about how they would’ve passed on taking the deer because it was not what they would consider a “trophy”.  Having only harvested three deer, I wasn’t sure what my definition of a “trophy” was. It finally became clear to me a few weekends ago when I got to be a part of a hunt I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Those that know me well know that my free time in the fall is primarily spent in the duck blind with the “bluebird” days set aside for time in the tree stand. As such, I elected to only purchase a single buck tag this season and was fortunate enough fill it opening day on an eleven point (my biggest buck!). I was ecstatic that I had bagged my “trophy” though my season had ended on the same sit that it began. This made for a strange ride up to deer camp in northern Michigan with no additional tags to fill and a freezer full of venison at home, though I was still excited for the long weekend ahead and the good food, good company, and, of course, good stories.

With the pressure to get a deer gone, I elected to spend my time in the stand trying to film someone else’s successful hunt. Saturday evening, I set out towards a tri-pod stand on the back of the property with my long-time hunting and fishing buddy, Chad, leaving the heated box blind for his dad and his grandpa to sit in. We sat for a while, just enjoying the scenery, when two does walked into our clearing. It was just about the time that I was daydreaming about a Booner stepping out from behind them that the unmistakable sound of a gunshot rang through the woods from a clearing towards the front of the property. Even before the text from his dad came through confirming our guess, Chad looked and me and whispered, “Grandpa got it done.”

We continued our sit until just before dark, then began making our way towards the field that the other two had sat over. The quad was already loaded down with gear by the time we reached the box blind and all that was left to do was load up the deer that had been dropped exactly where it had previously stood nibbling on the food plot. Seeming like no big deal at the time, Chad and I quickly got the doe loaded and strapped down for the short ride home. It wasn’t until I saw the quad pulling away with Grandpa and his deer on the back that I began to fully appreciate what I had just been a part of. You see there was a point last year that we weren’t sure if Grandpa would be able to return home due to complications with his health, and hunting this year definitely seemed out of the question. As I approached Chad and the rest of his family gathered around Grandpa and his deer, seeing the smiles on all of their faces left no doubt in my mind about the doe that had just been harvested.

Congrats on your trophy Grandpa Wasco.

Tom Wasco and his doe. (Photo by Chad Wasco, 2019)