National Minnesota Day is today! It’s time to get that huffda spirit up for a long March and ponder what truly makes a Minnesotan Minnesotan, rather than (shudder) “North Iowan.” Lakes are definitely part of it, with over 11,000 lakes here: Mni sota means clear water. Minnesota is more than saying huffda or ja (yah). It’s more than being home to the world’s biggest ball of twine (rolled by one man), as Weird Al Yankovic sung. Or even home to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
That’s ice hockey, of course, our state sport. The official state muffin is blueberry muffin, perfect with the state drink -- milk. If you’re not much for muffins, try pancakes made with the state (gluten-free!) grain: wild rice. These are great! Or bite into the state fruit -- the honeycrisp apple. For state fish lovers, it’s already Lenten walleye fry season! We’re not all about hot dish or pies.
The state mushroom is the coveted yellow or true morel (Morchetta esculenta) which like the same sort of high pH soils as mayapples, trilliums and umbrella plants, and associate with older and dying hardwoods. They may grow under Norway pines, the state tree but prefer dying elms or old apple orchards. Morel hunting season is early spring. Look for sun, moist (but not heavily flooded) soils. Mushroom cultivators are pioneering small-scale cultivation of morels for sale, using wood mulch piles.
The state flower is our gorgeous Pink Lady’s slipper. It’s illegal to pick or take from the wild, for good reasons. (Minnesota restricts its sale as well.) Orchids are fickle to grow from seed overall, and the Pink Lady’s slipper takes as much as sixteen years to flower from seed and prefers acidic soil as in bogs. It also forms a symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the wild. But they can be propagated from seed in sterile laboratory conditions now!
The Prairie Wetlands Learning Center hosts tagging events for our state butterfly -- the Monarch-- every August or so. These are endangered, so put aside the pesticides and put out milkweed and lots of wildflowers for these butterflies to pollinate and lay eggs on. They don’t just do amazing migrations and pollinate flowers, they are bird and small critter snacks, too. Like human gourmets do with fugu fish, these predators avoid the most toxic parts when eating. Also endangered is our state bee: the rusty patched bumblebee, identifiable by a rusty-colored patch on its abdomen.
Unfortunately pesticides are a problem for many beneficial insects, so consider gardening and growing lawns without pesticides. Many lawn chemicals haven’t been retested since the 1950s -- the same decade that deemed DDT beneficial! Many are also toxic to mammals or humans. In 2016, Obama signed an updated chemical safety bill that allowed the EPA to review thousands of unregulated chemicals for safety, but without sufficient funding to do so. It will take decades to test them all.
I learned the state soil is Lester (Hi, Lester!) which is a glacial till soil with a thick top layer of dark rotting, often woody vegetation, crumbly as cake over dark brown subsoil. Below that is yellow-tan clay loam with chunks of mineral-rich bedrock chewed up by glaciers of yore. Lester can extend hundreds of feet to the actual bedrock. So if you walk on that soil, say howdy and thank it for being a great soil for farming on. That same glacier action created the Lake Superior agate, our state gemstone.
Plenty of famous writers, performers, and musicians hail from Minnesota … and so do inventors.
The National Inventors Hall of Fame lists many Minnesotans, as Minnesota is home to 3M and Honeywell, both major innovation & manufacturing companies. There’s also a nonprofit Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame online, where you can learn more about the amazing innovation done by Minnesotans in aerospace, computing, car safety, drug design, games and recreation, pacemakers, psychology and more! I enjoyed Twister as a kid, and this winter I have been grateful to these first snowblower inventors at Toro.
Agricultural and medical robotics are booming and Minnesotans are into the action, whether inventing or developing applications. Drones are being used to check fields for crop health, irrigation needs, monitor livestock and even dust crops. Autonomous tractors also can reduce labor and data-gathering needs can be done with robotics.
While the Netherlands leads in solar-powered robotized greenhouses for urban agriculture, solar deep winter greenhouses are being innovated here, up to farm-scale. You can download the designs from U of Minn Extension! MN engineers are also working on robotized marine debris detection and removal with the goal of better water cleanup. We must keep Minnesota Mni sota!