Fairfax Water, Fairfax High School: New Partners, New Program.

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A number of years ago, Lands and Waters created a program called “Follow the Water”.  The program has been  successfully presented in elementary and middle schools.  This year, with the generous support of Fairfax Water, Lands and Waters is piloting a more sophisticated version of the program at Fairfax High School.  Over one hundred students in the AP Environmental Studies Program are participating, with Bradley Webster as the host teacher.

Lands and Waters has brought together local experts to lead classroom lectures accompanied by field labs.  Please follow us over this school year, as students investigate aspects of watershed health and human impact.

Classroom instruction is kept to a minimum, in order to maximize outdoor field studies.

Dan Schwartz, Soil Scientist, with Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District presents a brief in-class introduction to soils.

Dan Schwartz, Soil Scientist, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, presents a brief in-class introduction to soils.

A student helps auger a core soil sample.  This sample will enable students to investigate the soil structure, texture and disturbances associated with construction.

A student helps auger a core soil sample. This sample will enable students to investigate the soil structure, and texture as well as disturbances associated with construction.

Student helps secure a pipe to perform a perk test.  Analysis of the perk test will enable students to evaluate the permeability of their campus soil

A student helps secure a pipe to perform a perk test. Analysis of the perk test will enable students to evaluate the permeability of their campus soil.

Water is poured into the secured pipe. Over the next twenty-four hours water levels are measured and recorded in order to evaluate the permeability of the soil.  The results of this test indicate that the turf fields on campus are almost impervious with 85% of the rain water running off, and only 15% absorbed.  In contrast forest soil produces only 10% runoff, and absorbs roughly 85%.

Water is then poured into the secured pipe.

Over the next twenty-four hours water levels are measured and recorded in order to evaluate the permeability of the soil. The results of this test indicate that the turf fields on campus are almost impervious with 85% of the rain water running off, and only 15% absorbed or evaporated. In contrast forest soil produces only 10% runoff, with 85% absorbed or evaporated.

Students walk to the intermittent stream to investigate a different type of soil and the depth of the water table.

Students walk to a nearby intermittent stream to investigate a different type of soil and the depth of the water table.

The soil this student is holding exemplifies a wetland type soil, grey in color.

The soil this student is holding exemplifies a wetland type soil, grey in color.

As this student found out, wetland soil is not only grey in color, it has a distinctively unpleasant odor.

As this student found out, wetland soil is not only grey in color, it has a distinctively unpleasant odor.

Everyone experienced first hand just how wet and mucky anaerobic soil can be.

Everyone experienced first hand just how wet and mucky anaerobic soil can be.

It was a great first step into our advanced “Follow the Water” Program.  Naturally, we began with a foundation – the soil.

Thank you Dan Schwartz with Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation.

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Frost: Our diverse marsh, six months later

Students mix composted leaf mulch with excavated clay soil.

Students mix composted leaf mulch with excavated clay soil.

A student begins the Carex grayi planting.

A student begins the Carex grayi planting.

Carex grayi has an ornamental seed head.  It thrives in both sun and shade, in rain gardens and around storm drains.

Carex grayi has an ornamental seed head. It thrives in both sun and shade, in rain gardens and around storm drains.

A team of girls join in and the Carex planting is almost done.

A team of girls join in and the Carex planting is almost done.

Here's the first summer's growth of Hibiscus.  It really loves the rich, moist soil surrounding the drain.

Here’s the first summer’s growth of Hibiscus. It really loves the rich, moist soil surrounding the drain.

The native switch grass, Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' has tripled in size since its April planting.  A great plant for stormwater management.

The native switch grass, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ has tripled in size since its April planting. A great plant for stormwater management.

By the end of the summer, the plants have matured enough to begin their hard work of filtering and holding back stormwater.

By the end of the summer, the plants have matured enough to begin their hard work of filtering and holding back stormwater.

 

Ready for a review?

Step 1:  Find a drain.

Step 2:  Remove turf grass adjacent to the drain to the size you want your garden to be.

Step 3:  Excavate existing soil any where from 6 – 12″ (depending on your energy level – deep is good!)

Step 4:  Mix excavated soil with composted leaf mulch; about 50-50.

Step 5:  Fill in the excavated area with the amended soil.

Step 6:  Plant tough, native plants that can tolerate both wet and dry conditions.

Step 7:  Topdress with leaf mulch.

 

Here’s what we put in our garden – so far!!!

Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed

Carex grayi, Gray’s sedge

Hibiscus moscheutos, Hibiscus

Ilex verticillata, winterberry holly

Iris versicolor, blueflag iris

Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower

Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, switch grass

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Carlin Springs ES: Bog Expansion and Composting

November 9th, 2012

The bog is happy and healthy — and providing an oasis for the turtles! Students dig up more turf grass so that we can expand the area of our created wetland.

Carlin grub! Learning respect for all living organisms and debunking the myths that cause all those squeamish squeals associated with crawly critters — is at the heart of what we do!

Students planting woodland sedge around the hibernaculum

Learning about the magnificent marvels of the decomposing world through a primer on vermicomposting! Students harvest red wiggler worms from an older composting bin and create a new, roomier home for them. The richly fertile worm castings will provide new life and nutrients for our gardens.

Carlin Springs ES: Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum (Part 2)

November 2, 2012

Students amend the existing soil with rich, composted leaf mulch.

Students haul amended soil over to the hibernaculum area.

Rich soil is piled over hollowed logs so that there are numerous cavities for the turtles to easily dig themselves safely into the earth for the coming winter.

Ready for burrowing!

While we’re at it — a brush pile to provide shelter for birds and habitat for invertebrates.

Teamwork! An old log becomes a makeshift turtle ladder.

Swamp milkweed in the bog goes to seed.

Wind dispersal — students help to spread milkweed seeds.

Carlin Springs ES: Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum (Part 1)

October 26th, 2012

How the turtle project began…

Lands and Waters began working with Carlin Springs Elementary School last spring when we were asked to host an after-school program. Upon beginning our work to create a bog wetland habitat, we discovered…


Numerous Eastern Box Turtles were inhabiting the courtyard that was to be the site of our bog creation project. We had heard legends of the duckling eating bullfrogs, but these little scaly gems had crawled under our radar. We wondered how they were surviving in habitat that supplied so few food resources for them. Thus, we had a shift in focus to accommodate this unique teaching opportunity and to provide a better habitat for these magnificent little creatures.

Eastern box turtle populations are severely threatened, mostly due to habitat destruction and roadway casualties. We encourage citizens to create turtle-friendly habitat in their backyards and to rescue turtles when you see them trying to cross the road. They get their name because they are the only turtle that can completely “box” themselves in when threatened by predators. Thus, this defense mechanism may be great against foxes and raccoons, it is no match for those lumbering piles of steel and rubber that take us to the grocery store. So when you see a turtle crossing the road, be a good samaritan and kindly give her or him a lift safely to the other side — just make sure it is in the direction they were already heading!

Back to Carlin Springs — the turtles were not at all shy about accepting our offerings of fruits and vegetables.

We began enhancing the courtyard and creating a better habitat for eastern box turtles. We brought in some rich compost and leaf litter to amend the soil. Also large logs rescued from a fallen snag to decompose and provide habitat for insects, fungus, and other yummy turtle snacks.

Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum

A few large hollowed out logs are brought into the courtyard to provide a protective sanctuary for the turtles during the coming chilly winter months.

Members of the Carlin Springs Nature Club work in their courtyard to prepare the turtle hibernaculum. By combining leaf compost and shredded leaf litter students create rich soil that will retain moisture, conditions that are preferred by eastern box turtles. The mixture is then stuffed into the decomposing logs, which will also provide habitat for insects.

Although it is about the time for eastern box turtles in our area to begin nestling down for the winter, we still find a few of them wandering around the courtyard bog and chomping on selections from the platters of shredded vegetables and fruits we offer them. We often call it hibernation, that’s technically a process for mammal. Turtles and other reptiles “brumate,” when due to cold temperatures, the body metabolism slows down to use less energy — they are still awake during this time but become very sluggish.

However, an understandably grumpy turtle was very unhappy that we woke him! We made sure to tuck him into some rich soil and cover him with leaf litter so that he could quickly burrow himself back into the earth.

[   Go to Carlin Springs ES: Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum (Part 2)   ]

Creating a Bog at Daniels Run ES

On October 5th, 2012

Our bog creation project at Daniels Run Elementary School was funded by a watershed grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The site was a problem area adjacent to a playground with a compacted clay foundation. After a rain event, water collected here and stood for numerous days. Lands and Waters and Daniels Run decided this was an excellent opportunity to create a bog-type wetland using stormwater runoff, turning a problematic area into an ecosystem that students can study.

Our first step was to create a berm that would deflect the water from the foundation of the nearby trailer.

Building blocks: our hardworking team member Phillip uses precast concrete blocks and re-purposes them to create a wall.

Phillip them creates a gentle slop away from the wall with the existing clay that was in the area.

DR Bog

The students of Daniels Run, eager to lend a hand, skirted recess time to help us compact the clay slope.

Students help us move soil

Here we see the bog at work after a rain event! The berm is effectively draining water more quickly than before. Phase one is completed.

Next, we must evcavate out in a basin shaped pool, place in exploratory structures to encourage student engagement (while protecting protecting flora and fauna), amend excavated clay by mixing it with composted leaf mulch, and create a ponding area of no more than 4 inches. Finally, we will plant with native riparian herbaceous plants — our favorites are swamp milkweed, cardinal flower, turtlehead, joe pyeweed, and great blue lobelia. Whew, there is still much to do! But we’re off to a wonderful start.