Monday, October 3, 2016

Save our Streams Sign Project Nears Completion

The Smith Mountain Lake Area Save our Streams program (SOS) is part of a national effort to monitor the water quality of waters flowing in the form of creeks, streams and rivers.  Rather than making use of chemical analysis of the water, SOS reaches its conclusions from a count of macro-invertebrates and crustaceans.  Since some of the species are pollution tolerant and others not, the tally will help determine whether or not the body of water is healthy. 
The SML area SOS is sponsored nationally by the Izaak Walton League and closely linked locally with the BRFAL Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists and the Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA).  Stream monitors must complete a certification program, which covers both monitoring methodology and a knowledge of related aquatic species.
With more than 20 monitored streams in the area, each of which requires a three-person monitoring team, the program needs to recruit monitors on an ongoing basis.  With that in mind, SMLA awarded the organization a grant to increase the visibility of a high-quality program.  The funding, which is being used to erect signs at the various monitoring points, has a two-fold purpose: to recognize the host landowners and government property administrators who approve our sites; and to create interest in our program and alert the public to our need for volunteers.

                                    Host Cy Dillon, III, with his sister, SOS Monitor
                                          Charlotte Dillon Hubbard, at the placement of their
                                          sign at Dillon's Mill on the Blackwater River,
                                          September 9th.


Torrential rain and high water on September 30th at
                                        Maggodee Creek doesn't delay the placement of our
                                        stream sign.  Pictured, from left, host property owner
                                        Steve Holley (Holley Insurance), Boones Mill Town
                                        Manager Matt Lawless, and monitoring team members
                                        Dick LeRoy and Glenn Siemon (not pictured, team 
                                        member Jim Mann).

Since January of this year, SOS has obtained permission to erect 10 signs along roadways or hiking paths near the actual monitoring sites.  Hosts include the Franklin County Department of Parks and Recreation (the Pigg River in Waid Park); two local farms, Brooks Farm in Glade Hill (Poplar Camp Creek) and Truman Hill Farm in Hardy (North Fork of Gills Creek); the Westlake Country Club (Indian Creek); the Hickory Hill Winery (Hickory Creek); Holley Insurance (Maggodee Creek at Boones Mill); and private landowners Cy Dillon (the Blackwater River at Dillons Mill near  Callaway), Jeffery Tester (Jumping Run off Goodview Road), Sally Newbill (Indian Run off Hardy Road), and Tim Sims and Robin Abshire in Callaway (the Webster Tributary of Blackwater River).

Permission for several additional signs is pending.

Geoff Orth

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sittin' around the ole campfire

On a very pleasant moon-lit evening Kathy Scott, our ever industrious BRFAL chapter president, invited board members over to her country hideaway for a board meeting around the campfire replete with wieners and s'mores and don't let's forget Stewie the performing pooch. Other than Dick LeRoy getting a bee sting on the eyelid, a good time was had by all.  Thanks Kathy.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The 2016 VMN Conference: Trip to Bowman Dairy

     The 2016 VMN Conference:  Tour of the Bowman’s Dairy Operation

As part of the Virginia Master Naturalist 2016 State Conference in Franklin County, VA, Delmar Bowman provided an enlightening tour of the Sunny Dell Dairy Farm in Wirtz, VA on August 27, 2016.  Delmar was joined by another younger male family member for the tour.

The Farming Process

The Bowmans have been practicing no-till farming for 20 years.  They currently grow corn, sorghum, and soybeans.  They have 300 owned acres and 200 rented acres.  Some of the output is used in the dairy process (as feed - silage), but much is sold as a cash crop.  They still have one tractor from the early 1970s (it is Eugene’s, Delmar’s brother), but Delmar said the engine is just about gone now.  It gave out last week.    Each member of the family has their own responsibilities on the farm.  Eugene runs the dairy operation.  Delmar runs the farming operations.  The Bowmans keep up with new farming techniques through conferences.

Occasional experimentation with new techniques seems to be the norm for the Bowmans.  Delmar is now trying the no-till approach in his vegetable garden.  He is not quite sure how well that is working, but the garden certainly looked very productive.

The Benefits of No-till Farming

Mr. Bowman provided a handout listing 10 benefits of no-till compared to plowing.  No-till saves gasoline, time, money, and reduces erosion.  The soil is enriched by decayed herbaceous material.  The Bowmans provided a demonstration of soil water permeability and solubility that showed the advantages of no-till soils relative to constantly tilled garden soil.   Roots grow deeper in no-till soils and water flows more readily through such soil.  Delmar explained that tilling reduces the “glue” in soil that keeps it from becoming both too water soluble and impermeable to rain deposition.  They are quite convinced that no-till is the best approach for their land.

Delmar describes the no-till

The Bowmans demonstrate

Silage from the farming process is kept both in silos and in plastic bags that promote fermentation of the feed.  They prefer to use the silage after about 5-6 months for optimal fermentation level.

The beast

The Dairy Operation

The Bowmans own about 150 Holstein cows (a pure guess based on my observation).  Perhaps 100 are milk-producers at any one time, others are pregnant and are dry for a few months prior to giving birth.  The dry cows live in a separate barn and are free to graze in a field, while the milk-producing dairy cattle remain in an enclosed area that is cooled with many fans and water mists.  The cattle are treated as the valuable assets they are.  The productive life of a dairy cow can vary a lot, but 6 years is an average life, before their production falls to a point where they are retired from production.  Detailed records are kept on the output of each cow, which are identified by ear tags and freeze brand numbers.

 A freeze branded Holstein 

The cows are kept almost permanently pregnant.  The farmers target for artificial insemination a couple of weeks following birth.  (Natural insemination is both dangerous and less efficient).  The calves are housed separately in individual plastic houses and pens.  They are weaned quickly.  Males are typically sold.

Housing for the calves 

The cow milking process requires 3.5 hours (given the size of the heard) and is typically done 3 times per day.  The Bowman’s have about 14-16 mechanized milking stations.  (I failed to count them).   The milk flows from the milking stations via PVC pipes into a vat and is then pumped into two large holding tanks.  The milk is picked up by a tank truck every two days.

A large quantity of manure is produced as a by-product of the dairy operation and it is constantly moved from the living area into a manure trap.  The twelve foot deep manure trap (about 50 x 50 ft) was nearly full at the time of our visit.  The manure can be pumped out if it is wet enough.  A pond provides additional moisture if needed for pumping. The manure is typically spread on the fields to enrich the soil.

Delmar explains manure 

From discussions with our hosts, it seems that farming requires continually having to solve unexpected problems that occur with cattle, equipment, or nature.  That is the life.   We learned a lot about farming and dairy operations in a brief time by seeing the facilities in person with the tutelage of an expert.  A book could never provide the same level of insight in a two hour period.

AN ASIDE:  Shade is nice when it is well over 90 degrees.  The coolest spot on the farm (by far) was below the mist fans where the milk-producing dairy cattle live.  On this family farm, the men wear long pants and hats, while the women wear long dresses.  The Bowmans are clearly tougher than most of the Master Naturalists.

                                                             Submitted by Paul and Beth Pautler


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Citizen Science Project at Booker T. Washington National Monument

Thanks to a grant awarded to the BRFAL chapter by the National Science Foundation local volunteers have been assisting in an attempt to restore fields at BTW to native grasses and wildflowers both to provide habitat for native  birds, insects and mammals and to more accurately reflect how that field might have appeared during the time of Booker T. Washington.  The field, which is hayed by a local farmer, is being taken over by invasive Johnson grass which is not desirable for cattle feed or for forage.

The grant was awarded with the understanding that the concept of Collaborative Science would be utilized in studying which native grasses and forbs (any herb that is not a grass or grasslike) might best compete with the Johnson Grass.  More information about this process can be found at .

A plot of 20 meters by 32 meters was laid out in the field, and it was mowed and treated with herbicide.  It was then divided into smaller plots which were planted with three different seed mixtures: Tall grasses & wildflowers, Short grasses & wildflowers, and forage (switchgrass).  This work was completed last Spring.

Since we had a rather wet Summer our seeds germinated rather well and now we have a growing plot. We are monitoring the plots by assessing germination and the rate of return of Johnson Grass.  It is hoped that this will provide a plan for native restoration at the park that will have good results.  We are being assisted in all of this by Dr. Ryan Klopf from DCR who is also our chapter adviser.  Here are a few pix of our crack team assessing what grew well and what didn’t.
Crack Team of Citizen Scientists

Guy & Ryan getting in to it

Counting species in one square meter
Text by Meg
Pix by Rich

Monday, August 29, 2016

Statewide VMN Conference at WE Skelton 4H Center a Success!

The BRFAL Chapter was selected to host the annual Virginia Master Naturalist state conference earlier this year.  Do you think we were scared to take on this huge responsibility?  You bet we were!  

Fortunately for us we have the WE Skelton 4H Center at our disposal.  Not only does it have a sufficiently large campus to host the potential number of attendees, it is in a bucolic setting suitable for Master Naturalists.

We also felt good in the knowledge that we would get experience and expert help from VMN State Coordinator Michelle Prysby and her right hand helpers Tiffany Brown and Terri Keffert.  But otherwise we were really scared.

But then our BRFAL President, Kathy Scott stepped up to the plate and formed a team of about 7 BRFAL conference coordinators to help get this thing going.  As the start date of August 26th approached, our knees were aknockin’.  Then they told us that there would be about 250 attendees, a new record high!  Yikes!

Well we sucked it up, put out heads down and did what we had to do.  With the help of numerous volunteers from visiting chapters as well as BRFAL volunteers the whole thing seemed to fly by with nary a hitch.  We received many compliments about how well it went.  We are glad we did it.  We are glad it’s over.  We’re glad another chapter will be doing it next year!

Here are a few pix for you to enjoy.

Dem Donnelly's

Old men, not at work
Happy surprise birthday party Michelle!

Charlotte checkin' 'em in

Connie straightening things up

The throngs

Kathy showing off the butterfly bottles

Beth & Paul cheesin'

Hey what's that guy doing with my wife?

Leslie Santapaul instructing buffer gardens

BRFAL Conference Coordinators with State VMN Top Brass
All the BRFALers we could collect in one spot
Photo contest judges struggling to pick the best pix
100 years of BRFALers - Guy is 86 and Neil is 14