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Welcome to the District, Cheyanne!

Cheyanne Boucher, Conservation Technician

Cheyanne joined the conservation district in November of 2020 as Conservation Technician supporting Farm Bill Programs in Clinton and Eaton counties. She graduated from Michigan Technological University with a Bachelors in Wildlife Ecology and Management. Before coming to the District, she worked on the Isle Royale wolf and moose study, for the Saginaw Bay CISMA, and the Michigan DNR. Cheyanne also worked for Michigan State University studying the reproduction and survival of American woodcock and on another project studying the movement and dispersal of white-tailed deer.

In her spare time, she enjoys camping, fishing, hiking, and gardening. She especially loves spending time outdoors with her horse and dogs.

What are Craneberries? How do you Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Rebekah Struck Faivor, CTAI Technician

As we all get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, there are so many things people look forward to. For my family, it is getting ready to go deer hunting in our 65 acre woodlot. My dad, siblings, and I scurry off to the woods excited and wait to see who will be the first person to see and shoot a deer.

This year is a bit different; we won’t be able to gather with all our aunts, uncles, and cousins. But, but we can celebrate memories. How you ask?

For example, Leo, my son, was telling me about craneberries this morning. I asked him what are craneberries? He told me his teacher was telling him about cranberries, and back in the day, the bushes look like crane’s long necks. My dad told Leo about my Grandma’s cranberry and apple sauce recipe. Of course, my dad only remembers the apples and cranberries and grinding it up- no other details. So, I call my Aunt Jackie and ask her if she knows the recipe. My Aunt Jackie then texts my Aunt Bev to see if she remembers. Finally, I call my sister, Rachel, who comes to the rescue with a small slip of paper from my Grandma’s old recipes.

How can you make the best of this crazy situation we are in? Call your family. Talk about the good old days and the recipes you like. You may learn about an old family recipe or just have fun catching up.

Recipe by: Grandma Eladine Struck

Fall Colors in Clinton Co

Jessica Short, Program Assistant

Bizzie demonstrates color variation among various tree species.

Forget “Why is the sky blue?” That’s a sucker’s question*. This time of year, we’re focusing on the other weird thing going on in colors overhead: Why are the leaves green? Whoa, wait, why are the leaves suddenly NOT green?

One of the best ways to begin understanding the Whys of any living thing is to think about its place in the food web. What does it eat, and what’s eating it? How does it get energy, and where does that energy go? In the animal kingdom, this eating is generally done with a mouth. Worms eat decaying material in the dirt, early birds eat worms; humans eat chicken McNuggets, mosquitos eat humans; and all of those little energy transfers are started when something opens a mouth. But outside the animal kingdom, among plants and bacteria and fungi and other things that don’t have mouths, the intake of energy and nutrients get interesting.

Trees are plants. (I know, getting technical. Stick with me here.) Plants get their energy several ways –through the roots, through leaves, and through photosynthesis. Photosynthesis! That’s right, the plant-specific trick to turn sunlight into energy. Photosynthesis is a process that happens at the cellular level of leaves, turning the solar energy of sunlight into glucose, a form of sugar, which trees use for metabolic energy.

Green colored pigments fade first allowing other colors to shine through!

Photosynthesis only happens in chlorophyll, and chlorophyll are always green. Every leaf on a plant is a tiny solar power collector, jam-packed with bright green chlorophyll that soak up sunlight and turn it into tree nutrients – and make the leaves vivid shades of green while doing so.

In climates like Michigan, trees go dormant in the winter. This energy-saving strategy helps plants survive months of freezing temperatures which would damage delicate plant tissue like leaves. It also allows trees to minimize their energy needs in months where daylight hours are few, skies are overcast, and light-blocking snow frequently blankets every surface.

When it’s time to settle in for the winter, trees cut off the nutrient exchange between the leaves and the rest of the plant, and the chlorophyll gradually fades out. But there are other types of pigmented cells** in every leaf, cells that contain marvelous oranges and yellows – just very low concentrations of these colors that are usually drowned out by overwhelming summertime greens. These other pigments take longer to fade than chlorophyll does, so while the green disappears relatively quickly, the oranges and yellows linger until the leaves drop off the tree.

Red pigments add additional variation. Reds aren’t present in all tree species, and where they are found, some trees don’t produce them until autumn, while some have red-tinged foliage all summer. Fall production of red pigments is heavily influenced by the weather. Brighter, bolder reds are often the result of warm sunny days and near-freezing nights, drought, or trees that are stressed by low nutrient levels.

One other thing to note is that the timing of when trees change color and drop their leaves varies based on several climate and environmental factors that can vary from year to year. Daylight length, how sunny the weather is, daytime highs and nighttime low temperatures, whether it’s more or less rainy than average, and whether trees have been stressed by poor growing conditions all contribute to how early the color change happens, and how late the leaves hold on. In a stressful year, some trees such as sugar maples and sumac may start to change color as soon as early August.

It also depends on species. The wooded areas of Clinton County contain many oak, hickory, beech, maples, and conifers. In general, oaks are the last to show their fall colors, and will often stubbornly cling to their brown leaves well into the winter, while conifers remain green.

Do these leave look like the carrots waning away in your crisper drawer? (See below for why!)

Between the oranges, yellows, and reds left behind, there’s plenty of color variation to create the glowing, flame-like foliage of a bold fall morning. Eventually, each leaf falls. Eventually, each pigment fades, leaving behind only browns. Eventually, it will snow.

But we don’t have to talk about that quite yet. Enjoy kicking up some fall leaves, in every hue except green.

*Rayleigh scattering (link)

** Red pigment is called anthocyanin, yellow pigment is xanthophyll, and orange is carotenoid. Yes, carotenoid is named after carrots. There will not be a quiz on this, but this footnote is included for all those who love the poetry of science words.

Clinton County NRCS Welcomes Norlando Veals!

Norlando has recently joined the St. Johns office as the NRCS soil conservation technician. He will be working with NRCS and District staff to assist landowners and operators in implementing conservation practices on their land. Working on Farm Bill programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program or EQIP, the Conservation Stewardship Program or CSP, and the Conservation Reserve Program or CRP, Norlando will work to help producers apply for, contract, and implement different practices to conserve the natural resources we all use.

Norlando will surely bring new knowledge to not only our office but our county. Let’s give him a warm welcome!

Before moving to Michigan, Norlando worked for Indiana NRCS and also the Forest Service. Originally from Mississippi, he graduated from Alcorn State University where he played college football. He graduated with a degree in Ag Economics. At home, he enjoys hunting, fishing, coaching football, and mentoring.

*While our office remains closed to the public, both NRCS and District staff haven’t stopped providing technical and program assistance to producers. If you are interested in a Farm Bill program or would like a technical site visit on your farm, please call our office to get in touch with one of our technicians.*

Agriculture doesn’t stop, and we are here for you!

Duck Blind Cover to Stay Away From

Seth Gibson, Water Resources Coordinator

One of the most important factors in whether a waterfowler has a success hunt or not is the hide. As the season goes on, the birds get more pressure and the need to blend into your surroundings becomes crucial if you want to fool those late season migrators. Most duck hunters understand how important the hide is, but how many of us understand the impact that the hide can have on the sport? Just as it’s important to get hid, it’s important to know what you’re covering your blind in to help prevent the spread of invasive species. Here are a few species you should be on the lookout for when covering your blind.

Phragmites (Phragmites australis)

Non-native phragmites

This is probably the most common invasive species duck hunters unknowingly cover their boat in. It is a dense growing semi-aquatic grass variety that can be up to 13 ft tall and grows along waterways. The concern associated with brushing your blind in with phragmites is that any piece of phragmites that falls off your boat later on has a chance of sprouting roots and establishing a new stand. This will rapidly degrade the quality of habitat. Various organizations put tons of money into the treatment of phragmites. It has even been listed as a restricted species under Michigan law, so be on the lookout the next time you need some cover for your blind. Click on the link to learn more about phragmites and the impact it can have on the environment. MISIN – Invasive phragmites

Black Swallowwort (Vincetoxicum nigrum)

BSW Seeds and Pods

Black Swallowwort or BSW, is a herbaceous vine that tolerates a broad range of soil types and light conditions. It is commonly found wrapped about other herbaceous plants and shrubs, allowing it to be easily tucked into the grasses that you may grab for your blind. New plants can sprout from an existing root crown, and, during hunting season, the plant has fluffy seeds which can attach to you or your blind traveling to every spot you visit. The concern associated with black swallowwort is that monarch butterflies mistake it for milkweed and lay their eggs on it. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars end up dying due to BSWs natural toxins. This one may not mess up future duck hunts if it becomes established, but it’s a good one to keep an eye out for.  You can get more info on BSW at the link below. MISIN – BSW

Narrow Leaf Cattail (Typha augustifolia)

If you’re like me, you’re probably surprised to learn that we have an invasive species of cattail in Michigan. The narrow leaf cattail or a hybrid between our native cattails and the narrow leaf, makes up a majority of what we see in the marsh nowadays. Using these to brush in your blind seems perfect, they’re sturdy and are usually green or brown at the same time as the rest of the foliage. The issue associated with them is that they can reproduce through seeds and fragmentation meaning that any piece of cattail left in a new area can sprout roots and spread rapidly through rhizomes. Narrow leaf cattail can very quickly take over an area, pushing out the native species, reducing its benefit for wildlife and making it difficult to hunt. Click on the link below to learn more about narrow leaf cattail. MISIN – Narrow Leaf Cattail

Most of the time it’s impossible to know every plant that you’re brushing in your blind with, but familiarizing yourself with several species to stay away from will help you be a better steward of the land and help maintain the quality of hunting habitat that you utilize. Good luck this season everyone!

2020 Conservationist of the Year – Kyle Graham

Every year, the Clinton Conservation District Staff & Board select a Conservationist that has outstood the others in their commitment to conservation. The board & staff recognize these great people each year at our Annual Meetings.

The Clinton Conservation District Board & Staff want to take a moment out of 2020 to recognize Kyle and his accomplishments, even though the Annual Meeting was cancelled. He’s probably okay with the fact that he didn’t have to accept his award in public. We want to recognize and promote his efforts to enhance conservation on his farm and through his continued dedication to establishing quality wildlife habitat. Kyle has planted acres of native grasses and wildflowers and thousands of trees for wildlife on his and his family’s properties and at the Muskrat Lake and Maple River State Game Areas. He volunteers on the board of the local chapter of Pheasants Forever and serves the local community as a trustee for Greenbush Township.

Thanks for all your efforts for conservation and the community, Kyle!

2020 Free Well Water Screening Events

Bring your private well water sample to be screened for nitrites and nitrates and receive more information to keep your well water safe!

  • Thursday, August 27th 5:30-7pm @ Victor Township Hall (6843 E, Alward Rd, Laingsburg, MI 48848)  
  • Thursday, October 1st 1-6pm & Friday, October 2nd 9am-12noon @ Clinton Lakes Park (4665 N Dewitt Rd, St Johns, MI 48879)  

Who can participate?  Anyone who uses a personal well for drinking water

* Please do not bring samples from public water supplies or non-drinking water sources.

Directions for water sample collection:

Samples must be less than 48 hours old for a valid nitrate result. You do not have to use a special bottle for this screening; any small clean container will work.

1. Pick a tap that supplies water that has not run through any treatment devices (water softener, carbon filter, etc.). An outdoor faucet often works well.

2. Run the water for 20-30 minutes before collecting the sample to flush the water pressure tank so you can collect a valid sample. Disconnect any hoses before collecting the sample; do not sample through a hose. Fill sample bottle with at least 1 ounce of water.

3. Label bottle clearly with your name, sampling date, and well name (cottage well, Mom’s well, etc.).

4. Keep the sample dark and cold (on ice or refrigerated) until it is dropped off.

All results are confidential.  On-site screening will indicate nitrate and nitrite levels. You will be mailed a final copy of your results in 8 to 10 weeks, with information about what to do if the concentration of nitrate or nitrite is too high.

This program is sponsored by the Clinton Conservation District, the MAEAP Water Stewardship Program, and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. It is funded through the Michigan Groundwater and Freshwater Protection Act, the MDARD, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Converting Crispy Lawns to a Wildflower Meadow

Katie Hafner, Soil Conservationist

If there is one good thing that has come from 2020, it is the extra time I have been able to spend cleaning up, adding to, and expanding my flower and vegetable gardens. I have traded in and swapped out many ornamental plants for native perennials bringing diversity and color to my flower beds. Another thing I have spent many hours on this year is mowing my lawn, so while on the lawn mower I thought “What if this was all flowers too?”

Converting turf grass into a native prairie or a wildflower meadow is no easy feat. There are many things and many years of work needed to establish the perfect plot. The rewards can be endless! Native flowers bring in a greater variety of pollinators that will help overall native pollinator populations as well as pollinate both your flower and vegetable gardens. Choosing a mix that will keep flowers blooming all season long will bring color to a normally boring green lawn. Small mammals, insects, deer, turkeys, and other wildlife will thank you endlessly. While most country lawns dry up in the month of July and turn crispy, native grasses and wildflowers will penetrate deep into the soil profile and be able to scavenge nutrients and water even during dry times. It will look much nicer than dead turf and crabgrass. 

Thinking about something like this for next year? The first step would begin this fall with site and seat prep. 

Step 1- Site Selection (August-September)

Choose an area of lawn you would like to convert. The area should be mostly sun, away from any major herbicide or pesticide spraying, and a place you will be able to see and enjoy it. Steer clear of any shady, mucky or really wet soil areas. It is not impossible to do an area here, but a special wetland mix will probably be needed, and establishment will be tricky.

Another consideration for location is the availability to burn. If you are not in the city limits, a yearly burn beginning and year three may be a great way to maintain the desired diversity of your plot. Make sure you are able to mow around your plot to create a burn break. Steer clear of planting close to any buildings, houses, or other tall grass that will leave dead and dry residue that may also catch fire. Once you pick a location, measure on a satellite map (like Google maps) to see how many tenths or full acres you have. This will help you calculate seed.

Step 2- Buying Seed (August-October)

Next, choose your seed. There are many great pre-mixed seed mixes that are available that will create the best flower arrangement for your space. The CRP SAFE program has provides options for mixes with all three bloom periods as well as native grasses- CP-42 (this is my favorite).  There are many other mixes that will work, and with a little Googling, you can figure out which flowers will be right for your light and soil requirements. Many local conservation districts sell pre-mixed native grass and wildflower seed. Pheasants Forever also sells native mix. Here in Clinton County we are lucky to be close to the Michigan Wildflower Farm. They also sell seed that is all Michigan genotype and a great option. For help purchasing seed, reach out to the Clinton Conservation District for our full list.

Step 3- Site Preparation (August-October)

Now comes some manual labor… Site prep. It is not too early to start site prep for a spring 2021 planting. The goal is to get the cleanest and deadest surface possible. Staking out the area will help keep edges clean. The grass in the area will first need to be terminated. A broad-spectrum herbicide can be used to kill all vegetation. Looking for a non-herbicide option? Smothering the grass with a tarp or some other dark canvas may work best. Most of the remaining summer and fall will be spent cleaning up this surface. 

Tilling is optional. Most native grass and wildflower seed is so small that if it is buried underneath the ground surface too far it will germinate but never reach light. In a natural setting, wildflower seeds fall from the standing plant onto the ground. Mother nature does not till the soil; it is worked in with frost and is able to sprout the next year. 

Step 4- Planting

First is a dormant planting in the fall (November-February). In my opinion, this works best because most grass and wildflower seed needs cold stratification to germinate. Cold stratification is a time where the seed lays dormant, cold, and wet. Once soil temperatures reach below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (Google the soil temp in your area), premixed seed can be broadcast onto the terminated grass. Split the seed into two and cover the area twice to ensure an even spread. The frost will work the seeds in, nothing is needed afterwards.

Many have been just as successful with planting the same way in the springtime (March-May). If the converted area is large and a tractor is available, renting a no till drill maybe a good option. Many conservation districts have a no-till drill for rent, in most cases someone will come out and calibrate the drill based on your seed. This could save time on a big plot and ensure an even planting.

Now we wait!

Step 5- Maintenance (One to Three Years)

The work is not done. Normally, it takes 3 years for a native grass and wildflower planting to fully establish. There is required maintenance every year to ensure weeds and woody vegetation do not take over and crowd out the young seedlings. Progress in germination may not even be evident until a few months after planting. A rule of thumb with wildflower plantings is “the first year the seed sleeps, the next year it creeps, in the 3rd year it leaps!” Don’t get too discouraged if the meadow comes up ugly. Totally normal!

As the area starts to green up, it will be time to control weeds. Knowing the difference between a weed and a wildflower seedling can be hard but it is important to learn some identification to help weed the bad stuff out. If the plot is small, hand pulling may be the best way to control weeds. If the plot is large, wait until the weeds have almost overtaken any young seedlings and are about to go to seed. For medium plots, using a weed whacker is also a good option. Mow at 4-6 inches to make sure seed heads are removed. It is important that the weeds do not go to seed; it is hard to win the battle after that. Continual hand pulling or mowing four to six times in the first year is normal. The main goal is to keep the weeds from going to seed.

Mowing, weed whacking, hand pulling will continue for the next two years. In year two, flowers (mostly black-eyed Susan) with start to flourish. Some increase the black-eyed Susan content in their seed mix to get a big pop of yellow color during the second year. It can be a great way to show others your success (if they are like my husband and still thinks I am growing solely weeds at the end of year one).

After each mowing, more and more diversity will emerge. Mowing helps knock the weeds back and give more space and nutrients to young desired plants. In a wood setting like mine, battling emerging woody vegetation is normal. The best way to combat this is cutting and treating the stumps of sprouting trees. Trees like cottonwoods, and sassafras will reemerge after cut if the stump is not treated.

Step 6- Deciding to Burn (Year 4)

At year four, it’s time to burn. Burning happens naturally in the ecosystem and is a way to control woody vegetation as well as overtaking grass. It will rebalance species mix as well as help flowers bloom. In many cases, the best blooming years for meadows is the year of burning. Contact the local fire department for any permits needed. In some cases, they will come out and watch or even help as a training. The local conservation district office may be able to point you towards helpful resources and contacts for this activity.

Step 7- Enjoy!

Things to remember:

–           Check and apply herbicides according to the label. It is unlawful to use herbicides not according to the recommended dosage and timing. See how long of a residual the herbicide has. Glyphosate has a relatively short one. 2-4D however has a long residual and you will not want to plant during that time.

–           Help can always be found! The local farm bill biologist or conservation district can assist you with establishment, maintenance, and emotional support with the plot. They’re available by phone, email, and possibly site visits to come out and look to see the progress/problems.

–           A good way to get free seed is to find it yourself. Dried wildflower seed heads can be collected and sprinkled into the converted area. Adding more seeds is never a bad thing, as not all seeds will be successful and survive. 

Here’s a quick look at my experience establishing a half acre pollinator plot.

My goal was to bring different pollinators to my yard as well as establish native flowering plants for my honeybees. The area I was looking to convert was already tall grass yet on desirable. Reed canary, cottonwood, and goldenrod overtook the area that has been neglected for years. I started by spraying the entire area with glyphosate. I tried to remove any small trees. My husband brought the tractor home and disked the area. In hindsight I should not have disc. I believe it opened the ground and released a seed bank that came strong. I spread my seeds in November after the ground temperature was below 50°. The next spring mostly weeds emerged. Convincing myself it was normal I tried hand pulling a lot of the area. Learning that would take an eternity, I turned to the weed whacker and mowed it with that instead. After volunteering at a nature center for the morning I scored a trunk full of well-established wildflower plugs that were extra from an area they had planted. I planted them scattered around in my plot.

Don’t be afraid to try weird stuff! Putting the establishment flowers in my plot will add more seeds in the fall as well as increase the immediate aesthetics.

After four weed whack jobs this is what my plot looks like. The main weeds I am fighting is ragweed and foxtail. The cottonwoods are still emerging and probably always will, but I am carefully cutting and treating the stumps.

Additional resources:

–           This video gives a good how-to and a look at what a successful established planting looks like in a subdivision. It is not impossible to establish something like this in an urban setting. (attach video from FB)

–           Did you know there may be cost share for something like this? The USDA farm Bill program EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) has special funding for native grass and wildflower plantings. This may cover the cost of establishment and seed. Contact your local Conservation District for more information.

–           A quick Google search can lead to other funding sources as well. The bee and butterfly may fund provides seed to landowners who have site prep completed.

So, don’t be afraid to try something new this year!  The risk is small in the rewards may be great!