Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Reflection on Booker T.

It was a blue sky sunshine January 18th kinda day with temperatures hovering in the low 60’s.  Yes, in mid-January!  My wife, Meg, went to Rocky Mount in the morning for a new hairdo and then off to a Master Gardener meeting in the afternoon, also in Rocky Mount.  I went to the gym in the morning for my workout such as it is, then a quick stop at Kroger for a few items and to home for a quick bite to eat.

So what to do in the afternoon on such a beautiful day?  Yes! Hiking boots, walking stick, fanny pack quickly thrown into the Miata.  Throw the top back on the Miata and off to Booker T. Washington National Monument for a short hike.  During the hike a snapped a few pix with my trusty cell phone which you can see below.
Hardly anyone else there to share the park with.  Ah, solitude.  The kind of solitude that lets the mind wander.  I was thinking about my first visit to BTWNM with Meg about 8 or 9 years ago.  We were just in anticipation of the day we could retire and move in to our new house on beautiful Smith Mountain Lake.  We enjoyed walking through BTWNM and learning about Booker T.

After reflecting on that first visit, my mind continued to wander.  I thought about the life that Booker T. had at his homeplace as a slave.  He had to have worked incredibly hard, but he didn’t let that stop him from learning about the wonder of nature and learning about life. He didn’t let that stop him from achieving greatness under the worst of conditions.

My reflections continued.  How incredibly lucky I am.  I have been retired for 7 years now without having to worry about our next meal or health insurance.  I live in a beautiful house on a beautiful lake with my beautiful wife.  Lucky indeed.

Before I left Booker T., I stopped in the visitor center and my friend and fellow Virginia Master Naturalist Don Kelso was behind the desk doing his volunteer duty as Greeter.  After exchanging pleasantries, and we discussed some books we were reading.  Don is a special fellow himself.  I’m sure Booker T. would have liked him very much.  Although Don has some health issues, I don’t know anyone who works harder than him.  And besides that, he is a very smart guy and very personable.  I am very lucky to know him. Yes, very lucky indeed.

Thank you Booker T. for allowing me to share your homeplace and causing me to reflect.  I hope others will come to visit you too and reflect on their lives as well.

Very lucky, indeed.

Rich Brager

You can learn more about Booker T Washington here in Hardy, Virginia. There is no admission charge and open year-round.

From Slave Cabin to the Hall of Fame
On April 5, 1856, Booker T. Washington was born a slave on the 207-acre farm of James Burroughs. After the Civil War, Washington became the first principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School. Later as an adviser, author and orator, his past would influence his philosophies as the most influential African American of his era. Come explore his birthplace.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


L-R  Rick Myers, Garrie Rouse and Chris Ludwig

       Let me begin by stating that I can be easily impressed by what some would consider mundane things. I consider my depth of knowledge limited in many respects. I’m too old to be considered ‘impressionable’ as if referring to a youngster. However, this past Sunday I was REALLY impressed!

On a recent beautiful fall day, the kind just made for hikers, I was lucky enough to be part of a group that hiked up Bald Knob in Rocky Mount, VA. This was an event planned by Virginia’s Natural Heritage Program(VNHP), a division of VA’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, in Honor of its 30th Anniversary. Just this past March, Bald Knob became the 63rd parcel of land in Virginia to be added to Virginia’s Natural Area Preserve System.

We had three guides. Rick Myers, Natural Areas Stewardship Manager; Chris Ludwig, Chief Biologist for Natural Heritage Inventory (and by the way co-author of Flora of Virginia);  and Garrie Rouse, Botanist and one of the 4 original folks who began the VNHP in a makeshift office in Richmond 30 years ago.
To a Virginia Master Naturalist like myself, it doesn’t get any better than this.

It is important to mention, that the reason this location is so special and deserving of preservation, is because it is one of only 5 locations known where the Piedmont Fameflower, Phemaranthus piedmontanus grows, and in such numbers that surpass all other sites combined. The unusual outcropping is the world’s largest Piedmont mafic barren community. It also hosts the rare Keever’s bristle-moss, Orthotrichum keeverae. Near the lower section of this 78+ acre parcel is a stream that feeds into the Pigg River, where the federally endangered species, Roanoke Log Perch can be found.

We carefully picked our way to the summit, observing unique plants along the way. Various plants were scrutinized and the correct Latin terminology to identify their individuality were sometimes debated. So much Latin was tossed around, I thought at times I was in a time warp. I have SO MUCH to learn!!!
Prickly pear fruit was abundant and colorful and various native grasses and plants were still blooming for our benefit. To add to this day EVEN MORE, was the opportunity to meet Clyde Perdue Jr., the gentleman from whom this property was purchased. He and his grandson, Clyde IV, met us on the uphill trek and were enjoying the scenery from the summit later on as well.

I took some photographs, but did not get the quality I wanted. I need to practice more… While we were at the summit, and learning more about the preserve from our experts, I took one with all three in the view. Garrie Rouse is the one snapping pictures of his own, on what appears to be the edge of the abyss.  Another is a shot of Grimmia dry rock moss, Grimmia laevigata. As you can see, it grows in abundance on Bald Knob.

Grimmia dry rock moss, Grimmia laevigata

      I am more certain now than ever, that Bald Knob Natural Area Preserve is a real natural wonder which we need to be good caretakers and stewards of. The Virginia Natural Heritage Program’s role is to protect and preserve this area, including its rare species and community.  Our three guides, (Rick, Garrie and Chris), Clyde Perdue who had the insight to pass this property into good hands, and Bald Knob itself are all outstanding! Oh by the way, did I mention, OUTSTANDING?

Submitted by:  Kathy Scott
                           President of Blue Ridge Foothills and Lakes Chapter of VMN

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