Blue Heron Ministries

An opportunity to be stewards of our Lord's creation within the context of community


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Fall’s Gathering of Friends and Seeds – by Kate Sanders

I grew up in a family with a very large garden.  We picked, shelled, gathered what we could from other places, hunted, fished, dried, canned, and stored what we could.  As a kid, not much came from the grocery store.  As a result, and probably for other reasons too, I am tied to the seasons.

Community and friends seem to have seasons too.  In the spring, once the ice melts, everyone is out and about talking, making impromptu plans, continuing conversations and projects that had been dormant over the winter.  Once it gets warm, and we are in the midst of the carefree days of summer, community events and friend gatherings are at their height.  In spring, and in summer, people are wont to be adventurous and gather without reserve, or particular reason other than the appreciated warm weather.  In the fall, especially once the temperatures cool off and we feel that change, gatherings seem to get more prescribed.  We make it a point to spend time with people we won’t spend as much time with over the winter for one reason or another.  Finally, in the winter when it is cold, and snowy, it feels like meetings with friends are the most intentional, and infrequent of all.

Fall is the season I look most forward to.  I love the way the cool air feels on my face, while I am warm under cozy layers of sweaters and wooly socks, a warm cup of tea in my hands whilst my nose is still cold from the outdoors and tucking my toes under the dog to warm them.  I love the way the air smells, the beautiful colors, apples, and the fall rain.  Most of all, I look forward to collecting seed.

When I started volunteering, I was a dutiful collector, going off and coming back with the best haul I could at each stop.  As I grew to know the Blue Heron Community, it became just as important to me to collect seeds of wisdom and understanding, seeds of patience and perspective, seeds of observation, seeds of truth, from the community I was collecting with.  This year I realized, I do not collect as much native plant seed as when I started, taking time too now for fellowship and collecting other kinds of seed.

Blue Herons scatter at the Tri-State Airport prairie remnant to gather this fall's seed.

Blue Herons scatter at the Tri-State Airport prairie remnant to gather this fall’s seed – photo by Nate Simons

Fall is the season where I find myself in the midst of two communities where I feel more at peace than anywhere else.  The first community being the native plants around me as we collect, the second the community of volunteers who collect seed, aka Blue Herons.  This combination of two of my very favorite communities is more joyful than I could ever find words for.  It is treasured time with old friends and new, plants and people alike.


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2019 Seed Collecting: Same Process, Some BHM Changes – by Fred Wooley

I heard from my brother this morning, from outside Chicago, they got 2 to 3 inches of wet, slushy snow!

“What! Snow already?!”

I guess it is that time, as we wrap up October and flip the calendar to November. We have already had some October mornings of frost on the pumpkins and vehicle windshields. At Blue Heron Ministries, these natural events also signal that we are reaching the end of seed gathering activities.

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Emily Schmidt cleaning seed – photo by Josh Hall

We like to think of work at BHM as a series of events, all leading to one objective, restore and maintain natural areas to their original, high quality of native plants and a healthy, functioning system to keep them high quality. Some of the year is spent removing

unwanted, non-native, invasive plants. At some areas we manage, we introduce fire to the landscape at certain times, as once occurred naturally to the landscape, including set by Native American people. Parts of the year are spent planting species to restore the land, plugs in the spring and summer, seeds in the fall, winter, and very early spring; again, depending on the species of plants and the areas being managed.

The summer and fall fruiting seasons often find us out collecting the seeds of those plants. The goal is to collect as many as possible in the most efficient fashion, dry them, and store them. A winter project is to then clean those seeds, which are then planted at our various project sites. This is a tremendous savings over purchasing seeds from vendors that provide such, plus we get the very local genotypes from natural areas right here and the repopulation of these plants is the purist it can be.

BHM employees always comment this is one of the favorite tasks of our year and one of the best times of years. For one thing we are not out just killing plants, as is needed to remove invasives from our worksites. We are reaping the fruits of our efforts, literally, by collecting seeds of desirable plants and making them available in that area we are working, or at new areas being restored.

The work is good, quiet, and clean, no noisy equipment and no chemicals. Just work with a five gallon bucket belted to your waist… pulling, maybe cutting, and dropping seeds into a bucket. All the while we are in some of the most beautiful areas in Northeast Indiana. Though for some seeds, grass seeds mainly, we do have a combine like apparatus that can be pulled behind a tractor that greatly increases our efficiency.

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Phillip Bieberich harvesting little blue stem Mongo prairie – photo by Fred Wooley

We don’t keep the fun to ourselves either; we invite volunteers to join our efforts! Every Saturday in October, we offer volunteer days where anyone can come out and join us in these wonderful natural areas, share in the work, and enjoy the camaraderie of being with kindred spirits in the out-of-doors. To all who have joined us in the past, thank you! To others who would like to be a part of this fun and valuable work, please contact our BHM office. Though October is ending, there are still some target species that can be collected. We can arrange for you to join us still, or with a little training and direction, send you to an area to collect and bring back a target species. Please call Director Nate Simons if interested.

Seeds in drying bins in BHM Barn 10_29_2019 by Fred Wooley

Seeds in drying bins in BHM barn – photo by Fred Wooley

While the process remains the same, some big changes were in place this year. Our barn we used to dry and store seed in the past was at the country home of Nate and Aimee Simons. They have relocated, and we no longer had access to that barn. While it was valuable and served our purpose in our early years, we have moved operations to our own barn near our Chapel of the Lakes office. This is a welcomed addition to have work and storage space right near our headquarters. We quickly established new drying racks and storage shelves this fall. On very busy days, we even stretched the BHM mega-tarp on the shop lawn and took advantage of solar drying.

Plans are underway to add to our current garage/barn. That work will happen this fall. Stay tuned and watch for these future changes at Blue Heron Ministries. If you’d like to be a part of the process, part of some very rewarding experiences, please raise your hand or call!

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Various seeds out to sun and air dry at BHM office yard – photo by Fred Wooley


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Restoring Native Diversity in a Grass-Infested Wet Prairie – by Nate Simons

One of the most aggressive plant invaders in a sedge meadow or prairie fen ecosystem is the ubiquitous reed canary grass. Long planted (and abundantly escaped) as a pasture grass for soggy soils, reed canary grass is adventive from Europe. The rhizomatous grass spreads by underground, horizontal roots to quickly form a dense sod that outcompetes and displaces almost all native wetland plant species…often times forming complete monocultures.

Restoration of sedge meadows and prairie fens infected with this exotic, invasive grass is difficult and time consuming. A complete cover of this grass in a restoration project usually requires complete chemical eradication of the sod. If, however, the reed canary grass has not yet formed a complete sod and native sedges and wildflowers still remain, another process may be employed to recover and promote the native vegetation.

Year 4 of mowing and spraying reed canary grass at Div. of Nature Preserves' Marsh Lake Nature Preserve. Sedges and wildflowers flourish where reed canary grass once dominated.

Year 4 of mowing and spraying reed canary grass at Div. of Nature Preserves’ Marsh Lake Nature Preserve. Sedges and wildflowers flourish where reed canary grass once dominated.

Given that reed canary grass possesses two sets of buds on their rhizomatous roots (buds that produce leaf shoots in the spring and a different set of summer-dormant buds that produce leaf shoots in the fall), control of the grass is tricky. The use of a grass-specific herbicide (clethodim is the herbicide of choice and is labeled for non-cropland areas) allows the restorationist to suppress the growth of the grass without harming the sedges and wildflowers. If conditions are right (no standing water…many fens and sedge meadows have saturated soils with no standing water), the herbicide can and should be applied two times a year.

The process looks like this:

  1. Burn the sedge meadow in the early spring.
  2. Apply grass-specific herbicide when the reed canary grass reaches ankle-to-shin high (April). The herbicide must be mixed with a crop oil or methylated seed oil to penetrate the waxy coating that the leaves naturally possess. This application suppresses the early leaf growth that emerges from the first set of buds.
  3. Mow the sedge meadow in late August (yes, a small tracked skid-steer loader can rumble across the quaking, soggy soil as long as enough native sod forms an interwoven mattress of roots) . The late, dormant buds then produce new leaf shoots.
  4. Apply grass-specific herbicide and seed oil solution when the grass again reaches ankle-to-shin height (late September and early October.

This process must be repeated for a number of consecutive years until the strength of the rhizomes is completely diminished and the native sedges and wildflowers moves into the resulting soil space. Skipping a season almost assuredly means starting the process over. The process often takes more than five years. However, with repeated semi-annual applications of grass-specific herbicide in conjunction with late summer mowing, the result can be an abundance of and diversity of native sedges and wildflowers. Upon a soggy walk through the late summer prairie, ones senses will be thrilled with the sights, sounds, fragrances, and beauty of a gloriously-rich and uncommon ecosystem. And the native pollinators and other fen-dependent animal species will thank you profusely when they re-discover home.


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Fall Fen Falls – by Nate Simons

The fringed gentians, Riddell’s goldenrod, grass-of-Parnassus, and nodding ladies’ tresses orchids are in full bloom in September prairie fens. And the water falls gurgle their hypnotic melody. Really?! Yes, really! The falls of autumnal fens continue to babble almost eternally…partially shaded and shrouded by the overhanging sedges and wildflowers in an Edenic or new-heavens-and-new-earth kind of way.

Cool groundwater emerges as a spring in the Nasby Fen's temple garden (1)

Cool groundwater emerges as a spring in the Nasby Fen’s temple garden

Because fens are wetlands situated on a slope and charged hydrologically by a constant flow of cool groundwater, the little waterfalls that are associated with the spring runs flow all year ‘round. Transported subterrainally and emerging as a spring located somewhere in the fen garden, the mineral rich waters deposit their calcium carbonate and magnesium bicarbonate load in the form of marl. This poor-excuse-for-a-soil-but-would-make-better-cement can and does grow wetland plants that can withstand those harsh soil conditions. Over a long period of time, as the plants’ roots slowly decompose under the anaerobic conditions, a layer of peat builds. Still seeking a downhill path and propelled by gravity, the water cuts through the peat dome. Occasional layers of sand or undecomposed peat resists the downward erosion and a water fall forms. The waterfall may only descend a few inches or a foot, but is enough to provide music to the ears of the harken-er.

At the top of the watershed the fall fen waterfalls pool and their waters continue their flow. Water is added to water as the soaked peat releases its groundwater into the spring run. The spring run gains momentum, volume and width and combines with other rivulets. The Pigeon River receives the flow of several fens as it too gains depth and volume and momentum…and life depends upon that flow.

A spring run cuts through the peat at Nasby Fen (2)

A spring run cuts through the peat at Nasby Fen

In my vision, the man brought me back to the entrance of the Temple. There I saw a stream flowing east from beneath the door of the Temple and passing to the right of the altar on its south side. The man brought me outside the wall through the north gateway and led me around to the eastern entrance. There I could see the water flowing out through the south side of the east gateway.

Measuring as he went, he took me along the stream for 1,750 feet and then led me across. The water was up to my ankles. He measured off another 1,750 feet and led me across again. This time the water was up to my knees. After another 1,750 feet, it was up to my waist. Then he measured another 1,750 feet, and the river was too deep to walk across. It was deep enough to swim in, but too deep to walk through.

He asked me, “Have you been watching, son of man?” Then he led me back along the riverbank. When I returned, I was surprised by the sight of many trees growing on both sides of the river. Then he said to me, “This river flows east through the desert into the valley of the Dead Sea. The waters of this stream will make the salty waters of the Dead Sea fresh and pure. There will be swarms of living things wherever the water of this river flows. Fish will abound in the Dead Sea, for its waters will become fresh. Life will flourish wherever this water flows.  Fishermen will stand along the shores of the Dead Sea. All the way from En-gedi to En-eglaim, the shores will be covered with nets drying in the sun. Fish of every kind will fill the Dead Sea, just as they fill the Mediterranean.  But the marshes and swamps will not be purified; they will still be salty. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow along both sides of the river. The leaves of these trees will never turn brown and fall, and there will always be fruit on their branches. There will be a new crop every month, for they are watered by the river flowing from the Temple. The fruit will be for food and the leaves for healing.” (Ezekial 47:1-12, NLT)


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Early Pickers

L-R Mary Durand, Olivia Conklin, Peg Zeis, Don Luepke, Denille Conklin, and Alexis Conklin

L-R Mary Durand, Olivia Conklin, Peg Zeis, Don Luepke, Denille Conklin, and Alexis Conklin

Fall seed collection has begun. On a warm Saturday afternoon two days before the autumnal equinox, twelve friends of Blue Heron Ministries gathered to gingerly strip seeds from prairie plants in preparation for a restorative scattering of the same later in the fall. Yellow coneflower, wild bergamot, showy tick trefoil (yes, the seeds literally covered Denille), prairie dock, whorled rosinweed, black-eyed Susan, prairie dropseed, and side-oats grama were ready for harvest in a couple of restored prairies in northeast Steuben County. Thank you to Lynn Simons, Bette and Jim Thomson, Pam Horton, Jeannine Walker, Denille, Olivia, and Alexis Conklin, Mary Durrand, Peg Zeis, Don Luepke, and Nate Simons for the worthy effort of picking those seeds!


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Partners on a Prairie Fen Restoration – by Fred Wooley

On September 6 a group of about 40 people gathered at LaGrange County’s Pine Knob County Park to view and celebrate what has become a wonderfully successful partnership of not just LaGrange County Parks and Blue Heron Ministries, but many agencies and nonprofits to create what many experts in the field are calling one of the best examples of natural areas restoration in the region.

The day began under a veil of clouds and a threat of light rain, but only a brief early morning mist teased the group and soon a beautiful late summer day unfolded. The forty attendees represented stakeholders and direct participants in two significant acquisitions to this LaGrange County Park and the several year, and still ongoing, effort to return it to its once natural state…a closely juxtaposed collection of oak openings, upland prairie, prairie fen, sedge meadow, and small marl lake fed by meandering rivulets and seeping fen waters.

Participants were greeted by LaGrange County staff, affixed with nametags, seated at the long tables of the former conservation club headquarters, now park visitor center, and treated to a homemade lunch of pork sandwiches and side salads. Placemats were 11×17 photos of the property with all the stakeholders mentioned and how each was involved (see below).duff lake fen restoration plan

The meeting opened with Parks Director, Mike Metz welcoming the group, thanking those who made the project possible, and giving the historical context on how the properties came to LaGrange County Parks over the years and how the restoration of natural areas began and is progressing.

Nate Simons giving presentation on Duff Lake Project 9_6_2019 by Fred Wooley

Nate Simons giving presentation on Duff Lake Project

Mike turned the program over to Blue Heron Ministries’ Director, Nathan Simons, who further discussed the already unique features of the undisturbed portions of the property, the research done to determine how the land once was, pre-settlement, and finally the incredible work that has and is being done to restore and manage the land back towards its original high quality.

The box below shows the incredible number of groups and individuals who made the project possible. So much of the work was completed through the generosity of both individuals, former landowners, and many federal, state, regional, county organizations.

Following lunch, the highlight of the day was a guided walk from the center through the oak woodlands and restored prairie to a high ridge overlooking the Duff Lake Fen restoration project. Mike and Nathan gave a verbal description of the land at the time of acquisition. With sweeps of their hands we learned of where the drainage ditches once ran, where they are now filled, where culverts were removed and existing streams were enhanced. Areas of high quality remnant natural features were noted and areas of intensive management and restoration with fire, mower, herbicide and seed were pointed out.

We then descended our ridge overlook and entered the fen wetlands, sedge meadows and marl flats. Nate took the lead and Blue Heron Ministries’ field steward John Brittenham followed towards the rear to provide supplementary interpretation. The path was narrow, undeveloped, and we snaked along, stopping occasionally to admire a unique plant or to discuss the ‘then and now’ of this unique project.

Duff Lake tour 9_6-2019 John Brittenham with follow-up guiding by Fred Wooley

Duff Lake tour – John Brittenham with follow-up guiding

For some, this opportunity was the first time to set soggy feet in the fen since the early days of project planning. What a treat to hear their claims of total satisfaction of the project’s success. IDNR Division of Nature Preserves botanist, Scott Namestnik was on hand and with his keen eye and occasional consult of his hand lens, offered commentary on some of the very special plants. Under a private consulting hat, Scott was part of the initial investigation of plant life for the project. It was a treat for me to eavesdrop on the conversations of he and Scott Fetters of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, as they both discussed what they had dreamed for the property and how to their pleasure the dreams are coming true.

Topics of conversation also included plans for public access through the use of trails, boardwalks, and strategically placed overlooks. When these come to fruition, we will all have a great view of this successful project and a piece of our past and natural heritage returned.

Pine Knob County Park and Duff Lake Project

Acquisition:

Juday Tract 108 Acres

Appraised at $380,000

Funding:

  • Bicentennial Nature Trust $190,000
  • Heritage Trust $95,000
  • LaGrange County Community Foundation & Friends of LaGrange County Parks $20,000
  • Bargain Sale – Juday Family $75,000

Dehority Tract 21 Acres

Appraised at $78,000

Funding:

  • Bicentennial Nature Trust $39,000
  • Heritage Trust $19,500
  • LCCF & Friends $10,000
  • The Nature Conservancy $9,500

Total ACRES 229 Total acquisition $458,000

Restoration:

  • National Fish & Wildlife – Sustain Our Great Lakes grant $270,000
  • LCPD In-kind $12,000
  • US Fish & Wildlife Partners Program $25,000
  • IDNR Fish & Wildlife Cost Share $3,800
  • Ralph E. Taylor Conservation Fund grant $5,000
  • The Conservation Fund $108,000
  • LaGrange County Park Department $15,000
  • LCPD In-kind $13,000
  • Blue Heron Ministries $2,000

Total Restoration $486,400

Approximate total acquisition/restoration $944,400

Future Pine Knob Park and Duff Lake Fen Trail Development

  • Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant $175,000
  • Olive B. Cole Foundation Grant $35,000
  • LCCF Grant $15,000
  • LaGrange County $75,000
  • LCPD In-kind labor and equipment $50,000

Total: $350,000


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Badger Barrens Addition Fund-Raising Update

Thanks to an overwhelming host of generous financial supporters, we are very close to meeting our goal to raise $60,000 for the acquisition of the Headacres Farm addition to Badger Barrens. Of the initial $120,000 purchase price, the first half was gifted by Indiana’s President Benjamin Harrison Conservation trust Fund. The remaining half is to be raised through donations from friends of Blue Heron Ministries.

Help spread the lupines!

 

Thanks to our generous friends we met our challenge match from an anonymous donor from the Clear Lake area! The donor included, we raised or were pledged $40,000 in a matter of a few weeks. We are working on the last $20,000 chunk. As of September 24, $8,760.20 remains to be raised.

Thank you: Mr./Ms. Anonymous, Allison Klement, Terri Gorney, Hannah Olsen, Donna Rayl, Henry Kroodyk, Harve Hathaway, Mary Durand, Bridget Harrison and Dave Drogos, Marilyn Clevneger, Mike Clock, Janel Rogers, Fred Duschl, Rick and Martha Fansler, Aimee and Nate Simons, Melvin and Denille Conklin, Anita Dierkes, Lee and Pat Casebere, Steve Witte, Jim and Bette Thomson, Ken and Dee Wolf, Roger and Mary Hawks, Kate Sanders, Pam Morton, Peg Zeis, Jo Burkhardt, Fred Wooley, The Ralph E. Taylor Conservation Fund (administered by the Steuben County Community Foundation), The Darrel Ray Simons Memorial Fund (administered by the Steuben County Community Foundation), and The Ropchan Foundation.