Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mason Bee Houses in the Gaffield Children’s Garden

By Hannah Smith

The Gaffield Children’s Garden is a wonderful place that provides a variety of hands-on environmental education experiences for children. One of the goals of the garden is to spark an interest in nature with kids and inspire them to beceome the future stewards of our planet.

A recent project in the garden was the transformation of the former butterfly garden into a pollinator garden, with a focus on native pollinators such as mason bees. Mason bees will also benefit the Grower’s Garden section of the Gaffield as they are great pollinators of food crops.

The habitats that the Wolverine Pathways
 students built for the Gaffield.
The tunnels are different heights
and sizes to allow multiple sizes
of bees to make their homes there.
For nature-based learning, mason bees provide the perfect starting point: they are solitary, non-stinging, non-swarming, and they prefer to seek out and live in habitats built and provided by humans. Their houses are small and easy to build, low maintenance, and easy to get up close to and watch since the bees are so friendly.

We decided that having mason bee habitats in the children’s garden would be beneficial both for the plants and for the educational opportunity that these bees offer. Since the houses are easy to build and a great learning tool, we thought of ways that visitors could incorporate them into their own lives outside of the children’s garden. I designed two activities. The first was with the Wolverine Pathways Scholars who visited Matthaei in July. For the Scholars’ visit we built mason bee habitats to install in the Gaffield. The other activity was created for Things with Wings, our annual family festival that celebrates winged creatures. For Things with Wings kids built their own houses to put in their gardens at home. (Two reason why, if you saw me any time in July, I probably had a bucket of bamboo in hand!)

To build the houses, we cut bamboo into 4- to 8-inch pieces (special thank you to everyone who helped me cut and hollow out bamboo pieces) and tied groups of them together with wire and twine. These bamboo tunnels are where the mason bees lay their eggs. As the bees go about setting up their households, you can watch them collect nectar, leaves, mud, and other materials from the garden and fill their individual tunnels with them. Many of the interns attended the field trip in July at Michigan State University, where one of the gardens housed a “Wild Bee Hotel” built by MSU hort staff.

I noticed as I worked with younger kids in Things with Wings, and then older students in Wolverine Pathways, that many understand what happens in plants during the pollination process. They also were aware that pollinators are good things, but at the same time weren’t so keen on the idea of having tons of bees flying around. Both the younger and older kids were interested to learn that these bees are very friendly, and after discussing the real importance of pollination the students seemed to be more enthusiastic about pollinators as a whole—and that having pollinators around doesn’t necessarily mean getting stung.

Helping kids build their houses
at Things With Wings.
As we assemnbled theme we
focused on explaining how
the habitats work and why
they are important.
The mason bee houses will be installed in the Gaffield around April 2017 when the bees’ working season begins and visitors will be able to watch this amazing process take place. Our hope is that the presence of the bee houses in the children’s garden will offer something new that kids may not have learned or experienced before, spark some interest or excitement about it, and inspire them to be stewards of native pollinators in their own lives. My hope is that providing an activity at Things with Wings, where kids built bee houses to install in their own gardens, will allow them to watch the process in their own backyards and get interested and inspired.

A mason bee pokes its head out of the end of its home.

The “Wild Bee Hotel” in action at
Michigan State Botanic Gardens.
They shared with us that they have
over thirty species that visit their
hotel in a day – I’d love to see
something to this extent in our
garden eventually!

Incorporating mason bee houses into your garden is an easy way to watch and learn about pollination. Providing habitats for our native bees makes it easier for them to do their jobs, and it helps the plants immensely. And it’s a bonus that the mason bees and their miniature houses also make a cute beautiful and visually striking addition to any garden!

Hannah Smith, from Northville, Michigan, is entering her senior year majoring in Program in the Environment and minoring in sustainability with a specialization in environmental policy. Hannah is working as an intern in the Gaffield Children’s Garden.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Student Open House

On Sunday, August 7th, parents and donors enjoyed an afternoon of celebrating the hard work of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum summer student interns. The program began with a luncheon, including a slide show of summer photos and short presentations by interns Sam Pilon and Zach Gizicki, and donor Jeff Post. Following lunch, interns scattered throughout the display gardens to show off their summer projects, which range from visitor services, maintenance, restoration, and more! The afternoon also included a brief performance by intern Jared Aslakson, who is a competitive and professional bagpiper. We thank our summer student interns for all of their help in continuing our mission of developing leaders and encouraging people to care about nature and enrich life on earth.

Below are some photographs of interns and their parents, bagpiping intern Jared Aslakson, interns posing with their posters, and a few beauty shots of Matthaei in its late-summer glory.
Matthaei-Nichols Membership program hosted the Student Open House Luncheon
Sam Pilon, intern, speaking about her summer internship experiences at the Student Open House Luncheon
Zach Gizicki, intern, speaking about his work as the Julie Norris Post Heathdale Intern
Jeff Post, donor, speaking about the importance of the Julie Norris Post Heathdale collection to him and his family 
Bob Grese, Director, interacting with Doug Ham, intern, and his fiancee
Stevia Morawski, intern, presenting her poster
Staff and students discussing poster presentations
Enjoying the Gateway Garden
Interns, parents, and staff interacting
Sam Pilon, intern
Hannah Smith, intern
John Bradtke, intern, presenting his poster
Relaxing in the Commons
Katie Hammond, intern, posing for a photo during a game of croquet, while Jared Aslakson heads to the Great Lakes Gardens for his bagpipe performance
Gateway Garden
Adrienne O'Brien, staff, and Tom Porter, donor, chatting on the Terrace
Gateway Garden fountain
Jared Aslakson, intern, performing bagpipes in the Great Lakes Gardens

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Top 5 Things You Learn While Archiving

By Rachel Pawlowicz

When you work in archiving, you get to deal with quite a bit of information. You’ll learn about the place you’re working, the people who are (or were) important to its development, people in the community, and the way its politics have developed. But that’s not all you learn- not by a long shot. So what else do you learn? Well…

1) There is a fine, but very visible, line between attentive record keeping and hoarding.
Coming across files with receipts is normal. You’re required to keep receipts for a certain period of time anyway, and you can’t be sure the last time someone saw that file. So when you come across a file with vehicle repair receipts from 1988 it’s not a big deal. It may well be the case that whoever owned that file retired in 1990 and no one’s looked at it since. When that same file has receipts for six rakes and three hedge clippers from 1960, though, that’s when you know whoever owned that file was perhaps an “over-saver.”

This was in a file with maintenance reports from
the late 1990s. That makes sense, right?
2) You start to feel like you know people you’ve never met.
You do a lot of reading when you’re archiving.  A lot of that will be correspondence—notes, memos, emails, meeting minutes, and the like. After a few days of archiving a particular project, you’ll be able to tell who wrote what based on their handwriting.

You’ll also get a feel for people’s personalities. Some people are open and friendly. They’re happy to be talking with people regardless of with whom they’re speaking. Some people are more staid. They keep things more professional, but polite. Some people are much more exacting. It’s not necessarily a bad thing—they just want to make sure that things are done correctly.

You will find yourself thinking things like “Typical Mark,” and knowingly shaking your head when you’re reading notes between him and other staffers.  Conversely, you’ll also catch yourself thinking, “Geeze, Hal was in rare form when he wrote this!” or “Bill must have been really upset to be so blunt about this. Yikes.” All the while, you’ve never met any of these people. Not once. They retired 30 years ago.

3) You will have no idea what any of these people look like. And it will make you frustrated with photographers and long-since-retired staff members.
I’ve gone through more than a thousand backlogged, unarchived photos since May. That’s not an exaggeration. I have seen thousands of people’s faces at a bunch of different events and in candid shots. Ninety-nine percent of them have no identifying information. That’s also not an exaggeration.
So all those people from #2 that I feel like I know?  I have no idea what they look like. Consider this: Matthaei-Nichols, in its various forms, has had 23 different directors and acting or interim directors throughout its history. There are formal portraits of 6 of them in the records room. I know what 3 of them look(ed) like. And that’s the directors. It doesn’t include curators, groundskeepers, greenhouse managers, docents, people in visitor services, interns, volunteers, researchers, guest speakers, other staff members, or visitors.

No names on the back of this snapshot.
are you?
So Mark, Hal, and Bill? I know I’ve seen photographs of them. I just didn’t know it was them.

I’ve gone through packages of photos from events in the 1960s. Not only was I not here then, but neither was anyone else that’s here today. The institutional memory of those events and most (if not all) of the people involved in them are gone. It would have taken the photographer or a staff member 5 minutes to jot down some information on the back of those photos.

It will frustrate you to no end to think about that when you’re trying to input metadata about those photos and the best you can do is give it a 5-year date spread based on clothing and hairstyles.

4) You will get dirty.
Have you ever cleaned out an attic, basement, or closet that you haven’t been in for a while? You come out of it covered with a fine layer of grime from all the years of dust that have built up on the boxes, right? That’s what happens on a daily basis when you work with old papers and books. I’ve left work with dirt smears on my face, cobwebs in my hair, old ink staining my shirt, and so much red rot on my hands that it looks like I stuck them in a bucket of rust (red rot is what happens to vegetable-tanned leather when it’s stored in high humidity).

This is red rot. You’re going to have
a fun time getting it out of your clothes.
Photo courtesy
5) You’ll be upset about not being able to save everything
Sometimes there’s just nothing that you can do. You’ll come across a carbon copy from 1953 that’s too faint to read anymore. Maybe you’ll try scanning it and changing the contrast or inverting the colors to see if you can get anything from it. You still can’t read it.

Maybe it was in a file that had correspondence about an event that led to the disintegration of an inter-departmental relation. You know there was something on it before. It might have even explained what actually happened that caused the problem.

You’re never going to know, though.

That can be hard to deal with. It will make you want to tear out your hair, but you can’t change the fact that ink has faded or worn off over the last 60 years.

You have two choices: you can send it somewhere else to see if they have tech advanced enough to pull that information or you can throw in the towel. Either way, you weren’t able to salvage the information on the document.

Pictured: the formula for eternal life.

Chin up! At the rate humanity is producing information and records, you’ll have a never-ending stack of things to work through. You can’t win them all, right?

Besides, you have a whole bunch of people that you’ll never meet to become friends with. Back to work!

Rachel Pawlowicz, from Sylvania, Ohio, just completed her first year in the Master of Science in Information program, focusing on archives and records management. Rachel is excited to work with the Matthaei-Nichols staff to digitize records and help facilitate membership at the Arb and Gardens.

Rachel Pawlowicz

Monday, July 25, 2016

Kate and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Weed: Canada Thistle

By Kate Samra

As a Campus Farm intern at Matthaei-Nichols and an advocate for sustainable farming, I have a keen interest in modern methods to organically control aggressive and invasive weeds on food producing land.

My research project this summer involves exploring several different large-scale weed-control techniques on a specific weed-prone plot of the Campus Farm. I aim to determine which of these methods best inhibits new growth of weeds unique to this section of the farm, the most notable and abundant of these weeds being Canada thistle, or Cirsium arvense. Canada thistle is an aggressively spreading perennial weed that has deep, creeping roots which make it difficult and time-consuming to remove. While Canada thistle is the main problem species in this section, there are several other weeds we aim to eliminate such as bindweed, creeping purslane, and pigweed, which have been treated and will be observed as well.

Flower of Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense).
Ideally, I would like to work towards finding a less strenuous and more natural way of removing these weeds without destroying the soil, microbe population, or nutrient base that is vital to successful plant growth on the farm. Though it may be easier to use herbicides to kill off these weeds, the Campus Farm strives to model organic agricultural practices that are safe to humans and that conserve the plant and insect biodiversity of the area.  

I chose to divide the thistle plot into six different 12 x 30-foot sections, five with a different weed treatment on each, and one control plot. The first plot was covered in black food-grade plastic and the second was covered in clear food-grade plastic. Each of these plastics was purchased from Johnny’s Seeds and both “bake” the weeds so that they are unable to grow or germinate. The next plot was sprayed with horticultural grade vinegar. At 20% concentration this vinegar is 15% stronger than household vinegar and is often used in gardens to kill weeds. The fourth plot was covered in heavy contractor’s paper and mulch and the fifth was planted with a cover crop of buckwheat to attempt to compete with the weeds and reduce the area the thistles are able to spread.

The experimental plot on the Campus Farm with different sections of weed control methods being tested.
I hope to get a full month of cover and growth and then collect my results, so I will not remove the treatments and take measurements until August 1st. While the results of my research are not yet complete, there are some visible differences between the quantities of thistle and other weeds emerging in each plot.

Horticultural Grade Vinegar (20%) used for weed control

Because Campus Farm student management changes every semester, it’s important to pass along information and new discoveries of what works best in different areas of the farm. I hope that I am able to conclude which of the organic weed-control techniques I’ve explored this summer, or combination thereof, is most successful in eliminating Canada thistle and other invasive weeds. By doing this, next year’s management may have an easier time deciding how to approach the weeds in this area. In addition, while weed control is dependent on soil type, crop history, types of weeds, planting patterns, etc., it’s possible that a method that may work best in this experimental plot could work well in other sections of the farm too.

Kate Samra, from Marshall, Michigan, is a sophomore studying plant biology and minoring in sustainable food systems. Her interests include permaculture, urban farming, agro-ecology, and food justice. She is working as a sustainable food intern this summer, a position funded by the Kitchen Favorites plant sale.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Daily Diversity! Week 9

Hey everyone! Here are the species for last week.

Ebony Jewelwing

Scientific Order: Odonata; Family: Colopterygidae

Anishinabemowin name: oboodashkwaanishiinh

This common damselfly is recognizable by it’s blue-green body and dark black wings!
Fun fact: Males attract females by performing a “cross display”, which shows off the pattern on the male’s abdomen!
For more info, check out this website!

Widow Skimmer

Scientific Order: Odonata; Family: Libellulidae

Anishinabemowin name: oboodashkwaanishiinh

This common North American dragonfly can be identified by its steely-blue body or the black bands on it’s wings!
Fun fact: Widow skimmers are very territorial, and certain areas are defended by groups of males, especially around the breeding season!
For more info, check out this website!

Red-winged Blackbird

Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus

Anishinabemowin name: asiginaak

O-ka-LEE! That’s the song of this common North American bird! This brave blackbird is known for attacking larger birds, and it eats up insects and seeds!
Fun fact: Although the male red-winged blackbirds tend to get around to multiple mates, they are known for helping feed and care for their nestlings!
To hear the bird’s call, click here!
For more information, check out this website!

Sugar Maple Tree

Scientific name: Acer saccharum

Anishinabemowin name: ininaatig

This common deciduous hardwood tree is a vital part of many ecological systems in eastern US and Canadian forests!
Fun fact: The Anishinabe people processed sugar maple sap into various important products, including blocks of sugar for trade and syrup for food in the winter!
For more info, check out this website!

Ironwood, or American Hornbeam

Scientific name: Ostrya virginiana

Anishinabemowin name: maananoons

This deciduous North American tree loves dry soil and rocky slopes in a forest’s understory!
Fun Fact: The ironwood is so called because of its very dense and durable wood, which has long been used for tools and buildings.
For more information, check out this website!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Staying Alive: Bee Colony Die-Offs Still a Complex Picture

By Rachel Pawlowicz

Writing last summer in the Washington Post column "Wonkblog," Christopher Ingraham announced the end of the “Beepocalypse.  The story, which was written in response to the concern caused by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), focused on the situation from an economic viewpoint. Unfortunately, that perspective glosses over many of the nuances of CCD, even if it was meant to mitigate some of the growing anxiety about the situation.

But why was there so much worry? One reason is that CCD led to a steep increase in colony die-offs beginning in 2006. In response to those die-offs, annual colony loss surveys have been conducted to keep track of loss rates.  Earlier surveys tracked only winter losses; in recent years, summer and overall annual losses have been tracked as well.  While it’s true that winter die-offs are down from their 2007-2008 season peak, summer die-off rates have remained high. The Bee Informed Collaboration is an effort from different agricultural-science research labs across the nation with support from various universities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. These organizations have been publishing the results of the surveys (see below) in addition to researching methods for better beekeeping.  Because their longitudinal study is still in its early days, much of what’s available on the Bee Informed site is their survey data.

This graph from Bee Informed shows recent total annual losses remaining high, even as the number of hives has increased. Beekeepers have taken to splitting their hives in half, increasing the number of active colonies. Note that the graph indicates winter loss percentages, From 2010-2011 forward it also includes data on total annual losses, which includes summer loss rates.

If die-off levels are still high, why would the Post’s writer declare “Beemageddon” over, or rather, averted? That’s because the total number of colonies has increased from 2.4 million in 2006 to 2.7 in 2014. They cite beekeepers adjusting their methods to counteract the effects of CCD as the main reason for the resurgence. Beekeepers have taken to splitting their hives in half, increasing the number of active colonies. The piece also cites the relatively low price to purchase a ‘starter’ pack for a colony as a factor for the increased number of hives. But, again, it doesn’t address potential factors causing the die-offs, such as parasitic infections or harmful agricultural practices.

Where can people go to learn more about the myriad factors playing into this issue and ways to help improve it? The internet is a likely first stop. But there are other resources available that can provide hands-on experience.

Check your local community college, extension service, or county or city education offerings. Many of these offer beekeeping classes or workshops that cover the various issues and challenges beekeepers encounter. We’re fortunate at Matthaei-Nichols to have a top-notch beekeeping program in the Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers (A2B2). This local group of dedicated beekeeper offers its “Bee School” for beginning and for intermediate students. Classes run from February through October and meet both indoors and outside in the apiaries at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The course covers topics such as fall and winter colony management, issues with pests and pathogens, and proper honey removal practices. A2B2 also offers a free monthly beekeeping program at the botanical gardens. Visit the Arb and Gardens website for more information.

During bee school season, the botanical gardens makes use of the colonies for class demonstrations, particularly those hives that are located near the Campus Farm and across from the Project Grow plots. If you take the class, you’ll be able to see the bees in action and work with them in a setting quite a bit larger than most backyards.

These colonies are located across from the Project Grow
gardens at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
If you’d like to find out more or explore Michigan’s rules and regulations about beekeeping, head over to A2B2, the Michigan Beekeeper’s Association, and check out Starting and Keeping Bees in Michigan: Rules and Regulations by Meghan Milbrath who also runs the Bee School through A2B2.

Rachel Pawlowicz, from Sylvania, Ohio, just completed her first year in the Master of Science in Information program, focusing on archives and records management. Rachel has been busy so far this summer digitizing the Matthaei-Nichols' records and helping with the membership program as well.

Rachel Pawlowicz