Monday, April 28, 2008

Woody Plant Trial 24 Month Results!

Forested wetland restoration site - central Maryland.
Restored 2005, Picture 4-28-08

Ha! Made ya look! What I've done over the last few years is anything but scientific, and was often based upon opportunity alone, but I wanted to know the answer to a question. Ecologists currently disagree about the importance of plant source (genetically and for individual plant survival), in habitat restoration projects. So, now I, the Swamp Thing, will give you the dirt! Or, the veg. Here are some species I've grown, and watched very carefully over the past few years. Draw your own conclusions about plant sources....and mostly, just try and figure out what works in your area!

Silky Dogwood
1) The Wild: Rescued, bare root, from construction site in central Maryland, 2005
2) The Mild: Purchased, bare root, from a nursery in Missouri, 2005

Survival & Vigor - Wild plant, by a significant margin
Form/Growth - Wild plant, by a small margin
Flowers - Neither plant
Fruit/Seed - Neither plant

Sweet Pepperbush
1) The Wild: Rescued, bare root, from construction site in central Maryland, 2004
2) The Mild: Purchased, containerized, from a nursery in Maryland, 2005

Survival & Vigor - both plants very strong
Form/Growth - nursery plant - the wild plants grow with a "crazy" form
Flowers - nursery plant
Fruit/Seed - NA

Arrowwood Viburnum
1) The Wild: Rescued, bare root, from construction site in Virginia, 2003
2) The Mild: Purchased, containerized from a nursery in Maryland, 2005 (via Home Despot)

Survival & Vigor - nursery plant
Form/Growth - nursery plant, by a mile!
Flowers - nursery plant
Fruit / Seed - both plants pollinated very poorly

American Redbud
1) The Wild: Rescued, bare root, from a garden in western NC, 2005
2) The Mild: Purchased, bare root, from a nursery in Missouri, 2005

Survival & Vigor - wild plant
Form/Growth - wild plant
Flowers - wild for longevity, but nursery plant for density!
Fruit / Seed - both plants flowering for the first time this year

Trumpet Creeper
1) The Wild: Stolen, shoot, from railroad tracks in Baltimore, 2004
2) The Mild: 2-year old bagged live plant from the Home Despot, 2004

Survival & Vigor - nursery plant - the wild plants all died within 1 growing season

Black Elderberry
1) The Wild: Stolen, bare root, from a field in western North Carolina, 2005
2) The Mild: Purchased at the Home Despot (grown in Maryland), containerized, 2005

Survival & Vigor: wild plants, by a mile
Form & Growth: depends on what you like. Wild plants grow like crazy.
Flowers: wild plants
Fruit & Seed: Not sure that the nursery plant is fertile. Blooms but no berries.

Allegheny Blackberry
1) The Wild: Stolen, bare root, from various fields in NC, VA, and MD, 2004-2006
2) The Mild: Purchased in bags at the Home Despot, grown in TX, 2005-2006

Survival & Vigor: nursery plants - seem to be a little more immune to cane borer
Form & Growth: nursery plants again
Flowers: Wild Plants
Fruit & Seed: Wild for quantity, nursery for quality

Shadbush (Serviceberry)
1) The Wild: Rescued from construction site, central Maryland, bare root, 2005
2) The Mild: Purchased from a nursery in Missouri, bare root, 2005

Survival & Vigor: nursery plant
Form & Growth: neither, really
Flowers: none yet
Fruit & Seed: Dare to Dream

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Where I Come From, Vol. 1 - Maryland & Virginia Tobacco


Tobacco drying barn, Southern Maryland


When I grew up in the Mid-Atlantic (southeastern Virginia), agriculture was dominated by 4 principal crops: peanuts, loblolly pine, tobacco, and pork. Now, where farms remain, production is dominated by commercial poultry, corn/soybeans, vegetable farms, and nursery crops (shrubs, etc.). I was preparing a site for a wetland restoration project yesterday in extreme southern Maryland, and I thought I would share with y'all the tale of Maryland and Virginia tobacco.

On October 15, 1492 (purportedly), Christopher Columbus first smoked tobacco. The Spanish, who charted Columbus' journey, continued to dally in light tobacco trading for the next 75 years. Things changed dramatically when Sir John Hawkins first brought tobacco from the Virginia colony to England in 1565. Tobacco, primarily from the Middle East, had previously been called "sotweed," and suddenly became popular as an import from the cash-poor British Colonies in the southeastern Unitied States.

This increased demand drew British colonists to try their hand at tobacco cultivation, particularly from Georgia, north to Connecticut. In 1614, the first exchange of native Virginia tobacco was made to England. By 1620, Virginia was exporting 40 tons of tobacco annually. And by 1625, over-production in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina was causing a drop in prices. An agreement was reached between Virginia and North Carolina to limit production for export. However, in Maryland, Lord Baltimore responded that, "If planters are poor, it is not from the low price of tobacco, but from their owne sloth." Maryland finally signed the agreement in 1667. These price-fixing agreements caused great anger with British traders, who demanded full production and a return to low prices. The low prices never returned.

By the mid-1700s, the colonists' tobacco industry had become self-regulating, requiring growers' licenses and farm inspections by 1727-1730 (Virginia) and 1747 (Maryland). This decreased the control that the British Crown had on both of these colonies, as well as Connecticut to the north.
The "Tobacco War", also known as the American Revolution, followed in 1776.

The American war effort was almost fully subsidized by tobacco loans from the French Government, as well as the duPont company, who arrived state-side to begin production of gunpowder in northern Delaware. It would be naive to say that duPont would not have agreed to produce powder for the British troops, for a slightly higher rate.

DuPont's Brandywine Powder Works, ca. 1905


In 1781, the British were defeated, and true to the American way (or really, the British way), the new US Government instituted its first tobacco tax in 1794. The tax rate? 60% on purchases of snuff. Around the same time, commercial processing began in Virginia (Richmond), Maryland (Baltimore), and North Carolina (Winston-Salem). As a result, urban-dwelling Americans were able to buy cigarettes and snuff that had been grown and processed in the United States, instead of processed abroad.

Americans' love of tobacco continued to grow, well into the 1960s. However, amid rising health concerns associated with cigarette tobacco, Maryland eliminated subsidies for tobacco farmers in the early 1970s. Virginia, and eventually North Carolina, followed suit. By the year 2000, under a strong market for corn, there were less than 1,000 tobacco farmers left in Maryland, although their market was fairly robust (9.5 million pounds produced annually). The state of Maryland began a tobacco buyout program, which paid tobacco farmers to NOT plant tobacco. Over 90% of the farmers are in the program. The last tobacco auction in Maryland was held in March, 2006.

A similar tobacco buyout began in Virginia in 2005. So far, about 45% of farmers are participating.




Tobacco that outlandish weede

It spends the braine and spoiles the seede

It dulls the spirite, it dims the sight

It robs a woman of her right

Dr. William Vaughn, 1607

Saturday, April 19, 2008

DIY, Alcoholic Style

Catbird stealing my elderberries...2007
I know that I'm a bit of an odd bird.
In the 10 years since I've finished grad school, I have:
  • grown tobacco (succeeded)
  • grown cotton (failed)
  • learned how to clone plants
  • learned to make soap
  • learned to make wine
  • learned to grow oysters
  • learned how to build a pond
  • learned how to frame a room

Anyway, I am working on the next notch in my cap, or whatever. I am making my first batch of wine from fruit that I actually grew. Of course, it could never be easy, like from grapes that I grew (grapes do not grow well in our climate without heavy pesticides and fungicides).

Nope. Instead, I am making elderberry wine today. I didn't have quite enough frozen elderberries from last year's harvest (see picture above, for the reason), so I am adding a few blackberries (Arapaho and Alleghany) that I grew last year.

Thawing out the fruit

Yes, sadly it is a little complicated to make (tasty and sanitary) wine directly from fruit!




Current small batch of apple wine

Friday, April 18, 2008

Outsmarted by a bunch of turkeys!




Opening day! Got to a spot on the Maryland/Delaware line in an area that is approximately 1/3 wetlands, 1/3 managed timber (loblolly) and 1/3 active cropland. Very flat, wet, and tick-infested (4 known bites so far). Perfect for turkeys! The forest is young oak-pine, with an understory of pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), Briar (Smilax spp), American Holly, and Highbush Blueberry. All indicators of acid soils.....all indicators of good habitats for forest birds like turkeys. I saw or heard warblers, wrens, pee-wee, ovenbird, and our 3 major woodpeckers. And turkeys.






In fact, I had been to this farm several times, and actually watched the turkeys move. Someone has harvested a trophy gobbler on opening day for the last 3 years, on this very farm. This is as safe as a bet as you can get....for a legal, fair, and ethical hunt.





But yet, I never fired a shot. Why? Outsmarted. By turkeys.





When I was walking through the cornfield before dawn, I heard two gobblers calling back and forth. Since turkeys rarely if ever come off of their roost before dawn, I assumed they were on the roost, and out of sight of yours truly. What I now know is that they HAD left the roost, and were on the ground below it, in plain sight of my devious activities. I quickly set up my 2 decoys and hunkered down against an old stump, listening to the cackling of 3 gobblers with 3 different flocks! I called back, which got my target gobbler on the move toward me (from my front). His voice got louder and louder as he (with his hens) drew closer to my setup. My plan was to hijack their feeding pattern and surprise the Old Boy on his way to International House of Acorns. He should have been walking directly at me the whole time. He seemed to be drifting.







(I was set up in the purple circle, about 15' back in an oak and blueberry thicket, facing NE)



Suddenly, he gobbled from about 100 yards to the right of me, still in the woods! I was a little surprised, but I was sure I could work him back out. I called and called, and he called back, and after another 30 minutes, he was behind me. Nothing about my location or setup favored that approach, but I stuck with it. 10 minutes later, for the first time, the call was more faint. The curious gobbler had barely bypassed my setup, just a little too alarmed that something was suspicious about it all (if he only knew!).



The gobblers on the other roost vacated the area as well, and after awhile I could not even hear the hens clucking. Sat around for another 90 minutes hoping for something dramatic to happen, but it was all for naught. Packed up, changed my clothes, and went to work....only to get a call from the farmer 20 minutes later to tell me that the turkeys were feeding in the spot where I had my decoys set up this morning.



I am going to harvest at least one gobbler this spring. Mark my word!

Uber-dork MySpace self-pic, Sportsman Style.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

First Fishing Day 2008

We had a brief warm snap, so it was high time to get back out on the water. Brother T was camping out on Chickahominy WMA in southeastern VA, only 2 counties away from where we went to high school. He leaves on monday for a 40-day jaunt on the Mississippi River, and I happened to be driving through Virginia on the way to some work events for early next week....so what the heck?

We got underway pretty early, dodging our 14' jonboat (the water is very shallow) among the yuppy jerks speeding up the creeks with their Tritons and Mercury 250's (it's a designated no-wake zone) as part of an unsponsored, unsanctioned, unadvertised bass tournament. They proved a minor annoyance all morning, primarily because their 2 foot wake (at 30mph in a no-wake zone) kept screwing with our attempts to fish topwater lures around woody debris, primarily fallen oak logs and cypress knees. One near collision between two of them was priceless, though (that would have been a pricy insurance claim!).

Anyway, the primary lures we utilized were the Rebel Pop'R, Heddon Zara Spook, Gitzit Little Tough Guys, various shad darts, beetle spins, and plastics (not worth mentioning because they didn't draw any bits).

Fishing started slow, but up in a deep cove we hit a mess of redbreasted sunfish, which was at least entertaining. We found several shorelines with severe erosion and deep channels immediately at the shoreline (thanks to the jerks in the bASS tournament), littered with floating woody debris and fallen logs. Fishing those structures with the three lures linked above drew out more red-breasted sunfish, a few bluegills, and a Hickory Shad. We fished around a fallen cypress tree in deep water and I caught a 2lb+ crappie, the biggest one I have caught in several years.

After that, we knew that some bigger fish were around, so we started covering big lengths of shoreline with plastics. The water was cloudy due to recent wind and rain, and we hit a lot of submerged snags and pulled in a lot of watermilfoil on our hooks. We hadn't brought any live bait because "we're sportsmen" (I love it when guys say that), but mostly because we didn't want to spend all morning trying to release 6" long gut-hooked channel catfish, which are plentiful in the tidal Chickahominy. No more big fish at all, and only the Carp and very small largemouth were jumping.

By about 11am, the predicted thunderstorms started lurking up in the creek, and the tide started heading out, so we motored back to the "campsite" (i.e. a patch of dirt in the woods). T's buddies were cooking up brats so I grabbed one and packed up the truck before the Old Testament Flood started. Despite the idiots in the $60,000 boats, it was a great morning, with great scenery in some really great habitat. And I caught and released what would have been a "citation crappie" (ha ha ha), so that's an extra bonus.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mystery Spring Ephemerals


t's been at least 2 years since I planted any of these. Hardly anything grew last year due to a late hard frost and a pretty severe drought. And so....I lost track....Help!


What the hell kind of daffodil is this?

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Freight Train of Spring

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed like spring was right on top of us, but still struggling. Now it's undeniably here, even if the weather is a little "Pac NW". I led a tour saturday of some wetlands we built in Fall 2007 (above). The folks who run that property are drawing down the water levels in the wetlands. This provides two resources - a nice ring of mudflats for shorebird and duck foraging, and also an impetus for wetland seeds to germinate in the saturated (but not flooded) soil. It will look so much nicer once it is full of thick vegetation.

Our bird list was pretty limited:
American Black Duck (flock of 8)
Mallard (mating pairs)
Wood Duck (mating pairs)
Greater Yellowlegs
Tern (unidentified)
Killdeer
Osprey (nesting)
Red-tailed hawk
Bald Eagle

A local resident who was on the tour commented that the black ducks were the first he had seen on the creek in 15 years. I was also hoping on a lot more songbirds, but I suppose it's still early. Once the vegetation thickens, the area should be full of woodcock as well.

Elsewhere, the "freight train of spring" keeps rolling here in USDA Zone 7. I will be publishing a post soon of unknown spring ephemerals that I planted previously (2 or more years ago), which didn't germinate in 2007, and have now come up....so I have no recollection of what they are.

In bloom this week at our place:
Spicebush (transplanted from southern Maryland, 2004)
Hyacinth
Grape Hyacinth

Ready to Bloom
Redbud (transplanted from western NC, 2004)
Redbud (nursery stock, MO, 2006)
Viburnum, Chicago Fire (nursery stock, NY, 2005)
Shadbush/Serviceberry (nursery stock, MO, 2006)

Germinated
Spring-planted Garlic, Chesnok Red
Tobacco, Havana (inside under lights)
Tobacco, Connecticut Black (inside under lights)
Tomato, Sweet Million (inside under lights)
Spring Beauties (transplanted from eastern TN, 2007)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Swamped....In a bad way!

I have been given the onerous task of raising $500,000 for our office by the end of the calendar year. What does that mean? Sitting at my desk an awful lot. Seriously - it's kind of interesting. In our "senior seminar" at college in 1996, our "crazy old professor" told us that

"Everyone in the wildlife field has to be a salesperson. There are no more "wilderness jobs" or "lab jobs" where you don't have to go in front of the public, or Congress, or your boss's boss, and defend the very existence of your office, your job, and your budget. If you cannot turn what's important to you, into what's important to the public, then your career will not survive."

At the moment, I thought it was complete lunacy! 12 years later....well, Dr. Giles might have understated it. Anybody out there who wants to be any type of engineer or biologist - you need to take a business class, or a marketing class, or a writing class, or a public speaking class. Trust me!

Anyway...back to writing...hopefully more adventures in a few days!

24 days 'til growing season!