Feed aggregator

It’s getting cold out there…

CLM Internship Blog - Fri, 10/03/2014 - 2:13pm

Whelp, field season is about over. Officially experienced the first frost and christened my fire place. Most activity has been drawn indoors, focusing on NEPA projects and sample design for SOS. I’m not sure how fruitful (no pun intended) my Seeds design will be. The idea is to use presence-absence data to prioritize collection areas. Once those have been designated, monitoring data from Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring (AIM) will be used to determine overall cover/density of target species. Seems good in theory, we’ll see if helps any, or if drive by botany is more effective. But what is critical to remember, is the relationship between soil and plant communities, hence in SOS, why we take into account the representative soil when making collections. Since SOS is new to the Taos FO, next summer will be a learning experience and to see if all this GIS work will actually yield something. In the interim, I leave you all with a recent article on the relationship between soil and plant diversity. Something to mull on until next month.
More plants. More dirt.
-jd

http://phys.org/news/2014-09-unravels-links-soils-biodiversity.html#nRlv

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6204/1602.full

Back in Wyoming…not better, just different

CLM Internship Blog - Fri, 10/03/2014 - 10:47am

Hello everyone,

Beautiful rural Vermont

Beautiful rural Vermont-foliar peak overlooking miscellaneous lake

Just visited Vermont last weekend for a wedding during its foliar peak.  I had left in May for my CLM internship after living there for 9 years! Beautiful colors, well-used hiking trails, and familiarity are all reasons I love Vermont. Comparatively, Vermont never offered me the wildness that Wyoming does! Even after hiking a section of the Long Trail (VT) for 10 days in October of last year, never once did I come across moose, deer, black bear, or other ungulates (only startled 2 grouse). What a disapointment!  Now, being in Wyoming, I can’t take a jog without coming across pronghorn, mule or white-tailed deer. Lovely bird songs seem to constantly be in choir when I’m outdoors. A hike in the Cloud Peak wilderness and I’m bound to run into more wildlife. I very much enjoy this part of the country.

Overlook at Grouse Mountain-3.5 miles up and what a lovely view, got to see it all over again on the way back down!

Overlook at Grouse Mountain-3.5 miles up and what a lovely view, got to see it all over again on the way back down! (Buffalo, Wyoming)

Originally, I moved to Wyoming for the seasonal work that the CLM internship offered, but now I realize it’s more than that. It’s not better than the northeast, as I had to explain to friends and family, it’s just different. I can’t emphasize that enough.

Jumping back into working for the BLM, after taking a extended break (10 days) from it, and the office is barren. Most people are out in the wilderness…hunting. The season just opened this past weekend. Mud cakes the Squeaky Kleen car wash from all the vehicles coming in after hunting. I know this specifically because I was there washing a vehicle today and the owner was complaining to me mid-wash. I assured him that the field vehicle was not a contributor.

Back in the office, I am catching up on emails and communicating with co-workers on projects for the coming weeks.  Currently working on a habitat restoration project for the Greater Sage Grouse (Centrocerus urophasianus) by conducting field work.  The field work includes; mapping Big Wyoming Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), cheat grass (Bromus tectorum), Japanese Brome (Bromus japonicus) and Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) within historic wildfire perimeters.  The historic wildfires are found on GIS through an exisiting (out dated) layer.  Ground truthing is the focus right now, until end of October. Out in the field, mapping vegetation within the fire perimeters will be used to establish a vegetation layer in GIS.  A layer that will be available to the Buffalo Field office (BFO) and any other agency that may be interested.  The funding for this work came from the Powder River Basin Restoration initiative through the BLM, and pays for my internship with CBG.

The project began when my mentor, a former rangeland specialist, took on a new position at the BFO to restore the Powder River Basin.  After spit balling ideas with like professionals she crafted the project you read above.  With the help of the vegetation layer, which will cover BLM, state and private lands (within the BFO), we will be able to spray for annuals (targeting invasive) possibly 10+ years down the road.  The hope is that post spray the encroaching Bromus spp. will die off, which will give way to accessible bareground for native bunchgrasses to grow and out compete invasives. With native bunchgrasses back this provides desirable land for sage grouse habitat. Another implementation plan is to raise Big Wyoming Sage Brush and manually plant them in these historic wildfires to bring back habitat (post spray).  This has been very rewarding work, I am still in the preliminary stages. Please let me know if you have experience with this and what that experience was like in the comments section (thank you).

Originally, I thought there wouldn’t be work at BLM BFO this winter, but I was wrong. There is plenty of field work and plenty of office work too! I look forward to a Wyoming winter because it’s different from my native northeast and New England home base, and there is work to be done!

goings and stayings

CLM Internship Blog - Fri, 10/03/2014 - 10:44am

The month of September has been filled with various goings and stayings. I continued going out in the field for the first three weeks of the month. When the massive Buzzard Complex Fire was put out, which roared through Eastern Oregon burning around 400,000 acres, I began traveling all over Harney County to take initial monitoring photos and notes at trend sites. Many of these plots are way out in the boonies and required several hours of travel over rough roads to get to. It has been interesting to see the variation in the intensity of the burns at different plots. Some plots were scourged bare, the black stumps of sage and rabbitbrush thrusting despondently from the soil, a few brown bottoms of burned perennial grasses here and there, but no green showing. Other plots had burned much more lightly and patchily, showing unburned clumps of vegetation and grass with seed heads intact. In many plots a little green had returned, only weeks after the fire. Rabbitbrush seemed particularly good at regenerating, and there was green at the base of the scorched bushes. The non-native perennial grass, crested wheatgrass, was also regenerating in many plots.

blog5

Burned plot within the Buzzard Complex Fire. This one has almost no vegetation left.

blog7

Something green is coming back!

Mlefevre_in_burn

Surveying the burn.

I also got to attend a tour of the Buzzard Complex Fire. This tour was to give members of other organizations a chance to see the scope of the fire. The hope was that seeing the fire and hearing members of the BLM and researchers from the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center speak would help them understand why particular rehabilitation efforts are important and gain their support. Mainly, they explained why it is important to use non-native species (mostly crested wheatgrass, perhaps forage kochia) for rehabilitation. Crested wheatgrass has shown a much higher rate of successful growth with aerial seeding than natives. The BLM staff emphasized that they are not against using natives, and if they were effective they also would prefer to use natives, but that since natives are not effective, it is important to get something that will seed successfully on the ground in order to prevent annual grasses from coming in and soil erosion. Having annual grasses come in and soil erosion creates another sluice of problems. There was a lot of discussion back and forth between the scientists, the BLM managers, and the guests, which was very interesting to listen in to. I think most of the guests were on board with the need to use non-native plants to rehab. Some of them seemed to be putting on battle faces to go back to their organizations and convince those dead set against using non-natives for rehabilitation.

blog3

Touring. You can see the burned hillsides in the background.

blog4

Dust cloud in the Buzzard Complex Fire. This is how erosion happens. Get some rehab in there!

As part of the tour, the researchers from the Agricultural Research Center showed us one of their research plots. Consisting of five subplots, the research is focused on understanding what treatment and vegetation is most effective for post-fire rehab. There was a control plot (no herbicide, no seed mix), a plot that was only sprayed with herbicide, a native only seed mix (herbicide, then seed application), a native/non-native, 50/50 ratio seed mix (mostly crested wheatgrass; herbicide, then seed application), and a seed mix with a higher ratio to non-native to native seed (herbicide, then seed application). There was a drastic difference in how the vegetation in each plot did after the fire swept through, and you could really see that the seed mix with the higher ratio of non-native bunchgrass seed had both more vegetation per square meter than the other plots, as well as having had greater fire resistance.

blog6

You can see the herbicide only plot in the forefront; without seeding the undesirable Russian thistle filled the open space. Behind that is the native/non-native seed mix with 50/50 ratio.

Besides all of the above, I have spent a significant amount of time staying in the office to complete paperwork. Along with getting all of our collected data organized, I have been helping the Rangeland Management Specialists enter data and organize it in file folders. Some of the data is from last year, so I am glad to help them catch up on it all. Everyone has a lot on their plates now, what with all the paperwork needed to secure funds to rehab this year’s burns. Settled at the computer in my little cubicle, I often hear bodiless voices drifting, expounding about the recent difficulties in getting the paperwork done. Clearly, there is a lot to be done and a lot of subtleties and complexities to contend with. It is not always easy working within such a large organization as the BLM. I have been amazed, however, by the integrity with which the members of this office approach their jobs. Despite setbacks and bureaucracy they really want to move forward and make progress by doing what is best for the land even if it is not the easiest to accomplish.

CUBE

Getting work done in the cube. Even indoors, plants abound.

I am looking forward to the last month of my internship! I have absolutely no idea what I will be doing next week. ;)

Planting Bulbs

Garden Blog - Fri, 10/03/2014 - 9:00am

 Tulips.

 Bulb planting infographic.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Sage Advice and Expanding Horizons

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 10/02/2014 - 1:50pm

 

 

P100283A

Last month has, once again, flown by.  Our goal for the season is 20 collections and today we sent 20 full collections off to Bend, which I am personally proud of!  When I started the seemingly daunting task of being the lone SOS intern for the Lander Field Office, I had some serious doubts about reaching my goal.  But with two months left and an entire field office of shrubs to collect, I am positive I will be able to exceed my goal.

I spent a good part of the past month trying to get my sages straight and going a little sage crazy trying to field ID mountain big sage and Wyoming big sage.  My sage advice about identifying sagebrush is have confidence in your initial ID, then get a black light and hope for the best.

The fruits of my labor

The fruits of my labor.  Eriogonum umbellatum.

 

As most of my forbs have seeded out and have already been collected and shipped off to Bend and my shrubs are still reveling in the in the fall colors of the mountains, I have come to a lull in my usual all-encompassing seed collecting work day.  This seeding downtime has given me the opportunity to expand my horizons and get more diverse field work experience.  I have been able to go to an elk and moose refuge and measure utilization (much to my chagrin zero elk or moose were spotted), visit a few allotments and help get sage grouse coverage transects done, and have even pulled out my crayons and gotten some utilization mapping under my belt.  With every new task I am able to explore more nooks and crannies of the enormous Lander Field Office and to gain new perspectives and a more holistic view of what the BLM does and how it operates with the public.

I have been in Lander for 4 months and have 2 months left.  I am still getting a lot of work done, have a lot more to do, and am still gaining new and valuable experiences almost every day.  As my end looms in the horizon I find myself trying to plan for the long winter and keeping my fingers crossed for a big girl job.  There is no doubt in my mind that the experience I have gained from my CLM internship at the Lander BLM will give me a competitive edge.

Untill Next Time,

Emily Usher, Lander Field Office

San Juan Island Final Blogpost

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 10/02/2014 - 1:46pm

I have had an amazing experience working at the San Juan Islands National Monument (SJI NM) for the last six months.  During this project, I’ve been lucky enough to   work with incredibly passionate competent people in a breathtaking location.  I have been given the freedom to by and large design and implement a monitoring project (with heaps of guidance of course) and the help, guidance and support to make that project possible.

cattle_pt (2)

Cattle Point on San Juan Island. Land surrounding lighthouse is part of the San Juan Islands National Monument

 

Over the last six months, I have been working in the small office of the San Juan Islands National Monument, located on Lopez Island, WA and consisting of two full time employees and two seasonals.  Working in such a close environment with the recreation planner and monument manager gave me a better understanding of land management.  Though I had less access to botany staff and wildlife biologists, each day at the office I marveled at the communication skills, level headedness, perseverance and adaptability of the monument team as well as the incredible care, understanding, and enthusiasm each of them used when working with the community and partners.

Because we were such a small team, I was able to help out with public engagement on a few instances.  Though presenting and public speaking has never been a strong suit of mine, I am incredibly happy I have gotten to practice and increase my confidence.

owl_clov_kellet_0414_2

Tomcat clover on Kellet Bluff, Henry Island

This position has taught me about working with others and has given me the confidence to work by myself.  It also allowed me to make valuable connections with people part of the San Juan Islands conservation community and the BLM.

I am working the SJI NM next year starting a Seeds of Success program on the islands.  I have been sugesting this program to the office for the past few months and our monument manager made it happen.  I am very excited for a new project but to be working with the same brilliant people.

DSC_1460

Spotted Coralroot on Lopez Island

 

Fall Migration

Garden Blog - Thu, 10/02/2014 - 11:34am

Fall migration is happening right now. Stop what you’re doing, grab a camera or binoculars, and go outside! You never know what you might see. It could be a fall warbler (but what kind?), a beautiful grebe, or a rusty blackbird—it may not even be a bird at all!

 Monarch butterfly.

This monarch was fueling up on the asters to prepare for his epic migration to Mexico. ©Carol Freeman

Spring and fall are times of great opportunity and diversity. With hundreds of species moving through, you get a chance to see and photograph some that would be impossible to find at any other time. Since they may be here only a few days before moving on, I like to get out any chance I get. 

Migration is not just for birds. Most know the mighty migration of the monarch butterfly, but did you know that some dragonflies migrate, too? You can often find large numbers of dragonflies hunting other insects almost anywhere in the Chicago Botanic Garden. The most common ones to find migrating are the darners (Anax sp.) and saddlebags (Tramea sp.). 

One of the migrating dragonflies. ©Carol Freeman

One of the migrating dragonflies. ©Carol Freeman

One of the large Darner dragonflies that migrates in the fall. ©Carol Freeman

One of the large darner dragonflies that migrates in the fall. ©Carol Freeman

When you spot a warbler, take a close look and listen closely to its song—birds within the species are notoriously difficult to identify. Also, keep your eyes open for warblers, kinglets, blackbirds, hawks, ducks, shorebirds, sandhill cranes, and more. There will be a steady stream of birds migrating through this area through November. Any place in the Garden can have birds. Listen for the sounds, watch for movement in the trees, and you may be lucky to see one of these beauties. Check the logbook at the Information Desk in the Visitor Center to see what other birders have seen and add your finds as well. 

There are many young hummingbirds zipping around, taking advantage of all the wonder nectar sources. You can find them almost anywhere in the garden where there are flowers. ©Carol Freeman

There are many young hummingbirds zipping around, taking advantage of all the wonderful nectar sources. You can find them almost anywhere in the Garden. ©Carol Freeman

This is a young Magnolia Warbler, another tricky to ID warbler in the fall. I found this beauty in the English Walled Garden. ©Carol Freeman

This is a young magnolia warbler, another tricky-to-ID warbler in the fall. I found this beauty in the English Walled Garden. ©Carol Freeman

 Blackpoll warbler.

This blackpoll warbler is one of several confusing fall warblers. Photographed near the Dixon Prairie. ©Carol Freeman

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Keep them coming

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 09/30/2014 - 9:27am

We tend to constantly reflect on our lives thinking we haven’t accomplished enough and I am, of course, not the exception. Today, I feel like expressing my appreciation for the experiences I’ve been fortunate to have. I have felt at home here in Cedar City and have met some wonderful people. I get filled with joy as I sit back in the car seat and realize how blessed I am to be able to see many of Utah’s beautiful places.

I was able to visit Richfield to do some seed collecting. Little did I know how amazing this experience would be thanks to Dustin Rooks, the Botanist for the Richfield BLM Office. I got three days of beautiful scenery and great stories. If that wasn’t enough, I got to meet Dustin’s amazing family, enjoy his great cooking, and got to taste elk for the first time. What made this a very enjoyable experience was Dustin’s company. Not only is he a great father, husband, and cook, he is an extraordinary botanist!

I continue my internship with an open mind and welcome the rest of the extraordinary experiences to come.

Montana Fall

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 4:07pm

photo 2 (1)photo 1

Fall in Montana is lovely.  Being from Michigan I didn’t think fall could get much better with our mixed-deciduous forest, but Montana is up there.  The air is crisp, the willows and aspens are turning, the bears are getting ready to sleep.

We wrapped up all the seed collections for Seeds of Success, and I have been working with the Range Staff.  We implement new studies in watershed areas where the streams have been impacted by cattle grazing.  This helps us make sure our management techniques are working.

photo 3This photo is from a day in the field. We had to walk past this person’s private land to get to our study area and I got this shot of these beautiful horses.

photo 3 (1)

Last week, my mentor and I spent a few days at the Special K Ranch in Columbus, Montana.  The ranch is a non-profit where 32 residents with disabilities live and they learn different skills such as how to care for horses, sheep, cows, plants, etc.  They have a massive hydroponic tomato hoop house and they sell the tomatoes to local grocery stores.  They also have a large garden of vegetables they sell at market.  Along with that, they have a contract with the BLM to grows out native seeds from our SOS Collections. We can then use those seeds for restoration and other purposes.  It was a real treat to go to the ranch and stay the night.  I got to see other fellow CLM Interns in the process and it was nice to talk about the summer.

photo 5 (1)

The residents of the ranch were all so warm and sweet to us.  Here is Andrew, their newest resident from California.  He liked showing us tricks where he’d dance around and throw his hat in the air and try to make it land on his head.  He, along with several others, helped us break the ground for a new plot of land where we will grow out plants of the seeds we collected to have a local source for coming years.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Montana. The experience of the Chicago Botanic Garden Internship has taught me so much I will bring with me to my coming experiences. I didn’t even know what a ‘Range Specialist’ was before coming here, and now I’m basically a ‘Range Technician’ myself.  The issue with cattle grazing and public lands is a very heated topic with environmentalist and ranchers often battling it out.  I’m grateful I got to work in a very prominent cattle ranching area to broaden my scope of how I see the issue.

photo 5

Here is another sweet photo of some horses I saw while working in Horse Prairie near the Lemhi Pass, Montana.

Best,

Leah Murray-  Dillon, Montana 2014

 

You Say Tomato, I Say Science Fair Project

Youth Education - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 3:23pm

It’s that time of year in schools again: time for science fair projects!
tomato project

As I’ve stated before, we in the education department of the Chicago Botanic Garden are committed to helping parents and teachers find great projects that teach students how plants sustain and enrich life. Last year we talked about using radish seeds; this year, it’s tomato seeds. And like last year, this project can be done by an individual student, a small group or ecology club, or an entire class.

Let’s begin by thinking about tomato seeds. Cut open a tomato and try to pick out a single seed. Go ahead and try it, I’ll wait.

 This close up of a tomato seed shows the transparent coating that surrounds the tomato seed.

These tomato seeds glisten and mock me when I attempt to pick them up with my fingertips. The little brats also resist sliding off the cutting board.

 
As you will discover (if you didn’t already know) the seeds are coated in a gelatinous substance that makes them slippery and difficult to handle. So the first question is, what purpose does the slimy coating serve?

This is not the kind of blog post where I give you all the answers. That would not be good science teaching. I will tell you that tomato seeds can pass through the digestive tract of an animal and still germinate. Not all seeds can do that. It is possible that in nature, the coating protects the seeds on their journey from the mother plant through the hostile environment of a hungry animal’s gut and on to wherever that animal relieves itself.

Another theory is that the coating prevents premature germination of the seeds while they are inside the warm, moist, ripening fruit. Whatever the true reason—and there may be several—seed savers find it’s better to remove that coating after the seeds are harvested, because they become easier to handle and store.

The natural way to remove the coating is to ferment the seeds in a jar or bowl. It’s a simple procedure.

1. Scoop or squeeze the seedy pulp out of the tomatoes and put it into a bowl. (I prefer glass, but some people use plastic.) Add water equal to the volume of tomato pulp. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and poke a few holes in the top.

 glass bowl about a third full of tomato pulp, covered with plastic wrap, sitting on the windowsill.

Here are the seeds from three medium sized tomatoes, sitting by the window on the back porch, waiting to ferment.

2. Place the bowl in a warm location such as a sunny window. It is going to smell bad, so don’t put it in your dining room, unless you’re trying to reduce your appetite. You will also want to avoid fermenting your seeds next to bananas and other fruit ripening in your kitchen, because it can attract fruit flies. Leave it there for 3 to 5 days, depending on the conditions. Natural “beasties” in the air (yeast) will settle on the sugary goodness of the tomato. They will gorge themselves and reproduce, resulting in a yucky mess floating on top of the mixture. This is exactly what you want.

 the bowl of tomato seeds is covered in white stuff.

In four days, my tomato seeds were ready, with a thin layer of white scum floating on top. Be very glad odors are not transmitted over the internet.

3. After you have grown a nice head of gunk on your seeds, remove that film and throw it away. (Unless you’d like to keep it for some reason.)  If you can’t skim all of it, no worries, the remaining goo will rinse off in the next step. Remove any floating seeds, too—they are not viable.

4. Pour the mixture into a sieve or wire strainer with fine mesh and rinse well, shaking the seeds gently to remove any remaining pulp and seed coatings.

 The tomato seeds are spread out on a wax paper so they do not touch.

The most tedious part of the process is spreading out the seeds so they do not touch each other.

5. Dump the seeds onto wax paper. Poke at the seeds with a toothpick or other clean utensil to separate them. Remove any dark seeds that don’t look right. They are not viable. Let the seeds air dry on the wax paper in a protected place for about a week.

6. Store the completely dried seeds in an envelope until you are ready to use them.

 close up of several tomato seeds - you can see the fuzzy outer layer of the seeds.

The cleaned and dried seeds are coated with tiny white hairs. These hairs were holding the gooey coating on the fresh seeds and now they will help the seeds soak up moisture when they are planted.

Now comes the science question: Do tomato seeds really need this kind of abuse to germinate?

The only way to find out is to experiment. Collect seeds from some ripe tomatoes—2 or 3 tomatoes will do. Ferment half of the batch using the directions above. Rinse the remaining half with water in a sieve (to remove any attached tomato pulp), and then dry them on wax paper without any other treatment. When you have all the seeds dried, use the same procedure from Eleven Experiments with Radish Seeds to measure and compare germination rates.

 Ten tomato seeds are arranged on a paper towel in three rows; the towel is on a plate.

These ten fermented and dried tomato seeds are ready for germination testing.

Since you’re curious and kind of into this now, see if you can figure out if there are other ways to remove the seed coating that result in equal or better germination success. Some seed savers skip the fermentation and instead clean their tomato seeds with a solution of Oxi Clean. You can add this treatment to your experiment by dividing your batch of tomato seeds into three parts for: untreated, fermented, and Oxi Clean treatments.

The Oxi Clean method goes like this:

  1. Put the tomato seeds in a measuring cup and add water to make 1 cup of liquid.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon Oxi Clean power to the mixture and stir to dissolve.
  3. Let the seeds soak for 30 minutes.
  4. Rinse thoroughly in a sieve and dry on wax paper, just as you would with the other treatments.

As you will see, the Oxi Clean method is faster and there is no offensive odor, but is it better for germination?

 A 16 ounce container of Oxi Clean Versatile Stain Remover

This product contains sodium percarbonate and sodium carbonate, no bleach, and will work for your experiment.

Note: if you Google information about this, you will find articles that discuss Oxiclean (one word) vs. Oxi Clean (two words). The two commercial products are made of different chemicals. The former is a liquid that contains sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach), the latter, promoted by Billy Mays, does not. For the purposes of this experiment, the less caustic, powdered Oxi Clean pictured in this blog post works perfectly well. Students should report the actual chemical names in the materials list, not just the product name. It’s just like using the scientific name of a plant instead of the common name—it’s more accurate and less confusing for someone who wants to replicate the experiment.

If you are ambitious, try a treatment of your own. After all, three tomatoes are going to give you a lot of seeds to test. My daughter tried soaking some of her seeds in vinegar. Perhaps regular dish soap or ordinary laundry detergent will remove the seed coating. Or you could try a cleaner that contains chlorine bleach. It’s up to you. Please remember to wear goggles and plastic or latex gloves while handling any chemicals because, like the tomato seeds, your eyes and hands may need a protective coating to escape harm.

I’d like to tell you what is going to happen, but then I would totally lose street cred and face ridicule from my science teacher peeps. One hint, though: be sure to measure the timing of germination as well as the number of seeds that germinate in each condition. If you want to know what happens, you’ll just have to cut open some tomatoes and try it yourself.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

You Say Tomato, I Say Science Fair Project

Garden Blog - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 3:23pm

It’s that time of year in schools again: time for science fair projects!
tomato project

As I’ve stated before, we in the education department of the Chicago Botanic Garden are committed to helping parents and teachers find great projects that teach students how plants sustain and enrich life. Last year we talked about using radish seeds; this year, it’s tomato seeds. And like last year, this project can be done by an individual student, a small group or ecology club, or an entire class.

Let’s begin by thinking about tomato seeds. Cut open a tomato and try to pick out a single seed. Go ahead and try it, I’ll wait.

 This close up of a tomato seed shows the transparent coating that surrounds the tomato seed.

These tomato seeds glisten and mock me when I attempt to pick them up with my fingertips. The little brats also resist sliding off the cutting board.

 
As you will discover (if you didn’t already know) the seeds are coated in a gelatinous substance that makes them slippery and difficult to handle. So the first question is, what purpose does the slimy coating serve?

This is not the kind of blog post where I give you all the answers. That would not be good science teaching. I will tell you that tomato seeds can pass through the digestive tract of an animal and still germinate. Not all seeds can do that. It is possible that in nature, the coating protects the seeds on their journey from the mother plant through the hostile environment of a hungry animal’s gut and on to wherever that animal relieves itself.

Another theory is that the coating prevents premature germination of the seeds while they are inside the warm, moist, ripening fruit. Whatever the true reason—and there may be several—seed savers find it’s better to remove that coating after the seeds are harvested, because they become easier to handle and store.

The natural way to remove the coating is to ferment the seeds in a jar or bowl. It’s a simple procedure.

1. Scoop or squeeze the seedy pulp out of the tomatoes and put it into a bowl. (I prefer glass, but some people use plastic.) Add water equal to the volume of tomato pulp. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and poke a few holes in the top.

 glass bowl about a third full of tomato pulp, covered with plastic wrap, sitting on the windowsill.

Here are the seeds from three medium sized tomatoes, sitting by the window on the back porch, waiting to ferment.

2. Place the bowl in a warm location such as a sunny window. It is going to smell bad, so don’t put it in your dining room, unless you’re trying to reduce your appetite. You will also want to avoid fermenting your seeds next to bananas and other fruit ripening in your kitchen, because it can attract fruit flies. Leave it there for 3 to 5 days, depending on the conditions. Natural “beasties” in the air (yeast) will settle on the sugary goodness of the tomato. They will gorge themselves and reproduce, resulting in a yucky mess floating on top of the mixture. This is exactly what you want.

 the bowl of tomato seeds is covered in white stuff.

In four days, my tomato seeds were ready, with a thin layer of white scum floating on top. Be very glad odors are not transmitted over the internet.

3. After you have grown a nice head of gunk on your seeds, remove that film and throw it away. (Unless you’d like to keep it for some reason.)  If you can’t skim all of it, no worries, the remaining goo will rinse off in the next step. Remove any floating seeds, too—they are not viable.

4. Pour the mixture into a sieve or wire strainer with fine mesh and rinse well, shaking the seeds gently to remove any remaining pulp and seed coatings.

 The tomato seeds are spread out on a wax paper so they do not touch.

The most tedious part of the process is spreading out the seeds so they do not touch each other.

5. Dump the seeds onto wax paper. Poke at the seeds with a toothpick or other clean utensil to separate them. Remove any dark seeds that don’t look right. They are not viable. Let the seeds air dry on the wax paper in a protected place for about a week.

6. Store the completely dried seeds in an envelope until you are ready to use them.

 close up of several tomato seeds - you can see the fuzzy outer layer of the seeds.

The cleaned and dried seeds are coated with tiny white hairs. These hairs were holding the gooey coating on the fresh seeds and now they will help the seeds soak up moisture when they are planted.

Now comes the science question: Do tomato seeds really need this kind of abuse to germinate?

The only way to find out is to experiment. Collect seeds from some ripe tomatoes—2 or 3 tomatoes will do. Ferment half of the batch using the directions above. Rinse the remaining half with water in a sieve (to remove any attached tomato pulp), and then dry them on wax paper without any other treatment. When you have all the seeds dried, use the same procedure from Eleven Experiments with Radish Seeds to measure and compare germination rates.

 Ten tomato seeds are arranged on a paper towel in three rows; the towel is on a plate.

These ten fermented and dried tomato seeds are ready for germination testing.

Since you’re curious and kind of into this now, see if you can figure out if there are other ways to remove the seed coating that result in equal or better germination success. Some seed savers skip the fermentation and instead clean their tomato seeds with a solution of Oxi Clean. You can add this treatment to your experiment by dividing your batch of tomato seeds into three parts for: untreated, fermented, and Oxi Clean treatments.

The Oxi Clean method goes like this:

  1. Put the tomato seeds in a measuring cup and add water to make 1 cup of liquid.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon Oxi Clean power to the mixture and stir to dissolve.
  3. Let the seeds soak for 30 minutes.
  4. Rinse thoroughly in a sieve and dry on wax paper, just as you would with the other treatments.

As you will see, the Oxi Clean method is faster and there is no offensive odor, but is it better for germination?

 A 16 ounce container of Oxi Clean Versatile Stain Remover

This product contains sodium percarbonate and sodium carbonate, no bleach, and will work for your experiment.

Note: if you Google information about this, you will find articles that discuss Oxiclean (one word) vs. Oxi Clean (two words). The two commercial products are made of different chemicals. The former is a liquid that contains sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach), the latter, promoted by Billy Mays, does not. For the purposes of this experiment, the less caustic, powdered Oxi Clean pictured in this blog post works perfectly well. Students should report the actual chemical names in the materials list, not just the product name. It’s just like using the scientific name of a plant instead of the common name—it’s more accurate and less confusing for someone who wants to replicate the experiment.

If you are ambitious, try a treatment of your own. After all, three tomatoes are going to give you a lot of seeds to test. My daughter tried soaking some of her seeds in vinegar. Perhaps regular dish soap or ordinary laundry detergent will remove the seed coating. Or you could try a cleaner that contains chlorine bleach. It’s up to you. Please remember to wear goggles and plastic or latex gloves while handling any chemicals because, like the tomato seeds, your eyes and hands may need a protective coating to escape harm.

I’d like to tell you what is going to happen, but then I would totally lose street cred and face ridicule from my science teacher peeps. One hint, though: be sure to measure the timing of germination as well as the number of seeds that germinate in each condition. If you want to know what happens, you’ll just have to cut open some tomatoes and try it yourself.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Carson City, cooler and cooler.

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 3:20pm

We’ve been here quite busy for the last few weeks with a few outreach events, deadlines for fire rehabilitation monitoring reports, and seed collecting on top of that. Seed collecting is a fascinating process though – it is not a usual practice of work flow when you have a goal, means, and you work on it until you reach a certain result. On the contrary, it is more like a continuous process with an unexpected work load and unpredicted results. We’ve been doing our collections since April – May, through the whole summer and now, in late September there are still quite a few species which are about to be ready. To some extent, it is perhaps the result of the Great Basin climate and plant organisms coexistence – a huge amount of warm days in a year with such limited resources to use. And as a consequence, we have a big time differentiation between different species bloom and physiology peaks. In April we planted few sunchokes around our house and a couple weeks ago, in the middle of September, they just started to bloom. I should say that I’m not the best plant keeper, but for them to flower in September or not must be a tough decision to make. Same in the field, some ephemers and early spring annuals give their second growth right at this moment, which is probably a usual but very interesting phaenomenon at the same time. I guess autumn is a great season not only in boreal zone with deciduous forests and their colours but everywhere, with its own surprises and peculiarities. Until next time!

Andrii,

Carson City, BLM

Our beautiful sunchokes

Our beautiful sunchokes

 

Changing of the Seasons

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 10:53am

In Boise, Fall is officially here. It seems to have occurred overnight–the days are shorter, brilliant foliage paint the mountains and streets, dry leaves rattle in the wind, and the weather has finally dropped from 90 to a cool 65.

With the final days of this internship we have one last big collection push to gather seeds of some higher elevation and late blooming plants. These particular plants seem to be a bit more of a challenge as they drop seed quickly but also do not mature uniformly within the population. But the dynamic duo is always up for a challenge!

Speaking of which the managers and co-workers in our office have made it their challenge to expose us to a variety of natural resource tasks other than botany. This is something I appreciate greatly and have loved most about the Four Rivers Field Office: they understand how interconnected and multi-faceted natural resources is and want us to get involved in as much as possible.

This past weekend was National Public Lands Day and Zander and I helped with the group project down in Little Jack’s Creek Wilderness in the Owyhees. It takes two hours to drive down there and we both were amazed at the support for NPLD and how many volunteers showed up–particularly young people. Around 40 people attended the event all together and we helped build trail and take down fence in a recently acquired parcel that was added to the wilderness. Ages 3 1/2 to 60+ were in attendance and all had a passion for spending time on public land. So often we get caught up in the data collection, the numbers, and the land-status maps and it was so reassuring to know that what we do at the BLM really does matter and so many people really do value these lands. This up coming week we have coordinated a planting event at a popular area called Dedication point. After many days out in the field with just our crew, usually picking plants in silence, I am looking forward to working with the volunteers as a change of pace. We have 1,000 plants to work with, so we certainly will be busy!!

Here are a few photos of what we have been up to lately:

One of our collection sites is up on Bogus Basin--a popular ski resort just outside of Boise. Seeing these fall colors and ski slopes just puts a little extra pep in my step!

One of our collection sites is up on Bogus Basin–a popular ski resort just outside of Boise. Seeing these fall colors and ski slopes just puts a little extra pep in my step!

National Public Lands Day in Little Jack's Creek Wilderness of the Owyhee Canyons.

National Public Lands Day in Little Jack’s Creek Wilderness of the Owyhee Canyons.

We helped Bruce Haak and BLM Wildlife Biologists Jill Holderman in building a raptor trapping station for banding during the migration. He we caught a juvenile Coopers Hawk in a bow net.

We helped Bruce Haak and BLM Wildlife Biologists Jill Holderman in building a raptor trapping station for banding during the migration. Here we caught a juvenile Coopers Hawk in a bow net.

Dedication Point--a scenic canyon where we will be planting tomorrow!

Dedication Point–a scenic canyon where we will be planting tomorrow!

 the white layer here is ash from the Mount Mazama volcanic explosion--the one that created Crater Lake in OR.

We took a trip out to learn about fire effects in riparian areas. On our way we passed through the very end of Hell’s Canyon. The vertical walls told such a geologic story: the white layer here is ash from the Mount Mazama volcanic explosion–the one that created Crater Lake in OR.

While doing riparian work we have seen so much wildlife and wildlife sign. From bugling elk to aspens clad in bear claw marks to new reptile friends. Here is a Western Side-blotched Lizard.

While doing riparian work we have seen so much wildlife and wildlife sign. From bugling elk to aspens clad in bear claw marks to new reptile friends. Here is a Western Side-blotched Lizard.

On Becoming a Human Seed Bank

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 10:16am

Last week, I climbed into my tent after a long day of fire monitoring. As I slithered into my sleeping bag, I heard a soft drizzle, much like the sound of a very full rain stick. I looked down to see seeds pouring out of my shirt. Months of seed collecting have honed my rapid estimation of seed quantity. So, I watched, amazed, as several thousand Sisymbrium altissimum seeds flowed out of my sleeves, my pants pockets, and the linings of my shoes. Further inspection revealed tumble mustard seeds had made it into my ears, under my fingernails, and were even stuck between my teeth (like that unfortunate poppy seed no one will tell you about).

To work in the field is to not only study but to interact with the plants that I so love. I don’t just read about the widespread weediness of cheatgrass, I feel its needle-like seeds scratching away at my ankles. I don’t simply learn how medusa head is spread, but have had my wool socks co-opted by this adventurous grass. Everyday I fight hard to avoid become a vector for the aggressive graminoids I so despise.

The more time I spend with invasive plants (and their super villain cousins the noxious weeds) the more my ardent hatred is replaced by a healthy respect and even admiration. These foul little plants each have suites of adaptations that allow them to spread rapidly, grow quickly, and, unfortunately, disrupt the ecosystems I am in Nevada to protect and study. That fact (and the blisters they are giving me) makes us sworn enemies. But I can’t help but admire these precocious plants.

I took a side trip to Yosemite to see the seeds of this very large, very native plant; Sequoiadendron giganteum.

I took a side trip to Yosemite to see the seeds of this very large, very native plant; Sequoiadendron giganteum.

 

Playing Tag

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 10:13am

We’re coming to the end of the Summer of Mishaps here in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Our project was to raise larval sucker fish in floating cages with the hopes that the controlled predator-free, high oxygen environment would improve their survival compared to the rest of the lake. Anyone who has read my blog posts will remember that at first we couldn’t find any adults to get eggs from and had to resort to plan B, collecting larvae from the river during a week of late night fishing. We spent months constructing our cages, only to realize that we needed to rearrange them when we tried to attach our nets. We spent nearly every day checking the water quality in the cages and were prepared to give the cages oxygen via portable aerators but the oxygen would dip on weekends or days off. The hundreds of fish we saw swimming around in our cages turned out to be invasive fathead minnows. When we quickly pulled up one of our nets several weeks ago to check our fish, we saw an estimated ten suckers total and that was before we found that river otters had chewed a hole in every one of our nets and presumably had a fish banquet.

To sum it up, hopes were not high that we would find many suckers when we emptied our cages to tag and release them.

We were wrong.

We only had time to empty one of our nets out of three today because we had eighty-seven shortnose and Lost River suckers. Eighty-seven! Eighty-seven beautiful little fish that we spent all summer raising and nurturing and finally got to release into the wide world of Upper Klamath Lake. I feel so proud. We have four more cages to empty, two at Tule Lake and two at Upper Klamath and for the first time in months, I am optimistic.

Suckers recovering nicely from having identification tags inserted in their stomachs.

Suckers recovering nicely from having identification tags inserted in their stomachs.

A sucker!

A sucker!

Be free!

Be free!

Freedom!

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 10:11am

Today we stared releasing our fish! We had a surprising amount too. A few weeks ago we had estimated about ten suckers per net but today after pulling one net and removing all of the fish, we had around 80 healthy suckers to tag and release! We put PIT tags in them to track them over the next few years and see how many of them make it and spawn and live happy lives. To do this, we used an anesthetic to knock them out long enough to get length measurements, species determination, and put tags in. Then we held them in a recovery bucket full of aerated water to make sure none of them had adverse effects from the drugs or the tags. We had zero mortalities which was great, and we released them at the edge of a patch of vegetation so they could have some protection from predators. Now we just have four more nets of fish to tag and release over the next week or so, so hopefully we have just as many fish in those nets!

Getting measured before getting tagged.

Getting measured before getting tagged.

Waiting for release in the recovery bucket.

Waiting for release in the recovery bucket.

Freedom!!!!!!!!

Freedom!!!!!!!!

Autumn Blooms in the Bulb Garden

Garden Blog - Sat, 09/27/2014 - 9:12am

It’s now early fall and that means it’s time for Colchicum! Colchicum is a group of flowers also known as autumn crocuses, though they’re not related to the true crocus. Seventeen species and varieties of Colchicum grow in the Graham Bulb Garden. Flower colors range from white to magenta-violet, and include doubles and bicolors.

 Colchicum cilicum.

Colchicum cilicum

Colchicum blooms are a great way to brighten up the early autumn landscape. They’re best grown in a groundcover or as an underplanting for taller bulbs such as lilies (Lilium sp.). The spring foliage can be rather large and hosta-like, making them sometimes difficult to pair with smaller spring-blooming bulbs such as Scilla, but it makes them perfect for hiding bare stems of tall plants in the summer while providing a jolt of color to your beds just before everything goes to sleep for the fall.

 Colchicum 'Antares'.

Colchicum ‘Antares’

 Colchicum x agrippinum.

Colchicum × agrippinum

In addition to the crocuses, dahlias and lilies are still bursting forth with color, like jewels in the September garden. The cooler temperatures help create richer colors in the dahlias, and longer-lasting blooms, while their large size provides a contrast with the dainty blooms more typical of fall bulbs. We’re still seeing the final blooms of Lilium speciosum ‘Uchida’ as well. This lily is notable for being the latest-blooming lily in our climate. These plants started blooming in early September and are still holding on. Due to their late blooming nature, these beauties must be planted in the spring in a well-drained but fertile area. 

 Lilium speciosum 'Uchida'.

Lilium speciosum ‘Uchida’

 Dahlia 'Bahama Mama'.

Dahlia ‘Bahama Mama’

 Dahlia 'Diva' and Salvia guaranitica 'Argentina Skies'.

Dahlia ‘Diva’ and Salvia guaranitica ‘Argentina Skies’

 Dahlia 'Jitterbug'.

Dahlia ‘Jitterbug’

While these might be the last blooms of the season in the Bulb Garden, this certainly isn’t the end of interesting things happening in the Chicago Botanic Garden. Fall foliage color will be peaking soon, and winter holds its own interest in the colors of berries, dogwood stems, and the exfoliating bark of the birches against snow’s white blanket.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Fire Monitoring in the Smokey Shadows of the King Fire

CLM Internship Blog - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 3:50pm

After monitoring many fires through fields of cheat grass (Bromus tectorum), tumble-mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum), and charred pinyon pine (Pinus monophylum), we set up our last and final fire monitoring plot. This week, we finished our last fire monitoring plot. As we finished up our last plots, westward blowing afternoon winds rushed through the valley towards our fire monitoring plots, bringing with them walls of thick smoke from the King Fire in California. The King Fire is a large fire that is currently burning east of Sacramento and Lake Tahoe and has been burning for almost two weeks now. As of September 24, the fire was 38% contained and had burned over 90,000 acres. Although this fire is no threat to the Carson City district, the westward blowing winds blanket the Washoe and Carson Valley with a thick layer of smoke. Often visibility has been reduced so much that it is impossible to see adjacent mountain ridge lines.

A plume of smoke rises more than a mile into the sky across Lake Tahoe.

A plume of smoke rises more than a mile into the sky across Lake Tahoe.

 

The sun shines orange as it barely is seen through a thick cloud of smoke from the King Fire in California

The sun shines orange as it barely is seen through a thick cloud of smoke from the King Fire in California

 

Intensive Stream Monitoring

CLM Internship Blog - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 3:47pm

A majority of my last month of field time has been dedicated to Intensive Stream Monitoring in The Bodie Hills Wilderness Study Area. It has been a unique and adventurous process to locate monitoring plots that have not been read in over 30 years. I have become familiar with the use of a metal detector as a field tool, and am now more understanding of the placement of rebar as permanent plot makers. These plots have been useful in the development of my cross country land navigation skills, use of maps over GPS units, ability to find a location using 1, maybe 2, old photographs and hand drawn plot schematics. Many of these plots required multiple miles of hiking to get to, thus they also allowed me the opportunity to spend a few nights camping in the Bodie Hills, something I have wanted to do all season. Overall stream monitoring has been a nice way to culminate my field season and has taught me a variety of new techniques and skills, as well as taken me to some remote places to scout/collect native seed.

Winding down

CLM Internship Blog - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 1:52pm

Every time I submit my timesheet, I get to watch the hours remaining in my internship tick down towards zero. 6 weeks left. 5 months seems like a nice long time when you’re getting started, but by the time you’ve settled into your new home, made friends, joined the softball team or whatever, there’s almost no time to enjoy it. Time to start looking for something new. I suppose it’s probably still a little early, blogwise, to start reflecting but these last six weeks are going to be spent thinking continuously about the end, and the vast, empty space beyond it. It’s the curse of the early twenties; the daunting uncertainty of complete freedom. The cliche is “I don’t have anywhere to go!”, but that’s the opposite of my problem; I have everywhere to go. I can pack everything I own in my car and drive as far as my will can take me. That should be exciting but to me it just feels scary right now. Every decision and its impact on the person I am becoming is painfully evident to me, and I’m tempted to run away to some remote corner of the world and forget about building a career for a little while. I imagine I’m not the only twenty-something that feels this way.

For now, though, I should enjoy what time I’ve got left in Cedar City. I still haven’t gotten bored of driving out into the middle of nowhere, glancing down at my GPS, then looking up to see a nighthawk bursting out of the brush, walking ten miles of seemingly invariant desert, or even just sitting down and taking it all in for a while.

I’m glad I’ve got 6 weeks of that to look forward to.

Pages

Subscribe to Chicago Botanic Garden aggregator