End of Internship in Lockeford

My internship wraps up today after ten great months with the California Plant Materials Center.  When I drove out here last June, from Illinois, I had never been out West before and as I got closer to Lockeford I started feeling like I had made the wrong choice in coming here.  It certainly didn’t help that everything was so brown and dry for the summer.  However, this internship has been such a great opportunity for me and I couldn’t be happier with my experience.   I’m especially lucky that I was able to spend almost an entire year here to experience all of the seasons and a full cycle of work at the PMC.

Looking back, I can see that I’ve been able to contribute quite a bit to the work going on here.  I’ve collected seed for Seeds of Success, propagated plants in a greenhouse, pulled more weeds than I thought possible, learned to drive a tractor and forklift, written technical documents and guides, assembled irrigation systems, planted in a field for seed production, collected data for several studies, and worked on a year-long riparian restoration project with a group of high school students.

The PMC had an open house this week and I was given the opportunity to discuss a soil health study during our tours.  I’ve been in charge of organizing parts of the study implementation and collecting data, so this served as a nice culmination to my internship.

I’ve grateful for all of the support and wisdom from my mentor, Margaret, my coworkers, the other interns I’ve worked with, as well as Christina from the BLM and everyone from the Chicago Botanic Garden who made my internship possible.  I’m moving on to work for the Forest Service to survey for rare plants this summer, a few hours away in the Sierras, but I’m sure I’ll be back to visit.  I’m sad to move on, but I’m excited for what the future holds.

Fall Planting

November has been a surprisingly busy month so far!  I thought things would slow down after we finished our SOS collections for the year and the last plants at the PMC were harvested.  However, I have quickly learned that fall means fall planting, which is no small undertaking.  With limited staff and seemingly limitless tasks to complete before it gets too wet out, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind.

Across our 100+ acres, we have been putting in many different field trials, research plots, and demonstrations while planting cover crops in the bare spots.  Additionally, we are planting seeds to grow out for the BLM and other agencies.  This includes many rows of seed that came from SOS collections.  After doing many seed collections this summer, it’s interesting to see the other half of the process where collected seeds are planted and grown out.  No one has experience working with many of the native species we are asked to grow, so a lot of work goes into figuring out our approach.  We compare a plant to similar species, test out different treatments, and ultimately try to determine the feasibility of producing more seed.

When we have moved to the actual planting stage, the process is more complicated than simply putting seed in the ground.  We have to determine where we can plant a collection while maintaining a large enough separation distance from other plantings of the same species.  We have to determine when to plant and what equipment to use.  We look at what percentage of seeds actually germinate to help determine our desired seeding rate.  We then calibrate our seeding equipment to match our seeding rate.  After all of those steps, we are finally able to plant the seed.  In some cases the actual planting is the easiest and quickest step in the process.

My tractor driving skills are still rudimentary at best, so I used a device called a Planet Junior for my plantings.  A Planet Junior is a walk-behind seeder.  As the seeder gets pushed forward and its wheel spins, seed is fed through a hole and drops to the ground.  It’s a small and straightforward device that has proven to be quite useful for us.  After planting some clovers, a few grasses, and many, many cover crops with this device, I now consider myself an expert seeder.

I finished planting the last item on my list today, so now all I can do is wait and hope everything grows!

Fall at the PMC

It’s almost been five months since I started my internship at the Lockeford PMC and change is in the air.  We’ve wrapped up seed collection for the season, my fellow intern has moved on to new adventures, and it’s finally starting to cool off, with temperatures in the 70s.  It should start raining soon as well.  My exciting news is that my internship has been extended and I’ll be living in California for at least a few more months!  There’s still plenty to do…I’ve been helping out with fall planting, attending a cover crop workshop, and learning how to do basic seed cleaning and sampling.  I’m also collecting some initial data for a major soil health study.  It will be an interesting next few months!

youth and the outdoors

Earlier this week I did something a bit different and attended the inaugural “Outdoor Summit for Youth” BLM conference with a couple other CLM interns.  There were lots of BLM staff and representatives from other governmental agencies and non-profits in attendance.  The conference was put on by the BLM in California with a goal of finding ways to improve young people’s access to and connection with the outdoors.  The BLM wants to better educate, engage, and employ youth to inspire interest in natural resources and to cultivate future leaders.  I’m very excited to see that the BLM recognizes the challenges they face in reaching younger people, especially in underserved communities.  Like most CLM interns, I already have a love for the outdoors and want to work in the environmental field.  It’s hard to say which experiences sparked my interest, but I think it’s important that everyone be given the opportunity to go on a hike for a field trip or go camping or help out with a restoration project or really do anything that creates some curiosity about the outdoors.  I’m already aware of how many incredibly opportunities this internship program has given me to grow and gain new experiences.  However, attending this conference made me realize just how lucky I am and how important it is for others to gain access to similar opportunities.  I’m curious to see what sorts of ideas the BLM took away from the summit but am also glad to be out of a conference room and back at the PMC.

A sticky situation

Yesterday we spent the day helping with data collection for a study on the restoration of pollinator habitats in California.  Researchers have created different mixes of native wildflowers that are attractive to pollinators.   From what I understand, one goal is to identify a mix of easy-to-manage plants that will support a diverse group of pollinators throughout the year.

We have four different plots planted with different mixes here at the PMC and a group of researchers came down to collect data.  I was very excited to learn about the project and help out.  My fellow CLM intern and I were set to work collecting data on flower counts across several transects through both mowed and unmowed areas.  Around this time of year, poppies (Eschscholzia californica), sunflowers (Helianthus bolanderi), gumplants (Grindelia camporum), and madia (Madia elegans) are all in flower.

Madia was densely distributed throughout the unmowed areas in one of the plots. The plant is fragrant, can grow to about 2.5 meters in height, and is sticky.  Very, very sticky.  Navigating through the dense maze of madia with a quadrat was quite the challenge.  By the time we were done with our sampling, we were covered in plant material and sticking to everything.  It just serves as a reminder that although a plant may be highly beneficial and useful for some purposes (like attracting pollinators), there can be unforeseen challenges in managing that plant.  Nonetheless, it was quite interesting to see some of the considerations that go into deciding which plants should be used for these projects.

Getting Started in Lockeford, CA

Greetings from the Chicago Botanic Garden!

Although I’m interning at the California Plant Materials Center in Lockeford, California (CAMPC), I have spent the past week at the Garden for a training conference along with many of the other CLM interns.  The conference has been intense but enjoyable, with sessions on Western flora, monitoring techniques, and training for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program.  The week has been an opportunity to not only learn and practice some of the skills necessary for our jobs but also to meet and network with the other interns and ask questions of the instructors.

The conference has helped to emphasize the importance of the work that my fellow intern and I will be doing over the next few months.  We will be collecting seeds for the SOS program and have already done two scouting trips to Red Hills in Tuolumne County as well as Walker Ridge in Lake County.  We make up part of a large team of collectors spread out mostly across the Western United States tasked with collecting native plant material than is stored and can ultimately be made available and used for restoration or rehabilitation purposes.  Seed collection is only the first step in this process, and I am lucky to be stationed at the CAMPC, which is involved in developing and growing native plant populations on their facility.  This work represents some of the other steps that must be taken before seeds collected through SOS can actually be utilized.  I’ve only been working for a few weeks, so I’m looking forward to learning more about the real-life complexities of this process and more about the work that goes on at the Plant Materials Center.