Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.

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This article was reprinted with permission from MOSES.

With increased interest in providing habitat for pollinators and a concern over the loss of native plants in our landscape, many landowners want to transform fallow or savannah land from non-native or single species grasslands to diverse native grasses and flowering plants—restoring native prairies. Because native prairie grasses and flowering forb plants have very small seeds, the planting area needs to be bare to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.

The preparation of this seed bed is where most prairie planting recommendations encourage the use of herbicide. As organic farmers, my husband and I did not want to either handle or hire someone to apply these prohibited substances, so we tried a different way. Four years after we planted our one-acre prairie, we can say that we created a successful prairie planting without any herbicide use. A year and a half ago, we planted 22 acres of CRP land with a grass/flowering plant prairie mix, without broad herbicide use, and things are going well there, too.

Prairie Aster

Prairies can be established in a variety of areas that receive full sunlight, on flat or sloping land, and on any types of soil. Farmers may want to plant a flowering field border to provide habitat for beneficial insects in the buffer zone between their organic fields and their conventional neighbors, gaining benefit from land where they cannot grow organic commercial crops. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has a variety of cost share opportunities (EQIP and CSP) to aid farmers with these plantings.

The first step is to assess the area where you plan to plant your prairie and your capabilities to prepare and plant it. Is the plant community present acceptable, but you wish to improve the diversity of plants and add specific flowering plants such as milkweed for monarch butterflies or fall asters to provide late-season forage for honeybees? Then “frost interseeding” can work. Broadcast seed in very late fall before snow, during the winter if the ground is not snow covered, or in the very early spring when just a small amount of snow is on the ground and melting quickly. This should be done on ground that was burned or mowed short in the fall, or raked in areas to expose soil so those seeds can touch moist soil.

Consider this inter-seeding technique especially in areas where tractors cannot be used and on small patches of ground. This frost seeding will allow much of the current vegetative cover to remain, but some mowing in the early years in mid-summer and controlled burning every five to seven years will eventually favor your native plantings.

Learn your soil type, as certain grasses and flowering plants will do better in dry, wet, clay, sand or silt soils. It is more ecologically beneficial and helps you achieve more success with your planting when you use a great diversity of seed. Depending on the seasons, each year you may see different flowering plants and the diversity will give you a better chance of having a strong stand of preferred plant communities. Native seed is expensive, so planning for success is important.

For larger tracts of land where you can use a tractor and undesirable plant communities are present, use cover crops, tillage and mowing—that’s what we used on our land. You will need to either broadcast the seeds and pack them down or use a drop seeder drill, such as a Brillion with a roller, to get good seed-to-soil contact.

If you have persistent perennial weeds such as perennial (Canadian) thistle, you may need a few years to deal with them before you can plant your native plants. One method for controlling thistle that I have found effective in fields (not untilled pastures), is to plant sorghum sudan grass in the spring into tilled soil and continually mow it, up to three or four times in the season when it gets to about two feet tall. You don’t want the sudan to get too tall, or else it will smother itself when you mow it. You can harvest it for forage, or just leave it in the field, depending on how much thistle there is. Using this method, the thistle grows with the sudan, and fights for light in the thick and fast-growing stand. Each time you mow, the thistle has to start all over again, and since it is somewhat smothered by the sudan, it is using up and weakening its roots rather than gaining nutrients from the soil or sun. By cutting it numerous times, you continually weaken the root. After one season, I have seen a 75 percent drop in the thistle present; after two years of doing this, we were able to get rid of just about all of the thistle. You could also just mow each time the thistle starts to flower the first year and do the sudan grass treatment the second year, to save you two years of tillage. If you only have a few thistles, you can dig up the roots—continual tillage only cuts up the roots and makes more plants, not less.

Using Tillage

In a situation where most of the vegetation can be set back with tillage, unlike thistle, you can get your field ready for planting using the following method: mow in midsummer, which prevents the current crop of plants from dropping seed and knocks back any small shrubs. Then field cultivate, disc or use whatever tillage you want to prepare a seed bed and plant winter rye between mid-August and mid-September for southern Wisconsin. Adjust this timing for your region. Field cultivating works especially well for controlling quack grass, if you remember to let those quack roots dry out in the sun. The following spring, till in the rye when it is less than a foot tall. This will be sometime in May—earlier if an early spring, later if a late spring. Then plant a thick stand of oats. Let this grow until late June and then till it in. Drill soybeans in early to mid-July—yes, I said soybeans. Drill them thick and they will come up very quickly in the warm soil (hopefully, you will have enough moisture), and will canopy over the tight rows. We had very little growth of grasses or broadleaves under our soybeans. We have done this numerous times for fall vegetable production and have had success in controlling weeds with the use of July-planted soybeans. If we are following with vegetables, we would mow off the beans and till in August. For the native prairie, we let the soybeans go until end of September and mowed them then. The thick canopy provided excellent weed control for us and left us with a firm seed bed, mostly free of weeds. We did not do any further tillage after the soybeans before we planted the prairie. We then planted our prairie seed using a broadcast seeder and went over the field with a cultipacker in late October. It snowed the following week—perfect timing.

Prairie Echinacea

The first year, we mowed twice, when the plants were about 14-18 inches tall. The second year, we hand-pulled some problem weeds in our one acre. We have not had to do any other management to date, but we are planning to burn this area in the fifth year in the late fall. A rule of thumb is that spring burns favor native grasses and fall burns favor native flowering plants or forbs. Since we are managing our prairie for our own honeybees, native pollinators and butterflies, we favor the flowering forbs. Our prairie has a diverse stand of native grasses, too, which hold soil and are very beautiful as well.

The use of herbicides typically recommended by many professionals is due to the requirement to have a weed-free, firm seedbed to plant your native seeds. Any method that lessens the weed seed bank, lessens the amount of weeds growing in the top inch or two of soil, and does not disturb the soil to bring up new weed seeds, could be used to successfully plant native grassland species. Experiment with various techniques on small areas to familiarize yourself with the timing of seeding and mowing for your soil type and climate, and then move to larger acreages. You will be rewarded for your work and stewardship with the environmental stability a permanent sod cover provides: diverse wildlife habitat and the blissful beauty of a prairie with different blooming plants throughout the growing season.

(Top) Photo by Harriet Behar: New England aster planted in buffer zones provides late-season forage for honeybees.

(Bottom) Photo by Harriet Behar: Establishing a native prairie provides habitat for beneficial insect such as this endangered monarch butterfly.

Harriet Behar and her husband, Aaron Brin, have an organic farm near Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

From the March | April 2015 Issue of Organic Broadcaster

This article was reprinted with permission from MOSES.


Glyphosate Herbicide

Big news about Monsanto’s Roundup, the herbicide use­­d on many genetically modified crops:  17 experts from 11 countries in the Monograph Working Group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer have determined that glyphosate should be classified as a “probable human carcinogen.” This decision comes over 30 years after Monsanto began marketing glyphosate as Roundup and assuring the public it was perfectly safe.  Use of Roundup on our food has increased with the adoption of genetically modified crops, and Monsanto has succeeded in convincing the EPA to increase the residue levels legally allowed on our food.  Here’s what the experts had to say in the announcement in the medical journal Lancet Oncology:

“Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide, currently with the highest production volumes of all herbicides. It is used in more than 750 different products for agriculture, forestry, urban, and home applications. Its use has increased sharply with the development of genetically modified glyphosate-resistant crop varieties. Glyphosate has been detected in air during spraying, in water, and in food. There was limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of glyphosate. Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the USA, Canada, and Sweden reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides. The AHS cohort did not show a significantly increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In male CD-1 mice, glyphosate induced a positive trend in the incidence of a rare tumour, renal tubule carcinoma. A second study reported a positive trend for haemangiosarcoma in male mice. Glyphosate increased pancreatic islet-cell adenoma in male rats in two studies. A glyphosate formulation promoted skin tumours in an initiation-promotion study in mice.

Glyphosate has been detected in the blood and urine of agricultural workers, indicating absorption. Soil microbes degrade glyphosate to aminomethylphosphoric acid (AMPA). Blood AMPA detection after poisonings suggests intestinal microbial metabolism in humans. Glyphosate and glyphosate formulations induced DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, and in human and animal cells in vitro. One study reported increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage (micronuclei) in residents of several communities after spraying of glyphosate formulations. Bacterial mutagenesis tests were negative. Glyphosate, glyphosate formulations, and AMPA induced oxidative stress in rodents and in vitro. The Working Group classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A).”

You can read the entire article for free by registering with The Lancet Oncology.

Photo by Fotolia/Justinb: The herbicide glyphosate doubled in use from 85-90 million pounds in 2001 to 180-185 million pounds in 2007, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one of North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years. Connect with her on .


Check out these bald eagles captured on live web cams!

Click here to watch bald eagles in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

And here to watch bald eagles in Hanover, Pennsylvania.

Right now these bald eagles are taking turns to incubate their eggs which should be hatching any day now. Generally, bald eagles will mate for life. If only one eagle is shown that means the other one is foraging for food. He/she will return to the nest and exchange places, incubating the egg as the other one forages for food. As beautiful as this could be please remember this is nature and anything can happen.

Two hundred years ago watching bald eagles on live web cams would not be possible. Not because technology did not exist but rather, bald eagles almost did not exist. Just 30-years ago in Pennsylvania there were only three nests. There are now over 250 nests, thanks again to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and live web cams are set up in Pittsburgh, Lancaster, and Hanover, Pennsylvania.

Bald Eagles are being restored all over the United States so make sure to search for live web cams in your own state. And if you miss the golden opportunity of watching the eggs hatch, don’t worry - you can watch pre-recorded time lapse videos any time you please.

Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Game Commission

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


raised bed 

When my family moved into our new home the first thing we did-before the ink was even dry on the contract-was plan our vegetable garden. We were so excited to finally have enough space to grow a proper garden. The combination of the financial and health benefits of growing our own vegetables, and the fabulous opportunity to ingrain in our young children a love of the outdoors and desire to care for and grow their own food, was irresistible.

Here's a step-by-step guide to how we built our paved, raised vegetable garden for $197.


Step One: Build A Box

The base of our raised vegetable garden is made up of three simple boxes, each 4 feet wide and 10 feet long. We decided on a 4-foot width to give us an arm's reach into the bed from either side, so we won't have to walk into the bed.

To build our boxes we needed the following items for each box (we built three in total):

• 1 6-foot 4-by-4-inch pine board
• 2 10-foot 2-by-8-inch pine boards
• 1 8-foot 2-by-8-inch pine board
• A box of 3-1/2-inch galvanized screws

First, we cut the 8-foot 2 x 8 in half with a circular skill saw to give us the ends of the bed. Then, we placed the 2 10-foot 2-by-8s in between the (now) 4-foot-long boards, creating a rectangle. The final piece of wood, the 4-by-4, we cut into four, 8-inch pieces and put one into each corner of the bed.

With a power drill, we attached the boards to the 8 in. pieces with the 3-1/2 inch galvanized screws, thereby securing each corner of the bed.

Step Two: Plan the Space

We laid each of our three boxes out in our planned area, spaced far enough apart to allow for room to comfortably kneel down between them. Then we marked the perimeter of the area we planned to pave with green landscape tape and dug it out to provide a level playing field for the pavers.


Step Three: Prepping the Pavers

We lined the entire space with landscape edging, to provide a “wall” that would hold the pavers in place. Next, we placed landscape cloth down under each box to provide for drainage and protection against weeds (we didn't dig down into the soil, as recommended in this article on preparing your beds; because we live a block from the ocean, our soil is mostly sand).



Step Four: Placing the Pavers

Before the pavers went down, we spread paver base over the area and smoothed it out. Next, we laid the pavers, which were mainly old bricks we salvaged from around the yard (we did run a little short and had to pick up about 100 new ones).

The final step was to cover the pavers with paver sand and brush it in to fill in all the gaps. We did this twice, letting the first batch settle overnight before applying the second.



Step Five: Building the Garden

We picked up a cubic yard of compost at our local county-owned composting station for $10, and some fill dirt from a landscape company, mixed it all together and filled each bed.

Then came the fun part: planting! We planted some veggies from seed and others from seedlings and then sat back and waited to reap the fruits of our labor.


An inexact tally of our expenditure is as follows:

• Wood $50
• Nails $9
• Landscape cloth $14
• Landscape edging $27
• Bricks $35
• Soil $30
• Paver Base and Sand $32
• Total: $197

And here's the finished product about four months later. All it took was a circular saw, a hammer, $197 worth of supplies, and a fun family weekend. Can't you just smell all that healthy goodness?


Jennifer Tuohy writes about her DIY outdoor projects at home in South Carolina for The Home Depot. Jennifer's raised bed garden project is a fine example of how inexpensive DIY can literally change the landscape of a yard. For a look at some of the tools Jennifer used to build her garden beds, you can click here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 


camping in spring 

The sun’s shining, the birds are singing and your mind is already wandering to your local campsite. Spring is certainly an ideal time for camping, thanks to its mild weather and eye-catching foliage.

Still, despite the cheery weather, there are plenty of things that can go wrong on an outdoor expedition. Fortunately, we’ve made a list of the most common issues that campers have while adventuring in the spring. With the right amount of preparation, you can avoid them and have an epic adventure, whether you’re getting away for the weekend or spending months in the wild.

Pack Appropriately

Overpacking is a common mistake among camping newbies. Avoid an achy back by packing only what’s essential for a weekend or week away. This list typically includes the following:

• Tent that’s just big enough to house everyone
• Sleeping bag
• Mat to keep moisture out of your sleeping bag
• Change(s) of clothes
• Rain jacket and other gear in case of inclement weather
• Toiletries and toilet paper
• First-aid kit
• Cooking equipment
• Water bottle
• Food that’s lightweight and easy to transport, such as rice, tea, powdered milk, etc.
• Tools, including a flashlight

If you plan on transporting your camping gear in a small trailer hitched to your vehicle, you will also want to be careful that the weight of the trailer is suitable for the type of vehicle you're using. I've seen people driving down the road with seemingly very heavy trailers hitched to nothing but a sedan; it always looks like an accident waiting to happen.

Find Higher Ground

Springtime brings sun, sure, but it also brings some pesky showers. Keep this in mind as you choose your campsite – you don’t want to be sitting or sleeping at the bottom of a hill or mountain when rain starts to fall. You should also avoid bodies of water that might overflow with heavy rain. It might be a bit more work to climb to your campsite, but it’s worth it to stay warm and dry.

Know Your Foliage

Beautiful flowers burst forth in spring, but so do dangerous plants like poison ivy, oak and sumac. Campground staffers should be able to tell you whether or not these plants grow on the premises. If you’re trekking solo, be sure to study the look of each one of these plants and avoid anything that seems suspicious. In the off chance that your preparation fails you, have a soothing lotion like calamine on hand in order to calm the inflammation.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat …

There are plenty of dangers when there’s an open flame around, and your campsite will most likely center around one. Ensure the fire you build is well-contained within a ring of large rocks, for example, so that it doesn’t spread and hurt you or the surrounding natural area. You should also make sure that you have enough water to put it out when you’re finished cooking or telling ghost stories.

Even if you’re not planning on building a fire, you can still get burned while camping. That’s because the sun – even in the springtime – can cause damage to your skin. It’s easy to prevent, though: Slather on plenty of sunscreen, wear sunglasses and sunhats, and wear the longest sleeves and pants that you can handle in the spring heat.

Avoid Unfriendly Animals

After a winter’s worth of hibernation, many animals make their debut in springtime. This means you’ll have to be extra cautious as to avoid any run-ins with unwanted guests. The best way to do so is to leave your campsite as clean and neat as possible. Any open containers of food or trash receptacles will be bait for pesky raccoons. While they’re most likely to dig through your scraps, eat them and be gone, you’ll still have a huge mess to clean up.

Worst case scenario: Your campsite will attract bears, moose or other dangerous wildlife. That isn’t the ideal memory to take home from your first camping trip of the year, now is it?

Do you have any interesting camping stories or camping tips? Share them in the comments section below!

Image by Christopher Michel

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


coral reef

As ocean temperatures rise, coral reefs are vulnerable to bleaching: a whitening process brought on by the loss of algae in coral tissue. The relationship between the two is vital, because coral gets its nutrients from algae. Without algae, the coral loses its greenness and health, which leaves it vulnerable to diseases that could ultimately cause mass outbreaks among marine life.

Most of this is due to dropping pH, informally known as ocean acidification, which is caused by carbon dioxide — brought on by pollution and industrial waste in the atmosphere. As acidification takes its toll, calcification rates drop around coral environments.

The Effects of Emissions and Acidification

Since 1800, one-third of all CO2 emissions have been absorbed by ocean waters. A large percentage of this has stemmed from burning fossil fuel, of which half the emissions have dissolved into the sea. As the ocean's CO2 levels rise, its pH drops, which leads to acidification. When the water becomes acidified, corals are deprived of calcium carbonate, which is vital to their skeletons; without calcium, the skeletons dissolve.

Thus far, emissions have lowered the ocean's pH from 8.179 to 8.069 units. This marks a 30 percent jump in acidification since the mid-18th century. If emissions aren't drastically reduced, it's only a matter of time before the ocean's pH drops to devastating lows for all of the world's coral ecosystems.

Declining calcification levels not only impact corals but also clams, snails and urchins, who form cells via calcium carbonate. Acidification deprives these organisms of essential, shell-building calcium supplies.

Emissions at their current rate could spawn enough CO2 to lower the sea to a pH of 7.8 by the end of this century. At that level, the ocean might lose its coral reefs entirely, which would have a devastating impact on many surrounding organisms.

Severe Events of Coral Reef Bleaching

Throughout Polynesia, moderate bleaching is typical during warmer months. But over the last two decades, the problem has been on the rise. In the National Park of American Samoa, abnormal spikes in bleaching rates were observed during 1994, 2002 and 2004.   

In 2005, an unprecedented bleaching event devastated the reefs of the Caribbean. It all started with rising temperatures around the Antilles, which drifted south and turned half the coral white within a single year. Based on year-by-year satellite imagery from the preceding two decades, scientists determined that the damage from this event exceeded all that had occurred in the prior 20 years put together.

However, warm water isn't always the culprit. During the winter of 2010, an uncharacteristically low drop in ocean temperatures around the Florida Keys resulted in a major loss of coral life. Since then, researchers have studied the impacts of unusually cold, La Niña-like ocean temperatures on the accretion of reef layers.

In the Panama Pacific, researchers gathered 6,750-year old coral to determine whether past changes in climate were responsible for a 2,500-year halt in reef accretion. Extracting the oldest core corals within the reefs, they determined cooler oceans, stronger downpour, and greater upwelling were all factors in the region some 4,100 years ago, around the time when reef growth went into hiatus.

What Humans Can Do to Stop Warming Sea Temperatures

From now to the end of this century, emission levels could largely depend on population numbers, energy consumption, energy sources and the types of industries that humans rely on for products and transportation.

It starts with each individual, where the amount of energy that's used to heat a home or fuel a car will ultimately contribute to CO2 levels in the air. By driving fewer vehicles, using green energy, and keeping homes better insulated for less heating/cooling consumption, we as humans can do our part to halt global warming trends before they make our world an unlivable place for flora and fauna alike. 

Image by stevebidmead.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Barn Swallows 

Daylight saving time is only a few days away and spring is right around the corner. The chickadees have been calling hey sweetie since late January preparing for the coming nesting season, while many migrants are already heading north - grackles, blackbirds, robins and phoebes are some of the earliest to depart their winter territories. Of the approximately 650 species of birds that nest in North America, the vast majority are migrants. Thus, ready or not, the birds are coming.


Spring migration fills backyard enthusiasts with the greatest joy as they watch new arrivals scouting out the best places to forage, feed, rest, and nest. However, for the birds themselves, this is one of the most physically stressful times of the year. Birds are constantly battling unpredictable weather, predation, the energetic demands of molting to breeding plumage, and the unknown availability of food and water. As gardeners we have a vital role to play in supporting our avian migrants. Studies have found that yards, especially in urban and suburban areas, have a significant impact on the nesting success rate and abundance of birds.

The following are some ideas to help support birds in the early spring:

Delay Spring Cleanup Often the first migrants to arrive are seed eaters. They are looking for remnant seeds in trees, on dead flowers, and beneath the leaf litter around your garden beds. Leave your gardens messy until late spring to help provide optimal foraging conditions. Explore YardMap for more ideas on growing seed-producing flowers for birds.

Birdhouses Birds begin scouting optimal nesting areas the minute they arrive in their mating territory. And for year-round residents, this process can begin as early as January or February. Put up your nest boxes as soon as possible so birds know their options for mating season.  For more information on appropriate birdhouses to use, visit Nestwatch.

Mud Puddles These are not just for kids, but birds too!  Mud puddles are a great way to provide both water and nesting material for birds. Robins, phoebes and swallows all use mud to build their nests. So, find a wet area in your yard, dig down about six inches, let the water fill in, and watch the birds celebrate!

Don't Use Pesticides or Herbicides As spring gets underway and soil temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit, earthworms, beetles, and insects become active. These organisms feed a multitude of birds and applying pesticides or herbicides to your lawn, gardens, shrubs, or trees will often kill these insects, leaving less food for the birds. Once birds are nesting, they rely heavily on insects--even seed eaters such as chickadees and nuthatches--for protein-packed snacks for their offspring. To learn more, explore this article: Freedom from Danger.

Following these simple strategies will help provide a welcoming and nourishing backyard for avian migrants in early spring. To learn more about how to prepare your property, explore our Learn pages. The birds are coming, are you ready?

For more information on supporting birds in your backyard, visit YardMap or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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