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Healthy Acres Winter Newsletter 2022


2022-01-19 17:41:17

Healthy Acres Winter Newsletter 2022

Photo by: Marirose Kuhlman, MPG Ranch

What is a Flowering Bee Lawn?

Lawns are a ubiquitous part of American urban and suburban life. Here in western Montana, lawns are a comfortable place to gather outdoors with family and friends for a barbeque or a game of soccer or football. In towns and cities, which are usually hotter than the surrounding landscape (known as the “urban heat island effect”), grassy lawns offer a cooler respite from the heat of the surrounding roads and parking lots. Lawns absorb excess water, helping to recharge aquifers and prevent soil erosion. Lawns can even help reduce the noise pollution of traffic.

For all their benefits to human-built environments, maintained lawns are ‘ecological wastelands’ that can consume a LOT of resources. Irrigating lawns can put a real strain on water resources, especially in naturally arid regions like ours, and during periods of drought when water supplies are already scarce. Fertilizer and pesticides, especially herbicides, are applied to lawns to keep them lush, green, and weed-free. Maintaining lawns takes time – homeowners may spend several hours each week mowing or maintaining their lawns and lawn equipment, or they spend money hiring professionals to do it for them. Also, lawns are typically composed of a single, Eurasian grass species, such as ‘Kentucky’ bluegrass. Most lawns are resource-intensive monocultures that offer very little food for pollinators or other beneficial insects and wildlife.

What can be done if you prefer the aesthetic of a verdant lawn, but want to take a more relaxed approach to lawn care while also helping pollinators and using fewer resources? Consider planting a Flowering Bee Lawn! Flowering bee lawns combine typical turfgrasses with other hardy grass species such as red fescue or sheep fescue, and low, flowering plants that benefit pollinators, like white clover, creeping thyme, self-heal, or yarrow. The increased diversity of bee lawns makes them more resilient to pests and environmental stressors than traditional Kentucky bluegrass lawns, while requiring less frequent watering and mowing.

It does take some effort to plant a flowering bee lawn. But once it’s established, it may require less work and maintenance than a traditional lawn. An established bee lawn may need little to no supplemental watering, except during extended periods of hot, dry weather. Bee lawns can be mowed less frequently than a bluegrass-only lawn – perhaps every 2 or 3 weeks or more, depending on your site. Your bee lawn should be mowed to a height of around 3 inches to allow the flowers to bloom while still keeping a tidy appearance. Recycling the lawn clippings back into the lawn, rather than bagging and removing them, adds nutrients back into the soil and reduces the need for supplemental fertilizers. Any undesirable weed species can be hand-pulled while you’re establishing the bee lawn, and for the long term as well. And it’s important not to spray pesticides on bee lawns – bee lawns are meant to provide a safe place for pollinators and many pesticides can sicken or kill pollinators.

Practical considerations for a Flowering Bee Lawn

Planting a bee lawn is not an all-or-nothing situation! Consider how you currently use your lawn and incorporate a bee lawn where it makes the most sense. Flowering bee lawns do best in places that receive light to moderate use. Perhaps there are areas of your yard where you don’t spend as much time, like a boulevard strip, a front yard, or a side yard, that would be appropriate for a bee lawn. Remember that since you’re planting flowers for bees and butterflies, it’s a good idea to give them the space to forage in peace. Native bees are usually quite docile and not likely to sting, but areas where very young children play or where you like to walk barefoot are not ideal placements for bee lawn. Bee lawns can be planted wherever grass grows, so if you have problematic areas of your yard without grass it’s also not likely to grow successful bee lawn.

Helping pollinators and enjoying them, too!

Over 230 bee species have been documented in Missoula County, and over 360 bee species are recorded in the State of Montana! However, many bee species and butterfly species are known to be in decline from factors such as habitat loss or alteration, pesticide use, and diseases and parasites. A flowering bee lawn can attract many different species of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to your yard, making it a safe place for these important insects. Pollinators thrive best when they have access to food resources in the form of flowering native plants, like shrubs, trees, annuals and perennials, and a safe place to nest and overwinter. And while flowering bee lawns are not optimal pollinator habitat, they can provide food resources for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, while doing double-duty as a comfortable and beautiful, low-maintenance lawn for you and your family. Ask your county extension agent or weed district manager if a flowering bee lawn is right for you!

Marirose Kuhlman, MPG Ranch

For information and research on flowering bee lawns,

visit the University of Minnesota Extension website:

Weeds in Winter

Do I need to think about weeds during the cold season too?

After months of identifying, planning, and treating invasive species one is excited for the problem to be buried under inches of snow and ice. A sort of out of sight out of mind mantra lets us mentally recharge for the next growing season approaching. Even when we pull the wool over our eyes there are constant reminders of the presence of invasive plants out there.

Even though most of our invasive plants go dormant in the winter, they can spread by seed. Take for instance the pesky houndstongue stocks or skeletons lined with burrs that remain from last summer’s bloom. Their velcro-like burrs stick easily to most materials not to mention our furry friends. Spotted knapweed seed heads poke through the snow along popular trails awaiting a bump to sprinkle seeds to the ground. It is a year-round task to clean equipment between uses and recreation sites, remain diligent even through the winter months.

Other troublesome species that have an advantage come warmer spring temperatures are several annual invasive grasses. Species such as cheatgrass, Japanese brome, and ventanata, are winter annuals which means they germinate in the fall and grow quickly until we get cold enough temperatures. It is thought that the root systems of these grasses can continue to grow even through the winter. This gives them a head start in the spring which allows them to utilize available resources early on to flower and set seed before many other species.

Not all is lost on weed control over the long Montana winter. Certain species of biological control spend their winters maturing and weakening their host noxious weed. Most of the insects that have been released do the most damage to their target plant in the winter. Leafy spurge flea beetle larvae spend the winter feeding on the roots of the plant as they mature. The spotted knapweed root weevil larvae, that have burrowed into the roots of the plant, feed within the root throughout the winter. This feeding causes significant damage to these weeds, even more so than the adults feeding on the leaves.

So even though the winter scape has us thinking about skiing, sledding, or relaxing by a fire remember that invasive species are a problem because they are non-native and do not follow the same rules in winter as our Montana natives. They are here without natural enemies and for that reason have an unfair advantage over our native species. It is always a good reminder to be attentive while out and prevent the unintentional spread by cleaning clothing and equipment before heading to a new site.

Seed Legumes into Your Pastures

Patrick Mangan - MSU Missoula County Horticulture Agent

Legumes are great plant species to add into grass pasture communities, providing positive benefits in the quality of forage for livestock, soil nutrients for plant growth, and by producing flowers for beneficial pollinators. Legumes really are a win-win-win for grazing livestock, soil health, farm economics, and environmental health.

Legumes are a family of plants that develop symbiotic relationships with bacteria in specialized nodules on their roots. The bacteria fix Nitrogen out of the atmosphere, where it is unavailable to plants, and make it available in the root zone, where plants can take it up. In return, leguminous plants feed the bacteria living in the nodule colonies on their roots the sugars and exudates created during the process of photosynthesis. Nitrogen is a very important soil nutrient contributing to healthy plant growth and is used by plants to produce the leafy green growth we desire in our forage species.

There are many different types of legumes, some that we may already be familiar with: beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, clovers, and even peanuts are all legumes. But when it comes to introducing legumes into irrigated pastures, there are several perennial species that really suit the needs of the purposes of the pasture and provide multi-year benefits for the plant community. These perennial species of legumes include: alfalfa, sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil, clovers, vetches, and cicer milkvetch.

In pasture environments legumes are highly nutritious forage plants for livestock to eat, and will grow through the whole summer, even as our cool season Montana grasses slow their growth in the hottest months. The Nitrogen-fixing power of the bacteria provide valuable soil nutrients to both the legumes and to grass plants nearby, reducing the need for chemical fertilizer inputs. The addition of a flowering species to grassy areas support bees and other native pollinators, providing sites to forage pollen. And sustaining a diversity of plants in pasture environments can add to the stability and resiliency of the whole plant community.

It can be tricky to introduce and get newly seeded legumes successfully integrated into an established grass pasture community. Established grasses can be very competitive, occupy much of the soil resource, and outcompete new legume seedlings for water, light, and other resources. A few strategies to encourage the success of pushing legumes into the community include very close and intensive grazing the fall before seeding the legumes, to stun the grass a bit the following spring and reduce surface plant materials that can intercept broadcast seed. Using a light application of certain herbicides to stun grasses is another possibility some land managers will use. Livestock owners may be able to draw on their livestock to do some of the seed integration work through hoof action, spreading the seed in areas the livestock will walk on, and use hooves to disturb the surface and push the seed into the soil. A close graze or mow coupled with a no-till drill may be a good multi-tool approach to increase seed establishment in the competitive grass environment.

There are some potential risks with a high concentration of legumes in pasture environments. Some legume species can cause bloat in ruminant livestock in high concentrations, and some species of livestock, like mules, horses, and donkeys will probably not need a highly nutritious and protein rich food source such as legumes in their diet. Reach out to the MSU Missoula County Extension office to talk through legume choice, seeding rates, and management considerations that pertain to your goals and situation.

Legumes can add benefits to grass pastures in many ways. Reach out to the Extension Office and let’s talk more about the possibilities of bringing legumes into your pasture plant community.

Meet Big Sky Corps Member

Josh Abrahamson - Serving the AIS District

Where are you from?

Originally, I am from Waukesha, Wisconsin but have lived in Western Montana since 2011 places including Polebridge and Missoula.

Why were you interested in becoming a Big Sky Watershed Corps member?

I was interested in becoming a Big Sky Watershed Corps member because I wanted to help protect the natural resources that mean so much to me.

Why were you interested in working with the Missoula Weed District?

Because I wanted to work with Aquatic Invasive Species. I’ve spent my entire life around fresh water and have seen the effect that aquatic invaders can have on a water resource. Growing up recreating on Lake Michigan I saw what zebra mussels could do.

What projects are you most excited to work on?

I’m excited to work with Fragrant Water Lily, this is a newer project that is exciting and allows me to work in an unbelievable place.

What do you like most about Missoula so far?

I enjoy the culture and atmosphere of Missoula as well as the ease of access to water bodies, trailheads, and ski lifts.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I would love to still be in Missoula continuing work on conserving and protecting our precious water resources.

What do you enjoy doing for fun?

I enjoy fly fishing, boating, rafting, birding, hunting, and spending time with puppy Winston.

What’s one thing you want to do during your year in Montana?

During this year in Montana, I’d like to do a multi-day rafting adventure on the Smith River.

If you were a color, what would it be?

I would be Green because it reminds me of warm summer days when Montana is vibrant with plant life and sunshine.

Battling Winter Blues with Healthy Foods

Kelly Moore - MSU Family and Consumer Science Agent

Home food preservationists feel especially grateful in January, for having spent countless autumn hours canning, pickling, fermenting, drying, and vacuum packaging their garden or local farmer’s market produce. Ingredients are typically more identifiable and easier to pronounce than the generic commercially available or “temporarily unavailable” grocery store item. Few things compare to the gratification of consuming something that has been planted, fed, weeded, watered, picked, and prepared by your own hands. If that’s not your jam, there are other ways to commit to healthy eating this winter. Let’s begin by defining, “healthy eating.” It means eating a variety of foods that provide adequate nutrients to maintain good health, make you feel good, and provide enough energy to allow you to complete everyday tasks. The challenge comes when we provide a balance between our calorie intake and our physical output. Shorter, colder winter days have many of us contemplating whether a bag of sour cream potato chips suffices for a serving of vegetables and does carrying the empty bag to the garbage, qualify as moderate exercise.

Committing to feel better, means committing to eating better. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage “Building a Healthy Eating Pattern” program that includes eating a mix of foods across all food groups: proteins, vegetables, fruits, dairy (low-fat), and grains (whole). Limiting sodium, fats, and sugar is also encouraged. Once you have committed to adopting a healthy eating pattern, you can focus on what would make that more appealing and sustainable to you.

Maybe you would like to explore more exotic flavors and spices using peppers, citrus, and yogurt. Waking winter-weary taste buds may be the start of your culinary adventure into exotic lands without leaving your kitchen. Purchasing a small amount of new spice in the grocery store bulk aisle is an inexpensive and safe way to escape a boring salt and pepper existence. Combining contrasting flavors and colors to your plate adds visual appeal that translates to an “anything, but boring” dinner. Try creating a meal using only purple foods, for example. Purple foods such as blueberries, kale, cauliflower, grapes, and eggplant contain anthocyanin the antioxidants that help prevent and repair cell damage. Eating them also contributes to better brain health. Deep, orange-colored vegetables such as butternut and acorn squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and peppers are great sources of vitamin C, potassium, and folate which are important to red blood cell formation.

Lastly, include “Mindful Eating” on your list of New Year’s resolutions. When you truly slow down and think about your food, and why you are eating it, you are building a better relationship with food. It’s a good way to honor your health by recognizing hunger and respecting fullness. In the slower pace of winter months, try engaging your senses more in your surroundings - smells, textures, flavors, and colors. By making this a regular practice, you may find yourself becoming more relaxed, less anxious, and more hopeful about the future.

The Importance of Eating Seasonally

Kayla Martin - MSU Extension, EFNEP Nutrition Educator

Winter is the perfect season to spend more time in your kitchen. It’s also a great time to focus on supporting your body’s health as cold and flu season rolls around. One simple way to achieve both is by eating seasonally! We often take for granted how easy it is to access all types of fruits and vegetables throughout the year. However, mangos in Montana in January may not be as great for your body, tastebuds, or the environment as you may assume. There are many reasons why eating seasonally is important, here are some of the big ones.

1. It’s more nutritious.

Foods that are grown, picked, and consumed during their natural season are more nutrient dense than the same food grown in its off season. In order for fruits and vegetables to be available all year long, various post-harvest treatments like chemicals, gas, and films are used to both ripen and protect the product. Although this is helpful for meeting demand, studies show that artificially ripened produce is not as nutrient dense as naturally ripened produce. You’re bound to get more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants out of seasonal produce.

2. It usually tastes better.

Produce that’s consumed during its peak season almost always tastes better! Maybe you’ve had a freshly grown tomato from your garden or a radish from the farmer’s market. You probably noticed that it’s much sweeter or juicier than anything you’ve found at the grocery store. That’s because mass production of produce prioritizes quantity over quality. The produce is bred for uniformity and long shelf life rather than flavor.

3. It’s better for the environment.

Eating seasonally naturally increases your odds of purchasing locally grown produce. Not only does this support your community, but it’s also better for the environment. Let’s take the mango as an example. It may have been picked somewhere in Mexico, put on a truck and driven to Montana, or flown by airplane. That’s a pretty heavy burden on the environment when we could opt for produce grown just down the street. Although our options can be limited in Montana, especially during the winter, sticking to seasonal produce makes it more likely that it was at least grown in proximity to us.

4. It’s often cheaper.

You’ve probably noticed that berries are very cheap during the summer but maybe twice as much during the winter months. That’s because berry season is during the summer so there is an increase in supply. In the offseason, the supply is low and drives the price up. Buying in season is one of the easiest ways to save money on produce.

Now you may be wondering, what’s in season right now? Here’s a list of produce that’s abundant during the winter.

Broccoli * Beets * Turnips * Parsnips * Celery Root * Collards * Winter Squash * Cabbage * Kale * Citrus * Leeks * Pears * Pomegranate * Fennel

My favorite way to prepare vegetables is to roast them! Simply chop whatever vegetables you have on hand (my favorite are root vegetables and winter squash), toss them in olive oil, and bake at 350F until they’re soft. Enjoy!

When to Start Sowing Seeds?

It may still be cold outside, but it will soon be time to start some garden seeds indoors.

The proper time for sowing seeds depends on when transplants may be safely moved outdoors. Sowing dates range from 4 to 12 weeks before the last spring frost. The last spring frost date in Missoula is usually the 3rd week in May. Before you sow seeds, check the frost tolerance of your plant and the weeks needed from germination until transplant size.

A common mistake is to sow seeds too early! Then, you are forced to hold seedlings back under poor light and too cool or too hot temperatures. The result is weak, tall, spindly plants that never catch up to healthy, thick-stemmed transplants.

Four environmental factors affect seed germination: water, oxygen, light, and temperature. Different seeds have different requirements, especially for heat and light.

Germination begins with the absorption of water. Once the germination process has begun, a completely dry period can kill the seed. However, seeds sitting in water can also be killed due to a lack of oxygen. They suffocate! Seeds need to breathe! It’s better to let the soil media surface dry, rather than allow the seed to stand in water.

The planting medium you start your seeds in should be loose and well-aerated to avoid waterlogged conditions. A fine-textured potting mix will provide a sterile, weed-free medium. Remember to use water low in salts. Salts decrease water absorption and can injure newly emerging roots. If you think your water may have a high salt content, use filtered water. Tepid water (65º-75ºF) is best.

For proper growth, seedlings require adequate light. If a bright south-facing window location is unavailable, suspend a fluorescent light fixture three to four inches above the new plants. A combination of one cool white fluorescent tube and one warm white tube will provide the broad spectrum of light needed. For best growth, keep the lights on 12 to 16 hours daily.

Light can stimulate or inhibit seed germination. Some crops require light for seed germination, such as ageratum, impatiens, varieties of lettuce, and petunias. Others require darkness, such as pansy, calendula, annual phlox, delphinium, and verbena. For other plants, light doesn’t matter at all.

Temperature affects both germination percentage and speed. Temperature is usually the main reason for poor or slow germination. Generally, 65˚F to 75˚F is best for germinating most seeds.

Seeds to start early for the garden are onions, peppers, artichokes & tomatoes.

Rocky Mountain Gardens and Exploration Center

Construction & Campaign Progress

In mid - December 2021 the boards and campaign steering committee for Healthy Acres Healthy Communities Foundation and the Missoula Butterfly House/Insectarium gathered on site at the Fairgrounds to celebrate the construction and campaign progress for the Rocky Mountain Gardens and Exploration Center. The foundation, footings, and stem walls are completed and in January we will see vertical changes as the steel and precast concrete walls are installed. Expected completion of the building is March 2023. To follow the construction progress, go to and click on the live link.

We are so grateful for the generosity of our community and over 130 donors with a shared vision for the many programs our future home will support. We are currently at 92% of our campaign goal. There is still much work ahead of us as we develop plans for the 2.5 acres of educational gardens to be created following the building construction completion.

In the coming months we will be engaging community gardening groups and other enthusiasts to accomplish the vision for these one-of-a kind gardens.

If you have questions, would like more information, or would like to make a gift to the gardens or the campaign, please contact Jean at 406-370-0441, or go to

Gus Turner with his 4th Place ribbon from the 4-H Public Speaking contest at Western Nationals in Denver

Missoula 4-H Member Places at State, National Contests

Missoula 4-H member places at state, national contests with speech highlighting issue of farmer/rancher suicide in Montana.

The story of a rancher in Big Sandy, Montana, inspired Missoula County 4-H member Gus Turner to dig deeper into the issue of farmer/rancher suicide in Montana. What he discovered was that this is not just a Montana issue. According to his research, Turner states “the farmer is 3½ times more likely to commit suicide than an average person.”

Combining a passion for agriculture with his skill for speaking in public, Turner has shared this message through state and national competitions in both 4-H and FFA. After winning the 2020 Montana 4-H Public Speaking contest and earning a trip to compete at Western Nationals in Denver, the national contest was cancelled due to Covid. With his current topic, Turner placed 2nd at the state contest during Montana 4-H Congress in July of 2021, again earning a trip to compete at nationals in Denver. This time around the national contest did occur, and Turner returned from Denver this week with a 4th place finish.

When he isn’t preparing speeches on weighty topics, Turner is a student at Big Sky High School in Missoula. He serves as President of the Blue Mountain 4-H Club and is also an active member in the Missoula FFA Chapter. Prior to his departure for the national contest in Denver, Megan Mannering with KPAX in Missoula sat down with Turner for an in-depth conversation about the farmer/rancher suicide issue. The full story can be found online at

2022 Big Sky Watershed Corps Member

Meet Gabe Siegel - Serving with the Weed District

Where are you from?

I am from Bethesda, Maryland – I grew up in a house that is a five-minute drive (or just one metro stop away) from Washington, D.C.

Why were you interested in becoming a Big Sky Watershed Corps member?

This past summer I served on an MCC Trail Crew in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, and for the first time in my life I felt connected to the land and the nature in which I was living. I learned how important it is to have access to clean water and I noticed some of the effects of higher-than-normal temperatures on water sources and plant and animal life. As much as I love trail work, joining the Big Sky Watershed Corps seemed like an opportunity to impact conservation efforts on a slightly larger scale.

Why were you interested in working with the Missoula Weed District?

The work that the Missoula Weed District does is very near to my heart. My maternal grandfather was an entomologist who worked for the State Department during the Green Revolution. His work took my mom and her family to some of the most interesting places on the globe, from Bangladesh to Afghanistan to Indonesia to Thailand to South Korea and more. My maternal grandmother was a biology teacher for 55 years and still loves digging in the dirt with me and teaching me about insects and plants. Already, joining the Missoula Weed District has brought me to one of my favorite places in the world. After spending the past three summers working in the Missoula area I have fallen in love with the town and its surroundings. This place has provided me with so many great friends and amazing memories, it’s time I gave back.

What do you like most about Missoula so far?

I love waking up and seeing snow on the hills every morning. We don’t get much snow where I’m from in Maryland, and the hills around Missoula would probably be referred to as mountains back home.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Surrounded by people who care about protecting the environment and making the world a better place.

What do you enjoy doing for fun?

I love activities that get me outside with my friends, like taking my roommates’ dog for a hike, fly-fishing, skiing, or horseback riding. I used to play baseball and my favorite thing in the world is playing catch.

What’s one thing you want to do during your year in Montana?

I’d like to see all of Montana! Especially the rivers and lakes and mountains and forests. There are many, many places I have yet to see out here, and most of them I haven’t even heard about yet. It’s also been a long time since I’ve paddled around in a canoe – I would love to take one and go with some friends to Holland Lake, down a tame section of the Blackfoot, and everywhere else, really (being careful not to transport any aquatic species along the way, of course).

If you were a color, what would it be?

The colors of a sunset.

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