Saturday, December 3, 2016

Unity College Dartmouth Greenhouse Week 5

Week 5: 11/21/16-11/23/16; ~17.3 hours left

While this week was a short week, a lot happened so it feels like it was longer.

Photo taken by my co-worker Terry

My older brother came to visit me while I worked this week so it was nice.  He actually came to get his orchid checked out by the Greenhouse workers.  It was a Dendrobium sp hybrid.  The orchid had not flowered in years and would only occasionally produce new growth.  My co-worker Terry helped diagnose its condition and requirements for flowering.  She is very knowledgeable about orchids as she is usually the one in charge of their upkeep.  What was determined was that the orchid needed to have a winter dormancy.  All the species that makes up the hybrid have to go through a dormancy period where you stop watering and fertilizing of the plant for the winter months.  The hope then is that the orchid would then bloom in the spring once the temperatures had warmed and the light had increased.  After this year's dormancy, the orchid should be repotted and a change of substrate.  As I may have mentioned before most if not all orchids are epiphytes (grow on other plants or surfaces that are not soil).  They do not live in soil so they require a substrate that has a certain level of aeration. When the substrate starts breakdown, it starts to choke the orchid.  This particular orchid hybrid was potted with coconut husk substrate.  Coconut substrate degrades faster than substrates like fur bark. Once the dormancy is over switching to fur bark would be best. Orchids also like to be pot-bound rather than 'over-potted' so it needs a smaller and taller pot.

According to my brother, the flowers look similar to these Dendrobium here in shape and size.

Mainly this week I finished clipping down the plants in the Tropical Room. The Yam vine ended up winding its way up past the sun screen and around the water pipes and the hydraulics in the door. It was like untangling rope but more difficult as the vines branched out every which way.

While using a ladder to clip can be dangerous, the fact that there were so many support structures around me allowed me to maintain my balance relatively easily while being in unusual positions.  To maintain those positions one must move slowly and incrementally, and be very aware of the pressure exerted on anything.  One cannot put too much pressure in one place.  I usually try and keep my pressure on the sides of structures, not fully downwards. And as always REMEMBER TO BREATHE!

Photo taken by my boss Kim

I had to trim back the philodendron in the Tropical Room (Philodendron erubescens). We have two types of philodendrons in the Greenhouse.  Both are very large and have a tendency to grow where ever they can get away with. Unlike vines, they don't tangle around themselves nor have modified leaves to grab with.  In order to climb, they use whorls of adventious roots (above-ground roots that are used for purposes other than absorbing nutrients) to grab at and support themselves as they grow.  In the case of our greenhouse, it means climbing the walls and structural supports of the Tropical Room.

In order to cut it down to size, I had to saw two of its stems off.  The stem itself was very fibrous and dense. It kind of reminded me of a combination of bamboo and rhubarb.

Each fresh leaf scar will produce a vibrant red and pink sap that beads profusely. It stained a little on skin so I could see it being used as a natural dye.

Recently most of the citrus plants have been producing fruits, so the Subtropical room has had a very pleasant smell this week. The Greenhouse has a lot of citrus species and hybrids; from Lemons to Sweet Limes to Kumquats and a couple of hybrids that I had not even heard of.  Some of the major producers in the Subtropical Room were the Lemons.  Most of the lemon varieties we have are not the lemons we typically think of; ie the "store-bought-lemon" (Citrus × limon; citrus hybrid).  They are sweeter than store lemons but still sourer than an orange.  I found out to my surprise that most of the edible citrus fruits that we think of are in fact a series of hybrids that were bred from other older species like the citron and the mandarin.  Unlike apples which are multiple varieties and subspecies of one original species; citrus fruits are hybrids on top of hybrids.

Meyer Lemon (Citrus × meyeri; citrus hybrid). It is roughly the same size as a store-bought lemon, maybe a little smaller.  The tree itself was fairly laden with them so my boss gave me some of the ripened fruit to me for Thanksgiving.  I was very touched by the gesture as they were grown from the Greenhouse.  The smell of the rind was very strong even before peeling.  The rind itself was thinner than a typical lemon but still harder to peel than an orange.  the flavor was much stronger than that of a grapefruit but still had a particular sweetness to it.  It was still very potent so I could only eat it one section at a given time. This made it very good in teas.

Pondarosa Lemon (Citrus limon × medica; citrus hybrid).  This fruit was huge, especially when it was compared to the size of the tree it was on (the tree was only at most ~3 feet, including the pot). Unlike with the Meyer Lemon the fruit took a long time to ripen or at the very least a long time to stay on the tree.  You can never be quite sure unless you pick it.

A banana 'tree' flower inflorescence (a group of tightly packed flowers like lilacs) (Musa acuminata).  The inflorescence does not flower all at the same time, the lower flowers bloom first and gradually bloom upward.  You can see the fruit starting to form at the base of the inflorescence.  This species of banana produces a dwarf version of the cultivated banana we are used to.  It is actually thought to be a precursor of that cultivar.

The Scarlet Ball Cactus (Parodia haselbergii) finally bloomed!  It had not bloomed since I started working here except for a few dead blooms that had not been removed.  I had removed the dead blooms before any new buds came in.  My hypothesis was that the dead blooms were preventing the cactus from creating fresh blooms and by removing them it allowed new blooms to come in.  Often if a plant has gone through its seeding stage and the seeds are allowed to stay on the plant, it will not have the need to flower as the next generation is "secure" so to speak.  If you remove the flowers before they seed, it triggers the plant to 'think' it is under stress and will produce more flowers as a response.

Have a good week! Happy Thanksgiving weekend!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Unity College Dartmouth Greenhouse Week 4

Week 4: 11/14/16-11/18/16; ~43 hours left

Sorry I have been busy with thanks giving preps, so this blog post is late!

At the greenhouse we have multiple substrate and soil type based on the requirements of the plants, the substrates are usually used for the orchids and other epiphytes.  We have 3 major soil mix types: Metro Mix (for the general unspecific plants); Cactus Mix (for the xerophytes and plants that require high drainage); Tropical Mix (for the plants that are in the Tropical Room).

This week I got to learn how to mix up a new batch of the cactus mix soil, which I was very excited about. Since being put in charge of the Xeric Room (ie Cactus Room), I have done a lot of re-potting and dividing and so the cactus mix had become very depleted.  Each soil mix has their own particular recipe specific to the plants that are to be potted. Cacti need soil that is well drained and some what alkaline ('basic', ie acids and bases).
The bin that the cactus soil mix is held in.

To measure out the larger amounts of ingredients we usually use metal basins that each about half a bushel.  I first measured out "garden variety" potting soil mix (I made a pun there) as the base for the mix.  Then I added a decent amount of sand (I don't think that it matters what type of sand, just the size of the particles). The sand adds drainage to the soil and matches the natural soil type that cacti grow in.

The next two ingredients are used to help with the drainage allowing the roots to dry out
Perlite is a volcanic rock that is very similar to pumice but is a brilliant white. It is very chalky and dusty.  Turface is a gritty gravel like mineral that has a reddish coloration. According to my boss it has been used in athletic fields for drainage and traction (ie the reddish-brown areas of a baseball field).  I had to ware a face mask while handling the perilite and turface due to the dust they created.  By themselves the aren't particularly toxic or caustic, it is the actual inhalation of the dust they create that is harmful.  As a final additive we add a small amount of the pellet fertilizer, 10-10-10 and Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) because cacti usually like the soil to be a little more alkaline.

Perlite (left) and Turface (right) I was unable to take pictures of the process itself as the dust would damage the camera.

When mixing up the soil I would use a metal dust pan to fold the layers together on the prep table in the prep room.  After mixing, I was able to re-pot some of the plant
It is very satisfying being able to not only re-pot plants your self but mix up your own soil as well.

This Wednesday was the last Botanical Illustration Class that was to be held during my stay as an Intern.  I had not known this earlier but Dartmouth College worked on a Trimester Schedule not a Semester schedule. The students classes ended this week and they would restart after New Years.  This also effects the other community events that the College offers during the semester.  I am somewhat familiar with the trimester method as my older brother got his bachelors degree at a college that had a similar set up.

During the class we mainly did a wrap up of what we had learned previously and the teaching artist's work.  Many of them were on local Vermont spring ephemerals such as ladyslipper orchids and crocuses.  We went on to discuss in detail the botany of the native ladyslippers.  One in particular I had not known about or realized was so local was the Yellow Ladyslipper or Cypripedium parviflorum (it was originally included with the species C. calceolus, which is a European species).  The specific epithet "calceolus" means "calcium rich" and refers to the fact that the orchid only grows in alkaline soils.  Local orchids are unique in their germination methods.  Unlike other seeds, orchid seeds have no extra nutrition added (ie no endosperm or pericarp). To germinate those seeds, mycorrhizal fungi are require to be present in soil.  This mutualistic relationship allows the orchid to gain enough nutrients from the fungi to grow.

We also were reminded to practice regularly even though there will be no more class.  That is the only way we will improve.  Everyone in the class was very kind and helpful allowing me to take part even though I am not an OSHER member or signed up for the class.  I hope to see them in the future outside of the class.

As with any greenhouse, we have to keep control of the growth of the plants so they do not strangle the other plants or the greenhouse itself.  Many of the plants in the different rooms ended up strangling and choking the equipment and pipes.  Since it got to the point where the climate controls for the rooms were getting effected, I was tasked to clip back those vines and plants so that they don't choke the greenhouse.  I worked mainly in the entry room, main hallway, tropical room and cacti room.  It was very difficult work as I had to use a ladder and many of the vines had gotten seriously tangled within each other and the greenhouse infrastructure.  The wax plants were probably one of the worst to work with as not only did they have a thick waxy cuticle and milky stick sap that is almost impossible to get off.  I make a specific point that there were enjoyable parts of this work as I was able to view parts of those plants that otherwise were hidden.

A Bougainvillea vine blossom tangled up in one of the misting pipes. There were a good amount of thorns on this plant so it was very tricky to remove.

Two views of the Bower Vine (Pandorea jasminoides), the vine itself (left) and a flower (right). Many of the vines had escaped up into the sun screens to get more direct sunlight.

Have a great break!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Unity College Dartmouth Greenhouse Week 3

Week 3: 11/7/16-11/10/16; ~86 hours left

This past week  has been tough for me to function with my typical enthusiasm and focus due to the election and  resulting aftermath.  I feel as though protecting the environment that we have left has just got much harder.

To distract from politics I have been focusing on tending to the basic needs of the plants (ie fertilizing, pruning, repotting) and the general upkeep of the greenhouse itself (ie clean drains, sweeping or squeegeeing the floors).  During the week I would often survey the different rooms to look for tasks that needed doing. I focused specifically on the Subtropical Room and the Cacti Room to trim and dead head the ferns and other 'leggy' plants or repot the xerophytes that were overgrow.

Rabbit's Foot Fern (
Davallia fejeensis) in the Sub-tropical Room, a large section of the subtropical plants are ferns and primitive plants (ie mosses, liverworts, clubmosses).

To keep track of the species we keep in the greenhouse we keep inventory lists. There are two separate lists one for the orchid and the general plant species. W
e have a large variety of orchids and most are housed separately.  The lists are organized by family and then species and includes their location, their potting information (ie size, re-potting dates, division dates, quantity).  Every time we re-pot or divide a plant we have to update their information in the inventory list. Normally this is done by hand on a printed copy that is then updated digitally.

The illustration class this past week was probably what helped me get through the day on Wednesday.  The lesson was to show the incremental steps involved with layering the watercolor to give the desired effect.  They also discussed the inclusion of fractals and Fibonacci's Sequence into botanical illustration and other precision based art forms.  They mentioned the NH artist, Maxfield Parrish as a prime example of precision and composition.  He apparently used surprisingly complex equations to create his art pieces whether they be murals or children's book illustrations.

A water lily called Blue Pigmy (Nymphaea colorata) that is native to eastern Africa. Its blooms only last one day so I was lucky to take pictures when I did!

A large percentage of the research done in the research section of the greenhouse is with transgenic rice.  Some of the professors are working on a way to prevent the ability of the rice to absorb heavy metals.  Accumulation of those metals lead to negative health effects.  To test the content of that rice, they have to harvest each generation of the rice seeds and pick the they want for the new generations.

In those experiments they must have a 'zero pest policy'. Any biological contaminations would potential change the outcomes.  The particular issue that the researchers had was with aphids attacking the young rice plants.  If the aphids are not removed completely they will prevent the rice seeds from forming.  This would halt the entire experiment as they need to be able to test those seeds.  To deal with this, we at the greenhouse use pesticides as a sterile environment must be maintained.

When using pesticides you are suppose to use multiple modes of action so as to not let the target species develop a resistance. Multiple modes of actions just refers to the different ways the chemicals are applied and/or effect the target.  One pesticide that was a possibility was Pyrethrum TR (aerosol spray).  It is derived from chrysanthemums.  For the chemical to work it must have physical contacted with the insect's cuticle.  I don't know the specifics but it effects the sodium channels in neurons, killing the insects.  Another pesticide with a different mode of action was Preclude. It is an insect growth regulator which means it prevents the insect from fully maturating to a sexually active adult.  This pesticide is not practical for dealing with aphids as it does not kill the young and aphids have a very flexible life cycle that allows them to reproduce at multiple stages.  The final type of pesticide we discussed was a systematic insecticide called Marathon II.  It is absorbed through the roots and transmitted throughout the plant.  When the insects feed on the plants it kills them.  The pesticides last for a couple weeks.

On Thursday, our order of bio-control species finally came in:

#1: Steinernema feltiae (Predatory Nematodes): These are the same nematodes that I used in the research lab to inoculate the mustard relative.  They requires lukewarm water to become active.

#2: Cryptolaemus montrouzieri ("Crypts"): They came as adult beetle. Hopefully they will mate and then lay their eggs on the plants with high populations of mealybugs.

#3&4: Predatory Mites- Neoseiulus californicus (left); Stratiolaelops scimitus (right): They will be let out on certain plants to consume the larval stages of the thrips and fungus gnat.

#5: Chrysopidae (Lacewing):  The eggs are attached to little paper sheets which will be hung on the plants.  The larvae which are voracious predators are supposed to hatch and then start consuming what ever pest species it can get its mandibles on.

#6: Eretmocerus spp. (Parasitic Wasp): This wasp could only be sent as a pupal stage rather then an egg as the larval stage is parasitic. They will parasitize aphids turning them into something like a mummy.  This lasts until the larva is ready to burrow out and begin metamorphosis, starting the process over again.

#7: Amblyseius cucumeris (Another Predatory Mite): I had to replace the old packets with the new ones on the plants in all the rooms except the Cold Orchid Room.  The temperature is to cold for them.  We can also compost the old bags without going through a complex process, which is nice.

Here are some pictures of the Welwichia (I know that some of you were asking for them). Unfortunately they do not show just how impressive the fronds are:

Have a great weekend!!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Unity College Dartmouth Greenhouse Week 2

Week 2, 10/31/16-11/3/16:

I feel as though I have gotten a stable daily schedule after the first week of working.  I usually start out with a preparatory task like sweeping the floors from leaves and dead plant matter or cleaning floor drains of the different rooms.  Typically this will last until ~11:00 or 12:00 when I take a quick lunch break.  After lunch I usually have a variety of more involved tasks like fertilizing the plants or working on pest management.

Since the Greenhouse has a high diversity of plants, we have to use multiple types of fertilizers to deal with each specific plant type and environment.  Most of the fertilizer that we use are diluted with water so as to deliver the fertilizer directly into the plants system, although we do have some pellet form that we use to supplement some of the plants.  I usually use gloves and boots when I am handling fertilizer as I suspect prolonged exposure to some of the chemical should be avoided.

Orchids, especially the ones living on moss require specific fertilizer that they and their substrate can tolerate.  We use a special fish and seaweed fertilizer that is diluted with RO (reversed osmosis) water to fertilize the wall orchids in the cold orchid room, since the typical orchid fertilizer would hurt the moss. To apply it we use a hand-held pump sprayer.

The orchid wall in the Cold Orchid Room (all of the orchids on this wall are epiphytes and are attached to a substrate which is in turn attached to the moss)

We used a different fertilizer called "Epiphyte's Delight" for the bromeliads (epiphytes and soil-bound) and carnivorous plants in the Tropical and Sick Orchid rooms (nursery for carnivorous plants).  It was initially in Granular form but was diluted using the RO water and a different hand pump sprayer.

Myself using the fertilizer for the bromeliad in the Tropical Room.  Taken by my co-worker Terry.

We do have other diluted fertilizers for more general plants.  One of them is applied use a mechanical dispenser called a Dosatron. It is very large and we have to physically hook it up to the water system. It will mechanically measure out the correct ratio of fertilizer to water without monitoring it regularly.  It is too strong to be used for the orchids or the epiphytes.

As Integrated pest management is a part of my internship I often am on pest removal detail.  The most common of these tasks is removing mealybugs and scale insects from the plants with Q-tips and alcohol.  Often I have to do this to plants that are overgrown or crowded together.  We do have species that prey on the mealybugs, the Cryptolaemus montrouzieri ('Crypts' for short) larvae.  They often have similar coloring and shape but are much larger.

Cryptolaemus montrouzieri larva (center) and mealybugs on the same branch (below)

On Wednesday morning I was able to work hands on with some of the control species they use to prevent infestations; specifically beneficial nematodes (Steinernema feltiae).  They come in a dried suspended state and require water to move.  To make sure of their viability we always check under a microscope (the straight nematodes are dead). To make sure the nematodes are thoroughly dispersed I had to stir solution every 10 minutes.  They need to be apply to the soil. They are predators that eat the larvae of thrips and fungus gnats.  We used a ketchup dispenser to apply them.

The packets that the nematodes (Steinernema feltiae) came in.

Often we have to help the researchers of the plant laboratory to inoculate them with the predatory nematodes as the laboratories tend to water the plants too much making them a target for thrips and fungus gnats.  The plants they were using was a mustard relative as test subject because it has an extremely fast life cycle (~6 weeks) meaning they can have multiple generations in a short amount of time.  Each sections of plants were store in what they called Biochambers (kind of like high-tech sterile refrigerators except without the cold).

On Thursday I got put in charge of the Xeric Room or 'Cacti room'.  I was super excited about this. It is a bigger responsibility than it sounds on paper.  I will do my best to live up to it.

New World species' bench of the Xeric Room

The room itself is split down the middle with Old World species  on the left (mainly Africa) and the New World species on the right (mainly South and Central America).  They have a wide variety of succulents and xerophytes (plants adapted for dry environments). A lot of them are cacti and aloe.  An example of a xerophyte that is not a succulent was the Welwitschia. It is a very sensitive and bizarre plant, looking like cross between a pine cone and seaweed that has been dried bone hard.

Mammallaria hahniana "Old Lady Cactus" (that is the real common name; no joke!)

Until next time!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Unity College Dartmouth Greenhouse Week 1

I just started working at my Unity College Biology Internship with the Dartmouth Life Science Center Greenhouse on Monday the 24th.

Main hallway of the life sciences center greenhouse

Overall the internship has been going well.  My official title is Greenhouse Assistant and will be focusing on Exotic Horticulture and IPM (Integrated Pest Management).   I set up my work schedule so that I work Mon-Thurs at about 8-7hrs per day.

With the exception of my self there are only two other regular employees, my Site Supervisor Kim and senior coworker Terry.  Both of them are really nice and very supportive.  I am learning a lot about what goes into running a research greenhouse.  Greenhouses, especially ones that are as extensive as this one is are much more technically involved than I had initially expected.

My boss Kim (middle), co-worker Terry (right), and myself (left); (photo taken by Terry) 

I got a standard tour of the greenhouse including the rooms reserved for staff such as the sick rooms and the prep room. Each section of the greenhouse is arranged by climate conditions which are maintained via mechanized controllers:
  • Tropical room
  • Sub-Tropical  room
  • Xeric room (i.e. succulents & cactus)
With the orchid rooms separated from the other plants (orchids being more susceptible to pathogens):
  • Warm Orchid room
  • Cool Orchid room
And two quarantine rooms used to separate the sick and infested plants:
  • Sick plant room
  • Sick orchid room
The room we mainly worked in when dealing with individual plants was the prep room. It was kind of set up like a cross between a gardeners tool shed and a veterinarian prep room.  We would use it when re-potting or removing pests like mealybugs (Pseudococcidae) by hand.  It is also where they store the soil mixes and fertilizers.

Prep room

There is a Community botanical illustration class on most Wednesday and I was able to take part in.  The artist was previously a scientific illustrator that found their way into
botanical illustration which is slightly different.  It was all very fascinating and informational. Although I have dabbled in some hyper realistic art style before, the class worked to achieve a level that was much higher than I had expected. 

Through my art apprenticeship I learned the benefits and loosing my style and going large, This is almost counter to what is traditionally involved in botanical illustration. It requires a large amount of technical skills and precision. The illustrations also rarely get larger than ~8.5”×11” so it was a bit of a readjustment.  The way the instructor described what a botanical illustrator is 90% technician and 10% artist.

I don't have enough space to describe all of what I learned over this first week.  I am enjoying learning the vast diversity of the plants and helpful control species.

Flowering orchid from the Warm Orchid Room (can't remember the exact taxonomy)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Unity College Heritage Barn Week 7 (Georgia)

This week was my last at the Unity College Heritage Livestock Barn; and it has been quite an adventure! Looking back it was everything I wanted it to be and I feel so fulfilled knowing how much experience this position has offered me. This whole adventure began for me at the end of last semester, I applied for the position interviewed and was accepted! I filled out my college internship agreement; part of which was outlining learning objectives that I hoped to accomplish. I had no idea what to expect other than the job description I had been sent but I took some time and tried to pair what I thought was achievable with what I aspired for; here is what I came up with so many months ago...
1. Further develop my public speaking skills to a standard useful in future career settings
2. Learn to incubate and hatch chickens for industry needs

3. Expand knowledge of and comfort levels with domestic breeds
4. Better understand the daily upkeep and operation of a farm
5. Expand knowledge of animal health recording skills

I can safely say that all of my personal objectives were fully met.

Almost every week a tour came to visit the barn we had all age groups coming to check out our furry residents and I got many opportunities to hone my interpretive skills. I quickly learned the fasted way to get someone's attention was to offer them a look at our baby bunnies; and many of our visitors were impressed that Lars our youngest pig will come running when his name is called.

We collected eggs early in our internship and set up an incubator in the back office that required daily maintenance for humidity and temperature. Every so often we candled the eggs using a special light box in a darkened room to watch how the embryos were developing. Then I got word on my day off that the eggs were beginning to hatch, so of course like any proud mom I raced down to the barn to check in on them. I got to see the first few peeping out and the next morning a few had hatched. We had a great hatch and survival outcome and we were really happy that all of our hard work paid off.

Because the livestock require so much hands on care I got to get a bunch of experience from day one working with each and every animal at the barn. From grooming, to hoof care, ear tagging to castrations I got to get down and dirty with what it takes to keep the animals happy and healthy. If you ever need a hand flipping a sheep or wrangling a goat; I am definitely down to help! The pigs were their own challenge they can be big and loud and a bit rude at times but I think by far they are the sweetest animals at the barn; I found that if you are working anywhere near them they will beg you for ear scratches and belly rubs and reward you with happy snorts the whole time.

I found that barn work like most animal care jobs is not a 9-5 job its being ready for anything at anytime because event though there is a schedule of operations the animals rarely feel the need to stick with it so working at the barn means being flexible and up for a challenge every now and then. Also like most animal care jobs what you remember is the lovely snorts of the pigs but the majority of the work is actually wheelbarrows of manure all day everyday and constant cleaning to keep the living quarters safe and sanitary. For those of us who love the animals its definitely worth it :)

Everything we do also needs to be recorded and kept up to date from daily records on cleanings to hoof care and veterinary care. If we don't record something important or forget something that might seem small then the animals welfare could be at risk. So even though we come home smelling like poop everyday we know we did a good job and made a positive difference.

This internship was everything I could have hoped a college internship to be I loved waking up early every morning and heading down to unlock the barn, I loved saying good morning to all the waking animals, I loved moving them out to pasture each day even when they seemed to want to take their time getting there, I loved problem solving, I loved cleaning, I loved the bond that was built with each animal at the barn and the bonds that were built with my coworkers. I loved being able to do something good everyday and go home feeling tired but fulfilled.

So if you are looking for an internship this is one of the best!