Thursday, April 24, 2014

Apple Blossom

The Apple Blossom Festival is nearly here. The food fair will start serving shortly. The carnival is rising at Riverfront Park. The youth parade is just a couple days away, followed by the main parade a week later. It’s a busy time of year in Wenatchee. Tens of thousands of people will flood the parks and streets to enjoy all we have to offer.

Look outside of Wenatchee and you’ll notice the orchards abloom. Spring presents a medley of blossoms: cherry, apple, pear, peach, plum, nectarine, and so forth. Washington leads the nation in production of apples, cherries, and pears. Why do they grow so well here? It really comes down to a combination of climate and water availability.
The weather is great here in Washington. We experience all four seasons. If you look back at the blog post on seed dormancy you’ll read about how some seeds require a period of cold before sprouting. Well, some trees require cold before they’ll produce blossoms, and therefore, fruit. We also have nice warm, dry summers. The fruit loves the hot weather. It helps ripen the fruit and gives it a good color and sweetness. All the sunshine helps the tree photosynthesize and produce great fruit. The dry weather is good for the fruit too. Rain and hail can damage fruit as it grows. Cherries often soak up too much water during a rain storm and then their skin splits.
The downside to dry weather is the lack of moisture. The trees need to be watered. Without water the tree might die, or at the very least it won’t produce good fruit. That’s where the water availability comes in. We happen to have an abundance of water available to use in Washington from the rivers. The dams create reservoirs and out of these reservoirs flows irrigation water headed to the orchards and the fields, allowing crops to thrive in our arid climate.

Apple blossoms were, and still are, an important aspect of Washington life. The orchards have been shrinking for many years. 50 years ago most of the Wenatchee Valley was a forest of orchards. Orchards are continually pushed back to the outreaches of communities as people look for more land to build homes and businesses on. As people moved in next to orchards they started to complain about the dangers of living next to an orchard. The pesticides and fertilizers applied to protect and help the fruit grow. Prices for apples have dropped under competition from many countries around the world. China produces more than half the world’s apples. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Plant Sale Wrap Up

We've finished up the plant sale for the year (most of the way at least), and I feel like doing a short recap of the related activities over the past few weeks. The plant sale has provided ups and downs throughout the year with its time commitments. Early in the fall preparing the outreach materials and order forms, and then again recently with the bundling and distribution have been time intensive. Late fall and winter were fairly easy with only the occasional order to enter in the computer. We sold all our stock except for a few quaking aspens. There were even a few species that were so popular that we had to order in more of them.

A few weeks ago in March we held our bundling event. Plants are shipped to us in large bags with a single species per bag. We have to take the plants out of those bags and fill our customer orders. Not all the plants are shipped in the correct sizes either. Some plants are shipped 50 to a bundle, which means we have to pull apart those bundles and shrink them to our sale size of 10 plants per bundle. Once all plants are in the correct bundle size we fill the orders by placing the plants into large garbage bags. Damp sawdust is added to each bag to help moisten the roots. A name tag is attached and the finished bundle is placed in a bin. Once all the orders are filled the bins are put back into the cold room to await the distribution day.
 Last Saturday marked the distribution/pick up day for our Native Plant Sale. Customers that had placed orders with us throughout the fall and winter were finally able to receive their much awaited plants. We arrived early to lay out all the plants alphabetically so we didn't have to waste time digging through the bins trying to find a certain order. All but a few people arrived during our three hour time slot to pick up their plants, and we've been working to get the last few orders into their owner’s hands. Hopefully by the end of this week all the orders will be accounted for.

So with the end of the plant sale in sight I can say I’m glad to be wrapping it up for the year and putting it on the shelf. I’ll add in my thoughts and any advice I can think of, and I’ll leave it in the binder for next year’s Americorps to have fun with.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Bridge Effect

An example of a bad culvert. Notice the
water fall effect that prevents fish passage.
It's also too small and can't handle high
water flows.
A bridge is not a simple structure. To the eye they may seem simple, just a series of intersecting pieces that allow you to span a river, creek, canyon, or bay. But all the pieces must work together to support the weight of the entire bridge and all its traffic on just a few supports. Of course some designs are simpler than others. A small bridge crossing a 10 foot creek is a child’s plaything compared to a bridge spanning the Columbia River. Bridges can be made of many things. Cement, metal, and wood being some of the more common materials, and they’re often combined depending on the need.
As much fun as it would be to write a blog focusing on the types bridges I feel that’s a little outside the areas I should focus on. Instead I want to focus on bridges and their environmental impacts, both good and bad. I want to keep a very loose definition of bridge open for discussion, so I’m going to be looking at bridges and bridge-like structures. I’m not going to be bashing bridges either.

The first area I’d like to look at include the effects on aquatic ecosystems. Large aquatic ecosystems, such as a large river, bay, sound, etc. may be less impacted by a bridge. That’s not to say there’s no impact, especially during construction, but once completed the water and any organisms present can generally navigate around the pylons with little impediment.
Small aquatic ecosystems are easier to negatively impact. Things like creeks and small rivers. Places where an improper bridge can severely limit the flow of that ecosystem. I’m going to include culverts here. I consider them bridge-like.
The same site replaced with a bridge. Notice the open water.
Fish and other wildlife can freely travel. 
Culverts can severely reduce the health of aquatic ecosystems if they’re too small or improperly installed. They can separate fish populations or prevent the migration of salmon to spawning habitat. They can also limit the movement of aquatic insects and amphibians. Culverts that can’t handle high water flows can lead to washouts of surrounding vegetation and soil further negatively impacting the water health. Culverts without natural surface bottoms can disrupt wildlife by confusing them as they move around. Luckily these have simple solutions. Replace them with larger culverts that properly connect the stream, or better yet, remove the culverts entirely and install an open span bridge. This allows for the proper meandering of the stream and lessens the impact on wildlife.
Bridges spanning rivers can also be poorly built and while they might not affect the aquatic ecosystem as much they can impact the terrestrial ecosystem. Many animals move throughout their day near water. If they’re walking along the bank and suddenly run into a large cement bridge where do they go? Maybe they can swim, so they just hop in the river and go around. Maybe they turn around and go back. Or maybe they want to keep going. They wander up onto the road, possibly endangering themselves and human drivers.
Another possible option. A much larger culvert. There 
is no longer a waterfall and it can handle high water flow.
However, bridges can be built specifically for the protection of animals that may want to move across a highway or highly congested area. Often these are termed wildlife crossings, and include a variety of structures including overpasses, underpasses, and culverts (all bridges or bridge-like structures). They are built solely to allow animals to move without having to cross in front of traffic.

Thankfully, most negative impacts of bridges are considered when new bridges are being built. All aspects of the ecosystem are considered, aquatic, terrestrial, and even, aerial (some birds run into suspension bridge lines). Many new bridges look to mitigate and even reverse the negative impacts of their forebears resulting in bridges that accommodate human needs to travel, but also try to preserve natural ecosystems.