Friday, December 30, 2016

Trip and Botany Report: Boundary Waters September 2014

Long overdue but writing this sure is providing nice reminiscing.  Maria and I traveled to Boundary Waters in early September 2014 for a five day voyage-style canoe trip into the wilderness.  I wanted to share our itinerary and highlights including some of the amazing plants, and fungi, and landscape.

This was one of those trips where we researched and planned and started packing more than a month in advance.  It was so exciting to finally go!

Monday, September 8th, First Day
We rented a canoe, paddles, and life jackets from Rockford Lodge and Outfitters on Poplar Lake and began our adventure late morning.  Our trip started and ended here.  Poplar Lake is a large lake, relatively, and conditions were sunny and quite windy.  We paddled south across the lake past a few islands towards our first portage.

We almost tipped where the wind concentrated coming around an island.  The wind hit us full blast, pushed us sideways, and fortunately into calmer water shielded behind another island.  Maria and I were just learning to paddle and communicate about steering!  Tipping there would certainly have put a damper on the adventure to come.  We possibly would have been too cold and defeated to continue our journey deep into the wilderness.  We talked through our steering issue and paddled through successfully on the second attempt.

Due to the entry permit restrictions  (and, well, me being late reserving a permit), we had to enter Boundary Waters via the 0.9 mile portage to Meeds Lake.  We determined on our first portage that two trips would be necessary to carry all our stuff.

From Meeds Lake, we portaged via a stream to Caribou Lake and then to Horseshoe Lake.  Guess what Horseshoe Lake is shaped like!  The daylight was getting short; so we started to look for a place to camp.  As reputed, all of the campsites on Horseshoe Lake that we passed were occupied.

Looking almost directly into the sunset, we were lucky to spot three moose swimming across Horseshoe Lake.  There was one very large head, followed by two much smaller heads.


At the last campsite on Horseshoe Lake, we met a man who had come to Boundary Waters to escape his busy life.  He was nice enough to share his campsite for the evening...and even gifted some tasty trail food.

We saw a number of camping parties on Horseshoe Lake.  As we headed deeper into the wilderness, we saw very very few people for the remainder of our trip.

Tuesday
...started out as an overcast and calm day.  There was a slight tail wind all day, which made paddling west quite easy. Tuesday was our first full day in the wilderness and we traveled from the southwestern tip of Horseshoe Lake, through Gaskin Lake, through Henson Lake, to Omega Lake.

We took our lunch break after portaging to the bank of Henson Lake at its eastern end.  It was a very calm day, but as we set there, several large ripples passed by coming from something!  We peeked down the shoreline and were able to observe this mama moose and her calf.


Quite thrilling to sit there in their presence.


The fruit of Triadenum fraseri, Fraser's Marsh St. Johnswort, in the Hypericaceae family and an unidentified insect.  Observed on the shore along of Henson Lake.

Wednesday
From Omega Lake, we portaged to Kiskadinna Lake and Muskeg Lake, along a creek, to Long Island Lake.


One of my favorite plants, Anaphalis margaritacea, Pearly Everlasting, in the Asteraceae family.  This was along the creek.


We passed through several areas with recent wild fire activity, the above being one of them.  This was on the portage between Muskeg and Long Island Lakes.  Absolutely stunning landscape to see.  The land just stripped of old woody plants due to a catastrophic level wild fire burn, but totally thriving with native plants.


A beautiful plant; possibly in the Mentha genus in the Lamiaceae family.  Possibly Mentha canadensis, but I am not confident about that id.  Along the creek between Muskeg and Long Island Lakes.

The wind picked up over the course of the day, which mostly was not a problem until we hit Long Island Lake.  As we floated out of the cove in the southwest corner of the lake, our momentum carried us a bit too quickly into an expanse of the lake and wind, where we did NOT feel safe in our canoe.  There were white caps!  We tried to keep to an edge, but mostly bared down and paddled hard against the wind across the expanse to a campsite on an island.  Fortunately, the white caps stayed out of our canoe!  Being that it was windy and chilly, and this was the farthest point of our trip into the wilderness from civilization, this felt particularly risky (and unsafe).

Thursday
From Long Island Lake to Cave Lake (did not see any cave, but I am sure it is named for a reason), to Ross Lake, to Sebeka Lake to Banadad Lake to Rush Lake where we camped in a cove along the south bank.  Conditions were cool and sprinkling on and off for most of the day.


Passing a beaver damn on Ross Lake.


Polypodium virginianum, probably, also called Common Polypody, in the Polypodiaceae family.  Observed on the portage between Ross Lake and Sebeka Lake, if memory serves me correctly.  I have plugged the website before, but Ontario Ferns, is an excellent resource for ferns identification.  Their silhouettes webpage is most helpful.


Sebeka Lake, if memory serves me correctly.


Unidentified fungi, between Sebeka Lake and Banadad Lake.  We saw a few of these specimens.  The older specimens seemed to be turning into a translucent gu.


Unidentified fungi, between Sebeka Lake and Banadad Lake.

There was an active beaver lodge near our campsite during the evening.  It was pretty neat to watch them working.


From our campsite on Rush Lake, our evening entertainment.

The night was by far and away our coldest night.  We warmed up as much as possible by our campfire before retiring.  We wore everything we brought and just barely stayed adequately warm overnight.

During the middle of the night, we heard the beavers kerplopping with their tails.  We wonder what set them off.  Probably a fox or coyote, but maybe a mountain lion or black bear.  Who knows!  We were just trying to stay warm.

Friday, September 12th, Last Day
There was a bit of frost in the morning.  We paddled from Rush Lake, through Little Rush Lake, through Skipper Lake, and finally back through Poplar Lake to Rockwood Lodge.

Maria video recorded me picking up the canoe and starting the portage from Little Rush Lake to Skipper Lake:


We took a number of videos of carrying the canoe and some floating through a lake, but those files are mostly above the size limit for sharing on this venue. We also passed through another wildfire area and got to see the remaining results of the burn close up.  These landscapes were so full of life.


An ancient White Pine (as far as I could tell)...


After five days in, we seem to at least be in good spirits!  We were definitely looking forward to being done with our journey.

Seeing docks and houses on Poplar Lake as we returned back to civilization was surreal and somehow shocking to my senses.

Final Thoughts
In total, we canoed 25.0 miles and portaged 5.8 miles, more or less.  The portaged distances, we traversed three times, due to needing two trips to carry all our stuff.  Ugh!  Single portaging is definitely worth figuring out.

Our pace of paddling was easy.  Aside from a couple windy lake crossings and the longer portages, the paddling and the distances never seemed too long or arduous.  We took plenty of time to take photos of which we took more than a thousand, some fishing, and lots of wildlife observing.  Keep in mind, that for most of the trip we had a tail wind, which certainly made paddling easier.

If we were to attempt a similar trip, we would want at least a couple more folks to come along.   This trip was super amazing and the landscape was just beautiful.  But, we found being in the middle of the wilderness, being so far from people, being so exposed, a fair bit stressful.

Nonetheless, was an amazing trip and I wish often that I could go back.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Report: Raised Bed Garden Lumber Experiment

My raised bed garden lumber experiment has been baking in the elements for sixteen months.  How about some results!  The gist of the experiment is that I built and installed two nearly identical raised garden beds.  I coated the lumber of one the  raised garden beds with linseed oil.  I did not put a coating on the second.

To completely refresh your memory, here is the original post fully describing the installation and experiment!  Here is a second post detailing installations of phases II and III of the raised garden beds.


Above is a side by side photograph of the two raised garden beds right after installation in July 2014.  The lumber on the left has been coated with linseed oil.  The lumber on the right is bare wood. 

The goals of the experiment were, one, to see if applying linseed oil would increase the durability of the lumber, and two, whether applying linseed oil would affect the aesthetics.  In regards to the durability goal, I hope there are a large number of years left before those results become observable. 

In regards to the aesthetics....


The above photo was taken October 24, 2014 after three months in the ground...along with the rest of the raised garden beds installed.


On November 23, 2014, four months in the ground...


After the winter on March 15, 2015...


The above photo was taken May 18, 2015. 

You may notice there are no comparison photos over the 2015 growing season.  That is because the plants grew so large, they blocked the view in all the photos I took.


And finally a side by side shot November 6, 2015, sixteen months in the ground...


The above close up photo is of the untreated lumber, which seems to have faded completely shiny gray.


A close up photo of the linseed oil treated lumber, which also only seems to have also faded, but to a different darky streaky gray.  The original lumber color still remains visible in streaks.

In conclusion, over the course of sixteen months, the linseed oil treated lumber seems to have looked nicer, but, now, the difference in their aesthetics is pretty subtle.  I prefer the way the linseed oil treated lumber looks.  I think it looks slightly better.  Although I am not sure if aesthetics should be a motivation to use linseed oil, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Some might actually prefer the shiny gray look.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Project Report: Prairie Beach Private Park: August 2015

I visited my old friend, the prairie beach park, in mid August 2015, about fifteen months after installation.  For reference, here is the post detailing the site and initial installation work, and the post about the site visit in Fall 2014.  To summarize my observations from the visit, the establishment of this novel ecosystem is a mixed bag of good and bad things happening.


If you compare the above photo with this photo from May 2014 and this from Fall 2014, you can easily observe the progression of prairie growth.  There remains much room for improvement.  Although many areas of the prairie are still thin, achieving denser growth is only be a matter of time!

First, the good, because I like to include pretty photos! 


The Quercus macrocarpa specimen seems to be losing a few branches.  But, considering it is still alive after all this time, I am sure the root system has continued to expand, and its continuous process of growth and death and regrowth appears to be off to a good start.


 Coreopsis tinctoria, Plains Coreopsis...sprouted from the annual seed mix.


A beautiful grasshopper specimen, hanging out on the flowers of a Eutrochium maculatum, (formerly Eupatorium maculatum), Joe Pye Weed... grown from a plug from Wildtype Nursery.


Two unidentified beetles doing their thing on Coreopsis lanceolata, Lance-leafed Coreopsis...sprouted from Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix.


Bouteloua curtipendula, or Side-oats Grama, sprouted from Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix.


This is a Liatris spp. (not L. cylindricea).  I also observed some specimens of probably Symphyotricum novae-angliae (formerly Aster novae-angliae).  These two species were not included in either seed mix.  So, both species were either here naturally or sneaky inclusions in the seed mixes, which, given how the seed mixes are collected and prepared, would not be surprising.  Both are native species, so both are most welcome!


Monarda punctata, more commonly called Horsemint, with its surprising flowers...sprouted from Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix.


Helianthus occidentalis, more commonly called Western Sunflower...sprouted from Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix.

The plugs from Asclepias syriaca and Rudbeckia hirta survived at such a high percentage, that you can basically see the line of where the plugs were planted.

Several native plants had significant populations.  Observing plants, which grew from seeds and plugs (which cost a good deal of money), now producing seeds (free!!!) and naturally spreading themselves over the prairie is highly satisfying!  I observed possibly significant populations of Asclepias syriacaCassia fasciculata, Coreopsis lanceolata, Coreopsis tinctoria, Elymus canadensis, Euthania graminifolia, Fragaria virginiana, Monarda punctata, Penstomon hirsutus, and Physostegia virginiana.  Only time will tell if these populations are viable and remain adequately competitive, but these seem to be off to a promising start.

Other species that I observed, which probably sprouted from the Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix were Anemone cylindrica, Asclepias tuberosa, Bouteloua curtipendula, Bromus kalmii, Echinacia purpurea, Helianthus occidentalis, Lobelia cardinalis, Panicum virgatum, Rudbeckia hirta, Sporobolus heterolepis ...  I only observed one or a few specimens of these species.

Second, the bad.  I did not observe numerous species included in the Dry-Shortgrass Prairie Seed Mix.  Various explanations are probable.  One, I just missed seeing the species or did not identify it.  Two, their occurrence is noticeable in a different season then when I visited.  Or three, the germination conditions were not appropriate for the particular species.  Hopefully, these seeds remain part of the seed bank and, as conditions change, their successful germination becomes more likely.

Most surprisingly missing was, Schizachyrium scoparium, which was a large constituent of the mix.


Third, the super ugly!  Some non-native invasive species were taking advantage of the disturbed soil and, unfortunately, moving in.  I observed probably significant populations of Securigera varia or Crown-Vetch (probable ID, photo below), Eleagnus umbellata (mentioned in previous post), Queen Anne's Lace, and, possibly, Phragmites australis (probable ID, photo above).


I plan to provide recommendations to my client to manage these non-native species and to continue pushing the prairie in an ecologically beneficial direction.  Possible recommendations might include:
  • Mowing the prairie early Spring 2016 (especially the areas with Crown-Vetch and Autumn-Olive).  There is not adequate fuel for performing a thorough prescribed burn yet.
  • Removal or cutting and painting the Autumn-Olive.
  • Cutting/treating the Phragmites.
  • There are some other native species, which might like to compete in this space.  So, I might recommend planting those plugs or spreading those seeds.
  • Once the fuel-load is adequately dense, performing a prescribed burn.  After breaks are mowed, the actual burning would likely take just a few minutes.  If a burn is not possible, mowing annually or bi-annually.
Additional discussion needs to occur for deciding the best, most appropriate, course of action.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Project Report: Prairie Beach Park: Fall 2014

On a long trip from Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (I plan to write a botanical trip report someday) returning home to Ann Arbor, I stopped by the prairie beach park near Fenton, Michigan, in early September 2014.  I wanted to see how the prairie was growing after spreading seed and planting late Spring 2014.  Here is the post detailing the site and my installation work.

Questions I pondered before arriving:  did the shrubs and plugs from Wildtype take?  Did the Bur Oak sapling, which received an unknown regimen of additional watering, survive its transplant?  What species germinated from the seed mixes?  How vigorously did the prairie grow?


Well, initial observation was that the prairie growth was quite thin.  Not surprising given that seeds were only spread less than four months prior.  The ground was cracked due to the shrinking drying clay soil.  I observed many plants sprouting up from inside the cracks where some lucky seeds must have got caught in a good spot to germinate.


Upon closer inspection though, good things were happening.  From the annual mix, I saw Bachelor's Button (photograph above), Partridge Pea, Spurred Snapdragon, and Plains Coreopsis.  From the short-grass mix, I spotted Panicum virgatum, Symphyotricum laeve (formerly Aster laevis), Cassia fasciculata (this was in both the annual and Dry-Shortgrass-Mix), and, well, many unidentified plants consisting of basal leaves.


These basal leaves belong to a species, which will be identified soon.


Also, not yet identified.  Most native flowers require more than one full season of growth before producing flowers.  So, observing plants consisting of just basal leaves indicated a germinated seed, or in other words, a step in a good direction.  From the plugs, I also saw specimens of Asclepias syriaca, Physostegia virginiana, Rudbeckia hirta, and Eupatorium maculatum.


Although insects were already making use of the Euthania graminifolia, which was another planted plug, the desired plants seemed few and far between.  The Quercus macrocarpa and Cercis canadensis fortunately seemed to be sticking, as was the Ribes americanum shrub.  Very happy about that Burr Oak, which has a reputation for doing well in clay soil situations.


This area of the prairie was thick with Plains Coreopsis, so definitely some good things were happening.  As indicated in the previous post about this project, the most important component of establishing a prairie was patience, patience, and more patience.  The seeds have been sown and quite possibly will germinate some day.  I waited a year after visiting to write this post.  So, since I have now seen the prairie in late Summer 2015, I can safely say I feel a lot better about this project, .  Here is the post about that visit.

Project Report: Phases II and III of My Raised Bed Garden

The current heated temperatures belie this growing season is cruising towards a frosty date!  So, here is, better late then never, an update about my raised bed garden!  A report on phase I is discussed in a previous post.  Phase I was completed in July 2014.  I completed both phases II and III in late Fall 2014.  This update consists of numerous photos!

As this project was completed by one person, me, providing almost all the labor, performing the work in phases seemed most appropriate.


Above is a simple sketch showing the layout plan before I began construction.  This sketch does NOT relate that my yard is sloped!  Except for a few box size adjustments, the installed boxes follow the sketch.


Important to note, the phase I garden beds produced some excellent food during their shortened 2014 growing season.  Above, me harvesting a nice zucchini in late 2014.


A photo of the final zucchinis of our 2014 garden.  Some large zucchinis for bread and other miscellaneous recipes AND two single bite zucchinis...which disappeared in short order.


This photo shows the garden beds of phase I in late Fall and the three boxes of phase II completed and installed.  Also, I am applying the linseed oil preservative to one of the two boxes in phase III.


As designed in the sketch above, all the garden boxes have been completed and installed in late 2014.


A photo taken in January 2015.  Brrr!  Actually that would feel quite nice right now.


As at start of Spring 2015...


Our first radishes!


And a tasty strawberry.  We were able to transplant some strawberry plants into a box in late 2014.  They only produced a few during the 2015 spring, but we are really looking forward the 2016 spring harvest, as they have spread quite a bit!


Before the 2015 garden jungle...


Our garden exploded!


We had a visitor!  We lost a fair number of cherry tomatoes to its voracious appetite, but this Hornworm eventually disappeared. (Or he was so well camouflaged that we could not find him.)