Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Native Pollinator Garden Updates - Winn Elementary and Morey Public School Academy (30 June 2015)

Recently I posted an update on the status of two of our native pollinator gardens.  Today I stopped at the gardens at Winn Elementary and the Morey Public School Academy. 

I spent about an hour doing maintenance at the Morey PSA garden on June 18th.  This garden had some weeds, especially around the edges, and quite a few plants that had seeded in the walkways and needed to be removed.  Here are some photographs from today (30 June) as well as from the 18th.

The Morey PSA Native Pollinator Garden is listed as a Monarch Waystation

Lance-leaf Coreopsis is the most prominent flower in the garden right now

Looking up through the coreopsis

Honeybees visiting the Common Milkweed in the garden


Another honeybee on a Common Milkweed

The garden at Winn Elementary has required more of my time this year than any other garden.  Today was my second trip to this garden in the past month.  There have been some weeds that have required removing (White Clove, Black Medick, Common Dendelion, etc.), but the biggest headache has actually been the spread of plants that we placed in this garden.

I rarely advise against planting a native plant, but I will do so now.  Do not plant Canada Tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense) in a garden.  Let me repeat that warning:  Do NOT plant Canada Tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense) in a garden!

In the wild, I rarely find more than one or two plants of this species, but in a new garden, this plant can quickly overtake other species. 

This perennial produces hundreds of "sticky" seeds each year.  We started with four plants and I think every seed that was produced by those four plants has found a home in the soil and germinated.  Last year I cut off and removed every seed head that I could see, but seeds that had sat dormant in the soil for a year decided to try to take over the world this spring.  I am now in the process of trying to remove every single one of these plants from this garden.  I expect this will be a multi-year battle as dormant seeds continue to spring forth. 

Anyway... here are a few photographs from the Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden.

The garden at Winn Elementary is between major blooms right now

A few Butterflyweed plants were showing off their orange flowers

Red Baneberry berries are ripening from green to red

New Jersey Tea was attracting lots of pollinators (bees, flies, and wasps)

The view from the other end of the garden

This coreopsis was transplanted into this garden in 2014 from the Saginaw Chippewa Academy

Monday, June 29, 2015

Michigan Forest Association Teacher Workshop - Wrapping It Up

I spent all of last week at the Ralph A. McMullen Conference Center attending a forestry education workshop.  This workshop was hosted by the Michigan Forest Association and was designed to give teachers insight into past and current forestry practices.  Photographs from Day One, Day Two, and Day Three were posted last week while I was at the conference.

Day Four began with a review and discussion of the previous days' activities and how this information can be incorporated into the classroom.  After this discussion, our next stop was a tour of the Weyerhaeuser mill near Grayling, MI.  This facility is one of six mills owned by Weyerhaeuser in North America that produces oriented strand board (OSB).  Oriented strand board is commonly used in the construction industry as sheathing for walls and for flooring and roof decking.  It is made by bonding in flakes of wood (many species are used) with a blend of waxes and resins inside a very large hydraulic press.  The press at the Grayling mill is capable of handling sixteen super-sized (16ft x 24 ft) panels of OSB at once.  After emerging from the press the panels are cut into their standard 4ft by 8ft size.  Unfortunately, I do not have any photographs of this process.  Weyerhaeuser does not allow photography inside their mill to protect trade secrets.

After leaving the Weyerhaeuser plant, the remainder of Thursday was spent preparing for and doing a timber cruising exercise.  During this exercise groups of teachers counted the number of 2 inch or larger trees in 1/10th acre plots.  Each group of teachers did this exercise on two plots.  Because there were five groups, by adding these plots together we were able to get an estimate of the number of trees per acre in the woods.  Data from each group was compiled on a tally sheet before being compiled back in the classroom.

Fixed-radius plot tally sheet - used to record data during our timber cruising exercise

In addition to counting the trees, we had to separate them into size classes and estimate their height.  To do these two tasks each group was given a tool known as a Biltmore stick.  When held at arm's length against the tree, marks on the Biltmore stick give a rough estimate of the diameter of the tree.

Using a Biltmore stick to estimate diameter

The other use of a Biltmore stick is to estimate the number of logs that can be cut from a tree.  To use the stick in this manner you first have to pace a specified distance from the tree (ours were calibrated for 25 feet) and then hold the stick vertically, lining up the bottom end of the stick with the base of the tree.

Estimating height with a Biltmore stick

To make this experience even better the instructors arranged for a rainstorm to soak the woods before and during the exercise.  (The instructors didn't really make the rain happen, but it definitely added to the experience - it took two days for my boots to dry afterwards).

The workshop concluded on Friday with a panel discussion about the current and future state of the forest products industry in Michigan.  I did not take any photos of this panel discussion.

Overall, I would rate this as one of the best workshops/conferences that I have ever attended.  The activities were well thought out and gave a pretty complete (if condensed) picture of the forestry industry from its roots (no pun intended) to its present and future.  I will highly recommend this workshop in the future. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Michigan Forest Association Teacher Workshop - Day Three

Today was day three of the teacher workshop being hosted by the Michigan Forest Association.

While Day One and Day Two focused on the historical side of logging and forest management, today's focus was on current manage procedures and logging operations.

Our first stop of the day was a hardwood sawmill operated by AJD Forest Products in Grayling, MI.   AJD primarily produces hardwood boards that are used in the flooring industry, cabinetry, and furniture industry.  Lesser grades of lumber are used in the packing industry for crates and pallets.  Their waste products are used as mulch, processed into pellets for pellet-burning stoves, and used as fuel for power generation. 

The visit started in the parking lot where we were greeted not only by AJD employees, but also by a massive pile of decked logs. 

Log deck in the yard at AJG - Grayling, MI

These logs were being sorted and carried with a clamshell-equipped forklift to a debarker - a clamshell is kind of like a giant version of a claw machine at the fair.

A forklift sorts and moves logs in the yard at AJD

This machinery peals or debarks logs before they enter the mill

After running through the debarker, a series of conveyer belts carries the logs to one of several band saws - a band saw is a continuous saw blade that runs around two pulleys.  Before entering the band saw a computer scans each log to optimize the amount of lumber that can be cut from each log.  The band saw itself is not new technology; it was used in sawmills during the 1800s.  However, in older sawmills the location of the saw was fixed and the logs passed through the saw.  In new mills, the log is often held into place and the saw travels along the length of the log.  The AJD mill cuts boards into thicknesses of 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4 inches.

A large band saw cuts slabs of lumber from a pealed log

Band saw blades in AJD's sharpening shop - the back blade is being calibrated by a computer

After being cut into slabs by the band saw, the lumber then passes through an edger that cuts it to standard widths.  Although much of the process is mechanized, human hands touch the boards throughout nearly every step of the process.

Running boards through an edger to determine their final width

It was interesting to see that although the technology is different, the process would not be entirely unfamiliar to millworkers from a century ago.  In fact some of the equipment remains exactly the same.

A millworker from the late 1800s wielding a cant hook

A cant hook, pickaroon, and single-bit axe on the production floor at the AJD mill.

After the boards are edged, they are then graded and sawed into standard lengths before being sorted and bundled for their final destinations.  Over the course of today, AJD would process approximately 70,000 board-feet of lumber.

Grading boards by hand before they go through a computer controlled grader

This conveyer drops computer-sorted boards into the correct slot for their length and grade

Boards undergoing a final sorting and bundling

Piles of select grade red oak lumber awaiting sale at AJD

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Field Trip - Hartwick Pines State Park

I am still at the Michigan Forest Association Teacher Workshop at the Ralph A. McMullen Conference Center in Roscommon, MI.

Today was spent visiting a variety of field site in the Roscommon and Grayling area.  One of our stops was at Hartwick Pines State Park to visit the old growth pine forest and the logging museum.

Hartwick Pines is a great day trip from mid-Michigan.  From Mt. Pleasant, Hartwick Pines is just over 80 miles north along the US-127/I-75 corridor.

Hartwick Pines is best known for having a section of "old growth" pines that were never logged off.  Hartwick Pines used to have one of the largest White Pine (Pinus strobus) trees in Michigan.  Known as "The Monarch", this tree measured 155 feet tall until it was topped by wind in 1992.  Even without The Monarch, Hartwick Pines still features a great collection of old growth pines and other species.

Hartwick Pines Map - from the Michigan DNR website

Here are a few photo highlights of the park.  The first few photographs were taken along the Old Growth Trail.

The standing remains of The Monarch

Another White Pine snag (standing dead tree)

Old growth White Pine trees

Small fungi on thee forest floor - they measured about 1/2 inch tall

Chapel at Hartwick Pines - this chapels is used for weddings and seats 18 guests

A nest in a young pine

The remaining photographs were taken at the logging museum.  In the past I have posted several historical photographs of this type of equipment in use.  Some of these photos can be found here and here.

Replica log jammer and bunk sleigh

Replica sprinkler sleigh - water would run out of the holes in the back of the box to maintain the ice surface of the tote roads

A replica pair of Overpack High Wheels - used to log in the summer months

This replica of a dining hall is in one of several buildings constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s

Michigan Department of Natural Resources field historian Ken Pott discusses some of the tools used by the shantyboys

Although I did not include any photographs, the park contains an excellent visitor center with a variety of displays that highlight the cultural and natural history of the park.  This park is well worth the drive from mid-Michigan.  You can find something for all ages at Hartwick Pines.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Michigan Forest Association Teacher Workshop

Students often ask me how I know the things I know.  I tell them that the key is to never stop learning. 

I am currently attending a forestry education workshop for teachers at the Ralph A. McMullen Conference Center near Roscommon, MI.  This workshop is being hosted by the Michigan Forest Association.  The first day of the workshop cofornsisted of classroom activities such as tree identification, learning about how a tree works, and about the history of the land surveying in Michigan.  These topics were in preparation for a series of field trips over the next to days to visit historic logging sites, current logging operations, etc.  The final event of the evening was a short walk down the road to the site of Michigan's first state nursery.

The nursery at Higgins Lake was established in 1903 and ceased operations in 1965.  Today the site is operated as a museum and some of the original buildings and equipment remain.  When the nursery was closed down some trees that were planted on the site were left behind in their experimental plots.

This first photograph shows workers planting seedlings at the nursery in 1913.

Workers at the Higgins Lake Nursery plant trees in 1913

Today, most of the nursery beds are empty.  The field below is bordered by spruce trees that were originally planted as windbreaks.  The poor soil found in this locale means that the forest has not been quick to reclaim these fields.

Old planting bed at Higgins Lake Nursery

The next photograph is of one of the original buildings that remains on the site - the packinghouse.  This building dates to 1923 and was used to sort and package seedlings for shipment elsewhere in Michigan.

Packing House at Higgins Lake Nursery Museum

One of the other buildings on site is called the "cone barn" this site held ovens for drying ripe pine cones and tumblers and sifters for separating the pine seeds from the cones.  Even though the buildings were closed during our visit, we were able to see one of the tumblers through a large window.

The Cone Barn at the Higgins Lake Nursery Museum

Cone tumbler

After looking at the buildings were walked back into some of the remaining test plots to see what remains.

MFA Executive Director Bill Botti explains why this stand of trees has become stunted due to overcrowding

Bill Botti uses an increment borer to extract a core from a Red Pine

Friday, June 19, 2015

National Pollinator Week (15 - 21 June)

Somehow I have neglected to mention that this is National Pollinator Week (June 15th - June 21st).
Feral European Honeybee (Apis melifera) on Cut-leaved Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)

For more information on how you can support your local pollinators please visit the Pollinator Partnership website or type "pollinator" in the search box to the right to find more articles on my blog.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Some Numbers from the 2014-15 School year

376 school programs

8,709 students

619 third-graders

13 community programs

592 participants

The 2014-15 School Year was the biggest year so far for the Isabella Conservation District Environmental Education Program.  Between September 8th 2014 and June 5th 2015, our programs were presented three hundred seventy-six (376) times to eight thousand seven hundred nine (8,709) students.  Michigan law currently requires 175 days of classroom instruction.  This meant that we averaged 2.15 programs per day for the entire school year. 

Please note that when I say "we", I mean "me".  I am currently the only employee of the ICD Environmental Education Program.  With the occasional help of a student volunteer from Central Michigan university, I presented every single one of the 376 programs.

On May 15th we hosted our 6th annual Isabella County Environmental Education Day for third grade students.  Six hundred nineteen (619) students and about 100 adults attended the Environmental Education Day.  That is a lot of students at a one day event.

During the course of the school year (August 2014 to June 2015), I also manged to participate in thirteen (14) community events that were attended by 592 members of the public.

It was a busy year.  I expect the 2015-16 School year will be just as busy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Native Pollinator Garden Updates - Saginaw Chippewa Academy and Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum (15 June 2015)

Saginaw Chippewa Academy Native Pollinator Garden

Last week I shared a pair of photographs of the Native Pollinator Garden at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy.  Yesterday, I took the time to take some more photographs.  A lot had changed in a week. This first photographs shows the garden as it looked on June 8th.

Saginaw Chippewa Academy Native Pollinator Garden - 08 June 2015

Here is the garden exactly one week later on June 15th.

Saginaw Chippewa Academy Native Pollinator Garden - 15 June 2015

It's obvious from this photograph that there are more blooms than there were one week ago. The amount of violet-blue is a little deceiving.  The Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) flowers open at night and close up again by the middle of the day - the first photo was taken in the afternoon when any spiderwort blooms would have been closed up.  The big difference is in the number of Sand Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) flowers that are in bloom.  They create a large patch of yellow at the front of the garden that was not present one week before.

Ohio Spiderwort (foreground) and Sand Coreopsis (background)
Ohio Spiderwort

Sand Coreopsis

Fly and raindrops on a Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) flower

Raindrops on a Pale Indian Plantain  (Arnoglossum atriplicifolium) leaf
Small hoverfly on a Sand Coreopsis flower

Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum Native Pollinator Garden

After leaving the Saginaw Chippewa Academy I swung over to the Mt. pleasant Discovery Museum to check on their pollinator garden.  This garden is the youngest of the four pollinator gardens that we have established throughout the county.  It dates from July 2013 and this is only its second full growing season.  Here are three photographs from one year ago this week (18 June 2014).

Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum Native Pollinator Garden - 18 June 2014

Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum Native Pollinator Garden - 18 June 2014

Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum Native Pollinator Garden - 18 June 2014

Here are photos three photos taken yesterday from essentially the same vantage points.  There is a big difference in the amount of vegetation present.  A year has made a major difference in this garden.

Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum Native Pollinator Garden - 15 June 2015

Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum Native Pollinator Garden - 15 June 2015

Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum Native Pollinator Garden - 15 June 2015

 With a few exceptions, the plants in this garden are 2 or 3 times as large as they were at this point last year.  Like the garden at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy, the blooms in this garden are currently dominated by Lance-leaf Coreopsis and Ohio Spiderwort.

Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Green bee on a Ohio Spiderwort flower