Beneath the soil there is life by Mary Ellen Ryall

The earthworm makes soil copyright by Mary Ellen Ryall
Photo of an earthworm who lived in my garden. Photo taken after a rain.

I watched a video of E. O. Wilson, a biologist, explaining biodiversity and the possible consequence of the loss of at  He was speaking about the hidden life beneath the soil that supports life.

The topic was of interest to me because of a video I did for News from Indian Country “Tracking the monarch butterfly through corporate killing fields,” at

I touched on the fact that even earth worms were being poisoned by pesticides and herbicides.  Sandy Stein, secretary of Happy Tonics, and I experienced what massive doses of ammonia (fertilizer) felt like as we traveled on Route 35 alongside the concentrated animal feeding operations and monoculture fields in Kansas, USA.  Please read “Nutrients for plants” to learn about the dangers of ammonia fertilizer at

 If we lose earth worms and kill other (unknown) soil microbes what will be the consequence?  E. O. Wilson speaks to this finite hidden world.  Please watch his video.  We must honor and protect biodiversity including the soil which contains the “mystery of life within.”

 Nick Vander Puy, reporter from News from Indian Country, sent a quote that ties right into this plea.   “Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow.  They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional.  On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming.  Maps and mazes.  Of a thing which could not be put back. Not to be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”  Source:  Cormic McCarthy’s apocalyptic story The Road.

Every precious species belongs here.


Atlantis to land with monarch butterflies by Mary Ellen Ryall

Monarch butterfly pupa in space
Three monarch butterfly pupa in space

Atlantis is about to land in Florida on 27 November 2009.  Three monarch butterfly caterpillars went along for the ride.  Here is a photo of them in the pupa stage on the space shuttle.  The photo was taken on Thanksgiving Day, 26 November, 2009.  Indeed I give thanksgiving that they made it far from Earth, their home, and that no harm came to them while they where in outer space and changed from caterpillar to pupa.

Butterflies are free.  They live in the natural world in Canada, USA and Mexico.  They fly but not in outer space.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars in Space by Mary Ellen Ryall

Monarch caterpillars in outer space

Monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar climbing a milkweed plant.

Please watch the youtube video Monarch caterpillars in outer space.  Why are we doing this?  Does the butterfly not have enough challenges on Earth without sending it into space?

This reminds me of the poor monkeys who were sent into space by the Russians when I was a young woman.

According to Wikipedia, “The Soviet/Russian space program in the Bion program satellites used only rhesus species.  The first Soviet monkeys, Abrek and Bion, flew on Bion 6. They were aloft from December 14, 1983 – December 20, 1983.”

Now it is monarch caterpillars.  Just look at the poor things.  I don’t believe they even know what is happening to them.  The experiment appears to promote monarch biology in the classroom and also studies the life cycle of the butterfly in outer space and affect of loss of gravity and weightlessness at the same time. 

Butterflies are free.  We build habitat for the monarch butterfly and sell milkweed seed (their host plant) so they might live.  Happy Tonics is building a floral corridor across the USA so the butterfly will have abundant host and nectar sources along its migration route.  We have a Monarch Butterfly Habitat in Shell Lake, Wisconsin.  If you go outside surely you will see that they live in a natural world.  They fly but not in outer space.

Photo copyright by Mary Ellen Ryall. 

Bumble Bee by Mary Ellen Ryall

bumble bee
Bumble bee gathering pollen from autumn sedium

Since 2001, I have longingly listened to bumble bees humming in honeysuckle bushes in my garden each spring.  They flower in May.  Two years ago I didn’t hear the symphony of bumble bees.  In 2009, there was only a slight hum among the yellow and white blossoms.

I love these bees that delight me with sight of pollen all over their faces, hairy bodies and legs.  The sheer sound of buzzing makes me happy.  This behavior happens when bumble bees grab a flower and shake it by vibrating their wing muscles to release pollen.  I took for granted that the bumble bee would come and bless my heart and garden each spring.

Something is happening to our native bees.  I know that colony collapse disorder is killing European honey bees.  It is a complicated science to unravel.  There are mites, overuse of pesticide and herbicides and loss of native habitat.  Scientific America has documented that the agricultural practice of monoculture is also playing havoc on pollinators.  Pollinators need biodiversity of natural environments for nectar source nutrition (Cox-Foster and van Engelsdorp 2009).

 Recently I met Elaine Evans, author of Befriending the Bumble Bees, and learned that some native bumble bee species are in trouble also.  After reading the book I realize that I may have seen the Bombus affinis the rusty patch bumble bee which is in decline.  I contacted The Xerces Foundation at  According to Xerces Foundation, “A major threat to the survival of these wild bees is the spread of diseases from commercially produced bees that are transported throughout the country.”  Watch this video on the rusty patched bumble bee at

When did things go so terribly wrong?  Between 1940 and 1960, large-scale agricultural practices began to emerge and loss of prairie, forest and wetland habitats disappeared.    I live in a fairly remote area that to the best of my knowledge does not have beekeepers that are transporting commercially produced bees around the country.  Perhaps there is hope here for the survival of Bombus affinis.

In 2010 I am going to be vigilant in recording bumble bee species and their numbers.  We will invite citizen scientists to help us record bumble bees at the Monarch Butterfly Habitat in Shell Lake, Wisconsin.  I will also record bumble bees at two other locations.  Digital photography will be used to record and report our findings to Xerces Foundation.  Citizen scientists are needed all over the USA to record and photograph the three different species that are in decline.  Please visit to learn more about the species in trouble and how you can assist us.

There are other ways to fight back too. “In 2008 for the first time the U.S. Congress modified its agricultural policy to include pollination protection measures.”  They are encouraging the setting aside of conservation land where wildflowers can grow and provide nectar.  Happy Tonics, Inc. implemented a Monarch Butterfly Habitat, a restored remnant native tall grass prairie, in Shell Lake, Wisconsin, where native bees are flourishing.

Anna Martineau Merritt, photographer and author of Life, through the window of my car, raised an alarming thought.  She mentioned that bees need a floral corridor of at least five miles away from genetic engineered crops. The United Kingdom suggests 3.75 miles between GE crops and non GE crop sources.  A looming problem may be that a bee can fly as far as it has to in order to gather pollen and bring it back to the nest.

Without native habitat readily available, the bee has to travel farther.  The connection here is that the precious bumble bee may unwittingly transport genetically engineered pollen into native habitat and non genetic engineered crop fields.  The scary scenario of this might be that precious life giving honey could become contaminated with GE pollen.  To counteract this it is best to plant a native plant corridor within a two mile radius of the nest.  This is quite possible where native bees don’t need to travel so far.  A perfect example of this is northwest Wisconsin where the Monarch Butterfly Habitat is located and where there is an abundance of native habitat and non GE crops.

It is going to take a native floral corridor across the country to help pollinators including the beloved bumble bee.  Each of us can let wildflowers grow where we live.  Happy Tonics has an online store at where we sell common milkweed seed for the monarch butterfly.  We have found that bumble bees love the sweet intoxicating nectar.  Buy our seed and help the pollinating monarch butterfly (a butterfly in crisis) and native bumble bees at the same time. 

This spring, I plan to leave some soil undisturbed to invite the bumble bee to come and live in the garden and I’m going to tempt them with native wildflower and herb nectar plants.


Evens, E., Burns, I., and Spivak, M. 2007, Befriending the Bumble Bees, University of Minnesota Extension.

Cox –Foster, D. and vanEngelsdrop, D. April 2009, Saving the Honeybee, Scientific America, 40 – 47.

Martineau Merritt, A. Misty Pine Photography

People’s Food Sovereignty

There is a growing movement that states that perhaps sustainable agriculture will support feeding the hungry.  The People’s Food Sovereignty met in Rome, Italy, from 13-17 November 2009.  Please read The People’s Forum.  At the end of the text there is an Explanation of Food Sovereignty by Nyelini Declaration from Mali, February 2007 at

Native Harvest
Native Harvest

The Americas have an abundance of native crops, including pumpkins and squash, that are drought hardy even considering climate change.  Two of the four most important crops in the world are native to the Americans being corn and potatoes.  The other two most important crops are wheat (Europe) and rice (Asia).

Native crops throughout the world have biodiversity that needs to be protected from an industralized profit driven global food system. 

Tashunka Witko (Crazy Horse) said, “One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.”  1840-1877

Making Butter the Old Fashioned Way

making butter
Real butter hand made from cream

My friend Sandy Stein said, “You can make butter from Teresa’s organic milk.”  I didn’t have a clue how to do this but I bought a half gallon of organic milk from Springbrook Organic Daily.  Dahlstrom’s grocery in Shell Lake, Wisconsin, sells this cream line milk.  It is absolutely delicious.

 The first time I tried to make butter, I poured the cream in a glass bottle and shook the bottle for over a half hour and nothing happened.  Then I mentioned my experience to the elders where I live and one said, “You need to let the milk get to room temperature first.”  The next time I tried the same experiment with room temperature milk and the cream formed butter.

Granted I didn’t make that much butter but I was so proud of myself.   I too can make butter the old fashioned way.  

What Are You Eating?

Food Safety News:  If you have the opportunity please read Food, Inc.  The book, edited by Karl Weber, teaches about “How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter and Poorer – And What You Can Do About it.”  It is a participant guide to the movie Food, Inc. a must see film to comprehend why we need to talk about feeding ourselves with local grown produce and grass fed dairy, meat and poultry.     The exciting news is that Wal Mart is now getting involved in the organic movement.  When America buys “organic” the big box stores listen.   Thank goodness people vote with their pocket books.  In my mind, there is no sense in arguing with the multi-national industrialized food czars.  In the end the buying public decides.  Choose healthy naturally grown foods meaning non packaged foods to support health.      

Joel Salatin is featured in Food, Inc. He is the owner of Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Salatin is featured in Michael Pollen’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Officers of Happy Tonics had the honor of speaking before Mr. Salatin at the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College Sustainable Living Conference in Hayward, Wisconsin, on 25 September 2009.  Sandy Stein spoke about the Three Sisters Garden (corn, beans and squash).  I addressed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations of the Midwest and affect on migrating monarch butterflies. 

Sandy Stein saving seed
Seed saving break out session

Go Green at Work

Our home on Main Steet USA
Happy Tonics downtown office and store

Happy Tonics closed its downtown office/store in downtown USA and now operates the nonprofit in Cyberspace.  A student intern telecommutes and works with us through a grant for 20 hours per week thanks to Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College, in Hayward, Wisconsin.

Staff meets occasionally, mostly talk on phone, email and schedule weekly conference calls to complete assignments.  No more wasted office space and operating expenses.
Employee has less stress, commute time and expense of wardrobe and gas.  Pounds of CO2 emissions are also saved. 
Happy Tonics believes in sustainability.  The nonprofit 501 (c)(3) environmental education organization and public charity does not need to incur unnecessary expenses in a recession when the nonprofit operates from five different locations in three different states.  We all telecommute.
Isn’t the age of technology wonderful?
If the Federal Government can offer its employees this option for a few days a week, surely businesses can do their part to save energy and expenses also.  Colleges can give hope to their students and place them with nonprofits thus building their skills and resume at the same time.   
Go Green at Work 

Winona LaDuke Speaks About Food Sovereignty

Nick Vander Puy, News from Indan Country, interviewed Winona LaDuke recently.  Here is her video on Youtube. 

Mary Ellen Ryall: Following the monarch butterfly through the corporate killing fields

In 2008, Happy Tonics officers, Sandy Stein and Mary Ellen Ryall, traveled cross country to Tesuque Pueblo, New Mexico, to exhibit at the 3rd Annual Symposium for Sustainable Food & Seed Sovereignty.

Along the way we witnessed the saddness of animals confined in concentrated animal feed operation pens and monoculture of crops for mile upon mile.  We were migrating with the monarch butterflies through Minnesota, Iowa, and Kansas until we reached the corporate killing fields. 

Both of us were forever changed by the experience.  I am speaking here for the plants, animals and beloved monarch butterfly and other beneficial insects that can not speak for themselves.  Mary Ellen Ryall