Tag: weed science (page 1 of 2)

Missing the Weeds

(All of the photos included in this post are from a visit we made one Saturday in February to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. That visit helped spur some of these thoughts.)

When I taught the weeds lab at USU I would (somewhat) jokingly tell people that this class would change their life. And year after year by the end of the semester students would tell me that the class had indeed ruined changed their life; they couldn’t go anywhere without seeing weeds. I would tell them – like I’m telling you now – that it really isn’t such a bad thing. I’m always noticing and pointing them out wherever I go. Weeds are fascinating plants, and the study of them is interesting work.

We saw a bald eagle while we were parked and enjoying our “car picnic”; i.e., a picnic in the car because 28 F is too darn cold to be picnicking outside.

Each year at this time there is a Western Society of Weed Science (WSWS) Conference. I attended the conference for 7 years, presenting on various research projects I had been involved in, and I’m feeling a little sad about not being there this year. So, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll take some time here to talk about some of the work that I’ve found most interesting during my years as a weed science researcher.

While I can identify and tell you about many weeds of landscape and agricultural settings, my real expertise is in weeds of natural areas. One of my major focuses was weed mapping; detecting and then describing weed infestations in a spatial/visual manner – a map. When explaining the idea of weed mapping to others we often compare it to a medical diagnosis and treatment. Without having the proper diagnosis (a weed map telling you what weeds you have and where they are located) it is hard, if not impossible, to prescribe an appropriate treatment (management plant).

Tundra swans! (With some phragmites, a problematic weed in areas like this, in the foreground.)

My weed identification skills are much better than my bird identification skills, but I’m 99% certain this is a great blue heron.

Over the years the USU weed science group has worked with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on weed mapping projects. And through it all, the aim was never to just create maps to give back to these agencies, but to also improve our methods. How can we be more efficient, yet still effective? How do emerging technologies – like drones – play into the detection process? How do we know which species we should focus our efforts on? And how can we know where to focus our searches so we’re using limited budgets wisely?

In a joint project with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we attempted to answer some of those questions. Throughout that process I got to work at four different wildlife refuges: San Diego NWR, Middle Mississippi NWR, Ruby Lake NWR, and the San Juan Islands NWR. In addition to those visits, I also got to travel and conduct workshops at three other refuges (Kern NWR, San Pablo Bay NWR, and Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes NWR) teaching them how to use the decision-making tool we’d developed.

One of the ways the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge manages the land – both for managing weeds as well as for desired vegetation for bird habitat – is through burning and seasonal flooding.

Each of those refuges had their own challenges – the San Juan Islands, for example, are islands and only some-what accessible, even with a boat – but they all had one thing in common. At each refuge we met passionate scientists, dedicated to making their little corner of the world, and the land in their stewardship, better. And that interaction with other scientists is probably what I miss most about not working full-time any more. And it is definitely what I miss most this week when many of my former colleagues are at the WSWS meetings.

In the meantime, I’ll keep noticing and pointing out the weeds (and whatever other plants catch my eye). And I’ll keep spending time in those natural areas I have come to love even more through knowing their weeds.

The (vivacious, spunky, energetic) reason I don’t currently work full-time as a weeds researcher. Watching her learn and explore the world is worth missing all the conferences.

Weed ID Books: A Review

In honor of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, my next plant id book review will focus on weed identification. An obviously important part of becoming more “weed aware” is to know the names of the weeds you are looking at. Once you know the name of the weed then you can start figuring out what to do about it.

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Are the weeds really that bad?

Once again, I’m using some of my grandparents’ garden space this year. Only this time instead of flowers, I’m growing: tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, cantaloupe, and a cucumber. It was only going to be a “small” garden this year. And, compared to my grandpa’s side, I guess it is.

Also, compared to my grandpa’s side, it is a disaster. I planted it, watered it, weeded it once, and then left town for work. When I got back – and finally got around to going out to check on my little plants – the weeds had completely taken over my little section.

Now, as a weed science research technician, I spend a lot of time thinking about weeds, working with weeds, and killing weeds. I appreciate them. I love to hate them. But with all of that, you’d think I could keep my garden weed-free. At work we like to joke that if you’d like to find an abundance of weeds, just go to the house of a weed scientist. Unfortunately, in this case, it is all too true.

It’s not that I don’t understand the importance of maintaining a weed free garden – believe me, I do – it’s just that I’m really good at coming up with excuses this summer for why I haven’t been out to weed.

Like: it’s hot. And, I’m pregnant. I think those two cover it.

But, I’m here to tell you to not be like me! Not only do they make a garden look messy, but here are a few more reasons for why the weeds really are that bad:

  • they compete with your crops for water, nutrients, sunlight, and space (and crops like my poor onions are pretty poor competitors) which can lead to reduced harvests
  • they can harbor diseases that can then spread to your crops
  • they can harbor insects that can then move on to chew up your crops
  • they are notoriously good seed producers – and will just keep perpetuating themselves if left unchecked

So, even though it’s hot, and even though I’m pregnant, I will get out there more often (if even only ever so slightly) to keep my vegetable garden happy and the weeds at bay.

Herbicide Labels (and why you should read them)

As an instructor of a college lab course in weed biology and management I am repeatedly astounded (and annoyed) by the lack of instruction-following exhibited by the students. Most of the experiments and activities we do in the lab are fairly simple and only demonstrative in nature, but the order of operations for each activity is generally a necessary part of seeing the correct results. The ability to read and follow instructions is therefore an important skill. Yet every year, in each class, there is at least one group who doesn’t take the time to read through the protocol before beginning and ends up having a lot of questions, or questionable results, in the end.

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Where I’ve Been

Wow. I’ve been neglecting this little space here for the last month and a half. For the handful of you who actually read this, I apologize. I haven’t forgotten it, or given it up. And I definitely haven’t run out of plant-related topics to talk about. Somehow, life – my professional weed science researcher life – has been a bit busy. Continue reading

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