Garden Update!

            At 10,200 feet it goes from snowing feet to sunny planting weather in very sudden ways sometimes.  As the year rolled into June we began planting immediately in our raised beds.  Windows that were donated briefly protected the planted seeds and transplanted plants from the cold nights early in June.  We brought out broccoli and Tyee F1 spinach from the greenhouse and planted White satin F1 carrot, Napoli F1 carrot, Dragon carrot, Pawnee bush bean directly into the raised beds. 

            Three varieties of potatoes have been planted in the huglekulture and in “smart” pots, a fabric planting pot that drains well.  We filled the smart pots with sandy soil and will see how the production compares to the mound (huglekulture).  A 50/50 mix of sand and compost was used with three varieties of potatoes in the smart pots versus an aging mix of layered compost, topsoil, sand, and aspen buried deep in the mound (hugelkulture). 

Pre-schoolers from summit and kids from the Park County Boys and girls club as well as the Mosquito Range Heritage Initiative also helped with a secondary planting.  It was fun to see kids do what they like to do, diggin’ in the dirt and training their immune system simultaneously.  Some kids were digging up potatoes as others were planting, some had obvious training with parents and were professionals, and the mood was playful and relaxed.  Our potato donor was so generous we ran out of room to plant them and still have a few if anybody wants a late start.  

            Calendula has sprouted in the geothermal greenhouse and has been transplanted to the outdoor beds and some smart pots.  This has been a hardy high altitude survivor.  If the seeds are started indoors, and are then transplanted, they flourish and are able to bear seed.  When we started the calendula from seed in the beds outside, they did not quite have enough time to go to seed (FYI for those herbalists and massage therapists growing this herb to use in balms, and for those interested in seed saving.)  This was one of the favorite herbs used in balm making with the Cottonwood Institute this June when they camped out for a night. 

            June began with the shearing of the alpacas, the llama, and the angora goats.  Many thanks to Scott and his son, and to Marnie  for helping us again with the shearing.  The fiber from the alpacas looked and felt silky and will be used in our workshops to make beautiful handmade, local crafts.  Sign up for classes soon (limited space).   What fell to the floor in the barn goes into the compost mound.  In small quantities, hair, fleece, wool, are great additions to compost, aiding in aeration and water retention in soils. 

            Transplants from the greenhouse are starting to come out to the raised beds.  We are using donated windows to cover the beds at night to keep a bit of heat in the soil.  Three varieties of carrot (Dragon, Napoli, White satin) have been started and Pawnee bush bean from seed in one raised bed.  One bed has spinach and broccoli transplanted from the geothermal greenhouse.  The soil types in the four beds are a range from potting soil primarily in two of them, a mix of compost and potting soil, and a pure compost bed.  

            Soil dries out very quickly in the heat of the Summer.  This June we barely had a drop of rain.  With the intense ultraviolet rays the moisture gets baked out of the soil.  Different solutions can be implemented.  One is to grow crops that are resistant to dry conditions and can tolerate relatively chilly nighttime temperatures.  This is why potatoes are such a great crop in the high country.   We are finding also that when too much potting soil with perlite is used for seedlings, the top layer dries out quick, so try to add things such as compost and small amounts of hair or animal fiber, to aid in water retention.  And be diligent with watering your plants, especially when they are young and fragile. 

            Other options include shade cloth, a partial enclosure (such as a skylight with a hinge, or a drip irrigation system on a timer.  While the seedlings are taking root, it is very important to maintain moisture levels in the soil, but not too much.  The reason for this is to inhibit anaerobic bacterial growth and allow beneficial fungal growth in the soil (mycorrhizae).

Some of the outdoor plants that are doing well this June included Tyee spinach, broccoli (doing very well), calendula, Bilko f1 cabbage, carrots (planted from seed outside-high germination rate after 3-4 weeks), lettuce, and of course the potatoes.  It is always worth mentioning that the chipmunks and larger mammals avoid potatoes and require little water.  Very important considerations that help determine which beds may need less varmint security. 

            In the Geothermal greenhouse we have summer thyme sprouting, Korean licorice mint, Krausa f1 parsley, fennel, three types of lettuce, Red Rubin basil, and our cilantro is almost ready to harvest for seed.  Fennel is also flowering and may produce some seed for the Beaver Ponds high altitude seed bank.  Our "seed bank" is currently tiny stock of seed that will hopefully grow exponentially and help with public health in our high country food desert.

            It has been a very warm June with zero hail.  Yet.   This meant very nice weather for the various groups with which we have had the opportunity to collaborate with.   The end of June culminated with an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach between the Boys and Girls Club of the High Rockies and the Mosquito Range Heritage Initiative (MRHI).   Keystone Science School was also able to join in for one brief evening during their pre-hike campout night at Beaver Ponds.  It was Science week and the kids as well as the parents really appreciated the free “camp” as kids named it that had a focus on terrestrial and aquatic insects using dissecting microscopes and collection nets on the Sacramento Creek.  This was basic entomology research for kids in the guise of play. 

            The organization and skill of MRHI and the Boys and Girls Club made the experience for the little ones filled with learning, healthy food, and exceptional compassion.  It was a pleasure to help catalyze such great hands-on fun in nature.  Kudos to Cara Doyle of MRHI and Gavin from the South Park Boys and Girls club for a successful “camp.”       

            Other activities at Beaver Ponds this June included a training weekend for the South Park Stewards.  This is a very special group of people who are finding and protecting archaeological artifacts in South Park.  The mission of the group is very noble and will help us understand more over time about the 10,000 or so year history of Native American life in South Park.  It was a pleasure to host this group again for their training and thank you for what you do South Park Stewards!  

            Thanks again to all of the donors, volunteers, community members, organizations, and individuals who have helped make our collaborative efforts fun, safe, and effective.  Our goal is to teach others to be like beavers.  Busy like a beaver and as a keystone species, benefitting other organisms downstream. We hope that like the snowmelt from the Continental Divide, the information, inspiration, and models of actions and behavior supporting the Earth, flow and spread far and wide. 

            Native and Medicinal Herb walks are on the 10th of every month.  The Arnica is starting to flower and this along with some other plants will be collected this July 10th.  It is free, relaxed, and fun!  I will be leading the tour with an emphasis on foraging for foods and medicines in the forest.


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Chronology: Two Years in Review

Over the past two years we have received funding from South Park National Heritage Area (SPNHA) to conduct research on dendrochronology and herbchronology.  Their generosity has allowed us to study the science related to these two disciplines, by measuring the growth patterns of trees and herbs, respectively.  We are looking to complete a bio-chronology at Beaver Ponds this coming summer.  A bio chronology is the ages and growth patterns of all species that add annual growth rings.  Growth rings are displayed in several plants but there are animals that display growth rings such as fish and turtles.  Some of the animals also show a climate signal in their growth rings.  A climate signal is shown as a pattern of wide and narrow rings displaying the influence of precipitation rates.

tree rings

During the summer of 2015, with help of Drs. Richard Guyette and Rose Marie Muzika from the Missouri Tree Ring Laboratory (MTRL) at the University of Missouri, we sampled trees at Beaver Ponds and on University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and Mountain Area Land Trust Land on nearby Pennsylvania Mountain.  The impetus of the project was to determine growth rates and ages of trees at Beaver Ponds and on Pennsylvania Mountain.  At Beaver Ponds, we collected increment cores from lodgepole pine and cross sections from old stumps.  On Pennsylvania Mountain, we collected increment cores from several bristlecone pines.  We found live trees on Pennsylvania Mountain near 2000 years old while the oldest tree at Beaver Ponds was a 215-year-old Engelmann Spruce.  One of the cross sections collected at Beaver Ponds started growing in 1356 and was over 500 years old when it was cut down.  Most of the lodgepole pine samples at Beaver Ponds gave us recruitment date 1870.  This corresponds with the establishment of the Duquesne smelter.  Our guess is that most of the larger timber in the immediate area of the smelter was harvested for fuel.  More than half of the cores from the bristlecone pine on Pennsylvania Mountain showed increased growth rates over the past 100 years.  This is counter intuitive; you would expect diameter growth to decrease over time due to competition with other trees and old age.  What caused the increased growth is unknown but it could be due to increased temperatures and/or additional CO2.

In 2016 Dr. Mike Stambaugh, (MTRL) along with Beaver Ponds personnel and volunteers collected samples of various herbaceous alpine plants that display annual growth rings.  At Beaver Ponds, we sampled two types of cinquefoil – an herbaceous plant of the rose family; and a pea we still must identify.  We collected several samples of Whipple’s Penstemon a species that is known to have growth rings.  To be able to see the growth rings, we needed to slice the roots with a microtome.  A microtome is an instrument that can hold a sample in a vise as it is drawn over an extremely sharp blade.  The result is a sample that is about the third of the thickness of a human hair.  After slicing, we stained the sample so we can see the cells with lignin.  Lignin gives plants the ability to be erect.  During collection, we collected additional above ground information that might be used as predictors of the plants age.  What we found is that the sum of the diameter of the rosette and plant height are good indicator of the age of Whipple Penstemon.

pontentilla flower

In 2017 we are seeking funds to cover the cost associated with collecting information related to shrub growth at Beaver Ponds and on Pennsylvania Mountain.  Shrub-chronology looks at the growth rates of shrubby species.  At Beaver Ponds, we are planning on sampling stream side willows, shrubby cinquefoil, mountain sagebrush and common juniper.  On Pennsylvania Mountain, we will sample shrubby cinquefoil, common juniper and willows.  These species show growth rings well and display a climate signal.  In preliminary sampling, we found a juniper that is 114 years old and a sagebrush that is 45.

With the collection of the 2017 shrub age data along with the dendro and herb-chronology data we will have made the first pass on determining the vegetative portion of the bio-chronology at Beaver Ponds and Pennsylvania Mountain.

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Composting Tips & Tricks from Eartha

Green Tips from Beaver Ponds to Your Home

Make sure you sign up for our monthly newsletter for sustainability tips like this delivered to your inbox.

This month's tip on composting comes from "Eartha" our neighbor over at High Country Conservation Center -- Be sure to share this with a young person in your life, as she originally wrote this for elementary school age children.  HC3's mission is to promote practical solutions for waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community.   You can learn more by visiting
Why should you compost and why is it good? There are LOTS of reasons! Adding compost to soil gives plants all the building blocks they need to grow big and strong - nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and lots of other micronutrients. It's sort of like a human taking a multi-vitamin. Additionally, putting compost in soil helps the soil keep water and improves air circulation - water and air are both very important to growing plants.
Compost also helps keep our air clean. Most households throw away about 474 pounds of food a year, which is about 1½ pounds of food per person per day! If you piled all the food scraps by all the households in the USA on a football field, it would be more than five miles high. Wow! When people don't compost, those food scraps end up in a landfill; and, because landfills lock in layers of trash keeping oxygen out when those scraps of food decompose - or break down - they create methane gas, which is very bad for humans to breathe.

Lastly, we live in a big country that is very beautiful. Throwing food scraps away with garbage and putting everything into a landfill takes a lot of space and is not very pretty. Right now, some cities, like New York, where there are lots of people and lots of trash, have run out of landfill space. They load their garbage into trucks and drive it 600 miles away to dump in a landfill that still has space. All that trash is a mix of everything people throw away, but paper, plastic and food scraps are most of what is in the pile. Food scraps can be composted, so imagine how much smaller those landfill piles would be without those things!

It is very easy to compost! First, collect all your unusable food scraps — basically anything that comes from the refrigerator or pantry. Do not include any paper, plastic or paper coated in plastic. You’ll want to collect over time, so work with your family to figure out how you want to store the food scraps until you have enough to take to the Recycling Center or to start your own compost pile.

One way you can store the scraps is in a brown paper bag in the freezer. The cold helps it, so there isn’t any smell. You can also store them in a lidded kitchen compost pail (basically, any container with a lid). You’ll want to make sure the container is easily washable, though, as when the food scraps break down, it leaves goo. Every couple of days, you’ll want to empty out this small container to something larger like a 4-5 gallon bucket. Keep the bucket near your backdoor, and, after dumping the small container into it, add a damp paper towel on top or sprinkle some sawdust, leaves or dirt on top to cut down on the smell. Once the bucket (or the bag in the freezer) is full take it to your local recycling center that accepts food waste.

If you have space where you live, you can also compost in your backyard. There is a lot of information online, but you’ll need a bin, brown “stuff” (dry leaves, paper) and green “stuff” (food scraps), water and a way to mix everything together. If you really take care of your compost, you can have rich, black dirt in no time!  However, if you live in the mountains or somewhere with bears in the area, a little extra care is needed. 

black bear

Additional tips on composting in bear country:

For composting up in the high country you need to get material properly composted indoors in order to detract bears and other animals.  One way to do this is by utilizing other organisms to break down the waste material.  Namely, worms and fungus are great assistants to utilize in the composting process.  Most gardeners realize the value of vermiculture by utilizing their castings as natural fertilizer ~ namely worm poop.  "Worm bins" using red wriggler worms is a common method to compost kitchen scraps.  Bokashi is another indoor friendly method to compost in your home using beneficial fungi to break down the material in a closed bucket system.  This is a great way to utilize kitchen scraps by composting indoors and involves inoculating the bucket with a powdered fungus and adding scraps of vegetable matter to the bin as it collects, mixing occasionally.


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Eggshell Gardening

Green Tips from Beaver Pond to Your Home

Make sure you sign up for our monthly newsletter for sustainability tips like this delivered to your inbox.

This month's tip on eggshell gardening comes from Beaver Ponds friend and guest writer Marjorie Gillmeister who left the limelight of New York City to farm organically in Texas on The Gillmeister Ranch established in 1972 by her 90 year old father-in-law with their sweet son Wolfgang.

eggshellsIf you begin your garden from seeds this year, why don't you consider starting seeds in eggshells?  Growing seedlings in eggshell pods is a natural, biodegradable, and environmentally earth-friendly way to recycle and can be planted directly into the soil after being cracked a little with care and supply nourishment to the plant and soil by slowly releasing calcium.

You'll Need:   

  • Eggs
  • Egg carton
  • Seeds 
  • Seed Starter Planting Mix 
  • Small spoon
  • Spray bottle or plant mister 
  • Awl, ice pick, or wide sharp needle 

1. When cracking the eggshells, crack the top part of the egg (narrower point end) with a sharp knife and gently pour the egg from the opening for use.

2. Save eggshells, and rinse well inside and out with warm water. For extra sanitation, boil the shells for a few minutes to make sure all traces of egg residue are cleaned out. If the shells foam up a bit, you will know that you've brought the leftover residue to the surface. 

3. Rinse eggshells again and place them back in their egg carton to dry. Once dry, gently chip any rough edges of the eggs to desired opening size.

4. Use awl, ice pick, or wide sharp needle to puncture a single hole in the middle base of the eggshell. You have then created a drainage hole for your egg planter. I puncture the eggshells from the inside while resting in the egg carton to provide a buffer for it. You may have to remove parts of the thin membrane alongside the eggshell by spraying water gently inside eggshell.

5. With a small spoon, scoop some seed starter planting mix into eggshell to fill.  You may want to carefully shake egg to even out soil.

7. Plant seeds according to seed packet directions to determine depth and any other special care. 

eggshells ready to plant8. Spritz water with spray bottle to moisten soil but not to the point of soggy and place eggshell container in a well-lit area with sun indoors by a window with the most light.

9. Water plants with a gentle spritz with spray bottle each morning to moisten, taking care not to make the soil too soggy. Watch and wait for your seedlings to sprout - usually in a few days depending on seedling emerging time.

10. Once sprouts have grown large enough to transfer (usually 4-6 weeks) thin them out and plant directly into the ground or larger planter after gently cracking the eggshell around them. The roots will grow beyond the eggshell into the soil, the shell will continue to provide nourishment to the plant and surrounding soil, and will eventually biodegrade.

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Herbchronology - Big Data, Small Plant

Penstemon virens  SCR 3796Do you remember the article from last month's newsletter when Beaver Ponds discovered a nearly 700 year-old tree on our property?  This was the result of a dendrochronology study (tree ring growth) up is an herbchronology study.

We are very excited to share with you that Beaver Ponds recently received a significant grant from the South Park National Heritage Area (SPNHA) to measure the annual growth rings of alpine herbaceous plants!

The technical term for this work is herbchronology - a term coined in the 90s for this type of work.

This may not seem exciting to you at first glimpse, but can you believe that like trees, perennial herbs have a growth zone that tells us the age of herbaceous plants like the penstemon pictured above? 

Who knew?

Put another way, using similar techniques as dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, we can measure these annual growth rings and learn a lot about their life because of the growth zone called the vascular cambium found between the root bark and the rootxylem (tissue) - shown below in the picture of a penstemon stem.   In addition, herbchronology is used to measure population age structure (the age span between plants in a determined area) and the effects of localized climate change.

Inside of Penstemon StemThis summer you will find Beaver Ponds staff, in conjunction with Dr. Michael Stambaugh from the Missouri Tree Ring Laboratory, out sampling perennial plants on Pennsylvania Mountain and at Beaver Ponds. With the assistance of Dr. Candi Galen, from the University of Missouri, we will sample plants that support the long-term existing research projects that have been active on Pennsylvania Mountain for the past thirty-five years.

You'll be the very first to know the results of this study. A big shout of gratitude to SPNHA for all of your support of Beaver Ponds.

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News from the Hen House

Cock-a-doodle-doo is not a sound you will be hearing from our hen house any time soon, as our new flock is "ladies only"!
Silver lace WyandotteOur new flock of chickens is established and the hens are great winter egg-layers.  We chose special heritage breeds, that could manage our altitude and climate better, such as the "chocolate egg layer" from France the Cuckoo Maran, and the green egg layer called the Americauna, along with the New Hampshire Reds, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Barred Rocks, and Silver Leghorns.  The Silver Leghorns are a very rare breed that were bred for their white egg color, although they produce fewer and smaller eggs compared to the other breeds.
The chicks arrived last summer as babies in the mail and their first winter at 10,000 feet has been a great season for egg production.  Our beautiful ladies are laying between 8 and 12 eggs per day.  Their appreciative clucks let us know how very fortunate they feel to have such healthy and sustainably grown food.  Their yolks are deep yellow/orange and their flavor is superb.
The hens are fed fresh barley grass from our greenhouse to supplement their grain and pellet feed, which helps keep them healthy, and in turn, we are rewarded with fresh eggs galore! Locals you can call ahead to swing by and purchase a dozen eggs for $5 to help support Beaver Ponds' hen house.
Watch for a hen naming contest on
our Facebook page later this month.
Thank you for helping sustain our hens and the rest of our domestic animal crew!

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Update, Tips, and Tricks from the BP Greenhouse and Gardens to Yours!

We’ve just started thinking about our first outdoor crops of the year. This past week we started seeding our potatoes. Seeing kids planting and picking potatoes is a simple pleasure as they get their fingers dirty and discover wriggly worms and insects along the way. Since the snow continues, we’ll probably stagger the plantings out a few weeks apart just in case we get another hard freeze!  

Beaver Ponds was lucky enough to receive a donation of seed potatoes and excellent quality potting soil this year and for that we are very, very grateful.

As all you gardeners know, right now is a good time to go over your seed stock and decide what to begin for the summer season. In the geothermal greenhouse we have many varieties of lettuce ready to pick, spinach started, basil babies, fennel ready to harvest, garlic chives to eat (which we found visiting kiddos devour), cilantro bolting and going to seed, the aloe is thriving, and the banana tree is alive (no fruit yet)!  

Some of the plants to start early in our greenhouse include tomatoes, brussels sprouts, beans, carrots, onions, and basically any other plants that take over 70-90 days to finish. We will keep you posted on what varieties we get going this year, hopefully providing some agricultural shoulders on which the local community can stand. At 10,000 foot elevation, we are very lucky to have a geothermal greenhouse to start the plants in, and thanks to a Colorado Garden Foundation Grant we are putting up another greenhouse to accompany the hugelkulture [link here] and raised bed projects. We could still use some support from folks like you – please consider donating here. [link]

Our raised beds have been relocated closer to the alpacas and we utilized the same aeration and soil layering techniques that we have employed in the past. The soil in the beds is improving over time with amendments and special potting soils added. One of the four beds was left as a pure compost and topsoil mix without the extra potting soil. We will use this bed to assess the compost quality versus more amended soils. Stay tuned.

Colorado Mountain College Sustainability studies and business major Jeff Kepler has researched greenhouses which incorporate concepts of sustainable design such as passive solar, trombe walls (define) and thermal mass, a “climate battery” to circulate warm air under the roots, vermiculture, and other important elements for high country greenhouse design. This summer he is taking on an internship with us to write a short book or manual on building a greenhouse in the high country. The goal is to provide a simple resource explaining various options, costs, and challenges associated with building greenhouses in the Rocky Mountain high country.

What about your greenhouse and beds?

It’s a good time to give your greenhouse a thorough cleaning to prepare for the summer with a bit of pest and mold prevention.   Things you can do to clean the area and prepare include cleaning with a bleach/water solution, cleaning using vinegar/water, burning sulfur in a diffuser to kill fungal spores, and tidying up before the summer gets into full swing.

Other preventative measures can go a long way for success! Soils may be left outside during the colder nights to kill insect larvae. Placing the soil in direct sunlight can help sterilize it as well. Whiteflies and aphids are primarily what we have come across in the geothermal greenhouse; you always have to be on the lookout for preventive strategies, integrative models, and sustainable ways to react to new challenges.

As with any ecosystem there is a niche battle going on. By improving and encouraging beneficial microbial life in the soil we can influence this niche occupation to our benefit. Utilizing compost, and compost teas, keeping the area clean, pruning dead leaves, utilizing yellow sticky traps, implementing beneficial nematodes and ladybugs when necessary to eat larvae and eggs, vaporizing sulfur for fungal spores (be careful to not inhale vapors and spray the area down with water as the sulfur treatment begins), among other methods help influence the biodiversity towards the species we want in our garden, both in the soil and above the soil.

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Overview of Pre-history and Archaeology in South Park

Written by Dr. Susan Bender who co-founded the South Park Archaeology Project and the South Park Site Stewardship program

scraperScraper Artifact Found at BPEEC in 2016Native American Indians visited South Park seasonally for at least 10,000 years prior to the arrival of the first White explorers, trappers, traders, and settlers.  These Native people moved their base camps seasonally according to the availability of wild food resources, and visited South Park regularly in their annual rounds.  Although archaeologists have yet to recover direct evidence of the seasons when Native people were in South Park, they assume that Indians were not here during those times when the weather was challenging and food resources limited.

While the Ute were in South Park at the time of contact with White populations, we know from a series of archaeological studies that their history here is limited to the last 1,000 years.  Thus the traces of Ute culture that can be found in the Park, such as peeled trees and stone enclosures, as well as the chronicles of early settlers and explorers, record only the most recent part of Native American Indian history in South Park. The prior 9,000 years of Native American Indian history is recorded only in the archaeological remains that can be discovered throughout the Park.

Given their transient lifestyle, hunters and gatherers had limited material possessions and few (if any) of the tools that they made from perishable materials could survive the rigors of exposure in South Park’s environment.  Thus the archeological remains of early Native activities in South Park are limited.  Lost or discarded stone tools and the remains of their manufacturing process are the primary archaeological traces of this history, along with a variety of stone constructions including cairns, enclosures, and alignments. 

To date, archaeologists have studied only a small fraction of South Park’s landscape (less than 5%), but they have been able to identify and document over 1,700 sites that  records 10,000 years of Native American Indian history here.  Stone tools (principally projectile points) found in the Park and made in styles characteristic of specific time periods bear witness to this deep historic time span.  In addition, South Park Archaeology Project archaeologists have recovered charcoal from two separate excavations that dated these samples to 3,000 and 6,000 years ago.  Every time we can associate traces of past human activity with a place and a time, we come closer to being able to map out what type of Indian activities occurred within the Park at particular places and times.  These data then start to build a picture of dynamic human interactions in the past.  We are beginning to understand that certain areas of the park were favored for different types of settlements, that certain ritual activities were undertaken to map this landscape, and that likely more than one cultural group occupied the Park at any given time.

Our ability to expand upon this emerging story depends on the preservation of a fragile data base.  Artifacts removed from sites and sites destroyed remove vital information from an already restricted database.  Volunteers who have helped archaeologists to gather the information that we currently possess understand this principle well, and as a result they have formed the South Park Site Stewardship Program, whose purpose is to promote the preservation and protection of prehistoric, historic, archaeological, and paleontological resources within the South Park National Heritage Area.

Beaver Ponds Environmental Education Center has hosted the South Park Site Stewardship classroom training sessions for the past two years.   The staff have been consistently gracious, knowledgeable, and easy to work with.   Technical equipment is provided for the classroom, and the environment is relaxed.   The overall experience in working with Beaver Ponds has been excellent.  We’re thrilled with the recent scraper discovery on their property and look forward to continued partnership."  Linda Carr, South Park Archaeology Project

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Libraries Aren't Just for Reading Anymore


It is an interesting times for seed cultivation and unfortunately for all of us, a lack of biodiversity may have a negative impact on our food security. Due to changing agricultural practices and the loss of many heirloom varieties, patents, and pollen drift (accidental cross-pollination), the old practice of saving seed for the next year and community sharing of seed is decreasing overall in current cultivation and modern farming practices.

Seed libraries allow individuals to "check out" seeds. They then plant the seeds and "return" seeds back to the library at the end of the growing season. We recently selected many plants to narrow down what performs well in our environment at 10,000 feet. Our hope is to then contribute meaningfully to the local seed library in Park County and to offer a workshop to the community on what grows well at this altitude and tips and tricks we learned along the way.

This year we will be experimenting with growing many new varieties and heirloom strains including carrots, fennel, marjoram, dill, parsley, cilantro, Cress, broccoli, chard, peppers, and many others.  Through our ongoing efforts to identify heirlooms that grow well in this environment and to harvest seed for seed swapping and seed library collaborative projects is one-way Beaver Ponds is helping with our local food production and demonstration of sustainable high country gardening.

We are currently preparing for our short outdoor season by starting many seeds in the greenhouse.  Dino kale, red Russian kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, radishes, and many other plants are being started indoors to go outside.  Likewise, we are starting trial runs on plants such as basil in the greenhouse to determine which varieties perform best for future cultivation efforts.  The more climate sensitive plants will stay in the greenhouse, and those that are more cold hardy will be transplanted to the raised beds or a huglekulture mound (to read more about huglekulture mounds click here).  

Grassroots movements to preserve heirloom varieties and create hybridized plants are increasingly important, as the dominant paradigm is moving toward mega monopolies of seed.  Biodiversity impacts our food security, so please support and utilize your local seed library.  Summit County has a seed library and your local community may as well -- a simple search online can get you headed in the right direction! 

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Poop and Wool

Are you curious how alpacas fit into Beaver Ponds sustainability picture?

The answer is two-fold: poop and wool.

QuantumAlpacas are unique because their manure isn't "hot" and therefore is able to be used to fertilize plants without having to wait for it to process for a couple years. While the alpacas are eating and digesting and lending a helping hand to the food and plants we are growing, they are also growing their fiber that we have been gathering and now have processed into yarn!

Thanks to SunCrest Fiber Works in Palisades, CO for processing over seventy pounds of Beaver Ponds fiber! After processing, we ended up with 82 skeins of yarn totaling over 16,000 yards of worsted yarn, almost 1000 yards of rug yarn, and 7 pounds of batts that are ready for spinning. 

 Rug yarnThe majority of the yarn is black, due to our three young black alpacas but our number one producer is Nash, with his beautiful dark brown coat. We also have white and light brown yarn. The rug yarn comes in white, brown, a mix of black and brown and a mixture of greys from our suri llama Donzi.

If you're interested in purchasing yarn, please send us a note via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  We'll also have the yarn and batts available during Burro Days, July 30-31st and the Fiber and Bead Festival, August 13-14th, in Fairplay, CO.

Prices are:

$20/200 yard skein for the worsted yarn

$18/pound for the rug yarn

$15/pound for batts plus shipping cost.

This is a wonderful way to support Beaver Ponds and to create sustainable pieces from our lovely rescue alpacas and llama that we have taken in over the past four years.

The alpacas have been good fleece producers and a great teaching tool for students and visitors about how alpacas fit into the sustainability equation.

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What to do with 100 pounds of fiber...

skirting alpaca fleece 2Do you ever check the labels on your clothing and discover that an item is made of alpaca or other natural fibers?
Beaver Ponds is working toward creating useful and artful objects with our fiber -- from the coats of our llama, alpacas, and goats.  Over the past two years, we have collected close to 100 pounds of fiber from our alpacas - Boone, Zeb, Nash, Quantam, Radar, and Kaya, our Llama - Donzi, our angoras - Jellybean and Kalahari, and last but certainly not least our Cashmeres - Viola and Miranda.  Don't you agree that they have been very generous?  We will process about a three-quarters of the collected fiber and retain the rest as raw fiber to be used in future workshops. 
With the help of one our volunteers, Ellwood Barrett, we skirted our fiber -- the process of removing anything from the fleece that is dirty, coarse, contaminated, or otherwise unusable -- in preparation for having the fiber processed.  In addition, Elwood is using some of the fiber to learn about cleaning, carding, and spinning.  After processing, we will have several skeins of fiber with which to make creative projects. 
Beaver Ponds has approached our local senior center to enlist them to help with spinning, knitting, weaving, and felting our fiber into products and art objects to sell locally.  We recently submitted a grant proposal to the Denver Foundation and Staples Foundation to help with funding this project.

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Do you know what hugelkulture, micro fodder, and vermiculture have in common?

hugelkulturMore than just a bunch of fun words to say, these are some of the ways that Beaver Ponds is engaging in sustainable high elevation agriculture. 
You can consider each of these initiatives as "demonstrations" that are meant to inspire folks like you to try some of these practices at home. Some may be more realistic for your lifestyle than others! 
Over the past few months, we have had fun learning together with our interns, students, and visitors about how we are efficiently utilizing our agricultural resources at Beaver Ponds.  This includes learning about high elevation gardening such as hugelkulture (a composting process employing raised planting beds constructed on top of decaying wood debris and other compost), micro fodder feed systems (a system for sprouting and growing barley for our livestock), vermiculture (process of using worms to decompose organic food waste), and mound composting.
As the the winter winds blew outside, we were able to grow Mesclun and Buttercrunch lettuce, Oriental giant and Tyee spinach, radishes, arugula, and barley grass for our animals in the passive solar/geothermal greenhouse.  It is nice getting fresh leafy vegetables year round. Watch your inbox for upcoming opportunities to learn more about how you can grow your own leafy vegetables during the winter months.
The fall potato, calendula (marigold), and cabbage harvest was both fun and rewarding.  Students from the Denver Downtown Expeditionary School and preschool-aged children from the neighboring town of Fairplay enjoyed pulling out potatoes from our new raised beds, while learning the source of some of their food.  
With the help of volunteers, we were able to harvest a large amount of calendula seed to use this year in spring planting.  Calendula Officinalis -- common name "marigold" -- is a medicinal plant that is widely used in balms, salves, and tinctures.   The medicinal effects include antiseptic, antispasmotic, and skin healing properties.  It is in the same family as Arnica and displays wound healing properties as does Arnica which is used topically for bruising and skin trauma.  Interestingly, in the culinary world it is used as a dye for cheese and butters.
You may recall that we have planted oyster mushrooms on logs in our greenhouse.  We are keeping our fingers crossed that they will begin fruiting soon and that you'll be reading about a bountiful harvest later this year.  We've been told that patience is a necessary virtue both in life and with growing mushrooms! 

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