Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Eastside's Green Teens planting food to eat in March

So when does it become rude to get reacquainted with blog followers after not posting in for-like-ever?  Will y'all take me back? Teaching obvs prevented me from dutifully posting regularly, but now I co-sponsor a club and the kids are ridic awesome and they let me take their pics for your long-awaited update!

I do love my new career home.  And I do so love the Green Teens, a collaboration of the ACE after school program and Keep Austin Beautiful.

So what have we done so far?
Eastside awesomeness. We planted seeds of kale, endive, lettuce, beets (labelled beef? I suspect the sharpie mark over the "t" was done post-distribution ), and kale again.

Cauliflower and Swiss chard and if we plant a guitar will music grow?

Compost bins bring smiles.
The seeds were provided by the Sustainable Food Center's Grow Local program.We hope to make them proud come harvest time.  The harvest goes home to Green Teen dinner plates.  Or breakfast plates.  Or no plates, just their hands ;-)

Hope all is well with you in interwebs-land.  HUGS.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Saturday Morning Fun Times Ideas

Info thanks to the Capital Area Master Naturalists (CAMN)!
Biodiversity Survey
Austin Nature and Science Center
Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011 
8:00 am

Biodiversity = the variety of all forms of life, from genes to species... (Stanford Ecyclopedia of Philosophy)."
Survey = to look carefully and thoroughly at someone or something; a non-experimental, descriptive research method.

Nohhhhhtes: No special skills are required, and all are welcome. Dress comfortably; long pants and sturdy shoes with closed toes, hat, water bottle, and sunscreen are stongly recommended. We may encounter ticks, mosquitoes, &/or poison ivy, so arm yourselves accordingly! For your personal use, you may wish to bring field guides, notebook and pen, camera, and / or binoculars.
Changes are sometimes necessary, so if you would like to join us, please contact Melissa Macdougall or 422-6270.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Man-Eating Plants and an Announcement

Hi Readers!
Do you know how I told you that this blog is about science in Austin, TX?  Well... not today! Cuz I visited Maryland over the summer, so you get Maryland science today.  Yay! Here is something I saw in Maryland:

Man-Eating Plants:
I was with la familia at the Deep Creek Lake, and in an effort to  wear out and produce a nap educate our son, we went hiking at Cranesville Swamp*.  Here is the back of his head at the swamp...

And upon looking at that picture, here is the drama I imagine would enfold if we were face-to-face:
You: Amanda, I love you and all, but that is not a swamp.  That soil looks really dry.  Swamps aren't dry, they are forested wetlands.
Me: You!  I sooo love you too! You are right.  The swamp didn't fit into this picture; it is up ahead, on the right.  

So anyway, the super-cool reason we went to the swamp is because... there are man-eating plants!!! For reals (and when I say "man, " I mean "insect") !!

Ahem, so why are there man-eating plants (and when I say "man, " I mean "insect")?  Cuz there ain't no other way to get the nutrition, folks.  Ain't no way.  That soil has very. little. nutrition. Sigh.  Here is a carnivorous sundew plant with what looks like insect leftovers.
Sundew you.
And here is the general ecosystem area, preserved courtesy of The Nature Conservancy.

In fact, carnivorous plants thrive best in oligotrophic* soil.  In more fertile soil, other plants would outcompete sundews for resources, forcing sundews out.  Here are some great links to more info:

So if you ever see a man-eating plant in your neighborhood (Run!), it would be rational to infer that you have low nutrient soils! Whoo-hooh!

Why does this area have low-nutrient soil?  Maybe another day, because...

An Announcement:

I have a new job!!! And even better, it is at Eastside Memorial High School teaching Math.  I'm excited because I might have a chance to provide context to the math through environmental science and engineering (and other more boring equally important academic disciplines)!

It is going to be a busy year, so I will probably only post here to check-in with y'all or post quick links.  I'll still be on twitter for bits and pieces and I assume you know how to e-mail me.  Of course, I might just be calling some of you and nagging for advice (Jude) in the near future.  Until then, hugs you!


Oligotrophic: low nutrient conditions
Swamp: Forested wetland

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

In Honor of Soilduck

In honor and congratulations of SoilDuck's awesome new job (!!!) (What is it again SoiDuck? Where?), I am sharing a few fungi pics.  I took them on my vacation to Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, my yearly summer mecca.

SoilDuck really likes fungi.  I don't know much about my vacation photo subjects, except that they are decomposers, of course.  And that they are located in an area that receives an average of 40-50 inches of rain per year.  Compare that ATX's measly-peasly 30-35 inches (No, I'm not mad we're living during an exceptional drought.  Yes, I am.).

By the way, don't forget that decomposition in general increases with increasing temperature and water.  Whooh!  On to celebrating SoilDuck...

Looking good in the forest.
Near Muddy Creek Falls at the Park.
Look: moss, fungi and lichen in one pic!
Which is- Plant kingdom (moss), Fungi kingdom, and symbiosis between the two kingdoms (lichen)!
Close-up of emerging 'shroom from the 2nd pic (above).
Close-up of the other one from the 2nd pic (above).
What's this?  I don't know.
Forest floor again.
Close-up of it's gills, or lamella.
Congratulations, Professor SoilDuck!  Go forth and inspire them with your knowledge and enthusiasm!

Friday, June 17, 2011

"What the...?" Part 2; How to identify a mystery substance.

Hey guys,
Where did we leave off? Oh yeah, there were two "mysteries of nature" that I was trying to solve:
  1. A yellow flour-like powder veins in the clay; and a 
  2. Very thin white crystalline crust on the soil surface.  
So I sampled them both.
Freestyle soil sampling.

Here is Mystery #1 in the field.  See the yellow powder, look how fine it is.  Can you see it spread on my fingers?

Here is Mystery #1 by microscope magnification. I think it is pollen!
They appear circular, but I can't quite tell due to their small size.
I'm gonna try and get some mineral oil magnification soon.

Here is Mystery #2 in the field.  To obtain the crystalline crust,  I dug out a chunk, which revealed fresh clay (you see the yellow veins, Mystery #1, very clearly).  The rest has that thin layer of white crystal crust on it.
Here, I'll "magnify" again, using my special magnifying lens.

Here is Mystery #2 magnified under the microscope and at various angles.

Thank you Eastside Memorial Green Tech and Mr. Moldenhauer for hosting my curiosity! 
Here are my future plans (if I can acquire a few supplies with limited effort on my part, ahem):
  • Mystery #1 (yellow "flour" powder): Access a microscope with greater magnification and hopefully identify the pollen.  
  • Mystery #2 (tiny white crystalline crust): Attempt to dissolve the crystals in water.  Then, add acetone to see if there is any precipitation reactions. 
    • Why? I'm testing to see if it is gypsum.  I think it is gypsum because gypsum is a very common white evaporite. Also, the presence of gypsum indicates arid environments (like where I was standing at the time).

UPDATE: I haven't found a higher resolution microscope yet.  Also, I tried the acetone experiment, but I don't believe I had enough crystal sample to get significant results; it's a very thin layer.  Alas, the mystery continues... 

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"What the...?" Part 1

Once upon a time, I started to write a blog post that went like this:

Recently I went to, according my zero research, the world's largest antique fair(!!!) in Round Top, TX.  Fried pickles, fried mushrooms, funnel cake, fresh fried pork rinds, and popcorn may or may not have been devoured ravenously.

We may or may not have found the perfect vintage accessories.
While in town, in a pine forest, I also happened upon a cut in the soil that showed the native clay a few inches below. It had weird yellow veins going through it.  The veins were very fine grained, like a flour-fine powder.  I dug deeper to see if they thinned out, but after several inches of digging through dry clay, the veins were still there.  Can you see them below?

You don't see the yellow veins?  Let's try again, with "magnification."
"What the...?" I was being SoilDuck's good kind of stupid: stupid yet curious.
Internet research was boring, so I checked in with my fellow twits, to see what they thought.  Here were some ideas:
 I forgot to mention that there was something else interesting too: a white crystalline crust on the outer surface of the clay.

Here is your first official look at the '"mystery of nature" observed under a stereoscope.
See? It is right there, under the stereoscope.
(Thank you, young scientist, Manuel Lopez for taking this picture.
Thank you Mr. Moldyenhaur for setting up the learning apparatus.
Thank you Eastside Memorial HS for hosting this scientific inquiry.)
Actually, were looking at the white crystalline crust here, not the yellow vein powder. Our computer screen is showing a blurry version of it.

But then I hit a stopping point.  I hit Publish anyway.  I hope this post finds you well, and if we don't chat sooner, Happy Mother's Day!  Thank you to both Granny Sharon and Mother Earth.

Join us next time, in "What the...?" Part 2, How do you identify a mystery substance?

Monday, April 25, 2011

The latest obsession (genus Pogonomyrmex)

As you read this, you can enjoy the Henry Mancini "dead ant" Pink Panther theme song (1963).  Cuz I'm old.

For further evidence that science is everywhere (insert ghosty sounding, "ooooooh!" here), I submit to you, to the best of my knowledge, a red harvester ant nest outside my classroom at Eastside Memorial.  Here we are, addressing TEKS outside my window (you know, cuz they are part of the food web).  But more importantly, it is fun to engage in my favorite step of the scientific method, Observation, and watch my new favorite Formicidae (ant family) live their lives.

Texas A&M, the school my alternate universe self attended, says that by removing the vegetation around their nest,  the ants allow the sun to dry out and warm the soil. They dig tunnels and chambers where the workers (wingless females) store seeds, which are their main food source, along with scavenged insects. They'll eat "alfalfa, burr clover, Johnson grass, oats, wheat, Bermuda grass, wild sunflower, mesquite, beans, and others."   
That looks like a seed.  Food!
Annoyed for the sake of educating us.  Thank you, kind Ant.
Hope I didn't squeeze you too hard, but you were trying to get away!

And to quote Texas A&M
Populations of the horned lizard and the harvester ant, on which it predominantly feeds, have declined in the eastern part of Texas. There are several possible factors contributing to the decline of these species.
  • Red imported fire ants are believed to eliminate harvester ants and prevent new colonies from forming by preying on mated queen harvester ants.
  • Red imported fire ants may prey directly on lizards or on hatching eggs of lizards.
  • Many insecticides used to control or eliminate the red imported fire ant are toxic to the harvester ant, and eliminate the harvester ant more efficiently than they eliminate fire ants. Broadcast applications of fire ant bait products should be avoided in areas where harvester ants are found.
  • Horned lizards normally inhabit flat, open, dry country with little cover. Urbanization, mowing, shredding, shallow discing and other land use practices can eliminate or reduce the production of weed seeds on which harvester ants feed. Harvester ants and horned lizards, which are dependent upon this ant species, cannot survive in these disturbed habitats.
Mostly, they only bite when harassed, but even when I was indubitably harassing them (see above pics for proof), their tiny mandibles never got a good enough grip to hurt me (and cuz I'm totally tough).  So they aren't pests (besides aesthetic issues), AND they are food for our threatened (state-listed) Texas Horned Lizard.  If you need more, the enemy of our enemy (Red imported fire ants) is our friend.  Yay Harvester ants!