Improve Yourself: Commune with Nature

Columbus Monthly staff
Michelle Porter looks for birds during a bird watching class near the Grange Insurance Audubon Center.

Let it Bee

Beginning Beekeepers School, Ohio State's Waterman Farm, 2490 Carmack Road, Campus, $70,

Colony collapse disorder, which has shrunk honeybee populations around the world, has increased interest in this class offered by the Central Ohio Beekeepers Association. “We used to have 25 to 30 people a year,” says Barry Conrad, who teaches the class and runs Conrad Hive and Honey in Canal Winchester. “Now we have three classes a year [in February and March] for 130 people, and we fill up.” The class teaches attendees everything they need to know about safely starting and maintaining their own hives, as well as a hands-on “bee yard” where students help maintain one of the five new hives started every year at Waterman. The next step for aspiring beekeepers is to purchase a starter's kit, which includes a hive, a queen bee, 3 pounds of bees (about 10,000), protective gear and a smoker. The cost is $300 to $400 for one hive, Conrad says.

Birding Basics

Beginner bird hikes, Grange Insurance Audubon Center, 505 W. Whittier St., Brewery District, free,

Of the 414 bird species identified in Ohio, more than half have been spotted at Scioto Audubon Metro Park or Green Lawn Cemetery. Located along the Scioto River, the two South Side greenspaces and another nearby location, Berliner Park, provide critical habitat for migratory birds, making the area an ideal spot to view ducks, sandpipers, egrets, osprey and more. Every Saturday morning, the Grange Insurance Audubon Center at the 120-acre park on the Whittier Peninsula hosts beginner bird hikes, with staffers or volunteers from the Columbus Audubon Society offering tips on identifying birds and using binoculars while guiding newbies through the park, designated an Important Birding Area by the National Audubon Society. And don't wait for spring to get your first taste of birding. Hikes are offered year-round, and winter is a good time to see some unique visitors, including the hooded merganser, a slender-billed duck with a collapsible crest that flies south from Canada in the winter to feed on fish in the Scioto.

No More Backyard Blahs

Landscape Design for the Homeowner, Franklin Park Conservatory, 1777 E. Broad St., Near East Side, $120 ($100 for members),

Franklin Park Conservatory's six-week workshop, Landscape Design for the Homeowner, will equip you to transform your outdoor space from boring to beautiful. Landscape architect Christie Nohle, who has 30 years of experience in the field, kicks off the series with a weekday evening lecture on principles of design, a whirlwind survey of such topics as color, texture, balance and repetition. The six two-hour Saturday morning sessions that follow (five slightly longer sessions in the fall of 2020) guide homeowners through consideration of landscape style (English cottage or French formal?) hardscape (walkways, sheds, raised beds, pools), plant selection (with a special focus on what works for Ohio) and more. By the end, you'll have a full site plan for your landscape project. Class is limited to 10; plan to purchase your own drafting materials.

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Coop Dreams

City Chicken Boot Camp, City Folk's Farm Shop, 4760 N. High St., Clintonville, $90,

Would-be urban homesteaders can head to City Folk's Farm Shop to learn the basics of raising poultry in their backyards. Once in the spring and again in the fall, the Clintonville store offers City Chicken Boot Camp, a three-week class taught by Denise Beno Anderson, who raises poultry at her Clintonville home. Over the course of three three-hour sessions, Anderson covers topics such as nutritional and housing needs for chickens, as well as local regulations. Farm animals are becoming more common in urban settings, with communities such as Columbus and Bexley allowing hens (though not roosters) on residential property. Still, not every municipality welcomes animal husbandry, so be sure to check local rules before you start building your backyard coop.

Plants for All Seasons

Gardening classes, Inniswood Metro Gardens, 940 S. Hempstead Road, Westerville, free,

Looking for an affordable way to nurture your green thumb? Inniswood Metro Gardens offers free gardening instruction year-round. In February, Cindy Maravich, senior environmental educator at Inniswood, will lead a class on houseplants. She'll discuss best practices for popular indoor plants such as mother-in-law's tongue, as well as tackle other topics like fertilizer, sunlight, watering and scouting for pests. Then, in the spring, Maravich will teach a series of classes on gardening in containers, guiding students through potting mixes, container material (plastic or terra cotta, for instance) and how much room certain plants require. “The class is not really about how to design it and make it look pretty,” Maravich says. “It's more about how to create a really safe, solid home for the plants.”

Learn about Herbs

Herbal education and crafts, Ohio Herb Center, 10 Mill St., Gahanna, about $20,

Whether you're a gardening guru or a total novice, the Ohio Herb Center has a class for you, says marketing specialist Rachel Flenner. From a Botanical Beauty series where participants make their own cleansers and toners to herbal wreath-making, classes cover a variety of topics. Flenner notes with excitement that a Spice Blend World Tour series will explore herbs used in places like South America, Asia and the Middle East. Class sizes range from five to 15 attendees and typically cost around $20 per person, though specialty classes may cost a bit more. A membership program set to launch in 2020 will offer discounts and other benefits, Flenner says. From planting tips in the spring to herbal frozen treats in the summer and cinnamon ornaments in the winter, “We're here to help,” she says. “We want you to learn.”

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Read the Improve Yourself series