No Snow Yet

Still no snow in the Champlain Valley, and it’s almost the end of November. (No complaints) According to the National Weather Service, on average the first measurable snow in Burlington falls around November 6. Here’s the 10 latest snow falls, going back from 1906, along with the amount of snow in that entire season.

Season total
rank -date -snowfall (inches)
1. 12/7/1937 45.1
2. 12/5/1915 54.4
3. 12/1/1948 40.7
4. 11/30/1918 69.6
5. 11/30/1953 83.6
6. 11/30/1960 51.6
7. 11/28/1913 56.5
8. 11/27/1941 57.7
9. 11/26/1982 80.5
10. 11/25/1957 94.9

And no, I’m not making any predictions. There is a link on the right for the Long Term Forecasts from the weather service, if you wish. Have a good Thanksgiving all!

Tree Karma

I’m a big believer in tree karma. After all, I spend much of the winter at high altitude pruning trees in the canopy. (Don’t tell my mom-she still worries about running with scissors, so she wouldn’t be so into climbing with chainsaws). So do the trees still like me? I like to think I plant more than remove, but what’s the ratio here at Middlebury?

Trees in an urban forest such as ours are under more stress than in a natural forest environment. Granted, they adapt well, growing wide, as they don’t have their brethren next to them breaking wind (wait, that doesn’t sound right). They rely on each other for support, protection, and for all we know, companionship. Trees on campus get walked upon, climbed, swung from, and occasionally cut into with an axe. Root systems are walked on, soil compressed, all sorts of little indignities befall a campus tree.

Most fight valiantly, but, sadly, some succumb. It’s our job to remove the victims before they fall on something like a building, or, more importantly, someone. In arboriculture, a hazardous tree is defined as a tree that can fall on a target. That means if a tree falls in the woods, it doesn’t make any noise, because there is no target. Many trees on campus have targets-students seem to walk everywhere. So we worry. And cut the occasional tree.

Middlebury College has a vigorous tree planting program. It’s necessary in an urban forest to be continually replacing trees, much like succession in the woods. It should be on-going, as a mixed age population is more sustainable. We aim for diversity as well. No more than 30% of the trees in an urban forest population should come from the same plant family, no more than 20% from the same genus, and no more than 10% from the same species. We’ve been planting trees all along, but also removing some. So, we wondered, what was the karma factor here, were we planting more than removing?

I spent my lunch break looking at pictures of removals, and going through my planting files, worried about our department’s karma. Happily, we’re good, and by quite a bit. I’m in my fourth year here, three growing seasons, and in that time our department has removed 37 trees from the main campus. This does not include 5 or so lost to student damage, and a couple “weed” trees growing out of woodlines. We have planted over 128 trees, for a ratio of better than 3.5 to 1.

Planting No-Mow

In the previous  No-Mow post, I wrote about the expense of planting the areas to native wildflowers, and how we’d hoped to manage in such a way that they might just come around. Well, as it turns out, most of the world is smarter than I, and someone named Molly (thanks!) posted a comment about volunteers collecting seed from native plants.

I have the pleasure of occasionally working with Professor Helen Young’s Plant Biology class, and she has a wonderful Community Service Project component to her class.  For 10 hours or so in a semester, groups of students do some community service related to plant biology. We had one of the groups jump on the idea of the comment and do some seed collecting of natives. (More on the other groups later-I am always amazed and astounded at the dedication and high quality work I see from all the students I interact with.)(And they’re all smarter than to end a sentence in a preposition like the previous one I just wrote…)

Elissa Bullion, Catharina Grubaugh, Miriam Johnston, and Anne Runkel collected seeds from 29 native plants growing around Middlebury College. The work involved identification, collection, and quite a bit of research into the murky and conflicted field of seed germination and propagation. I have sitting in front of me a 15 page report on all the seeds collected and their germination requirements, along with a large envelope full of packets of seeds. Collection locations included Emily May’s pollinator garden at Bi-Hall, Ridgeline, the Garden of the Seasons, behind Ross and Atwater, the Atwater Roof, and the organic garden.

Local provenance is important in wildflowers, particularly in marginal species. The students were even smart and nice enough to collect seeds from several sources and several locations when possible, furthering the genetic pool. The plan is to grow the plants in the greenhouse this spring, probably in 50 count plug trays, and plant them out in the no-mow zones after our first cut in May.


There are two issues when writing about Ginkgoes. One is giving an accurate sense of smell, the other of time.

The easiest one is smell. And the culprit would be the seeds.

Ginkgo Fruit

Ginkgo Fruit

The tree is dioecious, meaning they have separate sexes, male and female trees. All horticultural literature describing Gingkoes state to plant only male, or fruitless trees. Why? The females bear the fruit, and, only clocking in at about 1 to 1 ½” long, the size belies the potency.  The fruit are covered by a fleshy apricot colored outer layer, called a sarcotesta. While it may look edible, the nose will give it away. The flesh contains butyric acid, which some describe nicely as “rancid butter”, but could more properly be defined as, well, people walking nearby a female tree with ripe fruit dropping to the ground tend to check their shoes to see what they had just stepped in, like some recalcitrant dog had just been on the same sidewalk. Continue reading