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Krusmarks after dark: Seed addition update

Last week, we drove to MN in the middle of the week for our last chance for field work before the snow. Jared and Wyatt stayed behind to take care of the Lake Forest College students who are doing a project in the lab on Wednesdays. Our goal in MN was to plant seeds for the seed addition project, an experiment measuring the effects of prescribed fire on seedling germination and emergence in Echinacea.

For the study, we established 4-meter-long transects at 36 sites across the Echinacea Project study area, for a total of 84 transects. Each transect is divided into 4 segments, and this fall, we planted one of those meter-long segments with either 1 or 2 packets containing 50 seeds each. Since we know how many seeds we planted (we know exactly how many because Wyatt x-rayed them!), we can record how many seedlings emerge in the spring and calculate accurate germination rates.

Our goal on Wednesday was to plant all 84 transects before sunset at 4:50 pm. November 9th, 2022 dawned cold and rainy. Stuart, Lindsey, and I started the day at Tower and Nice Island to do a practice run together. We soon learned that the drizzle would make planting seeds difficult. The achenes stuck to everything: the envelope, the grass, the meterstick, and our fingers when we tried to remove the achenes from the meterstick. Nevertheless, we persisted. After sprinkling seeds along each transect, we carefully checked meterstick to make sure there were no renegade achenes. We finished 59 transects in the morning and regrouped to put on dry clothes and feast on Jean’s delicious hummus for lunch. I greatly regretted that I had no rain pants.

After lunch, the sky was still overcast, but the rain stopped, which made it much easier to sprinkle seeds. This year, we added several new locations, and we needed the GPS to map them out: Torgeson (east and west), Hutchings (east and west), Fern, and Bengston. Unfortunately, Taylor the GPS hadn’t been used since the end of September, so I waited for three excruciatingly slow Windows updates while Lindsey and Stuart headed out to plant more transects. Finally, at 2 pm, Taylor finally finished updating, and we met at Hutchings to install the new transects. At Hutchings East, both of the initial transect locations were in dips between hills, so we moved them both 20 m east. Next, at Hutchings West, one transect started on a rock, so we moved the transect slightly north. This was not an auspicious start to the GPS portion of the afternoon, and we had only 2 hours of light left.

Lindsey and I raced off to Torgeson, the most distant site. I used the GPS to flag the transects. Lindsey followed with nails and planted the seeds. The transects at Torgeson were on two hills separated by a pond. To reach the second hill, I tried to cut across a patch of mud. It looked stable, but when I took my second step, I felt my boot sink deep into the slurping mud. When I tried to pull my foot out, it wouldn’t budge. I nearly toppled over, but I managed to escape with both boots and the GPS unharmed.

Fortunately, the other transects were uneventful. Lindsey and I left Bengston, our second-to-last site, at 4:50 pm, right as the sun was setting. The clouds had trapped a bit of light, so Stuart jumped in the truck, and we headed to our final site: Krusmarks. We needed a flashlight for last two transects, but we finished planting them all! Exhausted, we returned to Hjelm and discovered that Jean had prepared a fabulous dinner: bean soup, homemade bread, pumpkin custard, roasted cinnamon apples, and piping hot gingerbread. It was the best meal I’ve ever eaten.

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