Adventure Time with Ali and Katherine!

Yesterday afternoon, Ali and I went on a journey of epic proportions. What for, you ask? To find the elusive recruitment plot 7, of course! During the past couple weeks, we have been taking demography data on the Echinacea plants flowering in small recruitment plots planted by members of Team Echinacea in previous years. These plots are demarcated by poles in the corners and have generally been a breeze to find. Ali and I had just taken data at a plot north of Steven’s Approach, and were looking forward to finishing off the day with this last plot. We started out with spirits high; on the map, the plot appeared to be only a 5 minute walk from the road. Using the GPS unit to stake the point we needed to find, we realized that to get straight to the plot we’d need to plunge through the heart of a dark, swampy, scraggly forest that most likely contained a witch’s hut. To bypass this obstacle, we set off through a recently harvested corn field, keeping an eye on the GPS and hoping to cut back over to the plot as soon as we had a clear path to it. However, once we saw the complex of lakes and wetlands that lay to the north of the small woods, we realized that our path might not be as straightforward as we’d imagined. So began an hour and a half long journey through fields, marshes, pastures, mud, prairie, and a mysterious junkyard that I almost believed was a hallucination until Ali commented on its strangeness. We became increasingly convinced that the plot had been swallowed up by wetlands, or that it didn’t exist at all. Finally, having at last found our way back to the road about a half mile east of where we’d started, we decided that we had to give up and call it a day. These pictures are all we have to show for our adventure.

Started off with clear minds and hearts

Started off with clear minds and hearts

Where are we? Is this plot a prank??

“Where are we? Is this plot a prank??”

"It's probably just through these reeds!"

“It’s probably just through these reeds!”

"NOPE. That's a lake."

“NOPE. That’s a lake.”


We escaped the junkyard of broken dreams to find ourselves in a lovely pasture.

After escaping the junkyard of broken dreams…”Are we in Ireland now?”

Aside from these misadventures, we took advantage of the damp and dreary weather to start dissecting Q3 heads. They’ve all been harvested by now (yay!!), so all that remains is to remove the achenes and sort them based on pollen donor. This takes some time and concentration, but it’s enjoyable and relaxing. So far we have dissected 20 heads…only 134 more to go before we take the achenes down to Chicago to be x-rayed!

Ali hard at work at her dissecting station

Ali hard at work at her dissecting station


Q3 update and more!

As of Tuesday, 139 out of 153 total Q3 heads have been harvested. That means there are only 14 more to go. Yay!!!

With Gretel having left for Chicago after lunch today, Ali and I are officially alone here in Kensington! While holding down the fort for a week will likely be challenging due to the large amount of fieldwork left to be done, we’re confident that we’ll be able to handle it. Our newfound ability to drive stick-shift has already proved invaluable, and we’re gaining confidence with it every day. This afternoon, we drove around to harvest at the remnants, and we finished off the harvest at Steven’s approach, NW of landfill, and Hegg. Now the truck is parked safely in our driveway, which will be its home for the next month!

Here are some photos from the week!

The beautiful birthday cake Gretel made me!

The beautiful birthday cake Gretel made me!


Ali also made me a cake!!

Ali also made me a cake!!

Being hooligans in P1

Being hooligans in P1, as usual

September 12-14

On Friday, yet another member of Team Echinacea left Kensington! 🙁 Amy moved down to Chicago this past weekend to start the lab-based portion of her internship. We’re excited for her, but we definitely miss her (and her mom-like presence) back here in Minnesota! Hope the Chicago Botanic Garden is treating you well so far, Amy!

It was a quiet weekend for me here in Kensington, with Amy moving and both Danny and Ali in Northfield visiting college friends. For the first time in a long time, none of us town hall kids were together in the same place! It made me miss the days when there were 8 of us living here.

Today at work, we started the day by harvesting heads in the remnants and at Hegg Lake. Only 7 heads remain to be harvested in the remnants as of today! In addition, Ali measured senescence in Gina and Abby’s aphid addition and exclusion plants, and all 3 of us collected Bouteloua seeds at Hegg to be planted in P2. At lunch, we were excited to see Gretel for the first time in weeks! She headed out with us this afternoon to do seedling refinds at the landfill, NW of landfill, and S of golf course sites. After completing these sites, we staked the focal plants at Loeffler’s corner, in case we have time for more seedling refinds tomorrow.

Ali and I did lots of driving practice in the truck!

Ali and I did lots of driving practice in the truck!

September 8: Only 4 left!

Today, Team Echinacea was the smallest it’s been so far this summer! With Stuart in Chicago for the week, and Abby and Matt starting off the school year over in Barrett, only Danny, Amy, Ali and I will be holding down the fort for the next few days.  This morning, we headed to KJs to do seedling refinds. Despite the fact that it’s one of our smallest sites, KJs has far more focal plants for seedling searches than any other site, so we had our work cut out for us. Trying to find the seedlings we’re supposed to track among the hundreds of other seedlings present was pretty frustrating at times, but we persevered, and almost finished the site before lunchtime! After a quick lunch, we visited the remnants and Hegg Lake to harvest Echinacea heads. The good news is that the harvest at Staffanson was finished today! But the bad news is that all of East Riley and about half of Riley has been mowed. Tags are strewn all over the roadside, and many of the plants are gone. Luckily, only one of the plants we were planning to harvest was lost. At the end of the day, the four of us met up at Hegg to take demography data for two of the recruitment plots. We tagged quite a few new flowering plants!

A sad and lonely lunch table :(

A sad and lonely lunch table 🙁

August 31: Summer’s Last Stand

Today, a sadly diminished Team Echinacea faced the renewed bout of heat/humidity without Gina, Will, or our fearless leader Stuart. It felt strange to arrive at the Hjelm House and not to see Will sitting in his usual spot at the picnic table. Despite being in Chicago, Stuart had plenty prepared for us to do. We started off the day with demo rechecks at Staffanson, which went quickly and smoothly thanks to our thorough work there last week. Then, while Ali, Abby and Amy harvested heads at P2 (they got about 20!) and Danny worked on the computer to prepare our afternoon tasks, Matt and I took the truck out to do demo at the last of the smaller sites, and just as importantly, to teach me how to drive stick! Ali and I are both learning to drive manual transmission this summer, because once Danny and Amy move to Chicago, the truck will be our only mode of transportation. Luckily for us, Matt is a very patient and calm teacher. Despite many engine revs, strange grinding noises, and that time I killed the engine in the middle of the road with two cars behind me, he made me feel capable and confident. I’m glad to be building yet another skill here in Minnesota!

After a lunch comprised mainly of yellow-jacket trap setting, we headed out to P1 to map the gopher mounds. Those pesky little varmints have completely overturned much of the northeast corner of the garden–we found 51 mounds total, 49 of which were in that area. Too bad Roxy isn’t here to do some gopher hunting! Finally, we headed back out to Staffanson, this time to demo and GPS the six nearest neighbors of certain plants on the transect. Although we were three tags short and therefore not able to quite finish the job, we found and GPS-ed all the plants we needed!

After work, we headed down to Morris to watch Abby’s first cross country meet of the season! Having all run cross country at some point in our lives, Amy, Ali and I were very excited to be there. And we’re so proud of Abby, our swift gazelle–hopefully our enthusiastic cheering didn’t embarrass her too much!

a gopher mound where an Echinacea should be :(

A gopher mound where an Echinacea should be 🙁



August 14, the hottest day of the summer

Today was hot. Like, REALLY hot. But there was work to be done, and Team Echinacea is a tough bunch. So, despite the soul-crushing heat and humidity, we managed to finish measuring in P1!!! Yay!!! It was a monumental moment, and a great way to finish off the week. We celebrated/rehydrated with watermelon and root beer floats!

In other news, progress was made on the aphid and seed harvesting fronts today. Phenology is continuing to wind down, and Ricardo the caterpillar is eating everything in site.

He/she is getting so big!

He/she is getting so big!

The team enjoying root beer floats

The team enjoying root beer floats

August 9th: Our baby is all grown up!!!

Sunday was a very special day for us at the town hall: our baby Ben turned 20! His sister Liz flew all the way up from Utah to visit him, and we got to hear about her research job out west. At 1, we all headed up to Barrett to see Hattie and Per perform in a production of Robin Hood that they’d been practicing all week at theater camp. It was a great show, and we even got to stay for a potluck afterwards! (Unfortunately, nobody had brought a hot dish for our non-Midwesterners to try.) When we got back to the town hall, we decided to tye-dye, something we’d been meaning to try all summer. Many items got tye-dyed, from shirts to socks to bedsheets to Ben’s knees. To cap off the night, we ate Ben’s birthday cake out at the gazebo, accompanied by a gorgeous sunset. It was a fun-filled day!


Per and Hattie at the end of the show


Tye-dying fun!


Ben’s beautifully decorated cake


“Birthday Boy”

July 26: Sunday Adventures in Alex

With three of us out of town, and Danny occupied with his girlfriend Lauren’s visit, it was a pretty quiet weekend at the town hall. After a particularly lazy Saturday, Lea, Taylor, Gina and I decided on Sunday morning to spend the day in Alex. First we went to Art in the Park, which was a much bigger event than I had imagined! We listened to live music, ate free samples, and admired the work of local artists (some of which featured Echinacea!) For lunch, we went to Mi Mexico, which was yummy despite the fact that I ordered the most boring item on the menu. (I guess I didn’t realize that a bean burrito would literally just be beans in a tortilla…oh well.) After lunch, we stopped at an antique shop and spent hours getting lost in the labyrinth of shelves and rooms until we were told that the store was closing and we had better check out. We made one last stop at the grocery store, and then returned to the town hall with our wallets slightly emptier but happy to have made the most of our day off.

Spotted this beauty at Art in the Park!

Spotted this beauty at Art in the Park!

July 15: An acrostic ode to our beloved model species

Another long morning of phenology

Nobody knew the protocol, apparently

Gretel sunk our visors one by one

Until 12:30 we toiled in the sun

So much end of flowering to observe

The plants have been thriving at Staffanson Preserve

Into boots our feet slid after lunchtime fun

For Hegg Lake had much more work to be done

On the hills we tagged more angustifolia flowers

Lots of us also helped Taylor and Amy for hours

If only we understood those rogue Echinacea plants…

Another cruel joke by Team Pallida, perchance??

Measuring baby hybrids for Taylor's experiment!

Measuring baby hybrids for Taylor’s experiment!


July 8: Adventures at Staffanson

We had a pretty standard morning of phenology today. The only noteworthy incident happened to Abby and Amy–they lost, and later miraculously found, a green pen in the prairie. Yep, that was the most exciting part of our morning! At lunch, we were all sad because Will wasn’t there. (Get well soon, Will!) We split up in the afternoon. Amy and Danny did computer work, Ben, Abby, Gina and Per finished P2, and Lea, Taylor, Ali and I went to Staffanson to stake points. Ali and I walked about a million miles to get to all our plants, finding parts of the preserve we didn’t even know existed. At the end of our route, we were rewarded for our hard work with the discovery of raspberry bushes filled with newly ripening berries, which improved morale considerably.


Ali loves wood lilies. A lot.

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Protecting the GPS from harm

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This guy stayed on me for a full 5 minutes. New BFF?