Category Archives: In the Field

The Butterflies are Blooming!

Yesterday, in honor of the Spring Equinox, we went to the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan to see the most incredible butterflies from all around the world!

There are over 7,000 tropical butterflies of 50 different species to wonder about there, all within a spectacular tropical conservatory. There are Brush-footed, Longwings and Swallowtails. They have a special space where emerging butterflies ,make their way out of the chrysalis and into the world, completely transformed. We never get tired of watching the process.

We found this great video (also posted below) about butterfly farming in Atlanta. Many of the butterflies they get at FMG are sourced from tropical areas in South America and Africa. What an amazing harvest they have!!

 

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1, 2, 3… Hatch 3.0!!

It started last spring at the end of school and it all began with a simple question we asked our Mom and Dad…”Could we get chickens?” It made sense because we already hatched many birds before, and we wanted some of our own. So we went to city hall to see if it was okay, we assumed it would be because a few people already had chickens in their own backyard, but it turned out, we couldn’t. There was an ordinance against it, so we decided to begin a Civics Project and began ‘hatching’ a plan for action – we were hoping to change that ordinance!

Month 1 and 2. First we did a whole lot of research on other ordinances in towns near us and across the State of Michigan. We took a closer look at chicken behavior and population density in the cities that allowed backyard chickens to create a suggested ordinance. We learned that most towns have renewable 1 year permits with restrictions on roosters, locations and how many hens you could keep. We wrote a suggested ordinance to bring to our fair city of Douglas for consideration in addition to a petition we had residence who were in support of it sign. That took us to about June.

Month 3.  I think it was July when it was presented to the City Council. They moved it on for input and a vote from the Planning Commission. Now, there’s something worth noting about these meetings. They start at 7:00 at night. The room has 56 chairs in total, and the process and people are very formal during their chats about life in the city of Douglas. An interesting fact: The City of Douglas is legally called “The City of the Village of Douglas”. Hmmm. Not super catchy, but it gives us advantages of a city but can still call ourselves a village.

Month 4, 5, 6 & 7. By now, we’ve gone to every Planning Commission meeting and we’ve observed a lot! Each month we went, we thought – “this is IT – a final draft will be voted on”! But then there were more changes. More discussion. More questions. How many feet from a neighbors house should they be allowed? How many hens are too many? What about disease? Maybe neighbors should be allowed to reject someone next to them getting the little feathered ladies. What about predators? The questions went on and on. Lisa, the zoning administrator rewrote the ordinance each month adding and subtracting restrictions as the meetings came and went. Respect Lisa, respect!

Month 8. III’m dreaming of a… brown christmas. Still not approved but at least this idea was still moving along. More details worked out, more restrictions added. The problem was, at this point, we no longer qualified to have chickens on our property!! With a deep sigh and a feeling of defeat, Mom went to that meeting alone to say thank you for all the hard work, but that there were so many restrictions, (even though we live on over an acre and a half of land!), there was nowhere to put a coop without violating the rules the Planning Commission put in place. I guess it was then that members of the Commission decided that it was too restrictive and amended the restriction of ‘backyard’ to allowing them in the ‘side yard’ in certain conditions. One more change for Lisa, and we were back in the chicken game! We’re beginning to learn just how long it can take to change a law, and now we’ve gotten glimpse into an average adult’s life. Also, respect.

Months 9 & 10. Welcome to January 2018! Well, they did it!  After the Planning Commission’s final vote to recommend passed 4 in favor, 3 not, it was sent straight back to City Council where they made a few minor changes and then was voted on, (drum roll please!) they all said yes and no objections! YEESSS!!!!!!!  We were so excited we danced right out the door, laid in the freezing snow in the middle of the sidewalk crying and laughing! Now it’s February and we will be able to get the very first permit as soon as it is drafted!!! We decided on hatching Bantams, mini versions of regular chickens and our friend Eddie has gifted us his old chicken coop. AAAAAH!! SOOOO HAPPY!!!!

 Okay, so here’s the review.  It took a total of 11 months and still counting, Olive and I are each one year older, the ordinance is FOUR pages long and it’s a one year trial, with a maximum of 5 permits granted. The planning commission gained a new person, we got a new Mayor (with cool hair and an upbeat personality!). But as an experience, we thought it was certinly our longest ongoing project but one of the best for sure! We promise to give y’all an update when we got the whole set up rolling but in the meantime, a Mt. Everest sized thank you to Lisa, the Planning Commission and the City Council for all their effort in making it possible for new feathered friends to be part of our family!!

We’ll take you on our many adventures to come. Stay tuned!

 

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We can’t actually get roosters but I thought it was a pretty chicken anyway!
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The ordinance is so long it took an entire page in our local newspaper to print! 

Saving Marine Mammals

Over Thanksgiving, we journeyed out to the San Fransico area to visit some friends and get out into the field to learn more about marine life at the ocean. We are so close to Lake Michigan that it was fun to see the differences between salt and fresh water and of course the size difference of 2 bodies of water.

Introducing: The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. A place where they rescue, rehabilitate and have a positive affect on conservation of oceans and marine life through research and education.

When we first came through the doors we saw a fun little exhibit full of skins, little skeletons and… garbage. Not because the people that come in are messy, but because that’s what they’ve collected from the animals that they save. We were surprised at how large a full sized elephant seal sculpture was. I hadn’t considered how terrifying it would be to see a live group of these tremendous mammals. They are HUGE!

We quietly walked up some stairs to see the rehabilitation center. There were only about 12 seals there then, but we could only see 2 from the observation platform. April is their (sadly) busy season and they have had up to 300+ seals and other marine animals in their care at one time! It takes a TON of work and loads of fish to feed and rehabilitate these little friends.  We saw the kitchen where they prepare all the food, a research lab, and my Mom went to check out the autopsy area, where they research animals after they have died. Thankfully, there was nothing there to see at that time!! WHEW!

After leaving the center, we walked down to Rodeo Beach and spent time looking at the most INCREDIBLE pebble beach and hoards of surfers. We spent much of our time looking for small, red, translucent stones that Native American folklore says if buried along with a wish it will bring you good luck! We did find a few and they are very special. They are HARD to find, but we think we are pretty lucky anyway.

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Bitter Sweet, Honey…

A trip out to our hive in late October to feed our bees resulted in an unexpected surprise… Stillness.  The bees were gone.

Unfortunately, we don’t exactly know what happened or why they absconded so late in the season. No sign of mold, or mites. Healthy duroung our last check 3 weeks before with our bee mentor, Sam, but sappily (sad+happy) they left us a yummy treat for the first time since beekeeping… honey! On the far side of the hive there were a few frames of perfectly capped honey. LET PRODUCTION BEGIN!!!

We began our low level harvest by sourcing lots of towels, trays, clips, cheese cloth and bowls from the kitchen of wonder. Before we began extracting the honey, mum thought it was a grand idea to weigh the frames before and after the honey was harvested and most of them were a whopping 7+ pounds each! Now the tricky part – By balancing the frame in a bowl and using a sharp knife to take off the caps on the honey ( which took 4 people and a dog to do) we managed to get clear the frames of both honey and comb. Had we had a full super of honey, we have a centrifuge that would have extracted only the honey and left the comb for the next year, but because we had only a small amount to get, this was the next best way. After separating the wax from the honey using a overnight process called patience and a cheescloth lined bowl, we weighed only the honey and found we had about 17 lbs! Sounds like a lot, but we use our neighor’s land for the hives in exchange for honey that we have never gotten so far with all the hive issues we have encountered over the past 2 seasons. After sharing some with them and a few friends and family, we have a small stash to enjoy through the winter.

We let the honey sit for a few days for the bubbles to setttle out and in that time, Mom made a label for the jars we soon filled. So much fun and hard to ‘bee’lieve all the work that the bees put into making that sweet and sticky substance we love so much!

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In this frame you can see uncapped honey that we did NOT harvest with 2 worker bees frozen in time.
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This was another frame. You can see baby brood (bees) have partially chewed their way out. This is the stillness we mentioned. Everything looks fine, but all the bees are dead.
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This is one of the frames we harvested the honey from. No brood and freshly capped honey.

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Perfectly wax-capped honey.
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Wax comb and honey taken from the frame. This is what we filtered through the cheesecloth.

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Freshly bottled honey. A bitter sweet harvest for sure!

 

Would you Be’leaf’ it?

The past 3 weeks we have been learning all about leaves. We took a course at the Outdoor Discovery Center in Holland, Michigan with 2 naturalists to learn more about leaf and tree identification.

The first week we focused on flowers (aster family).

We started a journal y identifying parts of a flower and then headed out to the trails to collect finger size specimens. We found things like golden rod, New England Aster, Queen Ane’s Lace and much, much more! Back in the classroom, we taped the flower samples and added detailed information about their family and locations next to them to catalog everything we found. We also were given a guide booklet of the families of flowers and trees to keep, much to our delight! The next week was… Trees!

This was an interesting day. We learned about leaf types and took our knowledge along with an identification list on a tree scavenger hunt. We learned about the parts of a leaf like the midrib and the veins, alternating and opposite leaf patterns, lobes, teeth and what a whole leaf shape looked like. As a group we paired up to see if we could name the trees on the preserve. That is tricky business!!

The 3rd week, we focused on seeds and dispersal. Once we were out on the trail, we learned about milkweed, witch-hazel, dogweed. Once dogwood dries up, the seeds are projected out of their casing, shooting up to 5 feet in distance! If you are in a really quiet room, you can hear a very distinct popping sound when they erupt! Seeds can disperse via flight (think dandelions), water (think coconuts), poop (think berries) and attachment (think burrs). Often it is one of these methods of transport that aids in non-native plants becoming invasive like, Autumn Olive (aww, poor Olive).

We learned a lot! A funny thing about our particular group – they were obsessed with milkweed seeds and were throwing fistfuls of them everywhere to watch them fly. At least the Monarchs next year will appreciate their enthusiasm! Time for me to ‘leaf’ now. :0)

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Monarch Watch!

Lucky us! Today we joined a local horticulturist, Hannah Nendick-Mason to participate in the University of Kansas’s citizen science program, Project Monarch Watch. You might remember an earlier post where we shared our experience on raising monarchs in our home. If not, check it out here. This made it extra exciting to experience the next level of the monarch journey.

We were quite surprised to see how many Monarchs were at the site where we met! It took some patience and many, many tries before we got the hang of the best way to catch them in the butterfly nets. Once caught, careful handling was in order, a sticker applied to their hind wing and data was collected and recorded. Then, with a good luck wish and blink, they were back on their way, fueling up for their epic flight ahead.

Special thanks to Hannah for having us “tag” along with her on this super fun adventure!

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Espn Radio: 93.5fm

Last week we were invited to tour ESPN’s Tay & J show’s radio station in Champaign, Illinois. It was VERY interesting! We listen to podcasts often and it was cool to see how much work goes into making a show. First, there are the hosts. Then, there are the support people… the people who are answering questions, tweets and getting information for the hosts while they are on the air. Ever wonder how guests on a radio show ‘just happen to be available’ at just the right time? That is the magic of the behind the scenes people! There were several rooms – the main broadcasting room, the support people room (with a connecting window) and an editing room for the segments that are assembled from the live footage. We were surprised that the show was broadcast from a relatively small space. We were also quite surprised that there was a Christmas tree with ornaments in one of the offices – complete with a star on top!

A big thank you to Trevor Vallese and the show’s host, Mike Carpenter for inviting us to come and for showing us around your super cool space!

The Tay and J Show airs weekdays 3-6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 93.5 and streams at www.espncu.com

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