Snow Day

First off-apologies to all who were looking for the Middlebury weather station today. As many of you know, we lost power on campus for a couple of hours this morning, and that wrecks havoc with the weather station. We don’t lose any data, as the weather station has battery backups to keep logging. The network connection it is on the station gets all wonky, though, and needs to be reset, which I just got a chance to do right now.

I’ll fill you in on what you missed. It snowed today, in case you hadn’t noticed. Snow reportsaround us are saying 11-17″ of snow. I’m calling it 14″ on campus, give or take. Truthfully, I’m not really sure. I’ve been shoveling snow all day, and have no idea how much fell. It just kept falling. And falling. The station recorded 1.08″ of precipitation, so it’s an 14:1 snow ratio. That means wet and heavy, a three advil night for many of us in the facilities.

What I am finding more interesting is the storm coming thursday night into friday. The Burlington Office of the National Weather Service is getting all excited in their normally stoic forecaster discussions. We could be in for an unusual storm.  Apparently, a cold front is coming up from Cape Hatteras, and occulding, or combining, with another front  right off the southern New England coast. The pressure with this storm is impressive, and is forecasted to bring strong easterly winds, with gusts of 50-60 MPH, particularly on the western slopes of the Green Mountains. (Breadloaf!) They are comparing this event to a storm on April 16, 2007 where there was damaging winds all along the slopes of the Green Mountains. Some of you may remember this as the Rutland “norricane”, which wiped out approximately2100 trees in the Rutland area. Fortunately, I don’t think we’re looking at much precipitation from this down here in the valleys, or maybe even just rain, as the warm easterly winds mix down. Also, as the weather service points out, rarely do we get significant winds and precipitation at the same time, it is usually one or the other.

For you weather geeks, most of this National Weather service forecasts I get from their forecaster discussion-something I’ve probably mentioned before. I think it’s the way various offices communicate with each other, and share ideas. I think it predates the internet-their straight text product reads like a time when bandwidth was measured in minutes, so you’d better write concise (there is an idea-blogs never would have made it before broadband connections, as idiots like me couldn’t afford to ramble on incoherently). Unabbreviated reads like this, but the weather service has a translation page, or I read it at the Weather Underground.

Plants of a (mis)Spent Youth

Friends ask me how I got into this line of work. How do can I explain it to a non-plant person? It’s all about the plants, after all, but how? What is it about the flowers, or the mulch, or the dirt? How did I get from playing Led Zeppelin on my eight track, painting my parent’s house white (again) to landscaping? Continue reading Plants of a (mis)Spent Youth

Landscape Department Wins Award

Four of us just got back from the winter meeting of the Green Works- the Vermont Nursery and Landscape Association. Our landscaping department at Middlebury won the Grand Honor Award for 2009 forLandscape and Garden Commercial Maintenance.  We submitted picutures and a narrative shortly before Thanksgiving last year, and a panel of 6 industry professionals and landscape architects met in December.  Projects were judged according to difficulty, proper horticultural practices, craftsmanship, and contributions to the quality of sustainability to the environment.

Green Works/Vermont Nursery and Landscape Association is a non-profit, statewide organization representing Vermont’s garden centers, greenhouses, landscapers, landscape designers and architects, nurseries, arborists, plant maintenance experts, turf care and irrigation specialists, horticultural educators and researchers, and other plant professionals.  For more information visit (small disclaimer-I am jsut stepping down from being president of this organization for three years, but had nothing to do with the contest, and none of the judges knew of my involvement )

Our department was recognized by the judges not only on the outstanding job the crew does on maintaining the extensive grounds here at Middlebury, but for some of landscape planting and environmental initiatives we are underakting. the justdges coments were included, “Good beginning ato sustainability systems”,  “ meadows are a common sense, sustainable practice.”, “”excellent maintenance of site as concerns public”, and “for size of campus attention to detail good”.

I can’t begin to tell you all how happy I am we were recognized by the green industry in Vermont. While I am the one with the big mouth blog, it is really the dedication of all 12 individuals in our department that make the Middlebury campus as spectacular as it is. They are the hardest working guys I know, and it is a great honor and pleasure to work alongside them on a daily basis.

Below are the 12 pictures we submitted to the judges, along with the description provided, as well as the project narrative written as well. Enjoy.

Project Description

 Our main campus is over 200 acres, with over 75 acres in lawn, 89 acres of athletic fields, 21 acres of parking lots, 16 miles of sidewalks, and 4 miles of roads. The landscape department is 15 people, with 3 dedicated to the athletic fields, and the remaining tasked for the main campus.

 All of our grounds maintenance is done in house, including lawn mowing, fall cleanup, new plantings, and snow removal in the winter. We maintain an urban forest of over 2300 trees, including the northeast’s largest heritage Elm collection. (Elms maintained with help from Bartlett Tree Experts, Manchester, Vermont) Much of the tree care is done in house, including fertilization and pruning. New seeding and sod is done by our department as well.

 Recently, all new plantings, including tree replacement and landscaping around new construction and renovations are done in house. Landscape design work is done in house, occasionally with help from Landscape Architects for sidewalk and other hardscaping. Plant material is purchased locally.

 Our college prides itself on its environmental leadership, and the landscape department is no exception. We’ve recently begun a ‘no-mow program’, where 20 acres of lawn was chosen to let go, in effort to begin a more natural meadow. This has saved over 1000 hours of labor, as well as over 700 gallons of fuel. Research this year has also shown an increase in plant diversity, pollinator and other insects, as well as wildlife. A student group has recently collected seeds from locally growing wildflowers, and these will be sown in a greenhouse in the spring and planted out into the no-mow meadows.

 We have in place an Integrated Pest Management program, and have greatly reduced pesticide and herbicide use in the last 4 years. Invasive plants such as honeysuckle and buckthorn are actively removed from campus grounds, and all potentially invasive plants are not planted in new landscapes.

 Due to the diverse population of our college, as well as the 24 hour nature of any institution such as ours, we have particular challenges to remove snow, and to get the sidewalks and roads bare as quickly and safely as possible. We use a de-icer product as a pretreatment on the roads and walks before a storm-this all natural material greatly reduces our use of salt as an ice melter, as well as reducing our fuel and energy use in snow removal, and results in safer surfaces with less impact to the environment.

Winter Term

Hello all, I’m back now. Thanks for your emails wondering if I am still around. I am. I had the pleasure of teaching a Winter Term course, BIOL 1003- Trees and the Urban Forest. What fun it was to join in the Middlebury experience from the faculty side, as opposed to being the staff guy with the dirt on his knees.

I love how random Middlebury is, how it appears out of nowhere, popping up in your life when you least expect a dose of academia. A good example of this was Nancy and I driving home from one of those inevitable but still unpleasant Taft Corners runs (Plato’s Closet and Once Upon a Child, have pity for me with 3 girls), and tuning the radio into WRMC, Middlebury’s own radio station. Sunday night, 4 Pm, and the show was The Jet Stream. Now granted, I’m a bit of a weather obsessive, but I was blown away by the quality of this show. Two guys, doing nothing but talking about the weather for the upcoming week. (who are you two? If you see me up in a tree on campus pruning stop and introduce yourself) Easily the best forecast discussion I’ve heard in a long time, with talk of computer models, trends, and facts for the obsessive in all of us. As high quality as the Eye on the Sky guys at noon  on Vermont Public Radio. My only comparable experience while driving was listening to a book on tape, A Brief History of the Universe by Stephen Hawking. I remember listening to that one and having to pull off the side of the road to sit and think for a little bit.

Another Middlebury random experience was just this morning, while reading Slate. The article was on Lost, and it mentioned another article by Jason Mittell. I thought I’d recognized the name, and sure enough, he’s in the Middlebury faculty. It’s not a small world, it’s just random.

Winter Term was a blast. I was warned by someone-it comes at you fast. Did it ever. 4 days a week of classes for four weeks didn’t even leave enough time to sneeze. The class did a couple of large service projects I’ll be writing about in the upcoming weeks. One was the start of applying to the Arbor Day Foundation to become a Tree Campus. Another was developing a street tree plan for an area in Middlebury known as Buttolph Acres. Yet another was taking the Middlebury Campus Tree Map and running the information through a computer model called iTree to determine stormwater abatement, pollution control, and carbon sequestration, among other items. Good blog fodder until the landscape starts greening up to be sure.

What an honor to work with Middlebury students. It was an experience I won’t forget for a long time, and one should the stars align correctly again I’d love to repeat. 23 students, all smarter than I am, teaching me as much as I was teaching them. Hopefully I’ll get a little random as well.