Field trip to MN (22 – 26 May)

I drove from the Chicago Botanic Garden to our field site in western Minnesota hoping for a window of appropriate burning weather on Thursday afternoon or Friday afternoon. I also brought 297 Echinacea seedlings to plant as part of an experiment that investigates hybridization between native and non-native Echinacea. Several gallons of side-oats grama grass seed were waiting to be hand broadcast at two sites after the burn.

Why burn?
We want to burn our large Echinacea “common garden experiment.” In this abandoned field we have planted about 14000 individual Echinacea plants, starting in 1996, and measured their growth and flowering every year. We have burned this ~6 acre plot every other spring from 1998 to 2008. The weather didn’t cooperate in 2010, so we burned in 2011. We are trying to burn this year! Burning in the spring really increases the chance that an Echinacea plant will flower. We are planning a big crossing experiment this summer, so we want as many plants to flower as possible. Also, burning sets back the weeds–and that is a good thing.

Here’s the quick recap of major activities.
1. Packing
2. Driving to MN
3. Preparing to burn
4. The burn
5. Seeding after the burn
6. Preparing to plant
7. Planting
8. Seeding the phenology plot
9. Driving to IL


Dwight makes sure the fire stays where it belongs

Read the gory details…

1. Packing
I loaded the truck with lots of field equipment to use during the summer. The seedlings in the hybridization experiment fit in three trays. I had two trays of “extra” seedlings that were still hanging on from Jill’s agar/blotter seed germination experiment. For the burn, I brought three backpack sprayers, the DNR burn permit, and batteries for radios. I forgot to bring a back-up drip torch.

2. Driving to MN
The drive to Minneapolis was generally uneventful, which is just what one wants when driving an 18-year old truck. Very early on Thursday I drove to the site. Shortly before arriving, I saw two Sandhill Cranes landing in a wet field near Holmes City. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen cranes on the ground in Douglas County–auspicious! I should mention that I also saw a Common Loon and Pelicans, which are common every summer in Douglas County. Seeing them makes for an auspicious day too.

3. Preparing to burn
Thursday morning the ground was wet and the wet grass duff (fuel) didn’t look very promising for burning. The erosion in the surrounding corn fields indicated it had rained a lot. Our rain gauge confirmed that showing 3.65 inches (93 mm) of precipitation in the previous week. Light winds and cool temps weren’t helping dry it out, but the sun and low humidity offered a glimmer of hope. It’s rather stressful trying to predict burn weather and decide whether to rally folks to make a long trip to help burn.


The plot before the burn

Dwight and I began preparations for the burn. Just after noon, it looked like the fuel might dry out enough to burn and the weather forecast looked great, so I let folks know that we were going to attempt to burn in late afternoon. I should add that the fire forecast for Friday was getting worse, so that a burn was going to happen on Thursday or never (well, June or 2014).

Here’s our pre-burn to do list:
Prepare burn break (mower, weed whip, chain saw)
Fill water tank on truck (70 – 80 gallons)
Put six buckets in tractor trailer
Set up hoses [I forgot to set up hoses this year, thus this list]
Fill backpack sprayers
Fill drip torch(es)
Get matches
Activate burn permit
Call sheriff
Call neighbors
Walk burn break with crew & place buckets
Check radios

What to wear during a burn:
100% cotton long-sleeved shirt and long pants
Leather boots (over ankle, if you have them)
Leather work gloves

4. The burn
Amy, Brad, Dwight, Jean, and I conducted the burn and it went smoothly. Amy made a nice post with photos. The burn was slow and thorough. Ignition initiated at 5:20 and we were done at 8:20. Winds were light ESE ~ 8 mph. We had a great dinner afterward.


Amy keeps the fire from jumping the road


Brad and Amy through the smoke


A slow and thorough burn

Post burn to do list:
Call sheriff
Put everything away–dry out tanks
Broadcast seed


Some grass is still green right after the fire

5. Seeding after the burn
On Friday I hand broadcast about 2 gallons (8 liters) of native grass seed. More warm season grasses will provide fuel for future fires! The Soras chattering in the neighboring wetland kept me company. Here’s the seed sources–keeping it local!
grocery bag: Bouteloua curtipendula from cg1 10 Aug 2012
grocery bag: Bouteloua curtipendula from Krus 14 Aug 2012
#1 bag: Bouteloua curtipendula (& some Elymus canadensis) from Backhill 19 Aug 2012
#2 bag: Bouteloua curtipendula from Backhill 19 Aug 2012
#2 bag: Bouteloua curtipendula from cg1 22 Aug 2012


Much of the grass that was green right after the fire is now brown


I found this Sharpie while broadcasting side-oats grama

6. Preparing to plant

Next job was getting those seedlings in the ground! The forecast was for lots of rain during the upcoming week, which is great for seedlings, and for lots of rain in the afternoon, which is not so great for a person planting seedlings. I had to hurry.

I was quite efficient, except that I paused to watch a pair of Trumpeter Swans at Hegg Lake WMA–another first for me in Douglas County. I got a very nice look at the birds up close and saw the shape and color of their bills–straight and all black. I didn’t hear them, so I’m not 100% positive they were trumpeters. Tundra swans apparently look similar, but I haven’t seen them up close for years.

I chose a uniform location in an area that was planted with warm season grasses in 2000 for this experimental plot. I was considering mowing the area, or at least the rows to facilitate making straight rows and putting the plugs in, but I decided against it.
I laid out 300 planting locations (10 m x 30 m) with meter tapes and pin flags. A 9m x 29m grid would be sufficient for 300 locations, but I don’t like to plant at 0m on a tape and I planned to leave a few flags at locations with no plants.


Setting up planting locations

7. Planting

These seedlings all originate from plants that flowered at Hegg Lake last summer. Shona conducted the summer experiment and prepared the seeds for germination. Read about Shona’s project. Jill germinated the seeds this spring and measured the seedlings multiple times. Read about Jill’s project.

I ended up planting one tray (~100 seedlings) on Friday before getting rained out. Planting in the light rain worked for a while, but it was slow. When it really started coming down, I bagged it.


tools of the trade

On Saturday morning I saw the pair of Trumpeters at the flooded field SW of MN27 & CR1. The nearby Canada Geese were much smaller. A black tern flew overhead. When I arrived at Hegg, I saw fresh truck tracks and what looked like a can of beer and a pair of underwear right in the middle of the parking area. They were not there the day before! Upon closer inspection I realized that it was a can of Nos energy drink, not beer.

Saturday proved to be cold but not too cold. It was 54 degrees F and very windy. I wore nitrile gloves and that kept my hands warm. I planted almost twice as fast as I did when it was raining. The Bobolinks kept me entertained all morning with their bubbling songs.

8. Seeding the phenology plot Saturday 1:11 – 1:42 pm
Right after finishing planting I went to the phenology plot and broadcast some native seeds that we collected last fall. I broadcast the seed fast and it dispersed well in the strong and gusty wind. There is a new fox den with a big pile of dirt in the middle of the plot. The only plants I saw flowering were Sambucus, Dandelion, and Antennaria. I’m sure others have been flowering, but it was overcast and cold and I was moving fast. As I left Hegg Lake a wild Turkey walked out in the road in front of my truck. So nice to see.

I planted ~ 2.5 gallons of seed from three collections:
1. Bouteloua curtipendula from Hegg Lake WMA 13 Aug 2012 (#4 bag). 2. Bouteloua curtipendula from NE corner of Hegg Lake WMA 27 Aug 2012 (grocery bag). 3. Schizachyrium scoparium (& some Bouteloua curtipendula) from along CR 15 at Hegg Lake WMA 16 Sept 2012 (grocery bag).

9. Driving to IL
I left around 5:45 AM on Sunday. As I climbed in the truck I heard a Great-crested flycatcher–first of the season–so, I suspected it would be an auspicious trip. It was a boring drive, just the way I like it. I talked to myself about mating isolation and asynchrony to help prepare for writing a proposal to NSF on this topic.

I didn’t have time to plant a few of Maria’s left-over Dichanthelium plants. Jean said she would be glad to plant them in her prairie garden. photo(7)May2013.JPG

Maria’s Dichanthelium plants. Some have been exposed to cold temperatures for the past month or so.

Monday June 25

Last week was a busy and fun one for Team Echinacea 2012; no two days were the same. We wrapped up some of the first summer projects and started to transition into the second phase of the summer. We completed evaluating the recruitment plots, began to record their GPS locations, conducted demography and phenology observations in the common garden, and perhaps most notably, completed round one of seeding searches with the west (and recently burned) section of Staffanson prairie with help from Amy Dykstra, who came to visit on Friday. In addition to all the progress made on the long-term projects, we also spent multiple rainy mornings working on our individual research projects, the proposals for which have been recently, or will soon be posted here on the flog. IMG_1746.jpg Stuart Instructs us on the proper field techniques for cross-pollination, pollinator exclusion, and painting flowers so we can keep track of what we’ve just done.

After a short weekend, we started up working again this Monday with a morning dedicated to our independent projects, time which we all used to get out in the field and get our hands dirty. Ruth stopped by today and lent a hand and some very welcome advise, and joined the crew in the afternoon to do some weeding in the common garden. We clipped, pulled, and trimmed Buckthorn, Ash saplings, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Sweet Clover, and Sumac.

Oh the things you will find … doing rechecks

I found a few things besides Echinacea plants, while searching for plants that may have died in the common garden. I found a fossil shell. I gave it to Per and he held on to it for a while but dropped it. Someone else will find it! I found a stylus (for a handspring visor). It’s probably Gretel’s; she lost hers earlier this year. I found a snake skin with an intact top of head–the eyes were transparent-cool! Per gave to Hattie, I think. I found a mouse in a mouse nest (right on top of dead Echinacea leaves from last year). The mouse bounded away. Also, Ruth called while I was searching to say that she had just found the serial cord for the survey station data collector that we couldn’t find–we had been looking for that for a few days. Wahoo! Finally, I emptied my pockets of litter that I had picked up: three pieces of flagging, one melted plastic plug label, and 2 blue plastic cocktail stirrers.


Stuff from Stuart’s pocket: stylus (1), flagging bits (3),
melted plastic plug label (1), blue plastic cocktail stirrers (2)

We are making great progress on annual measurements of plant in the common garden. On Monday we finished measuring all plants (~10000). On Tuesday we finished placing staples at all locations where plants died overwinter in 2007-2008 (>700). Today we made a huge dent in “rechecks.”

Rechecking is when we revisit all the locations where we recorded a “can’t find” and left a flag while measuring. We placed about 1500 flags. About 700 of those “can’t finds” were stapled this year. So, we just verified that staples were in the correct locations and pulled flags. Some locations had staples from previous years that a measurer didn’t find. We pulled flags there too. Then there were the plants that were alive last year. We rechecked those and found quite a few plants. Each time someone found one, they yelled “wahoo” and the rest of us responded with a whoop and a holler.

Shucks, it was fun!! Actually I was burned out by the end. Next year we should plan two 2h sessions instead of one 4h session.

Staples 2009

Staples mark positions in the Common Garden where plants have died. Our policy has been to add a staple to a position where a plant has not been found for 3 years. This year, we’ve followed that protocol for the Inbreeding and INB2 gardens. However, we have added staples in Big Batch, 2001, SPP, Monica’s, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 1999s where plants have only been “Can’t Find” for TWO years. This should minimize the time it takes to search positions. We hope that plants and staples won’t both be found at the same position in the future.

mowing the CG

We mowed most of the CG this morning. Putting flags in went smoothly. It helped that we left many flags overwinter. We mowed according to the plan established two years ago. We started removing clippings & pulling flags that marked fl pla from 2008.

I noticed a plant I do not recognize at R46 P~903. Also, in R14 near P870 there is a patch of somethings that is starting to spread. We should determine if it’s a weed we should eliminate.

Field work, May 2008

Here’s an update on the main research activities this spring. The cool spring with a late snow (~15 inches -38 cm- at the end of April) delayed burning weather somewhat and we think seedling recruitment may be later than in the past few years.

Recruitment/Establishment Experiment

On May 9 I mowed burn breaks so the DNR burn crew could burn the plots. They burned the middle unit at Hegg Lake WMA on May 28. Two plots were in this unit. Here’s a photo of one plot just after the burn. Nice work! There are 3 plots to be burned at Hegg Lake WMA, two at Kensington Duck Refuge, and one a Eng Lake WMA. At the duck refuge I saw 2 Sandhill cranes and a Red-necked grebe (among the regular, awesome array of water birds).

Common Garden

Dwight, Jean, and I burned the common garden on May 22, starting just after noon. The weather was within prescription, but the wind was a bit strong and the fire jumped the gravel road and started some corn stubble. The fire worked its way to some reed canary grass and we managed to put it out there. If it had gone a little longer it would have torched the cattails and burned the whole slough west of the common garden. Whew!

The running fire was great in the 99S garden, but there were quite a few unburned spots in the main garden. We burn the CG every other year and we mow paths annually, so we don’t have quite enough fuel for really complete burns. Maybe in 2010 we should augment the fuel load with some prairie hay.

A big tree just east of the CG caught on fire. It was hollow, but quite strong. It finally broke and fell over around 7 pm. To put it out we scraped all the embers and coal from the trunk with an axe and shovel. We couldn’t reach a spot of punky wood 8 – 9 feet (2.5 m) off the ground. So I climbed up the trunk and used a 5 lb. pick mattock to scrape out the embers and punky wood. Then Dwight lifted the smith Indian backpack sprayer over his head and I sprayed and sprayed and sprayed. We put it out by around 10 pm. Exciting! We need to cut up the part of the tree that fell on the CG.

An adult bald eagle flew over the CG just as we started to burn and then again around 8 pm — great!

On 24 May, Gretel and I broadcast seed over the CG. We seeded Galium boreale, Bouteloua curtipendula, and Schizacharium scoparium. Gretel, Per, and I seeded the ditch with many species of seed, including Stipa spartea and Spartina pectinata. We forgot to seed the 99S garden.

Seedling Search

On 27 & 28 May Ruth, Amy, Julie, and I searched for Echinacea seedlings in five remnant prairies. We searched about 75 circles with 41 or 50 cm radius and found 17 seedlings. Several had only cotyledons and the tallest first leaf was 24 mm. We got rained out yesterday (29 May). It was also cold and windy.

Hjelm house

Last weekend Pete, Dwight, Gretel, and Stuart cleaned out all the sheetrock and insulation (yuck) in the house. That was a job. We got the house all ready to have the floors sanded. We have a lot left to do to get the house ready for the main field season. The highest priorities are bathroom and computer network.

Common Garden Management Notes

Here are some notes including completed management and what’s left to do…

7/12/07 2:10 pm
The crew did a great job weeding Melilotus & Carduus yesterday and the day before. Very thorough job! They started cutting woody veg. Ash and Sumac are prevalent. Some others woody species include Salix, Rubus, Vitis, Ulmus. I looked where the single Toxicodendron plant used to be. No sign of it. I haven’t seen it for several years.

I systematically walked the garden looking at these groups of rows: 56-51, 50-47, 46-43, 42-39, 38-35, 34-31, 30-27, 26-23, 22-19, 18-15, 14-11, <11, >56. I was searching for Lotus and gopher mounds.

7/12/07 3:13 pm
I removed Lotus corniculatus from these locations…
row pos
52-53 905-906 veg removed
54.5 973 veg removed
48 908.5 pla removed
29.5-30 872.5-873 plas & veg rem
17 954.5 pla rem
18 955 veg rem

I noted gopher mounds at these locations. Not all of these are active. I think there are many more ground squirrels than pocket gophers.
row pos
55.5 981.5
45.5 924
43.5 925
43.5 926.5
43.5 930
43 930
44.5 931
46 983
42.5 930
42.5 928
42 948
40.5 923
39.5 921
39.5 916
36.5 921
36 927
37 928
36.5 929
34.5 932
36.5 985
37.5 985
36 983.5
33.5 983
33 932
26.5 912
16.5 885
56.5 915

Note: a huge Thamnophis radix emerged from a hole at 28 940.

In the future–make a plant species list for the common garden. Here are some notes:
Helianthus sp & Galium boreale at 12 889
Stachys palustris in r16 p885
Lathyrus venosus & Galium boreale at r55-56 p970-973
Oenothera biennis at r9 p880
Spirea alba r 57 p973

What is that cf. caprifoliaceae on e side?

Continue cutting woody veg.
Staple 98 garden.
Remove thistles on W edge.
Remove Phalaris patch r38-39 p~875.
Cut trees in ditch.
Girdle trees E of CG.
Make ladder stairs for S entrance.
Remove Cottonwoods from ditch.
Remove fenceposts.
Remove rebar posts & put in posts along edge.
Put signs along road (& E side?).
Intall webcam.

On 5 July 2007 Amy & Gretel found a harvested head in a bag from last year. They brought in the bag. Here’s their note:
many achenes loose
many seedlings
25-972 flagged
16 seedlings at least

I noted the coordinates for seedling cluster:
r25.29 p971.63
and there’s 1 seedling 13 cm NE’N of main cluster.