Summer on a Shoestring


Roots, Rhizotrons, and Root Beer by Craig See
June 25, 2011, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Cooking in the white house, Fertilization, Minirhizotrons, Roots

When the last of our plots were fertilized at Hubbard and Jeffer’s Brooks, the shoestring crew let out a great collective sigh of relief.  Everyone was full of the sense of accomplishment that comes only after the most arduous of tasks has been completed. If the shakers of phosphorus had contained parmasian cheese instead, we could easily have coated what is left of Mannattan’s Little Italy.  If the nitrogen prills had been grains of dry sticky rice, we could have gotten most of Chinatown (These are metaphors that come to mind when you’re hungry, and caked in a layer of sweat, DEET, and monosodium phosphate with nothing to look forward to but a soggy PB&J.)  There was a sense that we had done the impossible.  And no one need worry about doing it again for six weeks!

Lin and Amos celbrating the end of fertilization

With fertilization Leviathan vanquished, everyone was looking forward to a few lab days.  The decision to postpone the summer inventory however, quickly turned this into a few weeks.  This year’s summer lab work consists mainly of sorting through root cores pulled from our plots last year.  Each core has been separated by depth (0-10 cm, and 10-30 cm).  It has been the crew’s charge to cleanly remove the tree roots from these piles of sand, rocks and humus, and sort them into two categories based on diameter.  As the vast majority of these roots fall into the “less than one millimeter diameter” class, the job has proved much more tedious than it sounds.  (Think thousands of very small, hair-like, fragile needles in a sometimes sandy, always thoroughly decomposed haystack.)  The blackfly bites on Lin’s arms had hardly finished scabbing over before she was asking about when she could get back out in the field.

Shinjini pickin’ roots

It was at this low point in moral that Neal came through like a glimmering patronus in the night with all seven Harry Potter novels on his computer.  Most of the crew was at least familiar with the storyline from the movies, but like most novels put on the big screen, the Hollywood portrayal is little more than a bastardized version of the real thing.  Harry’s adventures have helped everyone through what would have otherwise been another daunting task.  The sinister doings of Lord Voldemort’s Death Eaters have become a frequent topic of dinner conversation (along with nutrient co-limitation and resource optimization theory of course), and many a work day has continued past the normal 4:30 quit time in order to finish a root core (and a chapter).  And so the rest of June has passed with the crew huddled around a table in the lab like a bunch of eager and willing house elves peering over piles of roots on wet paper towels with forceps in hands.  As there is still the better part of a freezer full of root cores left, we have been recently assured that reinforcements will be helping us out from Tim Fahey’s lab at Cornell (similar to the arrival of the Order of the Phoenix swooping in to assist Dumbledore’s army in the Department of Mysteries).

Christy

The grad students, while often picking roots, have been struggling though trials and tribulations of their own.  Kikang has been having her own root problems, with the shorting out of her minirhizotron (a camera designed to gauge root growth at different soil depths over time).  The power cord on the camera had to be twisted back and forth with every measurement, until what was going on below ground was eventually illuminated on the laptop screen, and a photo series could be taken.  This could take several minutes, and worsened with each progressing site.  Eventually the poor machine gave out altogether.  She is currently en route to California for rehabilitation (the minirhizotron, not Kikang).  Meanwhile, Shinjini and Craig were trying to sort out inventory files and organize two years of litter collections in the lab, so that the occasional mutterings from behind their computer screens were the only thing punctuating the amazingly versatile voice of Jim Dale (narrator of the Harry Potter series).

The minirhizotron inaction: Lin twists the wire attempting get an image

Mealtimes at the white house have offered well needed and deserved repose from the daily goings on at Bartlett.  With a field crew hailing from places as far as China, Malaysia, Korea, India, and Hawaii, (as well as Oregon, Vermont, New York, and Minnesota), dinner has been a delightful mixture of pan-Asian, and US cuisine, replete with deserts.  Highlights have been some amazing fried rice and stir-fries, seaweed soups, curries, and every form of potatoes imaginable.  Russell, our newest addition from Hawaii, has promised us something with Spam soon, although Craig pointed out that to be fair, Spam is produced by the good people at Hormel located in the beautiful state of Minnesota.  In keeping with the recent theme of belowground biomass, all of the international students recently experienced root beer for the first time (in float form, of course).

Mealtime!

In an attempt to cut down on the food budget, and be a little more sustainable, Lin and Craig have planted a small garden inthe back yard, although the only things that seem to be thriving thus far are the radishes.  The point has recently been raised that we still have a half ton of fertilizer on hand in the lab, and maybe we should do our own backyard experiment on nutrient co-limitation in a common root vegetable of the Brassicaceae family.  Unfortunately, our sample size is too small for a full factorial design.

the garden

The past week has included the added stress of handing in proposals for summer projects.  With the Hubbard Brook annual cooperator’s meeting less than two weeks away, projects are on everyone’s mind.  It is common knowledge that Matt Vadeboncoeur is an encyclopedia of all things relating to the Bartlett stands and the Shoestring project as a whole.  Since his arrival 48 hours ago, he has been bombarded with questions about the sites from every direction.  Undoubtedly Microsoft PowerPoint will be open on every laptop in Bartlett over the next week and a half.  Half of the crew will spend Monday through Thursday camping at Sleeper’s River measuring tree DBH’s during the day, and probably making slides while listening to Harry Potter in their tents at night.

Everyone is looking forward to the meeting with anticipation.  When it’s over we will be back in the field for the second fertilization, meticulously shaking out enough sugar to cover every cup coffee being slurped in SoHo, and throwing down enough rock salt to cover every square inch of the wound that is Wall Street.  Plans for a day long near-marathon (25 mile) hike across the peaks of the Presidential range are also in the works.  That’s all for now.

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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Wish I were there! Well, maybe not for the root picking, but the food looks great.

Comment by Ruth Yanai

Do you need a set of the Harry Potter books, for those who miss any of the audio sessions? I think we have most of them; I’ll ask Nora if she can loan them out.

Comment by Ruth Yanai

I think most library will have the books. They are easily available, don’t worry about it.

I recall so many things in the past weeks while reading the blogpost. Thanks Craig!

Comment by Lim Zhen Yu




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