Creating a Vernal Pool at Daniels Run ES: Breaking Ground (Part 1)

For a project funded by a generous National Fish and Wildlife grant, we begin breaking ground on a series of stormwater projects at Daniels Run Elementary in Fairfax, Virginia.

Day 1: September 29th, 2012

Breaking ground on a vernal pool construction project!

Something tells me this isn’t the first time we’ve lost Kris down a hole…

Kris pulled out a few volunteers that eagerly inhabited the hole that was used to check the soil profile and test percolation. I guess they are impatiently awaiting their new home! We relocated a few pickerel frogs (Lithobates palustris) to a nearby constructed wetland that was part of an earlier schoolyard greening project.

Relocating natives — we work to find new homes for the goldenrod and chestnut oaks that were at the site of our vernal pool creation project.

All in a days work! Digging out a vernal pool by hand (aka people-power) requires a lot of physical labor.

Day 2: September 30th, 2012

[  Creating a Vernal Pool at Daniels Run ES (Part 2)  ]


Vegetable Garden Fall Planting and Biodiversity Tour at Kimball ES

Fall Vegetable Garden Planting

This semester, Kimball’s second grade students are focusing on plants. Joined by volunteers from the Washington Center, the Lands and Waters team helped engage students and reinforce their classroom lessons by leading a fall planting in their schoolyard vegetable garden.

The soil has been weeded and rich leaf compost has been turned in, now the students line-up and prepare to plant! Close observation of lettuce seeds reveal creative descriptors from the students — “raindrops” and “bugs” fill tiny palms.

Finally, each student gets a turn to gently scratch their seeds into the soil.

Kimball ES Community Forest: Schoolyard Biodiversity Explorations

While exploring the Kimball Community Forest, students roll over logs to reveal the abundance of life beneath them. Surveying their schoolyard biodiversity as discovery-based learning helps to teach students to explore and analyze the world around them.

Through the trees — there are many taboos associated with the woods. Learning to love the “wild” is sometimes a re-learning process, especially for children more familiar with an urban jungle.

Volunteers from the Washington Center

Garden Surprises and Teachable Moments

While preparing the garden beds for planting, we find a monarch caterpillar voraciously munching on honeyvine leaves (Ampelamus albidus). Closer inspection revealed numerous caterpillars stealthy camouflaged among the vines.

We gathered them up, planning to rear them back at the office. Only 1% of the monarch eggs laid make it to become butterflies, so they need all the help they can get! A cozy home in captivity, lazily munching on milkweed leaves, greatly reduces the threats of parasitism and predators.

Our caterpillars will transform into one of these magnificent butterflies! Then they will make their long, obstacle-filled migration to Mexico, on those fierce yet fragile wings.

[Update — All eight of our caterpillars successfully emerged from their chrysalis! They were then released to begin their long journey south. Sadly, one monarch’s wings did not develop properly and she was not releasable. As luck would have it, she’ll live out her days in Christine’s apartment, slurping down boxes of apple juice.]

Monarch caterpillars are collected and kept in a box for temporary safe-keeping. They provide a delightful “teachable moment” in which students learn about life cycles and migrations. One of those wonderfully impromptu lessons we embrace as environmental educators.

Lanier MS: Eco-Club Begins!

Three years ago, Lands and Waters partnered with Lanier Middle School to create a living classroom in their turf-dominated courtyard. The objective was to create a forested area to provide habitat for organisms that would use the vernal pool ecosystem, such as amphibians and invertebrates. We wanted to create examples of ecosystems — a bog, plantings representative of upland woodland forest, a riparian area, a meadow, a vernal pool, a pollinator garden and finally a vegetable garden was added last spring by the hardworking members of the Eco-club.

The courtyard is opened to all disciplines but the Eco-club is at the heart of the maintaining and enhancing courtyard. Lanier’s Eco-club meets twice a week this year — primary activities evolve around the courtyard and the school’s recycling program.

This year projects:

  • Creating a circulating stream powered by solar energy and designed by Dr. Desouza’s students (Techonolgy and Engineering teacher)
  • Fall plantings in the vegetable garden culminating in a salad day and “Real Cost of Food” educational program about the environmental, ethical and health impacts of the global food system
  • Installing a small-scale indoor composting system so students can observe decomposition
  • Creation of a field guide to catalogue and monitor the species found at Lanier as our greening projects mature and provide better habitat to local flora and fauna
  • Monitoring vernal pool organisms
  • Raising fairy shrimp in the classroom

Eco-club students investigate the vernal pool habitat in their courtyard.

Water samples collected from the vernal pool to test for water quality parameters and macroinvertebrates.

Eco-club students use microscopes to look for macroinvertebrates and other microscopic life forms.

Teamwork! Students working together to load and haul fresh gravel for the dry-bed stream.

Students help to put in a low area that runs through the courtyard to conduct water to two internal drains.

Ms. Alam, science teacher and Eco-club leader, picks the last of the summer tomatoes before they are killed by frost.

September plantings of radish come to harvest.

Kimball ES Workday with Cornell Alumni

Sunday, September 16th 2012

The Kimball Community Forest was in need of some weeding and mulching. We may like our landscapes wild, but others do not always agree. With our natives under threat of weed whacking, along came the Cornell Alumni to the rescue!

In partnership with Greater DC Cares, members of the Cornell alumni volunteer annually with Lands and Waters for one of their numerous community workdays.

Tackling the mulch pile

Cornell alumni and trip leader, Odette — working so hard she breaks our tools!

Veteran volunteers stand among the trees they planted last year.