Thursday February 25th 10-2:30pm, virtually held via ZOOM, RUP credits available
These trainings are great opportunities for staff from parks departments, drain and road commissions, public works, utilities, city garden volunteers, county and township boards, and anyone interested in invasive species and their management! Anyone is welcome to attend.
This session will have two separate tracks following an introduction from the CISMA Coordinator. The in-the-field track will focus on identification of priority species, best management practices, and decontamination of field equipment. The manager track will focus on the public health and economic concerns of invasive species as well as take a look at how local ordinances are being used to fight invasive plants on the municipal level.
Each course will also offer an MDARD pesticide applicator re-certification credit! Registrants in one of the four CISMA counties will also be eligible to pick up a “swag bag” of accompanying materials at their local Conservation District office.*
It’s still the middle of winter, but not very far off, spring will be sneaking around the corner. We will have had enough of the snow and cold. We will be looking forward to the warming air and emergence of different plants and flowers. Now is a good time to think about Spring and planning some conservation practices on your property. Maybe you would like to plant a wind break, a plot for wildlife or a space for a pollinator planting. Depending on the size of land available there are many options to consider. Sometimes it is nice to have a native planting for the value of different beneficial insects. Many times, homeowners will want to establish some ornamental plants and trees to sharpen up the look of their property. Planting conifer trees are always nice as they hold their color year around. They also provide harborage for birds and wildlife.
Diversity in planting trees is a good consideration due to the potential of disease or invasive insects. If all of your planting is of one species and an outbreak occurs, they all could be infected in a few years. Many times, different conifer and deciduous trees are mixed together to have a nice aesthetic appearance. However, there are some species of trees that should not be planted in the same vicinity of each other. One combination of trees that do not belong near each other is the Red Cedar and the Crabapple or Apple.
When these trees are near each other they are susceptible to cedar apple rust. This is a fungal disease that needs both the juniper and apple tree to exist. This is somewhat of a complex disease that requires a two year life-cycle. Spores overwinter as a reddish-brown gall on the twigs of juniper species. In early spring during wet weather, these galls swell, and bright orange masses of spores are blown by the wind. They then infect susceptible apple and crabapple trees. The spores that develop on these apple trees will only infect junipers the following year. From year to year, the disease must pass from junipers to apples to junipers again. It will not and can not spread between apple trees alone.
On crab-apple and apple trees, look for the pale-yellow pinhead sized spots on the upper surface of the leaves shortly after bloom. These gradually enlarge to bright orange yellow spots which make the disease easy to identify. Orange spots may develop on the fruit as well. Heavily infected leaves may drop prematurely. On juniper trees, look for orange fungal fruiting bodies that have a sticky rubbery texture.
You may be wondering, “How do I do that when it’s cold out and there is snow on the ground?” Option one: just get outside! There is a Scandinavian saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. So, if you dress appropriately for the weather, it is easy to enjoy a walk in the snowy woods or through town. Temperature-dependent combinations of layers, a good coat, hat/gloves/scarf, and well-fitting boots or shoes with good traction are all it takes to enjoy being outside this winter. You’ll only be cold for the first couple minutes, so if you push past that, you’ll be able to enjoy the fresh air and see how winter changes the landscape!
Option Two: Garden!
If the outdoors in wintertime is not for you, why not start planning a garden for the spring? January and February are perfect times to start going through seed catalogs and writing up a garden plan. If you buy seeds through a catalog, you’ll need to plan in time for them to ship and arrive to you before you need to plant them (and let’s be honest, after this recent holiday season, I’m sure most of us have run into some shipping delays!).
You don’t need to have a lot of space for a garden either. Have a small apartment balcony? Use containers! No available outdoor space? Maybe a window herb garden is right for you! If you have space outside, raised garden beds, containers, or something more large-scale could fit in perfectly. There is also the option of getting a plot at a community garden. The options are wide open enough for any budget, skill, or time demands!
You don’t even have to wait for spring to plant some seeds. I am currently growing a variety of lettuce in my Aerogarden and have plans to grow some microgreens in the next couple weeks to add to salads or smoothies. Watching something green growing can also help get you through the grey days of winter and can be very relaxing to take care of and water.
Whatever you decide to do, a daily dose of nature can help to get you through the long Michigan winter. I love being outside in the winter – not only is it a great workout, but I get to see how much the landscape changes with snow on the ground. Some days, the snow sparkles brightly, falls quietly, crunches loudly, or turns into slush. No two days are the same in the winter and it is exciting to see those changes when you take a good look around. And on the days when it is just too cold to get outside, it is fun to start planning what I will be planting in my garden once the weather warms up. So, get out (or stay inside) and enjoy some nature this winter!
Bonus note: if you hoard seed packets like I do, organization is key. I recently found out about using 4×6 photo boxes (easily found at most craft stores) to store seed packets. They work like a charm and should help keep water off the packets as I take the container out to the garden in the spring!
For some, beekeeping is a fun and rewarding hobby. For others, it can become a successful and profitable business. Anyone thinking of starting with a hive, or two, can agree that it can be overwhelming. The books, videos, stories, gear, expense… there are so many aspects of it. Where to begin?
Before getting bees, the first thing to do is research. Beekeeping can be simple, but there are a lot of components to be health, social interactions, timing, and habitat. It takes months to prepare for bees. Being unprepared for your first season can be disastrous. Now is the time to start; bee ordering for 2021 has already begun!
Reading books is a great way to start. Here are a few books worth checking out that are highly rated and recommended:
Use the internet. YouTube is a great way to learn from others and to see how things are physically done. Seeing how other handle hives and move bees is important and can give you tips and confidence for when you do it for the first time. Videos can help you learn the names of tools and equipment that the books are referencing. Also, joining a Facebook groups are a great way to get involved with the beekeeping community. Beekeeping Basics and Beekeepers in Michigan are two good ones. Michigan State University Beekeeping on Facebook offers tips and free webinars.
Get a mentor. Michigan has many beekeeping clubs around the state that always welcome newcomers or observers. Additionally, most experienced beekeepers will never turn down a chance to teach a skill to someone new. The Michigan Bees website is a helpful source in locating a bee club to reach out to.
After a winter of researching, it’s time to get some hives and buy some bees. Good luck, beeK!
Here are some pictures from my first year.
One of the coolest things about having hives is running into your bees around the yard.
Depending on how the spring and summer go, extraction in year one is possible! The bees may not always produce enough honey in the first year. As a beekeeper, it’s important to only take the bee’s extra honey to make sure the bees have produced enough honey to get them through the winter months. For boxes my size, the bottom two big boxes should be their honey. The smaller honey supers on the top are extras so they can be extracted and be bottled. I decided to extract because my supers were full and my dad couldn’t build me more in time. If the bee boxes stay completely full, you run the risk of them swarming and leaving to find a bigger home to expand. I extracted once in August and once at the end of the season and got around 100lbs total!
Thinking of starting yourself? Feel free to contact me at the office. I am happy to offer advice or point you towards someone who can!
As winter approaches many animals start to look for a comfy home to hibernate in, bats being one of them. Bats are known for being a great pollinator species, but most of all they are known to eat millions of insects each year, mosquitos being a large majority of them. Michigan is home to nine species of bats, two threatened, one endangered, and one of special concern. Unfortunately, many more bat species are on their way to becoming a threated species due to a deadly disease called white-nose syndrome.
In 2007 white-nose syndrome (WNS) was first discovered in caves near Albany, New York. It was then discovered in Northern Michigan in 2014. Currently, four of the nine Michigan species are affected by it, one of them being the endangered Indiana bat. In the US alone it has killed over 5 million bats to date, with some sites having anywhere from 90-100 percent die offs.
White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, that grows in cold, dark, and damp places, like caves. Infected bats look like they have white fuzzies all over their nose, hence the name. It primarily affects bats during hibernation causing frequent wake ups, thus using up the bats fat reserves faster which in return cause starvation.
There is currently no definitive treatment for bats infected with WNS, so the best thing humans can do is try to prevent the spread of it. Bats are infected by coming in contact with the fungus. This could be just bat-to-bat contact, or the fungus being on the walls in mines and caves. To help stop the spread, anyone entering a mine or a cave should clean their equipment, clothing, and shoes before and after entering. Hopefully with our help, and a little bit of science, we can help save bats from this devastating disease.
For more information on White-nose syndrome visit:
The boring bit: Orienteering started for military training in the late 1800s in Sweden and expanded to a public sport just before 1900. As compasses improved, interest in orienteering expanded starting in Scandinavia, and eventually world-wide, arriving in the USA in the mid-1940’s.
Now that the history lesson is out of the way, you may have this question: Isn’t orienteering just following a compass and counting your paces? Yes, and no! Orienteering requires the use of a topographic (topo) map and a compass, most commonly a baseplate compass. No GPS allowed! Following a compass bearing and counting your paces is an integral part of orienteering (and some may know that part of orienteering by the names of land navigation or dead reckoning), but orienteering is much more than pace count and using a compass.
Orienteering requires you to follow landmarks, contours, and other features from one checkpoint to another. The person who finds all the checkpoints in the shortest amount of time wins. Going in a straight line by following a compass bearing is not always the best route, so being the fastest runner doesn’t guarantee a win. Orienteering is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one! It doesn’t matter what level you do (they range from beginner to expert), you will be guaranteed a good mental and physical workout whether you walk, run, or stumble through the woods. Without getting too technical, the following skills are used and improved through orienteering:
Using pace counts to estimate distance (in meters!)
Map and compass reading (rough and precise)
How to hold/orient the map
And some of the techniques that will improve your chances of finding those tricky checkpoints are:
CAR (Control, Attack point, Route – find the control on the map, figure out a good attack point, and plan your route)
Catching features (something that will catch you if you’ve gone too far)
Collecting features (looking out for easily identifiable features along your route)
Following handrails (linear features – trails, cliffs, and streams are some examples)
If this is starting to sound too complicated, don’t worry! I’ve seen a range of people orienteering, from families with young children to seniors and everything in between. The only requirement is that you can walk safely on trails. The beginner levels often have the checkpoints right on the trails, or at least very close to a trail. And while knowing the skills and techniques above will really help in the advanced and expert levels, they aren’t as necessary at the beginner levels – just go out, figure out a route via the trail systems, and have fun! If you like scavenger or Easter egg hunts – this is for you!
By now, you may have figured out that I’m pretty passionate about orienteering (thank you to my friend who introduced it to me a few years ago!). You may also be wondering why I’m talking about a sport in a conservation district’s blog series. One reason is that I just finished an orienteering event last week, and another reason is that orienteering as a sport has always had a big focus on being conservation conscious and environmentally friendly. While you may think that a bunch of people running off-trail through natural areas may lead to a lot of damage, there is actually very little to no damage that results from an event and most places are only used once per year in the US (1, 2). Some events even have a competition for the largest or most unusual piece of trash that you can carry back to the finish – prompting some impromptu clean-up efforts. There is also a culture of leaving the place as good as it was when you got there, or better, and can even tip off park personnel to trouble spots (new stands of invasive species, illegal dumping, areas with recent erosion, etc.). Many orienteers are avid environmentalists and enjoy getting out into nature, practicing navigating through natural areas. Orienteers need to pay attention to so much more than the trail, so you really get a rich outdoor experience through orienteering.
I am often in the middle or back of the pack, ranking wise, but love the personal challenge. I still get lost (or mis-located: there is no such thing as lost in orienteering, only being temporarily mis-located!), but I learn from my mistakes and improve the next time. I did get horribly lost on my first expert-level course for a good 45 minutes circling a checkpoint – had I known some of the techniques above, I may have fared much better! I started laughing at myself while wandering the woods while trying to figure out where in the world I was (I found it eventually once I located a nearby marsh that was on the map!).
If you want to try orienteering, there are a number of permanent courses (here and here) set up throughout lower Michigan, and there are various events (pandemic restrictions pending). I am also a member of the Southern Michigan Orienteering Club (SMOC) who holds many very low cost events in the spring and fall of each year – check them out if you are interested!
And a final note – if you decide to try orienteering: wear comfortable shoes and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty, bring the orienteering topo map (or receive at the event) and a compass, and have some general safety gear with you (whistle, water, snack, and a phone for emergencies – and pictures – only! Don’t be tempted by any of those map apps on there.). Always take out what you bring in and be respectful of other park users (humans and animals!). Most of all – have fun!
Side note: Adventure racing is a type of orienteering that has been gaining popularity recently. Often these events will require not only hiking/running, but biking, paddling, and games along the way as well. And while I love orienteering, I’ve found that adventure racing isn’t my cup of tea – I prefer my feet to be firmly planted on the ground during orienteering (although the paddling sections are a lot of fun).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
** 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.
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!