Hunting Red in October

Every fall, two things happen that mark the shift from summer into the fall. The first is when someone calls to ask when to stop feeding the hummingbirds. The answer is whenever the hummingbirds stop eating the sugar water. They know when they need to fly south, and no amount of enticement on our part will convince them to stick around for winter.

The second is when someone brings me a beautiful red leaf to identify.

This is poison ivy. Stunning, and still full of oil. Off of its vine, there are no "leaves of three." The characteristic "mitten tips" curl under almost immeidately making it a tough one to identify.
This is poison ivy. Stunning, and still full of toxic oil. Off of its vine, there are no “leaves of three.” The characteristic “mitten tips” curl under almost immediately making it a tough one to identify.

There is, of course, plenty of non-hazardous beauty out there.

Oak leaves after a rainstorm.
White oak leaves after a rainstorm.
Sugar maple leaves. Both the oaks and the maples produce golden leaves as well this time of year.
Sumac leaves only turn red before falling off.
Sumac leaves, on the other hand, only turn red before falling off.
The red I was most excited about discovering on my last walk was a lovely patch of rose hips. Not only are the hips edible, I was able to cut them in half and save the seeds for future plantings, while drying the rose hips for turning into tea.

Planting a bioswale, part 1

Walls are going up.
Walls are going up.
Septic system is nearly complete.
Septic system is nearly complete.

Amazing Space is progressing quickly, both above ground and underground. Three of the bioswales are complete. Finishing them early allows us to protect them with silt fence immediately and re-establish permanent native prairie in the same season they were initially disturbed. We started dormant seeding already to provide the seeds a natural cold, wet stratification and good soil contact for spring germination.

Planting the bioswale with a seed and sand mixture.
Planting the bioswale with a seed and sand mixture.

In a few days, the more traditional annual oat cover crop will be planted. If these warmer temperatures hold, they should establish roots yet this fall to protect the soil, and they will die back over the winter. The site will also be mulched, to protect the bare soil.

Prairie seed is expensive, and local seed is the best, so we have been busy collecting. Paper bags are better, but we didn't have any on hand when this culver's root presented itself.
Prairie seed is expensive, and local seed is the best, so we have been busy collecting. Paper bags are better than plastic, but we didn’t have any on hand when this Veronicastrum virginicum presented itself.

Because these are bioswales, they are designed to move water through them. While it will be a lot of water, it won’t be standing and puddling. The species we plant need to be able to withstand drought far more than they need to be able to withstand flooding. For this first round of planting, we used: common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa*), white wild indigo (Baptisia alba), river oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), cream gentian (Gentiana flavida), sweet pearly everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtrusifolium), grey coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), wild rose (Rosa arkansana), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), late horse gentian (Triosteum perfoliatum), culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum),  purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea), and narrow-leaved coneflower (Echinacea augustifolia).

wild coffee
Triosteum perfoliatum

As fall harvesting continues, so will the number of species we plant. For species that we don’t have a lot of already on-site, such as white prairie clover (Dalea candida) and rough blazing star (Liatris aspera),  we will purchase. Due to the support of Rockwell Green Communities, we also have a number of established plants started in the Butterfly Hoop House to transplant.

Butterfly weed ready for transplant.
 Asclepias tuberosa ready for replanting outside.

*It’s worth learning the Latin. I recently had a great conversation with a volunteer interested in helping us establish more pleurisy root on the property. Never having heard of pleurisy root, I had to do a bit of research to determine if pleurisy root was native (it is) and if it fit within our land management plan (critical to the plan, in fact).  I was also initially introduced to Triosteum perfoliatum as wild coffee, no Latin provided. I had to key that out in a guide book to find its Latin name, because what most people call wild coffee isn’t native here…

A fall field day

IMG_20150925_184848508_HDRThe autumn skies have been beckoning, so we headed out to investigate a nearby park on the Wapsipinicon River. A helpful fisherman cautioned us when we arrived that the trails weren’t well maintained, which we quickly learned was a euphemism for “non existent” but that didn’t slow us down. Figuratively. Literally, beating your way through tangled masses of vegetation, that even deer were avoiding, over uneven ground…definetely made it an adventure. We weren’t worried, because we had both the river to follow “back” and in this particular part of eastern Iowa, there is typically a road every square mile.

We didn’t know it at the time, but it quickly turned in to a mushroom treasure hunt.



We were also treated to brilliant red of the false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum). The real Solomon’s (Polygonatum biflorum) seal has blue berries, and instead of clustering at the top like this, they appear intermittently along the stem.

IMG_20151002_141638884When we were ready to head home, we pulled out the smart phone with map ap, which let us know exactly where we were. It helped us avoid detouring the long way around an oxbow and a wetland. A magical afternoon in the woods.



A stable foundation

A significant part of what goes into a sustainable building will never be seen after it is installed. People use the “good foundation” analogy a lot for everything from business practices to personal relationships. In terms of real structures…a good foundation starts with a trench.IMG_20150915_081423486

Ultimately, the building will stand on this spread footing. Ryan Construction reuses the wood for the footing on multiple projects, until it eventually disintegrates. All wood from this project that is damaged or cannot be reused will be recycled. As it is not green treated, it can be ground and used for mulch in a variety of applications.


Throughout construction, independent inspectors will be verifying and testing everything. At this stage of the project, those inspections are verifying that the concrete is structurally sound and that the rebar is placed correctly.


The foundation wallforms, laid out here and ready to be placed, are also reused on multiple projects. The orange toppers on the rebar protect workers from hurting themselves on the spikes.


The pump truck, in the background, allows the concrete to efficiently be poured into the relatively narrow wall form, and minimizes spillage and waste.


The foundation wall is done!

Lindsey and Andrea on the wall

Water on a Construction Site

Infrastructure in general, and parking lots in particular, are notorious for causing water problems. During a rain storm, a variety of factors coalesce to devastate local waterways. The rain water picks up contaminants, such as spilled oil and gasoline, and carries them into the environment, be it neighboring vegetation or rivers.

Rainwater is frequently channeled off of the surface through piping. This creates fast moving, focused torrents of water that erode the surrounding soil, carrying silt into the rivers and creeks. Cloudy water makes it impossible for some fish and other wildlife to live.

The Indian Creek Nature Center is taking a number of steps to decrease those problems on its new site. The goal is to keep 100 percent of any runoff on its own property-even during construction. Areas were excavated to temporarily hold any rainwater during the project. We had five inches of rain last week, and the dirty water stayed where it belonged.


For the parking lot, the “net zero water” started with a complex underground design. The entire parking lot will be filled with large, clean rock that has significant void space. This allows a lot of water to stay directly under the parking lot, and the contaminants-whether its leaking oil or dirt from tires-to settle out before the water moves on.

IMG_20150915_082730459On top of the rock, the driveway will be concrete and the parking spaces will be permeable pavers that allow the water to drain down, not off. Below are the individual cells, or series of underground ponds that hold and slow the water, taking shape.


Ultimately, any extra water will make its way into bioswales, where it will support native plants and can infiltrate back into the soil as clean, cool water.