Organic Consciousness

Its finally dawned on me; Go Organic! Stop using poison on the land if you don’t want to poison the land! It’s obvious to me now after reading Atina Diffley’s award winning memoir Turn Here Sweet Corn. The organic approach is the embodiment of the Hippocratic Oath; do no harm. Atina’s love story with the land opened my eyes to the potential of applying organic farming techniques to our work at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve. Atina and her husband, Martin Diffley, (Organic Farming Works LLC) are pioneers in the organic farming movement in Minnesota, their efforts culminating in a “Kale versus Koch, Soil versus Oil” pipeline smackdown where they stood up to the Minnesota Pipe Line Company, which is operated by the Koch Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, and prevented a pipeline corridor from being routed right through their Gardens of Eagan Organic Farm. They saved their land AND Atina contributed to the preservation of other organic farms via the creation of the Organic Appendix to the Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan that all pipeline and transmission line companies must comply with if they succeed in routing their lines across organic farmland.

Atina explains that it’s all about relationships: people to the land, plants to the soil and people meeting each others needs in community. I’m inspired to only employ non-toxic ways to nurture The Springs back to health a la organic farming techniques; I want the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail to be “Certified Organic”. Atina and Martin helped me realize the importance of building and protecting the soil and, after reviewing the research on the residual effects of Milestone and Transline and their potential to leech into groundwater, I concluded that I could no longer use them in any context at The Springs. Jason Dare began turning me in this direction and now I’m fully committed. The only exception to the ban on poison that I will make is to use Tahoe/Triclopyr on cut buckthorn stumps (painting, not spraying), and hopefully, we’ll find a natural alternative to that as well.

I claimed to want to garden the sand prairie. What was I thinking? Would you use poison in your garden? In the past two years I had acquired no less than 7 different poisons: Aquaneat/glyphosate, Habitat/imazapyr, Bullzeye/glyphosate, Milestone/aminopryalid, Transline/clopyralid, Tordon/picloram and Tahoe/triclopyr, all of which I have returned to the DNR except the Tahoe stump killer. Martin Diffley summed it up pretty well: “If we don’t change direction, we’re going to end up where we’ve been going.”, and my approach was slowly poisoning The Springs. One story from Turn Here Sweet Corn that really impressed me was how they handled a 9 acre field of quack grass. Despite being pressed by demand for their produce to get this land into production, Martin recommended they wait for just the right combination of dry and hot weather. When it finally arrived, they used a 930 Case tractor fitted with a Vibra Shank field digger to “rake” the weeds, exposing the roots to the blazing sun, repeating the process over 6 weeks until the quack quit. That got me thinking about the phragmites and cattails in the valley along the Scuppernong River headwaters; maybe we could do the same thing there! Like Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”, and now that my organic consciousness has been awakened, I’m seeing new, non-toxic, solutions.

Yesterday, Pati and I met with DNR Trail Boss Don Dane to walk the trails and review our approach to restoring the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve, and we we joined by John and Sue Hrobar. I’m prone to excited bursts of non-stop chatter and, true to form, I began by telling Don that I wanted to go organic. He was totally on board with this and promised to help us achieve that goal. The first area we reviewed was the valley along the headwaters of the Scuppernong River that is dominated by phragmites and cattails. I told him Martin’s story and we talked about mowing and raking and Don suggested that, in the short term, I get a hedge cutter and simply cut the seed heads off the phragmites and cattails at a height that will leave the myriad of other plants that have emerged in the “understory” since the burn undisturbed. This will drain the energy from the phragmites and cattails while allowing the native plants to compete and, combined with fire, we hope this will be an effective strategy.

One of my big concerns is all of the buckthorn seedlings and resprouts that have emerged since we cleared the mature buckthorn. I explained this to Jason Dare and he suggested I rely on fire to control them. I talked to Don about this and he is committed to burning the scuppernong every 2-3 years. That was the assurance I needed! In the meantime, Don suggested brush cutting areas where the resprouts are thick to better enable fire to move through. We talked about the north end of the trail, buckthorn alley, and agreed that I should focus on clearing the buckthorn there to help facilitate getting a hot fire through this part of the Nature Preserve; the DNR has never been able to burn this area.

Here is a native swamp thistle Don pointed out by the hatching house springs.


Oriental bittersweet and hedge bindweed (shown below) are concerning and we discussed brush cutting and pulling them.


John, Sue and Don at the gaging station bridge. I’m hoping that more volunteers will step forward if they know we going organic.


Pati and I spent the afternoon pulling spotted knapweed on the sand prairie, which Don said they also refer to as a cliff messenger prairie. The purple lovegrass is thriving!


Here is a view of the sand prairie.

I felt totally calm and at peace with my hands in the sandy soil pulling spotted knapweed all afternoon. The rough blazing star and golden rod are set to flower and I’m really glad I took the time to clear the prairie with the brush cutter rather than simply mowing it. Here are a few parting shots from the marl pit and gaging station bridges.





The Scuppernong Spring

See you at The Springs!

The Sauk Spring

After a couple days, I start to miss The Springs.  They draw me away from the present moment into a dreamy future, which became reality for me last Thursday as I worked, wandered and wondered in a Garden of Eden. This place is flowing with living waters and I drew some for the day at the Scuppernong Spring.


I crossed the Indian Campground on my way to an area at the bottom of the slope to girdle some Aspen trees.

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It wasn’t until I started working with real Indians, I mean people born in India, that I started to become frustrated with the common use of the term here; a case of mistaken identity.  Language is so powerful!  Who were the “First People”, the “Native Americans”?  If only we could have learned from them how to live in harmony with the land and honored them with their own names.

Watercress and quack grass are two non-native plants that can really take over an area.  Lindsay pulled a ton of these invaders from the Indian Spring, or maybe we should call it the Sauk Spring after the tribe, along with the Fox, that ceded over 50,000,000 acres of their tribal lands to the United States in the Treaty of St. Louis back in 1803. Cede — to surrender possession of. We didn’t expect these deeply rooted plants to disappear and I thought it would be a good time to clean the spring again.




After girdling aspen for a while, I donned some rubber knee boots and pulled the new batch of water cress and quack grass that were rapidly spreading. Here are a series of videos and photos taken later in the day that give a tour of the Sauk Spring.




I love the sound of the water.

This view is a bit downstream from the source where an earthen dam was blocking the channel.

There is a second spring source that merges with the main channel on its way to the Scuppernong River.

The Sauk Spring is a relatively quiet place to hang out with a great view of the prairie.

Next, I headed to the old barn site, which is quite a bit noisier, to pile some buckthorn. Garrett and Jenny, two new volunteers, joined me and we did some stacking. I’m hoping to work with them again soon!




Finally, it was time for some fun and by this time the clouds had been blown away by a refreshing north wind.




This vernal pool as at the south end of the loop trail.


The Sauk Campground is a sand prairie that really comes alive with color in the spring. The Hoary Puccoon is in full bloom.



And so are the Wild Lupine!




On my way to the marl pits at the north end of the Sauk Campground…



At the pits looking east towards the Sauk Spring area.



May Apple on the cut-off, aka “lost”, trail.




It was a lovely, cool, bug-free, full-moon evening and I watched the sun go down from the Marl Pit bridge.








See you at The Springs!

Quackgrass Attack!


After from opposite Before

July 26:  After removing watercress from the Indian Springs quackgrass quickly moved in. So we took care of that, too.  I didn’t have Paul’s brute strength around because he was away acquiring inspiration from another one of our precious planets natural gems- Isle Royale I think he called it- so, as per WDNR,  I knocked it back with some Aquaneat and dug it out with my trusty three-prongued groundbreaker and a garden pitch fork.  We gotta give those Native Sedges, Rushes, Forbs and Brook Trout a chance, don’t we.

Quack Grass Dominates Indian Spring

The Indian Springs is a lovely spot along the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail.  There are many springs in this area and they collect in a channel that feeds into the Scuppernong River just upstream from the bridge at the Marl Pits.  The springs were choked with water cress, which Lindsay and I pulled earlier this Spring.  Here are a couple of photos after we pulled the cress.

The shot below is of the area just below where Lindsay is standing above.  There is a nice bubbler in the “thumb” of this spring shown below, which is now completely choked with quack grass.

We noticed a grass exposed after we pulled the cress but did not attempt to identify it or remove it.   Well, it was quack grass and it quickly expanded to take over the entire spring area.

We manually pulled out the quack grass from the heart of the main spring since it was relatively easy to get the entire root structure out of this loose sand.

In the upper right of the picture below is the “thumb” referred to above, now completely choked with quack grass.

We reviewed the situation with Ron Kurowski and he recommended removing it.  DNR trail master Don Dane suggested spraying, as digging it all out would have required removing a lot of soil and really disturbing the area.  The root system of quack grass is very intense and it is not easy to dig out completely so we went to the last resort, spraying with herbicide.

Nobody wants to spray herbicide anywhere near water, especially a crystal clear and pure spring, but we felt we had no choice.  We sprayed the quack grass with AquaNeat, which is relatively safe for use in the water, and we’ll be documenting the results in a future post.