Friday, May 27, 2011

WHS Creek Studies

Students sample for benthic macro invertebrates
 Students got their feet wet this week as they participated in this semesters River Study Curriculum.  WHS teacher David Phillips coordinated about 200 students to participate in the water studies this semester.  Working with community partners; National Committee for the New River, Appalachian State University, Watauga County Cooperative Extension, ENV Consulting and Brushy Fork Environmental the students had a well rounded learning experience in the creek and river.  The new high school location has great access to Hardin Creek and the New River where students learn hands on about water quality. 

Students measure the physical characteristics of the creek
 During this spring semester, students measured the physical characteristics of Hardin Creek with ASU Professor, Dr. Gabrielle Katz, where they learned about erosion and changes that occur in the creek due to runoff.   Her graduate students surveyed the creek channel; dimension, pattern and profile for data showing how the creek has changed over time.  The information is very helpful to determine stream bank loss and channel changes.Students also measured velocity, did a trash pick up, and helped the National Committee for the New River plant native vegetation along the River.

Nice brown trout caught during sampling
ASU Professor, Dr. Shea Tuberty also lent his expertise on fish that inhabit the New River and Hardin Creek.  Graduate students studied three reaches of Hardin Creek and Tuberty shared the data with students via power point in the auditorium.  After viewing the data, students were able to help and observe a fish shocking proceedure during one of their class periods with Tuberty.  The quantities and species of fish found in the creek give scientists a picture of whats going on with the ecological balance in the creek. 

Jessica and Sean getting the supplies ready
 Finally students got to sample for benthic macroinvertebrates in the creek and river. These indicator species show us that there are definite impacts on Hardin Creek as it flows to the New River behind the school.  Thanks to volunteers Sean Martin of ENV Consulting, and Jessica Pleasants of Brushy Fork Environmental Consulting for working with the kids on insect identification and collection.  Looking forward to continuing the studies next fall when school starts back.

Monday, May 23, 2011

North Carolina Audubon Society Holds Annual Meeting in Watauga County

Flame Azalea blooming in front of Iris
Early Sunday morning, folks from all over the southeast met at the Boone Greenway to view birds at the constructed wetland and along the greenway river trail.  The Audubon members were impressed with the constructed wetland and the habitat it provides for migratory and nesting songbirds.  As soon as we got on the trail we noticed a snapping turtle laying eggs, a female mallard with three chicks, and a couple of bullfrogs in the water vegetation.  This wetland is home to lots of wildlife and you can view it almost any time of the day.  Morning and evenings are best to see birds, but the flowers have begun to bloom and you can enjoy them all day long.

Single file through the Sensitive Plant Area
As we continued on the trail we viewed white eyed vireos, a yellow warbler, pileated woodpecker, cedar waxwings, and we heard acadian flycatchers in the woods.  And of course, in between bird calls we took note of all the stunning native plants in bloom. The greenway trail in Boone is certainly a gem for locals and visitors to the area to connect with the natural High Country. 

Rain Garden Workshop Produces a Rain Garden

Students learn about slopes from Mitch Woodward
Participants of the latest Watauga County Rain Garden workshop learned how to construct a rain garden in the classroom and then got to test their knowledge by installing a 300 sq. ft. rain garden.  Cooperative Extension Specialists, Bill Lord and Mitch Woodward came up to the Mountains from Raleigh for the day to provide classroom instruction on all the in's and out's of design, construction, and maintenance of a rain garden, while County Agent Wendy Patoprsty prepared students for plant selection.
Finished Rain Garden
The water flowing to the garden constist of two, 4" corrugated pipes draining a rooftop, driveway runoff, and a small grassy swale.  The weir construction includes four, 4x4 posts, and the berm wrapped around the lower level of the garden.  Most of the participants stated they would probably be installing a rain garden on their property or construct one for clients or work.  Excellent!  Every raingarden built helps to protect our water resources in the High Country.  

For more information on how to build a rain garden visit.....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Permeable Pavers Workshop

June 10, 2011 Boone, NC,  9am-1pm

Most parking lots form puddles. As those puddles grow, gas, oil, trash, and other pollutants accumulate until the storm water flows into a storm drain and into a creek. But this does not happen at the new Casey and Casey Law Office parking lot in downtown Boone. In fact, when rainwater lands on this parking lot, it infiltrates and disappears from the surface! Pretty amazing! This is beneficial to the nearby creek because it cleans, cools, and slows the water down.

Under this permeable parking lot, there are layers of gravel and aggregates allowing the water to infiltrate before flowing into the creek. The parking lot is divided into three cells with varying depths of gravel and aggregates and data loggers embedded within. These loggers are collecting data every 10 minutes to determine how long the water is stored and temperatures, which is important information for trout streams.  Water quality sampling has begun and will continue for two years.  With this data, researchers from North Carolina State University will be able to determine which depth of aggregates and gravel are most efficient and effective for purifying and cooling the rainwater. 

Dr. Bill Hunt of the NC State University Stormwater Team will be in Boone on June 10th for the Permeable Pavers workshop providing permeable pavement research and informative insights on innovative stormwater management.   To register, please contact Wendy Patoprsty at 828-264-3061 or email her at:
$10 registration fee includes lunch and tour.  The workshop will be held at the Watauga County Agricultural Conference Center.

This research project was funded through the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund and made possible with the following partners; Casey and Casey Law Offices, National Committee for the New River, North Carolina State University, Brushy Fork Environmental Consulting, Watauga County Cooperative Extension, Town of Boone, and Belgard Hardscapes.

A Little about Lichens

If you’ve ever roamed in the woods in our area, you have likely run across lichens.  Lichens are interesting creatures . . . they are a hybrid, symbiotic organism that is composed of fungal tissue and blue-green or green algae.  The algae’s job is to make food (in the form of sugar), which the fungal tissue can feed on while the fungal body provides water, other nutrients, and physical protection to the algae. 

Lichens can be found on tree bark, branches, rocks, old fence posts, soil, and other structures they find suitable for growth.  They are found in almost every environment on earth:  deserts, tundra, rainforests, mountains, and coastal shores.  They need light in order to grow and photosynthesize, so you won’t generally find them growing in areas with deep, heavy shade. 

There are three main growth forms of lichens that grow on trees and branches:  fruticose, foliose and crustose.  Crustose forms are usually flat and crusty, foliose growth resembles “leaves” and fruticose has a more “shrubby” appearance.  Lichens grow incredibly slow -- usually just a few millimeters a year.  On rocky outcrops in our area, even a small child’s footprint on a mound of lichen can take decades to grow back, so it’s important to tread lightly in sensitive areas where lichens grow. 

Because lichen have no leaves, stems or roots, they must absorb water and nutrients from rainfall and the nutrients in our atmosphere.  Some types of lichen will not grow in heavily polluted areas; thus they are important air quality indicators.

There is a common misconception that lichens cause plant damage.  Many homeowners fear that a heavy lichen layer on tree or shrub branches is problematic and harmful to the plant.  Not so.  It is likely that some other plant stress is occurring (poor growth, lack of nutrition, insect or disease pressure) that leads to a decrease in leaf coverage.  This decrease in leaf growth allows more light into the canopy of the plant, reaching the branches and limbs, and lichen can take advantage of this increased light and set up camp. 

So fear not . . . lichen is a benign organism that does not attack or kill plants.  If you take the time to actually look at lichens up close, taking in the variety of colors and textures they offer, you just might begin to appreciate their visual beauty!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Youth Issues

What are the issues NC youth face and are concerned with? Over 80 youth and adults from 74 counties attended the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) Youth Summit - Youth Voice 2010, which was held in Greenville, North Carolina last year. Prior to the summit, they polled their community and identified issues. The group narrowed the top 10 issues from over 60 compiled issues.

1. Teen pregnancy -Prevention, sex education and related health issues.
2. Substance abuse - This includes illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs.
3. Dropouts - North Carolina’s drop-out rate is at one-third; more dropout prevention programs are needed.
4. Violence -This includes bullying, gangs, crime and physical harm. Education is needed on safety issues, recognizing that “unsafe” actions impact others, such as friends and family.
5. Recreation -This includes community activities, intramural sports, funding for youth centers and other facilities and safe places, and unstructured activities.
6. Socio-economics -Adults and teens need jobs; unemployment is getting worse. Poverty and hunger are problems, especially in small counties with low economic ratings; family income is below average. Other issues are identity theft, and family money management; many grandparents with low incomes are raising grandchildren.
7. Education issues/school funding -Schools need money to provide more classes and extracurricular activities. Young people need to prepare for and find money to help pay for college. Youths want to think their needs are recognized, and they want more opportunities at school.
8. Lack of youth voice in community -Youths need to have their voices included in political decisions. Youths can take the initiative with governmental officials to have opportunities to express their opinions.
9. Health issues -Obesity, healthy lifestyles education, healthy food in school cafeterias, and chronic disease reduction are important to young people.
10. Lack of things to do -More safe and effective activities for youth to participate in. Partnerships between youth development programs, with constructive and positive activities.

Youth will gather again in 2011 to discuss solutions to the issues. One Watauga County youth is eligible to attend. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thank You! To the ECA!

Many thanks to the Watauga County ECA who prepared a wonderful meal for more than 30 volunteers as part of ASU's Big Sale Event. The Watauga County Center received a $2,200 grant for the purchase of energy-efficient windows and a new refrigerator through the grant program funded by the sale of used dorm goods and furniture in August. In return for funds, our staff has put in 4 hours of volunteer time to help sort goods for the Big Sale. Extension's ECA helped our office fulfill the additional meal requirement for the grant. THANK YOU!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Make Plans to Attend Organic Gardening 101 Workshop

Monday, June 6th – Friday, June 10th, 9:00 until 12:30 PM each day

Designed for beginning gardeners or those who would like to switch to organic methods. Topics include garden planning, seed starting, companion planting, how to attract beneficial bugs, pest management, soil tests and amendments, composting and vermi-composting, and dealing with common plant problems. Held at the ASU Sustainable Development Farm in Valle Crucis, 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., Monday, June 6th through Friday, June 10th. Cost is 20.00 for first 4 days, with optional session on keeping backyard chickens on Friday for an additional 5.00. Space is limited, so reserve your spot by paying in advance, NC Cooperative Extension, 971 West King St., Boone. For more information call 264-3061.

Friday, May 6, 2011

ECA Plans Trip to Barter Theatre

The Watauga County Extension and Community Association County Council is planning their annual trip to Abingdon, Virginia, to the Barter Theater to see “Saving Old Smokey”. Come get involved in the story of a mountaintop country store facing foreclosure. The patrons of “Old Smokey” boasted that it rivaled the “Grand Ole Opry” at one time, but now a mysterious man has other plans for the building. “Get ready to laugh, cry, and watch sparks fly as Emma and her friends fight to save what they hold dear”.

The date is Wednesday, June 15, 2011. The cost is $40.00 and includes the matinee performance and transportation. Lunch will be on your own. The bus will leave New Market Center at 8:30 a.m. and return between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. There will be opportunity for shopping and sight-seeing in downtown Abingdon. Lunch options include many restaurants in downtown Abingdon, or re-boarding the bus for a short ride to “Cracker Barrel”.

Call Lillian Danner (828) 963-5538 or Dianne Brown (828) 264-6783 to register. The deadline for registration is June 8, 2011.

Where to Find Organic Farm & Garden Supplies in the High Country?

Where to Find Organic Farm & Garden Supplies in the High Country?

A few years back, trying to buy organic fertilizers and pest control products in the High Country meant many stops and long travels, when such supplies could be found locally at all. Fortunately, a number of local farm and garden suppliers have stepped-up, and now carry a nice selection of organic growing supplies for both the small gardener and the commercial-scale organic grower. The following Ashe & Watauga County vendors are listed in alphabetical order, so be sure to read all the great options below. Also, please remember that organic supplies are still a new field for some of these vendors, so please be patient and supportive as they try to serve you! This list is probably not yet complete; if you know of an organic supplier that I have overlooked, please e-mail the information to

Boone Stockyards - 828-262-0757
Boone Stockyards, in Deep Gap, began stocking an OMRI-listed organic fertilizer, Perdue Micro-Start 3-2-3, in ton-totes a few years back, and the product has become wildly successful for them. The last time I checked with the proprietors, they said that they intended to keep “a warehouse full” of the product on hand, and order more whenever supplies began to run low.

Crop Production Services – 336-846-3339

CPS (formerly UAP – on the East Side of Jefferson) carries a mix of OMRI-listed, organic products for disease & insect control, including horticultural oils (JMS Stylet in gallon jugs), insecticidal soaps (M-Pede in 2.5 gallon jugs), fungicides (Oxidate in 2.5 gallon jugs), biofungicides (Serenade in 12 lb. bags), and more. In general, their products are geared toward commercial-scale growers, but ambitious home gardeners may also wish to investigate their stocks.

David Miller Farm Supply – 828-297-4488
Growers both large and small can find fertilizers such as bone meal (in 4.5 lb. or 24 lb. bags), Neptune’s Harvest 2-3-1 Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer in Gallon jugs, ESPOMA Plant tone (in sizes from 4 lb. to 40 lb.), Green Sand (36 lb. bags), and Perdue Micro-Start 3-2-3 (in 50 lb. bags or ton-totes) at David Miller Farm Supply, located in the Sugar Grove area. Their pest control products at present are mostly in smaller packages (e.g.- they carry Serenade biofungicide in 32 oz ready to use & concentrate formulations), but they do stock DiPel DF in 1-lb bags, and are more than willing to work to custom-order or stock more organic products that customers request. They also now carry Countryside Organic Feed, including Organic Soy-Free Poultry Layer Feed, Starter Feed, Scratch, Cattle, Goat, and others available via special order...

Eric Grig – 336-982-9118
Eric Grig is a local (East of Jefferson, near the Wagoner Rd. entrance to New River State Park) grower who is starting a sustainable homestead supply store. At present, he has bulk Rock Phosphate available for sale in ton-totes, and he will soon also be selling other organic fertilizers (Fish Emulsion, etc.), plus industrial-grade tarps, Yanmar Tractors, and more.

Parsons Farm Supply – 336-246-4359
Parsons, on the Back Street of West Jefferson, has long been a good source for alfalfa meal and a few other organic ‘fertilizers’, which they carried as feed. Now they have branched out to carry the full line of Organic Products offered by Seven Springs Farm Supply (see ), plus Perdue Micro-Start 3-2-3 (in 50 lb. bags or ton-totes), and a growing list of other organic materials. Their bagged lime is also acceptable for use in organic production.

Southern Ag & Insecticides

Southern Ag primarily serves larger-scale growers. While the bulk of their business remains conventional grower supplies, they have begun to stock some important organic pest control products, and can special-order many more. Right now, they stock Cease (in 1-gallon jugs: a biofungicide also marketed as Rhapsody), Oxidate (in 5 gallon jugs), DiPel DF in 1-lb bags, Gnatrol, plus their own Conserve Naturalyte Insect Control (a dilute spinosad product) and Triple Action Neem Oil that have been recently listed by OMRI. Southern Ag can also special-order Mycotrol-O (the biological insecticide Beauvaria bassiana), Serenade, Entrust (the full-strength version of Spinosad insecticide) and any other organic materials produced by BioWorks (Plant Shield, SuffOil, etc.). Also, while they carry a Fish Emulsion in 5-gallon jugs.

Southern States – 828-264-8883

Southern States in Boone carries several organic fertilizer products by Espoma and NatureSafe.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Is it a Bog or Fen?

This past weekend I had the opportunity to hike within the Bluff Mountain Preserve with eco tour guide Kim Hadley of The Nature Conservancy. It was awesome. The Nature Conservancy established the Bluff Mountain Preserve in 1977 and continues to maintain it today. Because the Preserve is home to over 400 species of plants, 25 of them endangered, rare or threatened, in order to visit, you must go with a guide such as Kim.

As the trail loops around the top of the mountain we came to a 3 acre fen. Looking like a wet meadow with lots of sedges and rushes, Kim told us that the bog turtle has been found there. These rare high elevation wet zones are home to some really cool plant species too, including the Dwarf Sundew, Drosera brevifolia, a small carnivorous plant. And the first time I’ve ever seen Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja coccinea, on the eastern side of the country in bloom! (see red flower below)

Last spring I had the experience of hiking around the Watauga County Beech Creek Bog, a Southern Appalachian bog supporting the rare bog clubmoss, Lycopodiella inundata among many other species.

So why is it a bog on Beech Creek and a fen on Bluff Mountain? What is the difference? Just looking at the two, the main difference I saw was the amount of Sphagnum peat moss in the bog. There was a little bit of peat moss in the fen, but not near the amounts found in the bog. Bogs are typically low in nutrients and acidic and rain and snow are the only sources of water for bogs. Fens receive water from both precipitation and groundwater. The main difference between a fen and a bog is that fens have greater water exchange and are less acidic, so their soil and water are richer in nutrients.

High elevation bogs and fens in the High Country are cherished gems that provide us with inspiration, beauty, and a home for rare animals, insects, and plants. I’m so grateful to the conservation groups and the State of NC that work diligently to protect these areas.