Summer on a Shoestring

My summer has been just beechy-keen

Grad student Gretchen here! This was my first summer up here in Bartlett, although I did come up last year in July to attend the Hubbard Brook Cooperators meeting. It was cool being back at that meeting this year but being one of the people giving a talk instead of just listening!

We are staying in “the white house” which is US Forest Service housing that is located 5-15 minutes from 9 of the experimental forest stands that we do work in. The property itself is comprised of 2 separate buildings that act to house cool researchers like ourselves, as well as a building that contains lab space, a conference room, and a supplies garage. We’re not the only folks on the property, there are also forest service and university-affiliated field workers, like the small mammals crew that tracks voles and catches field mice and moles – – they let me hold a dead star-nosed mole!! Ok, that may have been more exciting for me than it sounds to you.

The project that I’m wrapping up is photographing trees to quantify beech bark disease. BBD has been around for 100 years and we still don’t know everything about it which is scary because the mature forest up here is mostly beech and sugar maple – – imagine a bunch of diseased trees falling down. Eek. Anyway, I’ve been painting trees with 10x5cm “L”s so that I can use an imaging program to quantify insects and fungus on the bark and see if and how the nutrient manipulation that is the MELNHE project has any effect. It takes me the better part of a day to complete 20-25 trees, so this effort took a week. Each day I generate 750-1000 photographs so I’ll have a lot of work still to do when classes start up again.

Field work is a bit more laborious than the work I’m used to doing during the school year so I’ve made sure to play just as hard as I’ve been working! I love fishing up here in NH and there are a few great ponds within 45 minutes of us. My all-time favorite fishing was down on Squam Lake, which is by Lake Winnipesaukee but with much less traffic. I have a little rubber rowboat raft that suits 2 people and since I brought 3 rods up I’ve been able to take some of my compadres out with me! While fishing isn’t new to me I made it my mission to work on cleaning and cooking my catches this summer and I had great success! I’ve been intimidated by the idea of filleting but practice has made perfect and everyone here (well, not the vegetarians) has enjoyed tasting my efforts. After filleting I let the fish sit in brine water for 1-2 days (bass can be one of the fishier tasting fish) and then I coated them with bread crumbs and baked them, if you’re wondering.


August 2, 2014, 11:19 pm
Filed under: Cooking in the white house, Recreation

By: Hannah Babel, Miami University

Since the summer is coming to a close and my family is visiting this upcoming weekend, the past weekend was my last with the shoestring crew. This summer here has been an amazing one, filled with simply splendid people and spectacular sights. And to start to wrap things up, I could not have asked for a better week/weekend.

After a very long couple of weeks in the field and lab sampling and processing our soil samples, the hustle and bustle finally slowed down just in time for our science night to learn all about the up and coming NEON project in Bartlett. NEON stands for the National Ecological Observatory Network. The corporation is still in the construction phase, but we had two speakers (including a former shoestringer) that are part of the Bartlett Experimental Forest site come to share with us what they are all about.

The following morning we all woke ourselves up at the crack of dawn so we could leave Bartlett by 6:45 and head to Hubbard Brook for a tour that the one and only Don Buso was going to give us on the experimental watersheds. It was a wonderful day to hike around Hubbard Brook, but despite seeing all there was there, the most exciting part of the day was having Don share a bit of his knowledge with us. That man captured us all with his stories of history and science and most of all his enthusiasm about the work that has been done there and what we are learning.

Don Buso

      The man himself, Don Buso.

The weekend finally rolled around and Friday night everyone seemed a bit tired so we all took naps. Some of us were out for the night, but then some of us woke back up and played some board games. Shinjini and Adam had their hand at Uno while Eli and I picked up some ice cream, played Pirateers with Donny, and took a stroll down the tracks to the Saco. If I had known what was going to be in store for me for the next day, I would not have gotten back up and slept through the night; but then again, sometimes you have to sacrifice a little sleep to make the most of every minute in a place like this. (So I guess it was worth it).

Saturday morning I woke up with a text from Soph asking if I was up for hiking Washington that day (they were planning on hiking it Sunday since Eli hadn’t summited it yet). I said “Let’s do it!” And off we were. Since Justin and I had hiked up Tuckerman’s earlier in the summer, a different path up the mountain sounded more exciting to us. Soph suggested Huntington’s Ravine since it seemed to be just a little steeper and we heard it had spectacular views. Immediately the trail was much more fun, and a quite a bit steeper. Crossing and following the rivers up to the ravine was stunning and an adventure. We reached the ravine, stopped for lunch, and up the steep part we went. This was no hike, this was rock climbing. My slight fear of heights was tested to the maximum, and Soph and Justin took the courageous spots of safely guiding me and Eli up the dodgy path (if you can call yellow arrows painted on rock faces a path).


Huntington Ravine

      Terrifying, yet so incredibly thrilling.

The views were worth it. This time climbing Washington I could see out and I was breathless, possibly both by fear and the beauty of the view each time we reached a flat spot or that I would glance over my shoulder. It wasn’t until I got home and did some quick reading that I found out what I had done that day was the steepest, most challenging, and most dangerous hike in all of the White Mountains. I am awfully proud of myself, but owe a lot of that to the amazing climbing buddies I had to get me through it.

Mt. Washington View

      (photo cred to Justin for this one, as well as the previous two.)

After we climbed down the mountain and got back to the White House, we realized how hungry we were, but lacked much energy to do any cooking and we jumped in the car. We headed for Moat mountain (a townie bar it seemed). And found the family style BBQ on the menu. All you can eat BBQ. It was too good, we all ate past the point of being full and Justin ate abou 3 times his weight in brisket.


     With a good amount of reorganization, we were able to fit all the plates on our table.


Sunday morning: Soph and Justin must’ve gotten up early because when I reached the White House they had already stared cooking up a perfect mountain breakfast. As if we didn’t eat enough the night before, we had a lovely assortment of berry and banana pancakes, eggs, toast, bacon, and fresh berries.


       Breakfast of champions (the Huntington’s Ravine champions that is)

Later on, we went out berry picking for eating or jam making. The day had started out rainy, but we were happy to see it clear up since the little time we have left here should not be spent cooped up indoors. We went along the tracks until we got just past the slab and closed our weekend with a swim in the Saco and some swings off the rope. I am not ready for this summer to end and this Midwestern girl is not ready to say goodbye to these magnificent mountains.


RR Tracks

It’s going to be a very hard goodbye


Strawberry Fields Forever!
October 9, 2013, 4:13 pm
Filed under: Cooking in the white house, Recreation

By Cleo Warner

One of the greatest things I’ve found about summer in the Bartlett area has been the berries. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, service berries; they are all here once the warm weather rolls through. The greatest part is that you can get them for free if you know where to look. So far we have collected blueberries on the side of 302, raspberries from various bushes behind the white house, service berries from second iron, and the smallest strawberries I’ve ever seen from the grass by the dorm back door.  Little did I know that the berry lottery was waiting for us at the very end of strawberry season.


It was a sunny Sunday afternoon when I was able to convince the group to drive down to the strawberry stand off Westside Road, promising them I heard that the price for picking had gone down as the season was coming to a close soon. I was of course only able to do this by reminding them how great jumping in the river would feel after we spent a little while in the sun. So we piled into two cars and set off on the adventure, only to find that the stand appeared to be all but abandoned upon our arrival.

My heart sank. After our outing to the terribly disappointing Conway strawberry festival (which, yes, was also upon my insistence), I had promised that this experience today would make up for the let down of the last. Yet when we pulled up to the stand, we were met only by an unenthusiastic teenage boy most likely set up by his parents to sell what appeared to be some store bought blueberries and the remaining of their homemade jams. I leaned out to ask if we could still go pick berries from the field and was answered with the information that strawberry season was “officially over”. The situation was looking increasingly bleak by the moment, and everyone knew it. But with our Shoestring crew tenacity we pushed further.

“Can we go look? Just check if there’s anything?”

“I mean, there’s nothing there, the season is over, but I guess you can go look if you want”

After a minute or two of debating amongst ourselves, Adam decided that was all the permission we needed, and that it was at least worth the look. Within about a minute of stepping out of the car and into the fields, we were sure glad we took this opportunity. Strawberries could be seen from nearly right off the road. End of the season? No more left? Had these people been blind? Some of the rows towards the back appeared to never have even been picked this season. We hit strawberry a secret heaven and it was all ours!

We grabbed any container we could find. Whether it be stray cups from the car, an old tote bag, our shirt ends folded over to double as a sack, or left over picking containers strewn through the fields. We filled them all. Everywhere you turned you were met by berries even bigger and more abundant than the last you grabbed. We continued like this for over an hour, scouring row after row until our fingers were died red and our stomachs began to ache. I won’t lie, a few of us may have gone a little strawberry mad.


In the end though, our berry insanity paid off big time. We sorted the loot into categories of strawberries that could be eaten in the next few days, those that needed to be used immediately, and those that we would freeze to save. This, believe me, was no easy task, but well worth it when we had enough strawberry pie, strawberry shortcake, and strawberry smoothies to last us to the end of the summer. Moral of the story: strawberry season isn’t over until the Shoestring crew says it’s over.

2013 Summer Budgets in Shoestring Project
August 8, 2013, 6:43 pm
Filed under: Cooking in the white house

By Tony Dong

It is not easy to manage the budget. Craig said this is the worst job in this world. In the past, Kikang used to be the person who took charge of the living expenses of the shoestring crew. This year, Tony took the job from Kikang because he thought if this was the worst job in the world, then all the other jobs he is going to do in the future must be better ones.

This summer, we still charge each person $6 dollars per day. Usually, people who own cars could go to North Conway and buy the food (Fig. 1) for crews. There are several large food stores in the town (i.e. Hannaford, Walmart, Grant’s). Also, we could also do the grocery shopping at Price Chopper in Lincoln if we get a chance to do some field work in Hubbard Brook or Jeffers Brook.  Later, all the receipts (Fig.2) were handed to Tony for organizing budget sheet. This year, we are doing a good job. Though the summer is closing in the corner, we still have some leftover money! Maybe we can buy ice cream (Fig. 3) or beer (Fig.4) in the end!

Grocery Star: Eric     Record:  $203.14 at one time in PriceChopper

Fig. 1


Fig. 2


Fig. 3Image

Fig. 4Image

After long days…
July 31, 2012, 12:56 am
Filed under: Cooking in the white house


After long days of fieldwork, dinner is a much-anticipated event at White House every night.

Every Shoestring crewmember pays $6 a day for food and someone is assigned cooking duty each night. This is no small task; cooks usually spend about two hours in the tiny White House kitchen to make dinner for our seventeen-person crew. At the beginning of the summer, when the Shoestring crew numbered a mere four people, we could eat at the kitchen table comfortably, but now that we are in the midst of the busiest part of the field season, the crew has swelled to almost twenty people and we eat in the living/dining room, where seats at the table are first-come-first-serve and many stand or eat sitting on the couch. However, dinner is always full of laughs and talk about things that happened in the field and lab that day. Dinner is also Yukon’s (Craig’s dog) favorite part of the day and a dinner at the White House wouldn’t be complete without him under the table, begging for scraps.

With so many Shoestring crew members from different parts of the country and from around the world, there is never a shortage of exciting new food cuisines. So far this summer, we have had Korean, Hawaiian, Indian, Chinese, Tex-mex, and Southern dishes. Everyone agrees that some of this summer’s dinner highlights have been Craig’s curry, Kikang’s Korean dishes, the Kalua cake, Adam’s kabobs, and Hannah’s enchiladas.


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).


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).


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.

Happy Independence Day!

Officially, the last trench has been dug! A happy day for the Bartleteers! There still remains some duties associated with the trenches (soil sampling at C6, and taking root/soil samples from trench 4 at C7), however we are not sad to say goodbye to the days of trenching.

One of the graduate students on our crew from SUNY ESF, Kikang Bae, is calculating Total Belowground Carbon Allocation (more to come from her on her project in the future, right here in this blog). Part of this is measuring soil respiration using a LiCor from all 12 of our stands.

In so many words, the ground breathes. The respiration of forest soils, and what Kikang is interested in mainly, the efflux of carbon dioxide from the soil can be influenced by many interrelated somewhat sort-able abiotic (e.g. temperature, soil moisture) and biotic (e.g. microbes, plants) factors (although I don’t usually like to make those distinctions, because of secondary and tertiary interactions. Can’t soil temperature be influenced by the biotic factor of canopy cover, and temperature influence soil moisture? Anyway, that’s a different discussion). The LiCor measures the amount of CO2 coming from the forest soil, and we can dig trenches around soil respiration collars to cut off the roots of trees, shrubs, and herbs to in effect, “remove” their contribution to the exhaling soil. Thus our stands will have soil respiration collars inside of our plots that remain “un-trenched” or normal, and we will also look at trenched respiration collars in the buffers of each plot in 5 of our stands.

The crew was assigned this task, to trench 50 cm deep, 1.2 x 1.2 meter trenches, around 1 soil respiration collar in each plot, making a total of 4 trenches per stand, 20 trenches total. The trenches are backfilled and then lined with 4 mil plastic to inhibit root growth back into the trenched area. Not an insignificant task! To see pictures of the trenching process, check out our earlier posts. Friendships were forged, pairs of jeans were ruined, but alas the trenching phase of the summer is coming to a close.

One of our crew members, Gavin, will be measuring soil respiration in these trenched areas weekly, to capture changes in soil respiration as the roots die off and start to decompose. This is Gavin, using the LiCor. The chamber is placed on top of a soil respiration collar to measure the gas exchange coming from the forest floor and soil.

On another note, Happy Birthday to Cole – who turned 21 this week!

Monday was Cole’s birthday and turned out to be a great day. On and off rain storms allowed us to do some lab work and then spend the afternoon in the field. We also welcomed to our crew Lisa LaValley, a high school science teacher at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire. She adds an air of class to our crew that was much needed after weeks of trenching in the forest – through rain, blacks flies, and (endearingly named) BFRs (big /*&#ing rocks). Lisa jumped right into things, building isopod exclosures on Monday and immediately setting them out in the field that afternoon.

The hope for Lisa’s exclosures are to set them out in a young, mid-aged, and old stand (C2, C6, and C9) when rain is in the forecast, and lure in isopods by  leaving bait (potatoes) inside of them. The exclosures are about 6″ x 12 ” x 2″ small chicken wire cages that sit on the forest floor, but functioning as exclosures they really serve to keep other critters out, rather than isopods in.  After 48 hours, we return to the exclosures and hopefully collect all of the pill bugs, potato bugs, sow bug, woodlice, rolly pollies, or other quaintly named small animals that fall under this order of crustaceans. There are over 10,000 species of isopods, so how do we know what to look for? We have a guide to under-studied terrestrial isopods of the finger lakes region put together by one of our crew members Cole Adams along with another student from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Erin Pence, and their professors from the School of Life Sciences there, Dr. Elizabeth Hane and Dr. Harvey Pough. Although much of the work they did to create this guide was done in the Rush Oak Openings in New York State (to read about the oak openings this is a nice website in which the Nature Conservancy describes these now rare ecosystems), we hope to use and adapt this guide for the Northern Hardwood Forests in the Bartlett areas (that is, if we find any isopods are actually here).

We are interested in isopods because their exoskeletons are made of calcium carbonate and this makes them sensitive to soil acidity. Since we don’t know if they are in our woods here in Bartlett, even no result, is a result. Thursday I went to retrieve the exclosures that Lisa set out Monday and hopefully the isopods, however all were isopodless. Feeling skunked, I returned to the white house and resolved to set out exlosures in the yard the next time it rains. The plan is to set them next to the wood pile where there have been reported sightings of isopods and also by  the foundation of the house that sometimes serves as good breeding places for small bugs.

Tuesday we finished trenching at C2 and C7.

The remainder of this week we spent at Jeffers Brook. We finished up soil sampling from the trenches and backfilled them. We finished installing minirhizotrons. We finished seedling/herb inventory transects. We installed permanent seedling/herb inventory plots and inventoried them. We measured 2-10 cm tree inventory in the 4th plot of both the Old and Mid-aged stands. We measured rock area percentages. We re-labeled all stakes and repainted corner stakes. (Listing it all out just makes us feel good). The crew worked some long hard days.

Next week we look ahead to the Hubbard Brook Cooperators Meetings, a great chance for ecologists, hydrologists, students and professors alike  to come together from all over and share their research questions and findings. Our crew will have its own section of presentations scheduled for the meetings, and will use the week for some much needed respite.

As we have finished all of these field duties, we move into Phase II of the summer field season. The soil-ship enterprise and crew takes on new adventures in, you guess it, more digging! We anticipate digging 6 quantitative soil pits in the Bartlett Experimental Forest, one in the 4th plot of each stand. Each soil pit we dig this summer will correspond to a set of 3 soil pits that were dug in previous years (check a couple publications generated about roots from these soil pits here and here. Also see this by Fahey and others that describes quantitative soil pits dug in a similar method at Hubbard Brook). This is a special chance personally for me to re-live my past glory days, as a crew-member of the Shoestring project digging soil pits back in 2004. Below is a picture of me  in a soil pit at C8 Plot 2 (one of our old stands) 6 years ago that is still a favorite pic to use when giving presentations about how fun it is digging soil pits in New England. Now that is a BFR.

Otherwise, digging these quantitative soil pits is a great opportunity for us to gather data about these plots that were last added to our experimental design to provide some confidence that they are similar and comparable to the other plots in our stands.

Soil sampling – Phase II will also will include a power coring extravaganza, headed up by Ph.D. candidate April Melvin working out of the Goodale Lab at Cornell University. She is planning to take soil cores out of 7 stands across our 3 sites (Bartlett Experimental Forest, Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, and Jeffers Brook in the White Mountain National Forest).

… … In Cooking News… …

Another victory was won this week. I had picked up a $20 breadmaker off craigslist, in hopes of having fresh homemade bread for the crew to make our lunches with. The first three attempts, and some yeasty mishaps, were less than successful. Finally a nice 2 lb bread loaf came out crusted to perfection! Already two loaves of nice and light wheat banana bread have been gobbled up by the crew. The recipe is below, and comes straight from the “breadman plus” himself.

Coming soon…

A short description of the shoestring project and experimental design, for those of you who are not directly involved in the project, like family, friends and other interested scientific folk. (This blog originally started as a way to stay in touch with the PIs about field work happenings, but is of growing interest to others, so this is something that will really “tie the room together”.)