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Nature Show and Tell: Virtual Field Trip

Our friend Zella showed us these signs of beaver activity. We love sharing our discoveries with each other!

Nature show-and-tell is back! We are calling on YOU to be part of this week’s virtual field trip!

Bring your nature objects, pictures or stories to the zoom call on Friday for show and tell. We will take turns sharing, kids and adults both!

Exploring nature is part of how our team stays healthy and happy. Learn some ways we use our outside time in this week’s “Nature and Self-Care” blog post.

Virtual Field Trip: Friday, January 22, 2020

Prepare for this week’s field trip by finding something to share! You could ‘show’:

  • something you found outside, like a plant, rock or mystery item
  • a picture of a natural object
  • a story about an experience you had outside
  • something about nature you’ve been learning a lot about lately

There are no wrong choices. We welcome any nature-related shares!

Join us at 10:30am on Friday, January 22.

If you’ve registered for virtual field trips in the past, your same registration link will continue to work.

Sarah found this morel mushroom last spring. It was a great day!

What will you ‘tell’ about your nature object for show and tell? You might share:

  • Where you found this nature object
  • Why this nature item is interesting to you
  • Something you’ve learned about the nature item recently
  • Questions you have about the nature item (the other people on the virtual field trips are really smart!)

If you don’t want to share anything, that’s okay too. You can listen to other people.

How Nature Helps Us Be Happy and Healthy

How do we discover most of our cool nature finds? Usually, we just stumble across them when we spend time outside!

Most of us here at Rural Action go outside almost every day to play, walk, or just sit and listen. It’s part of how we take care of ourselves. We each have our favorite way to relax outside. Read about some of ours in our latest post:

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Foraging for Plants in Winter : Virtual Field Trip

Looking at plants at Burr Oak State Park.

Winter…everything has turned from green to brown, and seems quiet. But if you know how to look, you’ll see how plants are surviving the cold and darkness. And you can also gather plants to help you have food and warmth, even in winter!

On this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll show you how plants survive the winter–and how plants can help people through winter too!

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, January 15 at 10:30am on Zoom.

Gather information about plants by reading this post.

Play a matching game to practice identifying plants in winter vs summer.

Gather winter plants. We share four ways you can eat, drink, or make fire from plants in this post.

Virtual Field Trip, Jan. 15 at 10:30am

Teasel is a prickly plant I see often in fields in winter.

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11-ish am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods for anyone who wants to join. This week, we’ll be foraging in the winter woods.

If you haven’t registered for our field trips before, register here to get the link in your email:

When you register, your registration is good for every Friday.

Teachers: Your class can join these public field trips, or contact us to set up a zoom field trip just for your classroom.

How Plants Make it to Spring

Cold is a problem for plants. When water freezes into ice, it gets bigger. When water in plant cells freezes, it can burst apart the plants cells.

Photo: pmhudepo 

But cold is not the only danger! Winter means less water. If water is frozen, plants can’t get to it. So plants also have to survive without much water until spring.

There’s also less sunlight. So plants are getting less energy from the sun, even as they have to work harder to survive.

So how do plants survive the cold, little water and little sun? Two common strategies are making seeds and making fat roots. A few plants, like evergreens, have special leaves that can stay alive.

Seeds

Some plants die in the fall, but not before making lots of seeds. The individual plants might not survive, but their children will grow when spring comes! These plants are called annuals, which means ‘yearly,’ because their life cycle lasts just one year.

This plant has died, but its fluffy seeds may go on to grow. Photo: Stevesworldofphotos.

Seeds can wait a long time before they sprout, waiting for a sign that it’s safe to grow: they might wait for sunlight, more water, or even a bird pecking them open before they start sprouting.

You can learn to identify plants even in winter, by the shape of their seed heads! Because seeds come from flowers, a plant’s summer flowers often have a similar shape as their seed heads. I love watching plants change through the season. It is fun and helps me find useful plants.

Practice matching winter and summer plants with this game:

Make fire with seed heads

Humans have strategies for surviving winter too. One is fire!

To start a fire, you need light, fluffy, dry material called tinder. People today might use cardboard or paper. That works well if you have matches. But what about before paper or matches existed?

Joe shows us how to start a friction fire on a virtual field trip.

 One way to start a fire without matches is using flint and steel to make a spark. These sparks only last a second, so they need to land on something that catches fire very easily. Another way is to make a friction fire with wood (see the video above). Friction fires make a small, delicate coal. Those coals also need very light tinder to catch fire and grow.

Goldenrod seed heads can be used to start fires. Dry them out first!

Fluffy winter seeds are good tinder for these fires! We like to use goldenrod, like in the picture above. They usually need to dry inside for a few days before they will catch a spark.

Your turn:

Collect some goldenrod seed heads and dry them out. Next time you build a fire, try using them as tinder. How do they work? How fast do they light?

Roots

Some plants live multiple years. They are called perennials, which means something that comes back over and over. One way to do that is to make a fat, sugary root!

Ginseng is a plant that can live 100 years by growing back from its roots each spring. Photo: Sam Droege

Underground is a safe place to be in winter. The freezing and frost on the surface only reaches a little ways underground. Leaves, mulch or snow can also protect the ground from getting too cold. Deep in the soil, it feels more like a refrigerator than a freezer.

Plants make food from the sun. In the fall, some perennials put the food in their roots, saving it for later. If you’ve ever eaten a potato or a carrot, you have benefited from this! Those tubers were the plants’ way of saving food for spring (or your belly).

When it’s safe to come out in spring, fresh stems and leaves will sprout from the root.

Make Fire Cider with Horseradish

Horseradish is one plant that makes a big root. Its root can be good medicine for fighting winter colds! Try making this spicy plant medicine. Next time your head feels stuffy, it will help clear it out. Try it as a salad dressing or in water.

Preparing the ingredients for fire cider. Photo: Multnomah County Library

Fire Cider Recipe:

Ingredients:

  •  3 cups  apple cider vinegar
  •  1/2 cup grated horseradish or garlic mustard root 
  • 1/8 cup garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup wild leeks, chopped (or chopped onions)
  • 1/2 cup of grated ginger
  •  1 tsp.  cayenne

Instructions:

Place all ingredients in a 4 cup mason jar and fill with apple cider vinegar leaving some space. Be sure all ingredients are mixed well. Cover.

Steep for 8 weeks in a dark, cool location.

Strain into clean jar. Then store in a dark location up to one year.

Our friends at United Plant Savers recorded this class if you’d like more detailed instructions:

Staying low

A few plants stay alive and green by keeping their leaves low to the ground. Cuddled up to the warmer earth, they might be sheltered by dead leaves. Less cold air reaches them. These plants often only live for two years or so.

Mullein can keep its leaves alive in winter by huddling down on the ground. It’s also called “lamb’s ear” because it is so soft and fuzzy. Photo: waldopics.

Gather chickweed for winter salads

This little plant grows in yards and gardens. Some people think it is a weed. I think it is delicious!

Chickweed is an annual, but sometimes you see it grows anyway. Its seed sprout quickly, and it is so low-lying that it can be protected by the cold by hills and leaves.

Try gathering chickweed to add to your salads. Here’s how to recognize it:

Leaves: pointed and oval shaped, opposite growth pattern (that means they grow directly across from each other)

Flowers: Chickweed flowers are very small, they have 5 double-lobed white petals. Double lobed means divided in two, so it might look like they have 10 petals 

Parts to eat: leaves, stems, and flowers are all edible and can be eaten raw. Try adding them to your next salad. 

Evergreen trees

Most plants stop doing anything in winter. They stop photosynthesizing, prepare their seeds or roots, and wait. But not evergreen trees!

It takes a lot of energy to make leaves and needles. Evergreen trees don’t want to waste that energy by dropping leaves. So they make special needle-shaped leaves that are protected from cold and dryness.

White pine is an evergreen tree in Ohio. You can make tea from its needles.

Needles are a better shape for holding onto water. Why? They have less surface area.

Think about hanging up a towel to dry. You want to hang it flat and spread out. More of a flat towel is exposed to the air, so it dries faster. But if you ball the towel up on the bathroom floor, it will stay wet for a long time! Less of its surface is exposed.

A typical leaf is like the flat towel. An evergreen needle is like the balled up towel.

Evergreen needles also have a special wax on them that keeps water from evaporating. It’s like covering food with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out. If you’ve ever touched an evergreen needle, you’ve felt this wax! It’s why needles feel heavier than typical leaves.

Make Pine Needle Tea

Historically, plants and vegetables were the hardest food to find in winter. Humans ended up eating more meat (because there were still animals to hunt) or more grains (because you could store grain for a long time). But we need the nutrients in plants to be healthy. 

Sailors used to have this problem too, because there are no plants at sea. Without enough vitamin C from vegetables, they got a disease called scurvy that made their teeth fall out. They started bringing limes with them to stay healthy.

Teas are a great way to get plant nutrients in winter! The garden might be dead, and pine needles don’t make a great salad. But boil the pine needles in water, and you’ll get a tasty tea with plenty of vitamin C. You can add lemon and honey, too.

Here’s how to identify white pine:

Needles: come in bundles of five, 3-5 inches long, bluish green, with fine white lines also called stomatas. 
Cones: 3-6 inches long, thinning out near the tip, with cone scales without prickles and light tan to whitish in color on outer edge of the scales.

Your Turn

Try collecting some winter plants for warmth or food! In this post, we’ve showed you how to:

Choose one and try it! How did it go? Was it hard or easy to find the plant? How did it taste?

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Happy New Year, and see you January 8th!

We’ve been putting nature displays in local windows this winter. Take a walk past the Hive (in Nelsonville), the Glouster library (in Glouster), or the Tecumseh Theatre (in Shawnee) to see them!

We hope everyone enjoys the holiday season, and spends some time outside. We’ll be curled up and hibernating like this fox for the next two weeks. Virtual field trips will start again on Friday, January 8th.

Here are the topics coming up in January:

  • Lichens (January 8)
  • Foraging Winter Plants (January 15) (ACPL program to-go kit available)
  • Nature Show and Tell (January 22)
  • Animal Tracks (January 29) (ACPL program to-go kit available)

Do you have a topic you’d like to see on a virtual field trip? Please leave a comment or email darcy@ruralaction.org! We may use your idea in February!

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Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Sarah’s Book Corner: Tracks!

Some of you met our friend Sarah–and her dog, Mabel–on last week’s tracking virtual field trip. Sarah is not only an excellent dog walker, tracker, and nature artist. She is also the youth librarian at the Glouster library, here in Athens County.

Sarah showed us Mabel the dog’s foot on our tracking field trip.

“Darcy, I know how you and the young naturalists love nature,” Sarah said to me. “There are so many great nature books here at the library. Would you like me to share them with you?”

Of course, I said YES! After a nice hike (like on virtual field trips), I love to look at books to learn more about what I saw.

Are you still excited about animal tracks? If so, try some of these book recommendations! They are all available at Athens County Public Libraries. Check your local library if you live elsewhere.

Juvenile Non-Fiction

Picture Books

Field Guides

Sarah will be sharing book recommendations twice a month, whenever Program To-Go bags are available at the library.

Do you have a favorite animal book? Share your recommendation in the comments!

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Nature Show and Tell! a Virtual Field Trip

Have you ever found something interesting outside? We found lots of crawdads at summer camp!

We are calling on YOU to share in this week’s virtual field trip! Is there something in nature that you think is really cool? Have you found a neat plant, rock, or animal recently? One of our favorite things to do is tell our nature nerd friends about our outdoor finds.

Bring your nature objects, pictures or stories to the zoom call on Friday for show and tell. We will take turns sharing, kids and adults both!

WAYS TO DO NATURE SHOW AND TELL:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, Oct. 16 at 10:30 am.

On your own: Become “In Charge of Celebrations”

On your own: Show and tell here on the blog!

Nature Show and Tell! Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Oct. 16, 2020

Prepare for this week’s field trip by thinking of something to share! You could ‘show’:

  • something you found outside, like a plant, rock or mystery item
  • a picture of a natural object
  • a story about an experience you had outside
  • something about nature you’ve been learning a lot about lately

There are no wrong choices. We welcome any nature-related shares!

Sarah found this morel mushroom last spring. It was a great day!

What will you ‘tell’ about your nature object for show and tell? You might share:

  • Where you found this nature object
  • Why this nature item is interesting to you
  • Something you’ve learned about the nature item recently
  • Questions you have about the nature item (the other people on the virtual field trips are really smart!)

If you don’t want to share anything, that’s okay too. You can listen to other people.

Join us at 10:30am on Friday, Oct. 16.

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

If you can’t make the field trip, or want to get more out of it, try some of the activities below!

I’m in Charge of Celebrations

Every experience or interesting find in nature is, in our opinion, worth a celebration. We love this book, I’m in Charge of Celebrations, by Byrd Baylor. It inspires us to make our own holidays, just for us, to enjoy our favorite nature times.

Watch this teacher read this book out loud below, or look for it at your library:

Your turn

This week, keep track of the things that are worth celebrating! Do you have a calendar, planner or notebook? Write your celebration down or draw a picture.

We’ll share some of our own celebration-worthy nature experiences in the virtual field trip. Tell us about your celebrations in the comments below!

Show and Tell Online

Here at Rural Action, we have a bit of a nature show-and-tell problem. Our phones are full of pictures of bugs and weird leaves. We text them to our friends all day.

We even started a BioBlitz project on a website called iNaturalist. People share pictures of plants and animals they’ve found in our area, then help each other identify them. Some high school students found a dragonfly that had never been seen in Morgan County before!

A few of the many nature pictures clogging up my phone…

Nerd out on nature with us! Take a walk, find a nature book, or just sit outside near your house for ten minutes. Then, share something you’ve found that interests you! You can:

  • Post about it in the comment section of this blog! (We love that!)
  • Email a picture/story to me at darcy@ruralaction.org!
  • Add it to iNaturalist to get ID help from other nerds! (Here’s our post about how to use iNaturalist).

Looking forward to learning from you!

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Young Naturalists Club

What do animals eat in fall?

Scientists study how many acorns fall each year to predict how wildlife will act. Photo: “Acorns (Explored 1/28/16)” by Marcy Leigh is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Fall is the last chance for animals to stock up on food before winter hits. Luckily, plants are eagerly making nuts and fruit before it gets too cold for them too. An animal will travel far and wide to find enough food: it can make the difference for whether it survives.

Believe it or not, you’re surrounded by a buffet when you walk in the woods. In this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll teach you how to recognize those fall foods (including a few that are good for humans).

WAYS TO LEARN ABOUT WILDLIFE FOOD IN FALL:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, Oct. 9 at 10:30 am.

On your own: Gather wild fall foods to try!

On your own: How much can you do with a nut? Face off with a squirrel.

Wildlife Food Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Oct. 9, 2020

We went on a hike to teach you to recognize the many nuts and fruits in the forest (and how to think like a hungry animal!).Watch the recording here:

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

If you couldn’t make the field trip, or want to get more out of it, try some of the activities below!

Two wild fall foods to gather now

Human beings are animals too. We can’t eat everything a bird or chipmunk can, of course. But there are some surprisingly tasty foods just growing in the forest, waiting for you to try them!

Always double check with an adult before eating anything you gather outside. Autumn olive berries and acorns are safe to eat, but you want to make sure that 1, they were gathered from a safe place and 2, you identified them correctly. To learn more about foraging wild foods, check out this post.

Easier option: Autumn olive berries

This could be you. Photo: “Autumn Olive Harvest” by henna lion is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Autumn olives are an invasive plant in Ohio. They aren’t great for other plants because they steal space from them. But luckily for us, they’re delicious!

Autumn olive grows in abandoned fields that no one has mown for a few years. So look for it in bushy, overgrown areas on the edges of pastures, fields, and woods (like where the woods end just before the parking lot).

The leaves and berries of autumn olive. See the silvery dusting on the berries and leaves? Photo: “Autumn-olive” by NatureServe is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The berries are a dark, dull red with subtle dots. They’re close to the size of a pea. To tell them apart from other berries, look for the silvery, dusty coating. The leaves also look silvery on the bottom side.

The berries can be a little tart and make your mouth feel like it’s dried up! But the riper they are, the sweeter they get. They are the perfect texture to make into jam easily.

Challenge option: Make acorn flour

You may never have eaten an acorn. But the deer and the squirrels are on to something. For thousands of years in North America, people who lived near oak trees ate them almost every day!

This acorn flour sifting tray was made by Amanda Wilson, a member of the Maidu tribe of California. Photo: “Acorn Flour Sifting Tray” from the Brooklyn Museum is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Trees don’t make the same amount each year. One year, all the trees might make a ton of acorns. This is called a mast year. After a mast year, you might see the deer or squirrel population increase. They are able to have more babies because they had so much food!

But for 3-5 years after that, that kind of oak tree might make very few acorns. Animals like deer have to travel farther to find enough food in years with fewer acorns. They are more exposed to predators, and might be weaker. The deer population might get smaller.

A tasty meal for a deer…or a human who knows what to do with them! Photo: “White oak Quercus alba prolific acorns.jpg” by Dcrjsr is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Acorns come from oak trees. There are lots of kinds of oak trees, and some have tastier acorns than others! Wild turkeys, deer, and squirrels prefer to eat white oak and chestnut oak acorns–and those are the kinds I recommend you eat too.

Before eating acorns, you have to soak them in water for a long time (up to a week!). Acorns have a bitter substance in them called tannins. You may have tasted tannins before: they are what makes black tea extra dark and taste bitter if you leave the bag in too long. But acorns have so many tannins that they can give you a stomachache if you eat them raw. Soaking the acorns gets rid of the tannins.

So, if you want to try something new, gather some acorns and start soaking them:

  1. For tastiest results, learn to recognize white oaks, burr oaks, or chestnut oaks, and gather those acorns.
  2. Read these instructions to making acorn flour here, or watch this video:
Learn to make acorn flour in this video, made by “In the Kitchen with Matt.”

The Purpose of all this food: ENERGY!

When you eat food, it is fuel for your body. It’s like having a little engine inside of you. A car burns gasoline so it can move down the road. Your body burns food so you can run, talk, and think!

A squirrel takes energy from acorns by eating them, and turns that energy into jumping, tree climbing, and whatever else it is squirrels like to do. A squirrel gathers around 25 nuts in an hour. But how many nuts does a squirrel need anyway?

How do you compare to a squirrel? How many more acorns would you need to eat than a squirrel to do these things?

ActivityCalories needed for human kidCalories needed for squirrelCalories in an acornHow many acorns does a person need to eat to do this?How many acorns does a squirrel need to eat to do this?
Climb to top of a tree7525
Napping for an hour3415
Running for 10 minutes6525
Hunting for acorns for an hour16045
Hint: Divide the number of calories needed by the number of calories in an acorn. **All of these numbers are rough estimates; don’t use these for health decisions**

Ultimately, all this energy is coming from the sun. It travelled from the sun, to the oak tree’s acorn, to your belly.

For many animals, overeating in the fall is a good thing! The fatter they are, the better they can survive the winter. For example, bears compete to eat as much as they can before hibernating, because they won’t eat at all while they are sleeping. (A fun way to celebrate their success is to vote for the fattest bear of Katmai National Park during Fat Bear Week).

How did you compare to a squirrel? Did you try eating any squirrel food? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip: Mushrooms

Hunting for mushrooms at Burr Oak State Park last fall. Photo: Rural Action

This week, we invite you to choose your own adventure. How would you like to explore the wild world of mushrooms?

Choices for Exploring Mushrooms:

On your own, outside:
Make a spore print.

On your own, inside: explore mushrooms’ many forms!

Doing the “on your own” activities before the zoom field trip will help you get more out of it. Or, they are a great alternative if you won’t attend the field trip.

Virtual Field Trip on Zoom: Friday, Sept 11 at 10:30am

Go on a virtual mushroom hunt with our naturalists! We’ll show you edible, poisonous, and downright bizarre mushrooms. How do mushrooms help an ecosystem?

Watch the recording of this field trip:

Recording of the virtual field trip about mushrooms, Sept. 11 2020.

To attend future virtual field trips, click here.

On Your Own

If you go outside: Make a spore print

Spores are the part of mushrooms that grow new mushrooms, like seeds do for plants. Spores look like a dust that falls out of mushrooms.

If you leave a mushroom on a piece of paper overnight (don’t move it!), in the morning you will see a pattern. Mushroom lovers use these patterns to identify what kind of mushroom it is.

Mushroom caps on the left, and their spore prints on the right. Photo: Chelynski.
  1. First, search outside for a mushroom! Mushrooms might grow even in a lawn. Try looking in:
  • shady spots
  • on old stumps or dead sticks
  • dying trees
  • dead grass, straw, or leaves

Pluck one carefully. Don’t touch your mouth and wash your hands afterwards. Some mushrooms are poisonous!

2. Next, make your spore print. To learn how, watch the video below. Or, click here to read instructions.

How to make spore prints, from Pepper and Pine’s YouTube channel

3. Take a picture of your print. Or, write a description of its shapes and colors. Share your sport print picture or description in the comments below, or in your teacher’s online classroom.

The artist Madge Evers uses spore print to create art: click here for inspiration.

If you’re inside: Explore the many forms of fungi

If you’re like most people, you picture mushrooms or fungi as something like this:

A classic mushroom shape. Photo: Kathie Hodge, Cornell Fungi

But would you have recognized all of these as fungi as well?

Photo credits, upper left to bottom right: , Brian Gratwicke, Kathie Hodge , Kathie Hodge, Kathie Hodge, Cornell Mushroom Blog

  1. Explore the mushrooms of the Cornell Mushroom Blog. Click on any picture that looks interesting to you! Find a mushroom that you are drawn to. Maybe it is pretty, surprising, weird, a little gross, or something else.
  2. Mushrooms are often just part of a much bigger web of fungus. Sometimes that web is the size of a log–but sometimes it’s the size of the whole forest! Read about it:
    Oregon Humongous Fungus Sets Record As Largest Single Living Organism On Earth
    The Wood Wide Web: How Trees Secretly Talk to and Share with Each Other
  3. Think about some of the different fungi you just investigated, big or small. What are some of the different shapes, sizes, and colors you saw? What kind of places did they grow? Draw some of the different shapes mushrooms might have. Share your work in the comments!
Does your mushroom fit into one of these shapes? Image: North American Mycological Association/Louisie Freedman.
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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

How to Build a Shelter

The first time I slept in a shelter I built myself, I was camping out with many other families. Everyone else had tents. But I was determined to try something new. 

The shelter I slept in that night looked a lot like this.

I found a solid tree to support a stick frame. I covered the sticks with thick, thick layers of leaves. Luckily, the kids helped carry big armfuls of leaves for the roof and the ground. It went much faster with many hands! I only barely fit inside the small lean-to.

As evening fell, the sky grew dark. Gulp…it was going to rain.

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip: Shelters, Animal and Human

What shelters do animals build? What can we learn from them for building our own survival shelters? If you’re a kid who loves building forts or dreams of surviving in the woods, this is for you!

I spent the night in this debris hut I built with kids at a summer camp. It was one of my favorite camp-out experiences ever!

Join us via Zoom this Friday! We’ll tour some animal homes, and go over how to build your own shelters.

Even if you can’t join for the Zoom event, we’ll be sharing more shelter-building activities this week on the blog.

This free event is for youth, adults, and families. It’s led by Rural Action’s Environmental Education staff.
~~~~~~~~~~
Friday, May 15 at 1:30pm
Please register at this link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEqcuqoqjksE9wZMo2PvUgVXRDkk80RzaKM

Stay updated in our Facebook Group

We are sharing every new activity in the Southeast Ohio Young Naturalists Club facebook group. Join our group for conversation with other nature-exploring families, and to always know what environmental education activities are happening.

Brush up on your survival skills before the virtual field trip

Get started with Nate’s basic survival skills introduction. Tomorrow, Dani will share an fun activity to test some shelter-building materials.

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Fixing Acid Mine Drainage

This week, you learned about pH and how coal mining has acidified local streams. A lot of wildlife cannot live in or around streams with acid mine drainage. Luckily, we can do a lot to help streams recover! What ideas do you have for how to make these creeks healthy again?

In this lesson, we’ll cover:

Lydia shows us a creek that has been affected by Acid Mine Drainage.

If you need a review of what acid mine drainage is, watch these short videos of Pine Run (Perry County, Ohio).

Lydia reviews what AMD is.


The easiest and best way for us to fix AMD is to not let it happen in the first place. We can’t undo the mining that already happened. So how can we stop AMD from happening?

Stopping AMD before it’s made

Do you remember the three things that make AMD?

  • iron pyrite (in the coal)
  • water
  • air.

If we stop these things from mixing, then no AMD will form. This is called Source Control.

The best way to stop AMD from forming? Keep water from touching and mixing with the pyrite.

Sometimes this means covering big piles of leftover coal waste, also known as gob piles, with impermeable soil. Impermeable means no liquid can pass through. The impermeable soil stops water from reaching any iron pyrite in the first place.

Another way we prevent water from mixing with iron pyrite is preventing stream capture. How and why do you think we could capture a stream?

Sometimes, above old mines, the ground collapses. It falls into the empty space where the coal had been removed. This is a sinkhole. If there is a stream above it, the stream flows down through the sinkhole into the old coal mine (Ahhhh! exactly the opposite of what we want to happen!). Now the stream is “captured” by the mine. Eventually, water fills up the mine and spills out into nearby streams with acid mine drainage.

To prevent this, we fill the collapsing sinkhole with impermeable soil. Then we change the stream’s path to go around it. Now the stream water never mixes with old mines, and never makes AMD!

Treating AMD

Sometimes, we just cannot prevent AMD from forming. I think of it as the stream getting sick. We try our hardest to prevent the stream from getting sick (AMD) but sometimes it happens. So we have to give it ‘medicine’ to treat it.

There are two different ways we do this: passive treatment and active treatment. To remember the differences of these two words, I think of my lazy or “passive” kitty taking a nap and then my other crazy “active” kitty chasing his toys around the house!

When we passively treat AMD, we build something that treats the water, then leave it be! Once it is built, it doesn’t need much maintenance or work. One example is a wetland.

Passive Treatment: Wetlands
One of our wetland treatment sites.

Wetlands are amazing ecosystems. As well as helping treat AMD, they provide habitat for native birds and other wildlife. They also hold water during floods. Wetlands can help treat AMD by making water slowwww downnnn.

When the water slows down, oxygen and tiny bacteria have more time to work their magic. The iron forms here instead of downstream, creating this gunky orange wetland! So how does this help our fish? Well, by controlling where our iron forms (orange gunk), we keep it from washing into rest of the stream, where it will affect all the critters living there.

Here is water slowing down in wetland at one of our treatment sites. It leaves all that gunky iron here, instead of in the rest of the creek.

But iron is only half of the problem. Our pH is still too low. This water is still acidic. To fix this, we must add something with a high pH to raise the pH of the water to a healthy level.

A passive way to do this is to add limestone gravel, just like the kind in your driveway! We reroute our stream, making it flow through layers of limestone. Some of the limestone will dissolve just like sugar in water, raising the pH of the water to a healthy, neutral level.

Neither the wetland nor the limestone gravel need maintenance every year. They can be left alone for long periods of time and still work. This is a cheaper and easier solution in the long run, if you have enough space for a wetland.

Active treatment: Lime dosers

Finally, our last resort for treating AMD is called a “doser,” which is a form of active treatment. Active treatment means people have to keep taking care of the doser, or it won’t work.

The silo of a lime doser. This active treatment method needs to be refilled with more powdered lime frequently.

Dosers are tall silos, full of activated, powdered lime (it’s made from limestone, not the fruit!!). This lime has a very high pH (it’s basic). The silo pours little doses of basic lime into the acidic water, raising the pH.

The doser uses gravity to work. Water fills up one side of a two-sided bucket. When the water gets heavy, it tips the bucket to the side. This knocks the bar in the middle and a ‘dose’ of limestone is added to the water.

We have to refill the dosers with more powdered lime often. If the doser runs out of lime, the treatment immediately stops working and the stream returns to being too acidic almost immediately. So these dosers require a lot of attention!

Downstream of these dosers, fish have come back to creeks that had been empty for years.

There’s no one right choice

To sum up, there are a ton of different things that water quality specialists and environmentalists must think about before we can treat AMD. No two Acid Mine Discharge sites are the same. In many places, we use a variety of the techniques from above to fix the streams as best we can. Here is a handy little chart to help you compare:

A summary of the different ways we can treat acid mine drainage.

Activity: “Dose” your own AMD

In Monday’s lesson, we learned how to test the pH of a liquid.

Today, we’ll explore how to change the pH of a liquid. That’s what we do when we treat acid mine drainage. Watch what happens when an ultra-basic material (our lime powder, which has a pH of 14+) meets an acidic material (acid mine drainage):

Lydia shows us the reaction between the lime we use to treat our streams and the AMD in the stream.

Woah! The basic lime and acidic mine drainage react. This reaction releases energy as heat. Did you see steam from the reaction and the cup melting? It is very hot!

This happens when we add a little bit of AMD to a LOT of powdered lime. This causes the reaction to happen very fast, so we can see it. The doser adds only a little lime to a lot of water and AMD. So the reaction happens much more slowly in the stream, and is not so dangerous.

We can create a similar reaction at home mixing two common items: vinegar (acidic, or low pH) and baking soda (basic, or high pH).

Materials needed:

  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Measuring spoons
  • Large bowl
  • Notebook/pencil
  • Your thinking cap!

To create the reaction:

  1. Measure out ½ cup of vinegar into a large bowl.
  2. Add a tablespoon of baking soda to the vinegar. Observe what happens. What is similar or different from my video above?
  3. Imagine your vinegar is a stream we are trying to fix. Could you make the vinegar neutral? How?
  4. Continue to experiment slowly with adding more or less baking soda. If the reaction stops, the pH is probably close to neutral.

Congrats–you just changed the pH!

To be sure whether it worked, you can check the pH of your treated vinegar with the cabbage indicator or pH strips.

Summary

  1. We treat acid mine drainage either by stopping it from forming, or by fixing the pH.
  2. To fix the pH, we can use passive treatments (wetlands) or active treatments (lime dosers).
  3. Try changing pH yourself at home with the baking soda and vinegar experiment. You are doing the same basic thing we do to make our creek liveable for fish!