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Plants, Pests, and Pits of Water?

Posted by kevinwolz on March 20, 2010

This week was FULL of new experiences!

The orchids were forbidden. :.(

On Wednesday, I ended up ditching most of my classes to spend the entire morning in the main university greenhouses propagating plants with my horticulture professor. What an experience! Plant propagation involves cutting a chunk of plant off the mother plant (2-3 nodes is best), removing any fruit, flowers, and lower foliage, and then just sticking it in some dirt! Splendidly simple! To help induce root growth from the cut stems and increase their chances of survival, we also dipped the stems in a hormone powder (mainly IBA) prior to potting them. All in all, I propagated roughly 30 cuttings from 30 different “house plants”—plants that I get to keep! What the heck am I going to do with all of these transplants? Oh well that’s the best part…I’ve talking for a while now about how my college apartment next year is going to be a jungle…and know the jungle is planted.

Starting Seeds!

On Friday, I returned to the greenhouses, but this time to start lettuce seeds for the student farm on campus. I have been minimally active with the farm over this last year due to all my other activities, but I plan on helping out a lot more come fall. This is their second year of production, with 3 cold frames being erected over the last few months. All of the food is supplied to the dorms for student meals, and there’s huge potential for growth, providing the administration and the university’s awesome budget situation don’t get in the way. Anyway, I got my first seed starting experience with 3 flats of oak leaf lettuce and enjoyed some great conversation with the farm head.

Another related event this week was my certification as a pesticide operator, which means that I am certified by the Illinois Department of Agriculture to apply restricted-use pesticides in a “commercial not-for-hire” situation. Yay! Here I come veggies: certified and spray-happy! 2,4-D? I drink it for breakfast. DEET? I wash my face with it. And now, after 10 minutes of bogus studying and a passing grade of 83%, I’m certified to spray it everywhere! Whoopdedo!

Okay, hopefully you’re starting to see through the act a bit, but what the heck am I talking about!? I certainly did take the test, and I certainly did pass. Did I forget everything I learned at the Organic Farming Conference? What happened to parting the sea? Well, there is a perfectly valid explanation for this…I have never and will never be spraying anything but water on anything that I (or anyone) grow. This certification has absolutely nothing to do with food or agriculture. My only use of this certification will be in habitat restoration applications.

Just as I’ve said for a bunch of other things, habitat restoration will hopefully be a big part of my summer, so I will leave the juicy details until then. For now, however, I’ll just say that the basic idea involves the removal of invasive species and the restoration of native habitats. So, where do pesticides come into play? First I should make it clear that herbicides will be the only kind of pesticide that I will (probably ever) be dealing with. That said, the herbicides that restorationists use are pretty mild solutions that are applied drop wise, directly to each stump, one at a time. No indiscriminate, kill-all, sprays here! The reason we do this is because most of the invasive plants will resprout directly from the stump if not herbicided immediately. Many (i.e. honeysuckle) will start 10+ sprouts from one stump! Clearly, allowing this to happen would defeat the purpose of “removing” those species to begin with and in fact be counterproductive. Nevertheless, I’d love some good discussion on this if anyone is so inclined.

So that’s where I was coming from in taking this test, but I can guarantee you that no one else was: I was line behind the Orkin man and in front of the guy who “sprays 1000 acres.” I was easily the youngest by a least 10 years, and probably the only with ulterior motives. The test also had a quite different idea of why I was taking it. The book I studied from was most recently updated in 1981—cutting edge. That’s still better than the content, which is based on a federal law made in 1947 and only updated in 1972. What?! Oh, right, OBVIOUSLY nothing has changed in 38 yrs. Duh. Furthermore, most of the test questions were completely irrelevant to my intended applications. Questions on what kind of nozzle to use at the end of your boom sprayer behind a tractor to maximize death? Yes. Question on how to responsibly apply herbicide to a honeysuckle stump? Nope. Glad the state is looking out for me…On another note, I’m still trying to find out if this license will be transferable to WI–anyone know?

In other news, I raced my first steeplechase today at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. It’s amazing how a few barriers change the nature of a race! For those unfamiliar with this event, it’s basically a 2 mile race (8 laps) with 5 barriers (hurdles that don’t fall over when you run into them) per lap. Adding to the joy, one of the barriers has a water pit immediately after it that is about 1.5 feet deep right after the barrier and tapers up to nothing in about 11 feet. Being such a new experience, we didn’t really come into this race planning to kill it. The goal was just to get our first experience out of the way and get a feel for how to attack these things. Times were slower than hoped but I felt really smooth over the barriers and will be much better prepared for next time. The water barrier was another story…we don’t have access to one at practice so this was our first time ever even seeing one. It was a lot harder than I anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, the first lap was great…but then you get tired…and your strength to push off the barrier decreases…and you end up doing mini “cannon balls” into the pit. So, yeah, I’ll have to work on that. Video from the race will be forthcoming. Aside from that, it was a beautiful 60° sunny day and there were awesome trails (something I haven’t seen in months!) near by to warm up on. The best part was the loud chorus of Western Chorus Frogs that cheered us on the whole time! If it wasn’t already, that means spring is officially here!

Running will also be a huge part of my summer, as you can probably tell from my 700 mile goal, which will constitute my highest mileage summer ever. I keep an online running log at (best online log there is!) which is open for all to see. If you’re interested in keeping up with my training or if I’m on target, please check it out. Once in WI, I’ll always be looking for company as well! I’ll need all the runners and bikers I can get next to me to get me to 700, so join me whenever you can! The incentive: the best conversations always happen on runs.


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