Have you been looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly? The new year is a great time to reassess and reevaluate areas of our lives that often get overlooked. Attached to this blog is a “Green Home Quiz” that you can do to roughly, emphasis on roughly, estimate how environmentally friendly your home is! There is also an attached “Hazardous Home Waste Bingo!” to explore just how many hazardous waste items might be lurking in your home! Don’t despair if you find items that surprise you, many towns have hazardous waste disposal plans set up because of how unavoidable some of these products are. Here is a link to the Mass.gov website with helpful tools on how to properly dispose of waste in your home if you are living in Massachusetts.
It’s so easy to get stuck in the routines of our daily lives without taking stock of the impact our routines may have on the larger scale, such as how our day-to-day decisions add up over time. One area of our lives where we tend to get stuck in habits is how we clean our homes! It is so satisfying to find the perfect cleaner and watch dirt and dust disappear, but do you really know what your cleaner is made of? What makes it so effective? If you’re looking for alternative cleaning solutions, check out these cool home-made products from David Suzuki and Kathy Vanderlinden in their ECO-FUN book!
For these projects, you will need: Empty spray bottles (reused are the best), small jar, measuring cup, measuring spoons, paper, coloring supplies, white craft glue
Fill a spray bottle half way with white vinegar and half way with water. This will make a 1:1 water:vinegar solution! Perfect, you're done!
Once you're done filling the spray bottle, make a label so that friends and family know what is in the bottle. You can even list the ingredients! When using this solution, be sure to wipe down surfaces with newspaper not paper towels or cloths. Using newspaper will ensure that your glass and mirrors dry streak free!
For some eco-friendly furniture polish, you will need: 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of white vinegar OR lemon juice, and 2 cups of warm water.
Mix all ingredients in an empty spray bottle. Before each use, heat the mixture and shake well! Once the solution is heated and mixed up, it is the perfect polish for any varnished wood. After applying the polish to your furniture or floors or whatever, rub the surface completely dry with a soft cloth for best results.
Have silver in your home that has seen better days but don't want to bring harsh chemicals into your home? Don't despair! For this polish all you need is: 2 tablespoons or baking soda, 2 tablespoons of salt and 1 piece of aluminum foil.
Mix all ingredients in a small jar and add 2 teaspoons to 1 quart of water to soak your silver in! The amount of water you use will vary with the amount of silver you are polishing. Keep an eye on the piece of aluminum foil because once it turns black, it means it is time to replace the foil. You should be able to see your silver changing from tarnished to polished the longer it soaks!
Not sure you're ready to completely kick the old cleaning habits? No problem! Change happens one step at a time. Try making some alternative cleaning solutions and using them in between your bigger cleans as a way to slowly introduce the idea of using different methods of cleaning. You can also conduct an experiment between your old cleaners and your new and improved eco-cleaners! See what happens if you clean something half with store bought products and half with home-made products! Chances are, the results will be pretty similar.
As mentioned before, below are two fun activities you can print out to see how green your home is and where you might have some hazardous waste lurking! These activities are meant to be fun and inspire alternative ways of thinking about how we use and reuse products in our homes!
One fun one way to document the type of greenery that’s present in an area during a specific time of year is to create a collage of leaves, sticks and any small pieces of nature you can find that you’d like to save! To create a collage, you’ll need some kind of glue or tape to hold your pieces together and, of course, whatever material you find that you would like to collage with! Just as with anything in our nature journals, there are all sorts of ways to go about creating your collage and all of them will work.
Before you create your collage, make a list of what materials you were able to find, where you found them and the date. You can add any other notes and observations about where your objects were found, if they were surprising to you, or if you have any questions about the objects. Can you identify everything that you found? Do your materials remind you of other things?
Additionally, you can play with the idea of creating a mixed media collage! A mixed media collage is when you use different types of mediums/materials to create an image. Adding watercolors, colored pencils, pens or anything else to your collage will add all sorts of depth and texture! You can also add notes about your collected items onto the collage if you wish!
Can't get outside? Turn to magazines and newspapers! Look for images of plants or animals and use them to create a nature inspired collage.
Nature journals are a great deal of fun because of how versatile they are. You can swap between making very meticulous, detailed observations and creating more abstract journal entries. No matter what kinds of entries you choose to create, make sure you’re always having fun with them! If you would like to share any of your journal entries with the NRT, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org we would love to see your work!
We often use the term invasive to describe any critter or plant that is causing a disturbance, but there are quite a few specific characteristics of a species that deem it truly invasive. For example, all people can vouch for the fact that mosquitos are frustrating and can cause harm to humans, but many species of mosquitos are native to the area, which makes them not invasive! For a species to be labeled as invasive, it must have some or most of the following characteristics:
Non-native to the Area it is Invasive to
This means that in order for a species to even be considered as invasive, it needs to be occupying a habitat or area that it is not native to. Many invasive species get to their new locales via human introduction and in most cases it’s a complete accident. Because of human beings’ ability to travel with ease from region to region around the world, the massive trade industry between countries, the manufacturing of goods worldwide and even the international pet trade, animals are constantly being introduced to areas where they are not native to. Some animals will be unable to transition to new habitats, some will survive but not cause much disturbance and others will completely take over.
Harmful to the Economy, Environment or Human Health
An example of an invasive species that has caused economical damage to an area is the invasive Asian Carp within the Mississippi river. Four species of carp have taken over the river after being introduce from Asia. They are the Grass Carp, Black Carp, Bighead Carp and Silver Carp. Within the Mississippi river system, aside from costing money to manage, they have negatively impacted the biodiversity of the area, which has also negatively impacted the fishing industries. For 15 years, scientists, fishermen and community members have been trying to manage these aquatic pests spending a grand total of 1.5 billion dollars in an effort to keep them out of the Great Lakes, where their impact on the fishing industry could be irreversible. As of now, they are mostly managed by electric “herding”, which is when boats use sound waves and electric currents to drive the fish into 1,000 foot long nets. Female carp are able to lay up to 5 million eggs at a time, making it near impossible to manage the populations without continuously spending on resources and manpower. One idea for the future that may allow for some kind of long-term management, at least to keep the fish out the Great Lakes, is to create an underwater dam that blocks fish using the same electric currents and sound waves used to control them now by boats!
Ability to Reproduce Rapidly/Grow Quickly
One of the characteristics that makes invasive species so difficult to manage, as mentioned with the invasive carp species of the Mississippi River, is their ability to reproduce rapidly and grow quickly. What this means is that many invasive species have a very short time between when they are born and when they are mature enough to reproduce themselves. Not only do they reach maturity quickly, but they also tend to have a large number of offspring. Individuals reaching maturity quickly and the ability to produce huge numbers of offspring results in the perfect storm for extreme population growth.
Wide Range of Adaptations
How can you help?
Many invasive species get from place to place by hitch-hiking with humans. This can be from latching onto trade-ships, or even attaching to a camper on a weekend in nature.
Some ways that you can help to prevent the spread of invasive species are by planting native plants in your yard or garden, cleaning off boots and clothes after a hike in an area with known invasives, rinsing off your boat after each use to get rid of aquatic hitchhikers, finding the appropriate way to manage household pets, reporting sightings of invasive species, volunteering with a removal project, and by researching invasive species near you!
Nature journals are a great way to help us focus our thoughts and modify our perspective of things that we look at every single day. One tool for guiding focus is to look for specific things within our natural surroundings. Whether it be some kind of naturally occurring organism or something a little bit more abstract, creating our own scavenger hunts can be a lot of fun! A favorite thing to look for and document in my nature journal are patterns.
Patterns are regularities of repeating shapes, lines and/or colors and are everywhere in nature! Not only are natural patterns beautiful, but finding the reasons for natural patterns is the basis of many scientific discoveries including the observations and findings of renowned naturalist Charle's Darwin. Darwin closely studied the relationship and patterns of behavior and traits among various species all over the world including intensively among the Galapagos Islands to give rise to his theory of Natural Selection.
When journaling, there are a number of different patterns you can look for within the natural world. You can choose to document any and all patterns or pick something specific. Some of the more common patterns in nature to look for are:
In your journals, try to find as many different patterns you can! You can even do some additional research and see what scientists and naturalists have observed the same patterns and how they are used in our everyday lives! Other patterns to look for are waves, spheres, flow or meanders (like a river shape or a snake while it is slithering), cracks, tessellations (repeated tile patterns), and spots and stripes!
Check out more examples of patterns found in nature below!
There are many ways that animals have evolved over time contributing to their successfulness as a species. Many of these useful adaptations are related to making animals less noticeable either from predators, if they are to avoid being eaten, or from prey if they are trying to be successful hunters. When thinking about characteristics that keep animals from standing out, we tend to only think of camouflage, but there are a lot of other really awesome methods of animal deception within the natural world. One of which is in the form of mimicry!
Mimicry is an adaptation that we can see in all branches of the animal kingdom. It shows up in birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates! Mimicry itself is a very broad trait and some forms of camouflage definitely fall within the umbrella description. In basic terms, mimicry is when an organism closely resembles another organism, or, in the case of camouflage, it can be when an animal closely resembles something like a rock. Below are two exceptional examples of insect mimicry within the animal world from imitating harmful animals to avoid predation to aggressive mimicry for luring in prey! Can you think of any animals you know of that might be mimicking another species?
To Bee or Not to Bee
Although it doesn't happen too often, a sting from a bee or a wasp is something a human doesn't forget. Well, the same goes for animals! The stinger is an extremely effective defense mechanism for both bees and wasps all around the world. Especially when interacting with smaller predators such as birds. These negative interactions make predators more keen to avoid the stinging insects if they've ever had a bad experience with one. One group of insects that benefits from the bee's reputation in the animal world is the fly!
Many flies have evolved coloration similar to that of bees and wasps (distinct black and yellow stripes) because they are less likely to be eaten by predators who target small insects! There are some characteristics that distinguish the two groups of insects, one of which being that bees have two pairs of wings and flies only have one pair, but without being able to make thorough observations, predators will avoid anything that resembles the stinging bee.
This type of mimicry is known as Batesian mimicry and is described as when a harmless species mimics a harmful species to avoid predation or negative interactions with other animals. Named for British Naturalist, Henry Walter Bates, who studied mimicry extensively on Amazonian butterflies.
A Flashy Disguise
Not all animals will mimic for protection from predators, some critters will mimic other species so that they can prey on them! This often happens with beetles and spiders mimicking the appearance and even the chemical pheromones of ants to infiltrate their colonies, but one of the flashier examples of this mimicry can be seen in fireflies!
Although firefly flashes may look random to humans, they are actually very precise signals for communication between males and females. Female fireflies will usually stay in one spot while male fireflies fly around and both will display specific light sequences to attract the other. Almost unbelievably, firefly light sequences change from species to species and males of one species know exactly what their female light signals are and vice-versa. Fireflies do not respond to the light sequences of fireflies of different species. Unless, of course, they are being tricked!
This form of mimicry used to trick other species into harmful situations, such as easily becoming an item of prey, is known as aggressive mimicry.
A fun way to incorporate the scientific method into our nature journals is by setting up a research project. This idea is taken from Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth’s Keeping a Nature Journal.
If you ever find yourself particularly interested in a specific plant, animal or phenomenon while outside (or inside) journaling, use it as an opportunity to do a little bit of research! Nature journal research projects can be about anything and they are yet another way to help us focus our thoughts and learn more about the natural world around us!
Something you’ll want to do before pursuing your project is to research the plant or animal you are investigating by trying to get as much information on it as possible. For this, you can utilize your local library, books you have in your home and/or the internet! If you want, you can create a page (or more!) of background information in your journal with all of the new things that you learn about your research subject! As you gain more information on the plant/animal you are looking into, you can compare what you learn through independent study of books/website and what you observe when in the field. Do your observations align with what you are learning? Do you notice anything unique that you didn’t read about? Does anything surprise you about your plant/animal?
A huge part of science and ecological studies is observing how plants and animals behave in their natural environments over time. Committing to sketching, recording, researching and making connections of one aspect of the natural world through a mini-research project will help to enhance so many skills that are utilized in our nature journals and it can be a TON of fun! You'll probably see a lot of things that you hadn't noticed before and perhaps you'll even make a discovery!
It is the end of December, which means people are getting rid of wreaths, Christmas trees and all things festive. I am always saddened when I have to throw out trees and wreaths because it usually means saying goodbye to the lovely balsam smell that comes with them. If you are like me and you love the balsam smell, here are some cool crafts you can do with balsam branches and needles! If you love the smell of balsam and don’t have a tree or wreath, you may be able to convince a friend to give you a couple of clippings or you could go out looking for balsam fir trees! According to iNaturalist, there are balsam trees in Massachusetts! Of course, don’t go cut down a tree, but even pine trees shed their needles, so chances are if you find a fir tree, there are balsam needles below it! Just be sure to check the rules/guidelines about where you are visiting and if it would be acceptable to forage for some balsam needles!
Clip and dry the needles!
To get the best balsam smell for the longest amount of time, you should cut and dry your needles. This is super simple and step one is to grab some scissors and shred all of your needles into tiny pieces! Needles should at least be chopped in half once to enhance the forest-like aroma. Once the needles are chopped, you will want to dry them. To do this, lay your choppings on a pan and leave them somewhere dry and undisturbed for a couple of days. When you come back to your needles, they should be brittle to touch and fairly easy to snap. Hopefully wherever you put them to dry now has a strong balsam scent! Once you are sure your needles are dry, they should be good to store and smell for a pretty long time! I have a balsam pillow going on four years old that is still very strongly scented.
What you do with your needles next is completely up to you! If you are feeling extra crafty, or want to explore the world of sewing, you can make a balsam pillow with two pieces of fabric. You can also reuse cotton baggies, or jewelry sachets and fill them with your balsam clippings. Possibly the easiest way to fill a room with the smell of balsam is to put all your clippings in a decorative bowl and let the aroma fill the air! However you choose to use your needles will be perfect!
make a weather stick!
The wood of Balsam Fir trees is very responsive to its environment and some of the cell structure in the tree will actually change depending on weather! Specifically, the cells will expand or contract based on the amount of moisture that is in the air. Because of the expanding and contracting of the cells, the trees will actually change shape under different weather conditions. To learn more about how Balsam Firs react to changes in weather, check out this article published in the Farmer's Almanac!
So, how can we harness this prediction tool? Great question! Below are instructions on how to use the power of the balsam fir to create your very own weather stick! This activity is best to do with an already cut down Christmas tree so that you aren’t chopping off branches of trees growing in the wild.
The first thing you’ll want to do is find a branch on your tree that is about ¼” in diameter and cut it from the trunk of the tree. Next, you’ll need to strip the branch completely bare. This means clipping all of the smaller branches that are attached to it off and taking all the needles and bark from it! Once your branch Is stripped, you’ll need to leave it out to dry for a couple of days.
While your branch is drying, you can work on creating a mount for your weather stick. Weather sticks seem to work best if they hang perpendicular somewhere outside, so you want to create a mount that you can attach to a wall or something outdoors. Many people suggest finding a block of wood and drilling a small hole in it that is the same width as your branch. You can then slip the branch in the hole with a bit of wood glue and, viola, you’ve got a weather stick! Don’t have access to a drill? Get creative! The main thing is that your balsam fir stick is free to move about as the weather changes. When you hang your stick, you’ll want to put it upside down from the way it was growing on the tree. It’s most likely that the stick was curved a little bit upwards when It was on the tree, so you’ll probably want to hang it so that it is pointing towards the ground.
After you’ve found a permanent location for your stick, you’ll be able to use it to help you make weather predictions! Whenever your stick is pointing down it means that there is moisture in the air and the possibility of rain and whenever the stick is pointing up it means that there isn’t moisture in the air and the probability of rain is low!
Ah yes, it is the end of the year (a little unbelievably), which means it is time for New Year’s Resolutions and lots of self-evaluation in the coming days. This attitude of self-reflection and future aspirations is something that can trickle down even into our nature journals. Personally, I do not put much thought into New Year’s Resolutions, but I do like to use the end of the year as a time to reflect and look back at some of my accomplishments as well as think about suggestions for myself in the coming year. Many times, nature journals serve as the perfect outlet for in-the-moment observations and recordings, but then they tend to stay in that moment. I find that I don’t often look back at my previous nature journal entries unless I make a point to do so, or if I am trying to get information about a specific date and time.
If you'd like, you can add your list of thoughts/comments about previous journal entries into your current journal so that you can reference it moving forward as a helpful reminder, but whether or not you want to record your findings in your journal is completely up to you! If you're new to journaling, or aren't sure that nature journaling is for you, the beginning of 2021 could be the time to explore this interest! We have a bunch of Nature Journal Notes blog posts all about different things to try in your nature journal as well as tips on some important pieces of information to keep in mind while recording data and observations!
Swing by next week for more Nature Journal Notes and enjoy a selection of our Nature Journal Note examples from the past year below!
Practicing with poetry is easy and is something that is often overlooked, but can be a very good way to capture moments in nature and focus on specific observations. One fairly straightforward exercise can be to create an acrostic poem. The format of acrostic poems is simple. Take a work or phrase, preferably nature related, vertically in your nature journal. Then, use each letter of the word as the first letter for a set of horizontal words or phrases that relate to the vertical word. For the sake of nature journaling, you can practice with recording your observations of the vertical word in the form of horizontal phrases like the examples below!
Another simple, yet thoughtful style of poetry is the Haiku. A Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that is commonly a three lined poem with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second line and 5 syllables in the third line. Haikus are perfect for reflecting on nature because they are designed to focus on imagery. Try to write a Haiku about something you are seeing in nature sticking to the 5-7-5 syllable format. Think about sound, sight, touch, smell and possibly even taste when coming up with phrases. Below is a haiku by Japanese poet, Natsume Sōseki.
over the wintry
By Natsume Sōseki
Over the wintry
Forest, winds howl in rage
With no leaves to blow.
The beauty of poetry, much like the beauty of keeping a nature journal, is that it can really be whatever you want! My favorite type of poem to play with are those that rhyme, but even with rhyming poems, there are infinite ways to express yourself! Take some time to explore different ways to record observations in the form of poetry. Even if poetry is completely new for you, or maybe something that you won't experiment with in the future, it can be an awesome tool for focusing your observations. Until next week!
It's officially winter now that we've had our first large snowfall of the season, which means there is plenty of opportunity to get outside and start building snowmen, snow forts, and making snow angels! It seems like the fun never ends when there is a layer of fresh snow coating the earth. There's no better way to keep our bodies moving and our energy up than a nice break to make some maple syrup taffy! Check out the super easy snack instructions below and enjoy!
Things to grab for this activity: Maple syrup, an area of untouched snow, a saucepan for your syrup, a spoon and some popsicle sticks (if you wish)! Additionally, you will need an adult helper.
maple syrup taffy
Once the syrup has been heating up for four minutes and before it has time to cool down, pour it into the fresh patch of packed snow! You can pour it as is, or find some popsicle sticks to lay out as handles to make lolli-pops. Flex your creative muscle by trying to make fun, festive shapes! As soon as the candy cools enough so that it feels hard and sturdy enough to pick up without dripping, it is ready to eat!
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