Visiting the Northern Youth Project Garden

The Northern Youth Project Garden in Abiquiú empowers young people to learn to grow their own food. The bounty from the garden is distributed to the community. (Photo by Siobhan Niklasson)

By Siobhan Niklasson, Education Programs Director

Con muchas manos el trabajo es menos reads the sign at the Northern Youth Project Garden in Abiquiú. Many hands make light work. And on this day, everyone has a job to help this community garden grow.

The youngest children are on grasshopper duty. They’re hunting grasshoppers to keep these insects from eating the plants. They already have two jars full.

Other youth are weeding the flower beds. They explain that some of the flowers can be harvested for food, like echinacea for tea, but most of them are meant as food for other creatures: specifically, pollinators. They have milkweed for the butterflies and onions and cosmos for the bees, among other flowers. This colorful bed in the middle of the garden helps nurture a healthy population of insects that pollinate the herbs and vegetables, too.

Interns Veronica and Eddie social distance while mulching plants in the garden. (Photo by Siobhan Niklasson)

Two interns are mulching around the plants. Lupita Salazar, the Executive Director of the Northern Youth Project, calls out to them to leave a little open space around each plant. She explains that because of the dry conditions, they mulch like crazy to conserve water. But all of this litter on top of the soil has created a perfect habitat for roly polies and other decomposers, and some of them will eat live plants as well as decaying matter. With some experimentation, the gardeners found that leaving a little space mulch-free around the base of each plant helps protect the plants from these sun-shy creatures.

In the northwest corner of the garden, where the sun heats the soil the most, is the herb garden. The garden staff and youth created a waffle garden to retain moisture. This style of dry-land gardening, where small earth berms are raised around each planting square, was first practiced at Zuni Pueblo, and continues to be used today by water-conscious gardeners at Zuni and elsewhere.

The herb garden is also the oldest part of this community garden, which was started in 2009 by Leona Hillary, a staff member at the Boys and Girls Club in Abiquiú. She realized that once the students aged out of the Club, there weren’t a lot of things for them to do locally. Teens came to her and asked for her help to create a program for them. So the garden was started as a way for youth to find meaningful ways to spend their time and participate in their community. Today, the Northern Youth Project focuses on arts, agriculture, and leadership skills, and serves youth ages 12-21 from Abiquiú and nearby communities. Some of the young people working in the garden today are siblings of the initial teens that were involved and started the project 11 years ago.

A child shows off the grasshoppers he collected while volunteering at the garden. (Photo by Siobhan Niklasson)

The youth harvest their produce and learn to prepare it in monthly cooking classes. They also sell produce at the Abiquiú Farmers’ Market and distribute their herbs in Green Gift bags to local students and families as a COVID relief program.

Veronica, one of the interns, first learned about the garden after buying plants at a virtual plant sale and seed exchange. Her internship is paid by a workforce training program run by Help New Mexico. She’s been able to apply some of the things she’s learned at work to her home garden, like planting to take advantage of the natural flow of water through the site.

The other intern, Eddie, is interested in the irrigation system. The garden is watered by a spring onsite, and from the local acequia once a week. He’s had the opportunity to take agriculture classes at his high school, and sees this internship as a start to what he wants to do as a career.

The Project recently partnered with Padilla Lumber to clear an area of bosque adjacent to their garden. They’re considering extending the irrigation ditch to this area, and hope to be able to plant corn and squash. On the day that I visited, they noticed milkweed springing up in this area. Just as milkweed brings butterflies, this growing community garden is fostering a new generation of land-literate youth.

A sign at the Northern Youth Project Garden reads: “Con muchas manos el trabajo es menos.” This translates to: “Many hands make light work.” (Photo by Siobhan Niklasson)

Nature Art

Liv Niklasson created this piece of land art in early April and it was still intact in mid-May when she checked up on it! What art can you make with the natural materials around you? (Photo by Siobhan Niklasson)

This week on Take It Outside, learn how local artists have been inspired by the natural world around them, and spend some time making nature art yourself.

This week, we’re also celebrating Los Alamos ScienceFest virtually! See what PEEC has in store for this virtual festival.

Summer Nature Challenge:

Participate in our Summer Nature Challenge! Every week, participants who complete the challenge can earn a sticker. If you finish all nine weeks, you’ll earn a bonus sticker! Find our archive containing all of our past Take It Outside activities here.

Download the challenge sheet here to print out and complete at home. At the end of the challenge, you can either bring it to the nature center or mail it to us at 2600 Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

If you don’t have a printer or prefer to work online, you can tell us about your experiences in the Google Form below or email your stories and pictures to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

Blog Post:

Patricia Galagan reflects on photographing our forests with her husband Philip Metcalf in the aftermath of the Las Conchas fire. Their book, Fire Ghosts, was published in late 2019 and features their photography portfolios from this project. Learn more about what they learned from this process in this week’s blog post.

Outdoor Challenges:

We’re posting three outdoor challenges today that you can enjoy throughout the week!

Tell us about your experiences with one, two, or all three of them! You can do this in the Google Form below, by writing or drawing about them on our summer challenge sheet, or by sending an email to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

 

Challenge #1 – Land Art:

Go outside and spend some time getting a feel for the area, then gather natural materials that speak to you. Use them to create land art, ideally using the materials in the area where you found them. If you like, take a picture of your artwork, and share it with us! Leave the art for others to discover, and to break down naturally over time.

See some additional tips here.

 

Challenge #2 – Wildlife Photography:

A male Calliope Hummingbird photographed at a hummingbird feeder. They are the smallest birds in the United States! (Photo by Aditya Viswanathan)

This challenge is from Aditya Viswanathan, a rising sixth-grader from Los Alamos and wildlife photographer.

July is a great time to learn wildlife photography as the hummingbirds are coming to Los Alamos in large quantities. Here are a few activities that you can try to get started or fine-tune your skills. If you have a hummingbird feeder, you can wait for a while and see which hummingbirds come and try to photograph them. Hummingbirds like to visit feeders and you’re more likely to see them at one rather than on a flower. If you don’t have a feeder, try making a simple one from recycled materials! Make sure to get the camera crosshairs on the hummingbird, or else the photo will be blurry. Phones work okay, but cameras (especially ones with zoom lenses) are better if you have one. It will take a bit of practice and patience, but if you stick with it, you should have some very good photos.

If you are ready for a bigger challenge, research which flowers different hummingbirds like. Hint: hummingbirds like red, tubular flowers. If you don’t have any of them, other flowers work too. Wait at a flower of your choice for about half an hour and see if any hummingbirds come. Photographing them at a flower will create a more natural-looking picture. Butterflies and bees may come too, which are also good photo targets.

Another advanced challenge that you can do is try to freeze a hummingbird’s wing while in flight. To do this, adjust the shutter speed in the menus. I recommend 1/1000 seconds for the shutter speed. Please note that some cameras don’t have this feature. I hope you find these activities fun and helpful. Send a picture you snap to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or post it on social media and tag @peecnature!

Challenge #3 – Nature Sketching:

Practice nature sketching this week by drawing the details of different leaves! (Photo by Terry Foxx)

This challenge comes from Teralene Foxx, co-author and illustrator of Plants of the Jemez Mountains, which can be ordered from PEEC’s online shop.

Sketching is a good way of learning and remembering the different shapes and sizes you observe in nature. Wander around your backyard or go on a hike and collect five leaves from five different plants (make sure to stay away from shiny, 3-leaved poison ivy!). Note what plant the leaf comes from: a flower, a shrub, or a tree. Are the leaves positioned opposite each other or do they alternate along the stem? Write down what you see. Look at the top of the leaf and the underside and see any differences.

With a paper and pencil, lay the leaf on the paper and trace around the outside of the leaf. Now you have the outside dimensions of the leaf. Observe the leaf carefully and draw anything you see about the leaf and put the detail into your drawing (e.g. the edge of the leaf, the veins, the color, hairs, texture). Ask yourself: Is the top of the leaf the same color as the bottom of the leaf? Record this information. If you have colored pencils or crayons, you might want to color the leaf. If you have a ruler, you might want to measure the different sizes of leaves and make a note. 

After you practice shapes and sizes of leaves, try drawing a leaf without tracing the outside of the leaf. You will be amazed at the different shapes and sizes of leaves!

 

Want to Learn More?

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about your outdoor experiences! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside. If you’d like this to count for the Summer Nature Challenge, be sure to include your name and email address.

Animals

Mule deer are a common large mammal here in Northern New Mexico. These deer are named for their large, donkey-like ears! (Photo by Mouser Williams)

This week on Take It Outside, explore the world of our local animals. In past Take It Outside posts, we’ve explored reptiles and amphibians, mammals, birds, and insects. Find information and activities about these topics and more on our archive page. This week, we’re exploring aquatic animals, animal signs, and animal behavior in our outdoor challenges. Plus, take a special look at New Mexico’s fish in this week’s blog post!

Summer Nature Challenge:

Participate in our Summer Nature Challenge! Every week, participants who complete the challenge can earn a sticker. If you finish all nine weeks, you’ll earn a bonus sticker! Find our archive containing all of our past Take It Outside activities here.

Download the challenge sheet here to print out and complete at home. At the end of the challenge, you can either bring it to the nature center or mail it to us at 2600 Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

If you don’t have a printer or prefer to work online, you can tell us about your experiences in the Google Form below or email your stories and pictures to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

Blog Post:

Do you like to fish? Have you ever wondered how native and introduced fish in our ecosystem differ? Casey Harthorn of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish discusses fish in New Mexico, with a special look at our state’s native and introduced trout species. Read his blog post here.

Outdoor Challenges:

We’re posting three outdoor challenges today that you can enjoy throughout the week!

Tell us about your experiences with one, two, or all three of them! You can do this in the Google Form below, by writing or drawing about them on our summer challenge sheet, or by sending an email to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

 

PEEC campers were able to find frog eggs, tadpoles, and adult frogs in this pool in Acid Canyon. (Photo by Siobhan Niklasson)

Challenge #1 – Aquatic Animals:

Northern New Mexico doesn’t have a lot of water, but aquatic animals are able to find and take advantage of even very small bodies of water to grow and reproduce.

Seek out water in your area, like rivers, lakes or reservoirs, stock ponds, springs, or pools in canyon bottoms, and look for signs of aquatic animals. Here are some things to look for:

  • Adults and larvae of aquatic invertebrates (insects and other small critters)
  • Frog or salamander eggs, tadpoles or nymphs, and adults
  • Fish
  • Birds, reptiles, and mammals visiting water sources

 

Challenge #2 – Animal Scat:

Scat can tell us who was in an area and also what they ate. Go on a hike and look for scat! How many of these can you find? Based on what you find, what types of food are animals eating in your area?

  • Scat containing berries or fruit
  • Scat containing grass or other plants
  • Scat containing fur or bones
  • Scat containing insect parts

Remember that all scat contains bacteria, so don’t touch it with your fingers (use a stick!) and wash your hands when you get home. Stay away from dog poop, which is often very uniform in texture and lacks recognizable food items, since most domestic dogs eat processed dog food. Remember to always clean up your own dog’s poop when out on the trail!

Test your knowledge of animal scat in this poop quiz, too!

Challenge #3 – Animal Behavior:

This squirrel was photographed with a mouth full of nesting materials! (Photo by Mouser Williams)

It’s fascinating to watch animals go about their daily lives. Go outside and find an animal: a bird, insect or other invertebrate, mammal, reptile, amphibian, or fish. Be as still as you can to let it get used to you, and watch what it does. Can you see how it does any of the following things?

  • Gathering food and eating
  • Moving around
  • Regulating its temperature
  • Feeding and caring for young
  • Nesting
  • Taking shelter
  • Interacting with others of the same or another species
  • Communicating with others
  • Defending itself or its young
  • Playing

If you have a nature journal, record some of your observations. Let us know what you notice!

 

Want to Learn More?

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about your outdoor experiences! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside. If you’d like this to count for the Summer Nature Challenge, be sure to include your name and email address.

Native and Introduced Fish Species in New Mexico

The aquarium at the Los Alamos Nature Center features four species of fish that are native to the Jemez River: Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout, Rio Grande Suckers, Rio Grande Chub, and Longnose Dace. (PEEC Archival Photo)

By Casey Harthorn, New Mexico Department of Game & Fish

In New Mexico, we have both native and introduced fish species. Today, we will see what some of the differences are between the two, we will investigate why we introduce different species, look at some examples of native and introduced species, and discuss some of the ecological consequences of introducing fish.

When talking about native species, we are referring to species that evolved through time to live in a specific environment. For instance, our state’s Gila trout evolved within the Gila watershed system. When we refer to an introduced species, we are referring to a species that evolved in one watershed and was introduced (normally) by humans, into another watershed. The rainbow trout, for example, evolved in the ocean and was introduced into the waters of New Mexico.

So why would anybody introduce a species of fish into an environment where it did not naturally evolve? Well, good question. New Mexico is an arid state — we just do not have a lot of water. While we do have a few rivers and streams, there are very few natural lakes. These rivers and streams are populated with native fish species, primarily suckers, dace, and chubs. As New Mexico entered the industrial age, the need to irrigate increased, as did the need to manage our limited water resources, so along came dams. Dams were constructed along New Mexico’s rivers to create reservoirs, thus changing the aquatic environment from rivers to lakes. There is a good chance that what you know as a lake here in New Mexico is really a reservoir, a manmade lake.

To fish, a river or stream is a completely different environment than that of a lake or reservoir. We cannot simply take a fish from a stream environment and expect it to thrive in a lake environment and vice versa. Imagine that you lived your entire life in the middle of New York City, and then you were relocated to the isolated tundra of Alaska. How long do you think you would survive? Fish are the same: some evolved to live in stream environments, while others do better in lake environments. When the aquatic environment changed, fish were stocked to match this new environment. Some fish are stocked to increase angling opportunities, some are stocked for management purposes, and some are stocked illegally.  

Just looking at the sportfish species within New Mexico waters, which sportfish species are native, and which are introduced? Let us look at the specific fish families within the sportfish community and identify native or introduced members.  

A Rio Grande cutthroat trout at the Los Alamos Nature Center. Did you know that this fish is the state fish of New Mexico? (Photo by Bob Walker)

Salmonidae – Trout Family

Gila TroutNative
Rio Grande Cutthroat TroutNative
Brook TroutIntroduced
Rainbow TroutIntroduced
Brown TroutIntroduced
Lake TroutIntroduced

Centrarchidae – Sunfish Family

BluegillNative
Green SunfishNative
Longear SunfishNative
Largemouth BassNative and Introduced
CrappieIntroduced
Smallmouth BassIntroduced
Spotted BassIntroduced

Percidae – Perch Family

Lake PerchIntroduced
WalleyeIntroduced

Esocide – Pike Family

Northern PikeIntroduced
Tiger MuskieIntroduced

Cyprinidae – Minnow Family

Common CarpIntroduced

Moronidae – Temperate Basses

Striped BassIntroduced
White BassIntroduced

Ictaluridae – Catfish Family

Black BullheadNative
Channel CatfishNative
Flathead CatfishNative
Blue CatfishNative

As you can see, there are a lot of introduced species of fish swimming within New Mexico’s watersheds. However, there are also very many native species still swimming in New Mexico. While we normally hear about the sportfish species, it is important to note that the native species are also extensively managed and monitored by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Great care is taken to ensure that all introduced species do not interfere with the native fish community.

Casey Harthorn, the blog’s author, holds up two walleye. Walleye are an introduced species in New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Casey Harthorn)

To enhance angling opportunities, the Department of Game and Fish stocked rainbow and brown trout throughout the state for years. It was later discovered that this stocking was having a negative effect on the native trout populations. Rainbow trout were breeding with the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, affecting the genetic pool, and brown trout were much more aggressive and out-competing the native species for resources.

Once the Department realized the impact these stockings were having on the native population, it acted. Populations of pure native trout were identified and isolated, and all stocking of introduced species was stopped in these areas. Historical ranges of native trout were identified, isolated with fish barriers, cleaned out of nonnative species, and restocked with genetically pure native trout. Rio Grande cutthroat and Gila trout are reared in local hatcheries and released into their native ranges, thus increasing their populations. These are just two examples of ongoing work that the Department is taking to protect native species.

You might be wondering, if native trout are being reared in hatcheries, why doesn’t the Department of Game and Fish simply stop producing and stocking rainbow trout and stock the native trout instead? Well, for a few reasons. Rainbow trout have been cultured for so many years that they have evolved into an amazingly easy species to raise, transport, release, and catch by anglers. The rainbow trout is probably as domesticated as a fish can be, whereas the native species are wild and extremely hard to rear in a hatchery environment. Kind of like the difference between a dog and a wolf! The rainbow trout is an ideal species for our urban and small lake fisheries programs. They are easy to raise and stock, and anglers enjoy catching and eating them. The native trout, on the other hand, are wild, provide a much greater challenge to anglers, and survive much better in the wild.

Despite our efforts to keep native and introduced species separated, rainbow trout sometimes escape or are illegally introduced into native trout waters. So, to mitigate the effects these trout may have on the native population, the Department now only raises and releases sterile fish. All the rainbow trout in the state’s hatcheries are triploid rainbow trout. A triploid trout is a sterile trout formed from a manipulated egg. The eggs are not genetically altered, but temperature-shocked to form triploid instead of diploid individuals, which means they have three sets of chromosomes instead of the normal two, and are infertile.

Will the State ever be free of introduced fish species? Probably not. Many of these introductions are important to the anglers of New Mexico as well as to the local communities. The native species are managed and maintained within their natural environment, while the introduced species are managed within the manmade environment.

Here are some of the things we encourage you to think about when considering our state’s fish species. If you have thoughts you’d like to share, please leave a comment below!

Can an introduced species ever be considered a native species? As an example, largemouth bass have been stocked into some of New Mexico’s waters for over 100 years. Are they still considered an introduced species?

Should the watersheds of New Mexico be returned to their natural state?

The Gila River is the state’s last remaining free flowing river. Should it be dammed up?

Geology

Valles Caldera National Preserve is a fascinating place to explore volcanology and geology. Almost every fall, local geologists Fraser and Cathy Goff lead a geology tour of the Valles Caldera for PEEC. We’re lucky to have this gem in Northern New Mexico! (Photo by Eric John Peterson)

This week on Take It Outside, take some time to appreciate the geologic history of our area, learn how rocks are used by living creatures, and maybe start a rock collection!

Summer Nature Challenge:

Participate in our Summer Nature Challenge! Every week, participants who complete the challenge can earn a sticker. If you finish all nine weeks, you’ll earn a bonus sticker! Find our archive containing all of our past Take It Outside activities here.

Download the challenge sheet here to print out and complete at home. At the end of the challenge, you can either bring it to the nature center or mail it to us at 2600 Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

If you don’t have a printer or prefer to work online, you can tell us about your experiences in the Google Form below or email your stories and pictures to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

Blog Post:

Geologists Fraser and Cathy Goff have spent years studying the Valles Caldera volcano. In this week’s blog post, they provide an introduction to how the Valles Caldera formed and why it is one of the most famous volcanoes in the world! Read their blog post here.

The theme for our June photo contest also happens to be the Valles Caldera! If you haven’t already, vote for the winner of this month’s contest here.

Do you want to learn how to participate in our monthly photo contest? Find out more here. We’re accepting submissions for our July contest until Tuesday, June 30. Next month’s theme will be insects! Please send your submissions to photos@peecnature.org.

Outdoor Challenges:

Campers in our 2016 Backpacking Adventure for Teens summer camp hold up obsidian that they found while hiking. What shapes, sizes, and colors of rocks can you find this week? (Photo by Beth Cortright)

We’re posting three outdoor challenges today that you can enjoy throughout the week!

Tell us about your experiences with one, two, or all three of them! You can do this in the Google Form below, by writing or drawing about them on our summer challenge sheet, or by sending an email to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

 

Challenge #1:

Collect and categorize rocks. There’s a temptation to jump straight to identifying rocks, but all identification begins with careful observation. Bring home some rocks that catch your attention: maybe they sparkle, or have an interesting shape, or are a little different from the other rocks you’ve seen. Then, sort them by characteristics.

First, look at the rocks:

  • What colors do you see? What shapes?
  • Patterns: Are the rocks striped, or polka dotted, or do they have any other patterns?
  • How heavy does the rock feel when you lift it? Does it have air pockets?
  • What textures can you feel?

Next, see if you can find any crystals in the rocks:

  • How big are the crystals?
  • What different colors do you see?
  • Can you see any shiny faces, or are the crystals rounded or uneven?

Try drawing one of your favorite rocks! Use colors if you can, and add as many details as you can. See if someone else can guess which rock you’ve drawn.

 

Challenge #2:

Explore soil separation in this challenge. Rocks are the foundation of our soil! Go outside and gather a container of soil. Try to find the following parts, using a magnifying glass if you have one:

  • Pieces of rock of different sizes
  • Sticks, leaves, and other plant matter
  • Insects or worms
  • Air pockets
  • Water (can you feel any dampness?)

Pour a scoop of soil into a transparent container with a lid. Fill the rest of the container with water. Close the lid, and shake the soil thoroughly. Watch what happens as the soil settles. Draw the layers you see.

Challenge #3:

White Rock Canyon is a good place to look for petroglyphs in Los Alamos County! (Photo by Craig Martin)

Discover how rocks and life intersect. Rocks are part of our ecosystem. See if you can find any of the following signs of how rocks interact with living things in our environment:

  • Lizards or snakes sunning themselves on rocks
  • Animal burrows under rocks
  • Signs that squirrels sit on rocks to snack
  • Tree roots growing into rocks
  • Lichens growing on rocks
  • Insects and other creatures in the soil
  • Ant hills covered with sand grains
  • Fish or other aquatic life hiding among rocks
  • Signs of people using rocks (cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, rocks in homes and gardens)

What else can you find? Let us know in the form below!

 

Want to Learn More?

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about your outdoor experiences! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside. If you’d like this to count for the Summer Nature Challenge, be sure to include your name and email address.