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Hop to It

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Collecting leaf samples from the hopyard.

I am very excited to be finishing up my first full week of work at CLEREL (Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Lab) in Portland, NY!  My role this summer as a Cornell Cooperative Extension intern  is to study the effect of predatory mites on two-spotted spider mites (TSSM) as a pest management control in different hop varieties.  Getting started I was about as familiar with mites and hops as you probably are, which was very little.  So I started off last week doing a literature search on anything and everything related to hops and spider mites.  Although I’m not an expert, I would like to think I am pretty familiar with the topic now, so I will share some of this newly acquired knowledge with you.

Hops used to be a prominent crop in New York State about 100 years ago, but pest issues drove the industry out.  With the passing of the Farm Brewery Act last year, hops are once again becoming a hot crop to grow.  The act is part of the “locally grown” movement and in order for a brewery to receive a Farm Brewery license at least 20% of the hops and 20% of all other ingredients in the beer must be grown in New York.  To add to this, Gov. Cuomo just dedicated funding for research in hops and barley.

With the history and politics out of the way let’s get to the research.  Predatory mites are a well-known and frequently-used biological control for TSSM, and research has been done concerning them.  However, only recently has research been done on varietal differences and there still hasn’t been much investigation of the timing of release of predatory mites.  This is where my internship at CLEREL starts.

My job is to run a study on three different hop varieties, Cascade, Nugget, and Willamette, looking at two different release times of predatory mites.  After I completed a solid literature search, I jumped right in on Tuesday by setting up a design for this study and taking leaf samples from the hopyard.  I then spent a day looking at these samples under a dissecting scope and counted all of the TSSM and this week there were a total of 2 mites on the 165 leaves.  I would say that’s a pretty good start.

Prepare for the Unexpected: An Overview of Last Week

IMG_0167 I made it through my first week, learning a lot on the way. The biggest thing I am starting to figure out, is that I need to be prepared for anything I might be doing on any given day. I especially got this on Thursday. I woke up Thursday morning looking at a rainy forecast, knowing I had a substantial amount of office work to do from recording the invasive species on the perimeter of the 4-H Training Center from the previous day, and I knew there was a conference call I would be sitting in on in the afternoon. So I decided to look nice and dress for the office and threw my boots in the car just in case we went out to a farm or something.

Well, John (a fellow intern), Laurel, and I did end up in the field for part of the early afternoon. One of the mapping technologies we are using to record invasive species we find is a program called iMap Invasives, and there was an entry from the National Grid of Mile-A-Minute vine along some power lines not too far from us. Because this could be the first sighting of this vine in the county, we decided to head out just to make sure, because if it turns up, it is going to be a major one we are going to need to keep an eye on.

We made it out to the first location with the recorded coordinates and there showed no sign of the vine. We then walked another ~half mile or so to the second location. Along the way we noticed that the ground these power lines run across is not actually dry land, but very wetlands. I was in my boots, fortunately. However, my pants, my only nice pair of khakis, were not so lucky at times where the water got fairly deep. The pants ended up with some black mud on the bottom of them but I trudged along though because I am not going to allow my unpreparedness in the field to get in the way of my job. After all of this though, we made it to the second location, and there was also still no sign of Mile-a-Minute and I learned that maybe just my boots is not the only change of attire I am going to be needing this summer.

Saturday I went out to the 4-H training center again, where I assisted John and his project in the morning. John, in collaboration with CCE and the New York Forest Owners Association (NYFOA), have decided to create a deer exclosure to monitor deer damage in the forest. This information will also be useful for homeowners to see how easy it is to get the materials needed to install a fence to prevent losses in their own gardens.

The deer exclosure is a 1000 ft. enclosed area with an 8 ft. high fence with posts made of both rebar and 2×2 boards. The control is an area of equal size marked adjacent to it. The observation will take place over a few years to show that deer have a major impact on tree sapling growth on the forest floor.

The past few days I have also been working on a brochure – Gardening Native Plants-for alternative native species of plants that homeowners can plant instead of/ or in replacement of popular invasive plant species in their gardens or landscapes. Some of these invasives include Burning Bush, Japanese Honeysuckle, Japanese Barberry, or Oriental Bittersweet. I spent some time making a public handout that would help people recognize these invasives and give them an idea of what would be a similar alternative that is just as beautiful and has less of a lasting impact on the environment and economy. (Click the link above to see what you may have in your garden). 

Last thing I want to discuss is my project descriptions. Yes, plural. They are definitely keeping me very busy here.

Project 1: The Main

So far what I gathered is that I will be mapping invasive plant species encroachment on agricultural fields around Saratoga County and some of the surrounding counties that lie in the Capital/Mohawk PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management). The state is broken in to 8 of these PRISMS – the Capital/Mohawk, Lower Hudson, Long Island, Catskills, Adirondacks, St. Lawrence, Finger Lakes, and Western NY. My work will focus in this PRISM, while similar observations will be taken in the Finger Lakes PRISM by a colleague/classmate for the same purpose. All of it will be analyzed by Toni DiTomasso, a weed science professional at Cornell, and released to the PRISMs from which the data was collected. All invasive information will be entered into the iMap Invasive program.

Project 2: Inventory

A thing I have been asked to keep a look out for and inventory their locations and densities, is Common Milkweed. As many may know, the Common Milkweed is a major weed in many agricultural fields but at the same time, a major vector for agricultural pollinators. The Monarch Butterfly, a near threatened species, lays their eggs on milkweed, and with the dying population of milkweed due to herbicides in many fields, the butterfly population is also dwindling. I will be noting the milkweed locations and entering them into a project separate from my invasive species in iMap Invasives.

Project 3: Invasives in Hay

Starting tomorrow, John and I will be shaking out hay bales for seeds that may be from invasive species. We will germinate any seeds we find to determine what species it is and not only if it is a pest to farmers, but is it harmful to horses as well. We have samples from out of state hay farms as well as a local control to see what we could potentially be bringing into the area that does not belong here. Saratoga is a largely populated area for horses and not all horse farmers grow their own, so many will buy it in from other areas. Is what gets brought in harmful to horses in any way? And will it be adding to the large inventory of invasive species to the area?

A Late First Day; June 3, 2014

Kaitlyn AndersonMy name is Kaitlyn Anderson. Today was my first real day as a Cornell Cooperative Extension intern inventorying invasive species. After a few weeks of getting my paperwork together as fast as I could, I went through a brief orientation with my supervisor, Laurel Gailor, yesterday, and today I was able to go out into the field with her and meet some of the local farmers of Saratoga County. We traveled to a number of orchards, learning about farmers’ main weed problems and concerns. I learned to use the equipment (GPS and data sheets) and  methods for recording my findings. It was a productive day making local farmer connections, getting permission to use their fields,  and orienting myself with the area.

I am looking forward to learning a lot, very quickly. I do not have any experience working with weeds or how to even identify what would be an invasive weed species. I am getting to know the Extension staff and am looking forward to a beautiful summer in Saratoga County.

Toluma Farms!

This summer I worked at Toluma Farms and Tomales Farmstead Creamery, an organic goat and sheep farm & creamery. I came in with no previous extended farm experience, and minimal previous work with livestock. From June through August, I headed out each Monday from Berkeley, CA for an hour long-drive to the rolling hills above Tomales Bay. I stayed on the farm for half of my week, returning to Berkeley for weekends to bus tables at Chez Panisse Restaurant. Toluma is a beautiful 160-acre series of pastures, with an on-site milking parlor, creamery, farm house, barn, chicken coop, bees, and small raised-bed vegetable garden. Tamara and David, the owners, started the farm in 2003, while simultaneously working as a respective psychiatrist and lung surgeon in San Francisco (which they continue to do) – impressive! When I arrived at Toluma, there were a total of 3 employees on the creamery side, 1 head milker, and 2 alternating herd managers, with additional help from neighbors and volunteers. Officially, I was to be the intern focusing on pasture management, with plans to move them towards a Management Intensive Grazing system.

On my first day, and every following morning, I helped Kristy, the head milker, milk the 120 milking goats and around 50 milking sheep using electric pulsation equipment. Generally, we would begin around 8-8:30, depending on whether the creamery folk emptied the milk tank and began a chemical wash in the tank that morning. On wash days, milking was usually a little behind. With 2 people milking, the whole process could take about 3 1/2 hours for goats, the changeover of equipment, sheep and clean up. The actual milking process involved filling grain feeders and letting in lines of 12 goats, or 6 sheep, into the stalls. To protect against possible infection and mastitis, we would clean their teats with a warm cloth, strip them (3 squirts on each teat), and use a lanolin-based “predip” and iodine-based “postdip.” If we noticed hard, or cracking udders, we would apply udder balm. Before milking, we would have separated all “mastitis girls”, goats (identified as having mastitis with green ankle bands) into a separate holding pen, to be milked last. Once all lines of clean girls had been milked into the tank, we would turn off the pulsing system, and test each mastitis girl, by hand, using CMT testing (California Mastitis Testing). The mastitis milk would be directed into a plastic tub, to be donated to various people — sometimes to feed neighbor pigs or baby goats. Finally, once all milking was over, I would herd up the goats to whichever pasture was being used that day. At the beginning of the summer, I’d say I was a fairly timid herder, but quickly learned the ways. Goats were generally much easier to herd than the sheep (although naughty about sneaking back in the parlor to steal more grain) who were often skiddish or hard to get out of the parlor.

Goats in Holding Pen Waiting for Milking

Goats in Holding Pen Waiting for Milking


After milking was finished, I would then switch over to helping Hadley, the herd manager, take care of all other farm jobs. Projects were always switching, many of which I’ll write about in other posts, but we would consistently fill up the gravity fed water tank, and drive it to the pastures to fill water troughs for the animals. On a few pastures at Toluma, water is actually pumped directly into troughs, but there are still many which depend upon the gravity fed system. We would also take care of any sick girls in the afternoons, for example a feverish ewe with parasites or pneumonia, or Blue Moon or Babe (goats who had occasional limps). Daily, we would also lay down straw in the barn beds, put flakes of hay (grown at Toluma! I’ll get into this later) in the feeders, cleanup and reorganize the barn, check on the non-milkers, and then bring down all goats (milkers and non-milkers) to the barn for nighttime.


Hadley showing me how to herd down the sheep for milking

Hadley showing me how to herd down the sheep for milking

Thirsty goats

Thirsty goats

Week #1 in the Life of an Agronomist

Weed identification: Lady's Thumb My first day on the job as a Cornell Cooperative Extension Intern began bright and early on June 2nd.  It was great feeling to finally step out the door after several months of planning and anticipation for my summer experience with CCE. My excitement grew as I passed through beautiful farmland on my commute from Rochester all the way to Medina, NY in Genesee County. The first stop in my day was at the farm of Francis Domoy. At the farm, I meet with my boss and CCE field crops specialist Bill Verbeten.  My first day consisted of my very first lessons in weed identification and becoming acquainted with malting barley crops.

Small Grains Field Day in Aurora, NY

 Throughout the rest of the week I became acquainted with farms across Wayne, Livingston, Genesee, Monroe, Seneca, Yates and Ontario County and got the opportunity to get to know members of the Batavia, Canadaigua, and Newark CCE offices. So far, each day has been very different from the last. From helping to take bunker density samples at a dairy farm, insect scouting, to attending the Small Grains Field Day in Aurora, NY, I’ve gotten a great first impression of the extension work that is done here in Western, NY. I look forward to this weekends Agri-Palooza event in Wyoming County and also to the rest of the summer!

Seeds, Seeds, Seeds

This week found me at a Worker’s Protection training for work with chemicals and an orientation about CCE, but it also found me digging up swallow-wort and screening seeds in the lab. After spending two weeks in the Weed Ecology lab, I have developed two ‘snap’-hypotheses (a little like snap-judgments) about research.

1) Research projects are repetitive and often tiring. That’s all there is to it. I will never look at a research paper the same–I know now that behind every research paper, there were likely students like myself or lab assistants that had to do some re2014-06-06 14.51.46petitive task over and over again, for a long time, to make it possible. If there were a word that put all of my work during the past week into perspective, that word would be ‘seeds’. The seed packets taken out of the ground for this year from the buried seed experiment were dried and we spent a lot of time screening the tiny, tiny seeds from sand. If you want to know what that’s like, imagine this: you have a bowl of tan sand with a quarter teaspoon of black sand mixed in. That’s what it’s like. You’re screening black, sand-sized seeds from sand–they’re only 0.6 millimeters in diameter. That being said, even though a project like this is tiring, obviously the excitement of the outcome of such a project still keeps people interested. The effort is well worth it.

2) Research requires a certain level of humor. One of the students in our lab has a project with plants that had to be all replanted because of timing. The weather wasn’t favorable for too long and her plants got too big, so we spent some time this week transplanting her second round of seedlings. Timing, weather, or other factors can ruin project plans in an instant and change the parameters or possibility of a project. Outcomes of a project can take an unexpected turn, but a person has to be flexible and willing to ‘roll with the punches’, if you will, with a positive attitude and unfailing optimism. Keeping a smile on your face keeps everyone a lot more motivated and focused.2014-06-06 14.50.49

And to keep you optimistic, check out this little guy I found while weeding in the field yesterday. He’s grumpy–this is what not to do.


Corn Research at Pioneer New Holland

Pioneer New Holland

Pioneer New Holland

This summer my internship is taking place at DuPont Pioneer’s corn research station in New Holland, Pennsylvania.  This is one of Pioneer’s only corn research stations on the East Coast.  They have about 50 acres of field corn test plots on site.  Many other plots are located nearby in surrounding counties in southeastern Pa.  Some plots are located in Maryland and Delaware as well.  At this station the researchers and their assistants run experiments to test and improve Pioneer field corn varieties for both grain and silage.  Four interns are hired in the summer to help maintain the corn plots, collect data, and help facilitate the pollination season.

I started work and we were put on a “fast-track” to learn  all there was to know about a corn research station.  We started at a busy time as corn planting season was in full swing.  In a normal year, by the time we would have started helping Pioneer, much of the planting would have already been done.  Since it was a wet and cool spring, there was still much to plant when we arrived.  In our first few weeks we helped sort seed in preparation for planting, hand-planted individual plots of corn, and rode on the corn planter to plant the big field trials. They plant the corn using a Kinze 8-row corn planter with 8 riders.  Everybody had a headset on so we could communicate with each other over the noise of the tractor and vacuum system on the planter.  Each person was responsible for dumping different seed packets in one row.  Some of the plots they plant are only several feet in length and are either two or four rows wide.  Therefore, we traveled at about 1 or 2 mph across the field and dumped a packet of seeds in every 6 seconds to the sound of a timed and automated buzzer.

Planting corn trials

Planting corn trials

After all of the corn was planted we helped clean up and organize the seed storage and inventory room inside the main building.  We spent several rainy days re-organizing seed packets and making an inventory of what they had and what they wanted to keep for next season.  Some of what we inventoried would eventually be sent to other research stations.  When it is winter in Pennsylvania, seed from Pioneer’s experiments are sent from the New Holland station to other research stations in Mexico and Hawaii, where corn can be grown during those times.  This way the experiments and studies continue throughout the calendar year.  Also, some of the seed the researchers did not want to keep was discarded in bulk seed bins to later be incinerated or by some means destroyed.  These are a few of the things the other interns and I have done and a few of the aspects of the seed research business that we have learned about.  It is bound to be an interesting experience as I continue to work for Pioneer.

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