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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Wolverine Pathways Scholars Come to Matthaei

By Benjamin Tupper

Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum will host the Wolverine Pathways scholars next week. The scholars are students from Ypsilanti and Southfield, Mich., public school districts. Children's ed intern Ben Tupper writes about this exciting new University of Michigan program and what it means for the Arb and Gardens---and  the participating students.

Summer is a busy time for everyone at Matthaei and the Children’s Education department is no exception. We have made the transition from running school programs to summer programs and are preparing fervently for the arrival of the Wolverine Pathways scholars. Some around Matthaei may have heard from me about potential involvement with the program, but for those who have not, here is a little summary of this brand new initiative.

Designed and led by Dr. Robert Jagers (developmental psychologist at the University of Michigan’s  School of Education) the Wolverine Pathways program launched in January and works with students who live within the Ypsilanti and Southfield public school districts. University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel has called the Wolverine Pathways program an “important step for the University of Michigan as we continue to look for ways to identify talented students and cultivate U-M applicants from all parts of our state.”

The program itself is free for students and families. Each student who completes the program, and is admitted to U-M, will be awarded a full-tuition scholarship for four years. The Pathways program features hands-on and project-based learning activities that extend and integrate core English-Language arts, math, and science content. One of the other major goals of the Wolverine Pathways program is to give young people early opportunities that will help them see possibilities and cultivate their fullest potential. It also acts as a way to give youth a sense of what it can be like to be a student at the University of Michigan.

Given the goals and the direction of the Wolverine Pathways program, taking advantage of all that Matthaei-Nichols has to offer makes sense. The education department works with students year round, both leading and designing hands-on learning experiences that also bring in projects-based pedagogies. The Children’s Education team has been busy over the past two months building a program that will hopefully take advantage of our incredible site, knowledgeable staff, and to scaffold an educational experience that is both relevant and connected to youths lives.

Docents in training last month in preparation for the programming that Ben and
the children's ed team at Matthaei will implement during the Wolverine Pathways
scholars visit in July.

The Wolverine Pathways scholars will be at Matthaei for four days (2 days with groups for Ypsilanti and 2 days with groups from Southfield). One of the goals of the program design was to make sure the experience ties into the mission and vision of Matthaei while also giving youth the chance to bring in their own lived experiences to the program. To do this, the team has designed two different projects for the 10th and 7th graders based on their experiences at Matthaei. The 7th graders will help develop and create a citizen-science water-monitoring project, an interpretive guide book to aquatic testing, or blog posts that can be used to provide insight into their experiences here and provide information for future youth groups. The 10th graders will be investigating what stewardship means, based on their own experiences, and how/if their trip to Matthaei has changed and helped inform their own personal stewardship goals and visions.

A view of Fleming Creek at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.The creek is
one of the sites that Ben and the Matthaei-Nichols children's ed team will use
for a water-quality monitoring project with the Wolverine Pathways scholars.

It is going to be an exciting four days, filled with fun, adventure, lots of youthful energy, and I am sure some stressful moments. I will be following up after the program is over to update everyone on what happened, how it worked, and how it helps to inform the design process. One of the things that interests me in exploring is the iterative design process the Children’s Education team has undergone to get to the point of implementation. It is always interesting in education design work how the planned learning goals play out and if they are aligned with youths’ experiences. The second installation of this blog will be about the design process and how implementation went! Thank you to everyone who has been involved in getting ready to provide a wonderful educational experience for these youth and for sharing your expertise and wisdom with prospective U-M students!

Ben Tupper, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Education with a concentration in science education. He is also pursuing his museum studies graduate certificate. His research interests include teaching and learning in informal science education settings with a specific focus on issues in the field of environmental education.

Ben Tupper

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Hoop House Puts Students in Touch with Campus Farm beyond the Growing Season

By Crystal Cole

Hi everyone! This is Crystal Cole, sustainable foods intern at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, with an update on what’s happening in the University of Michigan Campus Farm. One of the exciting projects in the works this summer is a fall hoop house installation on the farm. Campus Farm goals include getting students involved in agriculture and providing a space for experimentation, research, and education for students from across the University. Thanks to Michigan’s relatively short summer growing season—when many students are out of town—accomplishing those goals can be a challenge. A hoop house will allow us to extend our season into the fall and winter when people are around.

A hoop house extends growing capacity on both ends of the season.
With the Campus Farm's new hoop house, we'll be able to engage students
with nature and food-growing activities during the school year when many more
of them are here. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons.)

As a result of this move to year-round production, we’ve cut back a lot of our summer production but we do have some crops ready to go! You can find them at Argus Farm Stop in Ann Arbor (325 W. Liberty St, Ann Arbor, MI 48103) including different culinary herbs and my personal favorite—culinary flowers!

These zinnias are fresh from the Campus Farm. If you want to bring a pop of cutting-garden color into the kitchen, try zinnias in salads or sandwiches, or mix them in with sauces like mayonnaise.

Chives blossoms add a subtle onion flavor.

Marigolds add a citrusy spice to salads, rice dishes, even desserts.

Violas are just plain beautiful to look at in a salad. Some people
report that violas and violets  have a subtle wintergreen flavor.

Did you know that many flowers you might be growing in your own garden beds can actually be eaten? *See note below.

Here are some of my favorite edible flowers:

Queen Sophia French Marigold
We have a ton of these out in the vegetable garden. Marigolds act as a natural pest deterrent for tomatoes and peppers and they’re edible. It’s like a dream come true. Just eat the petals though, as the green base of the flower can be bitter. The taste of the flower petals is a combination of citrus and spice, with a slight bitterness. They work well in salads and desserts or cooked in rice or egg dishes.

Giant Zinnias
Zinnias bring a pop of color to any garden and also apparently make a great tea said to be reminiscent of chamomile, though I’ve never tried it. Read more about recipes using zinnias.

A great option for bringing a light onion flavor to many dishes, the chive plant extends its culinary uses to the flowers. Pull apart the fluffy flower ball and scatter the flowers on salads, pizza, or sandwiches to bring a bit of onion flavor to your favorite recipes.

Violas or pansies
These aren't growing in the Campus Farm at the moment but they're worth planting if you want try grow them for the kitchen. Using the whole flower gives a subtle wintergreen flavor to your favorite dishes.

Candied flowers
Yes, you can candy flowers! It's a great way to preserve them for use in sweet recipes. Try candying apple blossoms, borage flowers, lilac florets, rose petals, scented geraniums, and violets, violas, and pansies. Take a look at this all-purpose candied flowers recipe from food.com.

What flowers do you like to use in your kitchen?

* Note: don’t eat plants or flowers if you’re not absolutely sure what plant it is! Some plants can be toxic to humans and caution should be exercised when harvesting plants, especially from wild areas. Never use flowers that have been sprayed with pesticide or herbicide.

Crystal Cole is a new graduate from Program in the Environment, specializing in aquatic ecology. Her career goals are to work on integrating her aquatic ecology background with her agricultural interests. She is working this summer as the sustainable foods intern.

Crystal Cole