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Federation Blog

When Glenn and Jane Amsbaugh moved from York, PA back to Jane’s hometown along the South River, there was one thing they knew they wanted to continue: gardening.  Mr. Amsbaugh knew he would have some work ahead of him since the South River does not have the rich fertile soils like York, PA which is in the heart of Amish County.   With a low-lying property along the South River, he had to battle higher salinity levels and poorer soil.

Having composted for over 15 years, the Amsbaughs knew this eco-friendly practice would help to improve the soil quality in the garden.  Every year,  they get nearly five wheel barrels full of compost  to enrich the soil in their garden.  According to Mrs. Amsbaugh, making composting easy is the key to making this a continued practice.  She keeps an attractive, small, stainless steel odor reducing composting pail next to her sink.  When that becomes full, she simply takes it to a larger bucket outside.  When the weather is nice, they take the compost down to the compost pile near the edge of their property. 

Why compost?  Well, why not? Like the Amsbaughs said, there is no sense in wasting left-over food – especially when it benefits the garden so much. If you create a simple routine and make composting easy, you will be more likely to stick with it in the long run. 

Mr. Amsbaugh has gone beyond only composting to improve his garden.  Originally, Mr. Amsbaugh used old dock boards to create a series of raised bed gardens.  When he noticed that his crops seemed to be doing better, he decided to raise the beds even higher to give the vegetables a greater depth of richer soil and to further separate them from the higher salinity soil.  On the beautiful warm January day when I went to interview him, he and a friend were already out laying the boards preparing for spring!   In addition to composting and creating raised beds, Mr. Amsbaugh waters his garden via irrigation piping connected to a large 1,200 gallon cistern that collects rain water from his roof.

Gardening is a wonderful way to connect with nature and get delicious vegetables right from your own back yard.  The Amsbaughs get almost 20 different vegetables  from their garden from April through November and definitely encourage others to considering both gardening and composting.  Mr. Amsbaugh does have advice for others wanting to do the same.  His first words of advice?  Simply, “do it!”  Carefully select the most appropriate site on your property for a garden.  Make sure you have convenient access to water or an easy way to water the garden.  Begin your soil preparation early and start composting today!

Curious to know what the Amsbaughs grow in their garden? They have been able to grow: asparagus, spinach, pumpkin, corn, tomatoes, onion, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, radish, swiss chard, beans, red beets, lettuce, eggplant, herbs, and cantaloupe.

A special thank you to Glenn and Jane Amsbaugh for inviting us to their home and sharing their yard with us! Go green at your home? Tell us about it and you could be the next South River Federation’s “Go Green Project of the Month!”

Talk about a whirlwind, my head has finally stopped spinning from all of the activities that went on in October with the Federation.

We started off the month of October in West Virginia at the 2011 Chesapeake Watershed Forum, where Carol and Jennifer presented their Chesapeake Conservation Corps project posters. The weekend was filled with seminars on various topics from social marketing to stormwater management. It was a great opportunity to network with other watershed organizations, and hear about what they are doing. It was really nice to be surrounded by people who think the environment should be a priority.

Then it was back to the office to gear up for our Fall Federation Celebration Week. We kicked off the celebration on Saturday with the First Friday Festival at South River Colony. It was their final festival of the season and the Federation was there to talk about the South River. It has been a great way to engage people about what we do as an organization and fish print with the kids. We look forward to more of these events next summer!

Then on Sunday, it was off to Harness Creek for the Flood Bucket Frenzy. With almost 700 Flood Buckets, we needed all the help we could get to be able to accomplish this task. And we did! With over 65 volunteers, coming from Americorps, SRF, Ben Franklin High School, and Laura Seltzer of The Last Boat Out and Do Good Adventures, we were able to open up all the buckets, empty all the oysters from last year onto the Harness Creek sanctuary, and then refill the buckets with new oyster spat for this years’ growing season. It was an arm workout for sure. This event was a great opportunity for people to not only see young oysters, but also see how Flood Buckets enrich the local diversity by creating habitat for many other critters.

We charged ahead in the week with the Federation general membership meeting on Tuesday night at the London Towne Community Hall. Each meeting we bring in speakers that present on a variety of subjects that pertain to either the South River or the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For this meeting, we had both CCC volunteers talk about their personal projects. Carol is working on how optical brighteners can be used to identify septic leakage and Jennifer gave a presentation on how people and communities can become involved with the MGO program. We also invited Dr. Walter Boynton, from CBL, to talk about the Chesapeake Bay, its history, and its future. I might be a biased daughter for saying this, but he has a great way of presenting information to a diverse audience, not everyone is a scientist and it’s important that everyone understands what’s going on with the Bay. He talked about how the Bay looked during John Smiths time, what changed over time, and how we can improve things. I really enjoyed his image of putting the Bay on a diet. I might not be able to comprehend all of the scientific lingo, but I can wrap my head around the concept that we feed our rivers and Bay too much and that we have to put the fork down. We also welcomed two new board members—Tom Reinert and Marilynn Katatsky! Each of them bring a lot to the table and I look forward to working with both of them.

The week finished strong with the 2nd Annual Fall Kayak Sojourn! To say it was an adventure was an understatement because it was not a calm day on the river. According to NOAA, winds were gusting 15-20 knots. However this did not deter the participants, all of who braved the windy weather and ventured out onto Duvall Creek to explore and observe what is going on in and around the South River. Carol, CCC volunteer for the Federation, said it best “it was awesome!” When they returned to shore, they were greeted with delicious hot clam chowder, hot chocolate, and cookies! A big thank you goes out to SeaWatch International for the chowder, Keeper Springs Natural Spring Water for the water, Starbucks for the coffee, and DoubleTree Hotel for the cookies. It’s events like these that make me realize how special of a resource we have in our backyard and that we need to make protecting it a priority. I hope many of you this fall get the chance to go outside and celebrate the awesomeness which is the South River.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for all of these events. We truly appreciate all of your help and support!

June 30, 2011 Who says we don’t have anything in common with Iraq? I found out first hand that we do have something—the Anacostia River.

On June 30th, I got to take part in a very unique “call to action” event—the Anacostia River Plunge. The SouthRIVERKEEPER®, Diana Muller, her two children, and I went up to the Blandensburg Waterfront Park to support the Anacostia RIVERKEEPER® and the Anacostia Watershed Society in their efforts to make people realize the importance of cleaning up the Anacostia.

When we arrived at the plunge site, one of the supporters, who currently lives in Iraq, looked at all of the trash and said “Wow, that looks a lot like Iraq” meaning it looked like the Tigris River, where she spends her time trying to protect and improve it. We were also greeted by a giant Recyclops created from trash pulled from the Anacostia.

Former state Senator Winegrad, Senator Paul Pinksy, Dr. Howard Ernst, David Harrington, and former Senator Joe Tydings were all present for the plunge. Many local politicians, RIVERKEEPERS®, local supporters, and news crews were present to watch us wade into the Anacostia in hazmat suits and waders. Many people did not risk the chance of infection by going into the water and watched from the sideline. One local politician waded in with his business suit and said it will take serious work to clean up this river and I came here to do serious work.

It is sad to say that the Anacostia, our Nation’s Capital river, is one of the dirtiest rivers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. We, the United States, pride ourselves on being the best. So shouldn’t every aspect of our country be the best, including our rivers. “We are a first world country with third world rivers, “ said Dr. Andrew Muller. Third world countries don’t quite have the resources to improve their rivers, but we do! We have let them fall by the wayside and we are well past the timeline set by our government for fishable/swimmable water. So when will it be time to focus on our rivers—when we all have to wear hazmat suits. Is it then, people will decide it’s time to clean up our water.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Neither heat nor humidity could stop the South River Federation and Pricewaterhouse Coopers on Friday as we took on Flood Bucket Day!

With temperatures exceeding well into the 100s, volunteers from Pricewaterhouse Coopers arrived at John Floods home to shake Flood Buckets. Now you ask, what is a Flood Bucket? A Flood Bucket is a 5 gallon container that has been carefully crafted to serve as an oyster cage. Like oyster cages, these buckets hang off piers letting the oysters grow over the course of the year. Come this fall, these oysters will be planted on the Harness Creek Oyster reef. The man behind these buckets is John Flood, founder of the South River Federation.

As we all gathered at the start of the day, we listened to John give us an introduction to what we would be doing that morning. The plan was we would start at John’s dock and work our way around to the community dock as well as individual dock owners and shake the silt and sediment build-up off the Flood Buckets. With the help of Loyd Lewis, the group split up to take on the Flood Buckets. With so many volunteers, the morning went by pretty quickly, which ended up being a good thing because it was the hottest day of the summer so far.


When it came to the actual buckets, there were lots of creatures in them. We saw ells, blue crabs, mud crabs, fish, larvae of insects and shrimp, and of course oysters. It was great to see such river/bay life in the buckets. Since the water quality of the South River is in desperate need of improvement, I wasn’t sure what kind of life we would find inside of these buckets. These buckets are not just good for the oysters, but they create much biodiversity within the creeks.

The day came to an end with ice cream from Brewster’s Real Ice Cream and pizza from Ledo’s Pizza. It was a great way to end such a hot day! The volunteers from Pricewaterhouse Coopers did an amazing job and we look forward to having them come again in the fall to help with the planting of the oysters and the distribution of the new baby oysters into the buckets.

Wednesday was anything but a typical day at the office. Jennifer and I were offered the unique opportunity to travel to Poplar Island with the US Fish & Wildlife (USFW) to participate in a Common and Least Tern monitoring study. Neither one of us had gone to Poplar Island, so we jumped at the chance, packed up our bags, and met the USFW at their boat bright and early on Wednesday morning.

Once home to almost 100 people, Poplar Island had a post office, general store, and a combination church/schoolhouse located on the island. It is a place that has gone through many changes over the centuries. First settled in 1632, Poplar Island was estimated to be around 1100 acres. Due to tree clearing for farming, by 1999 the island had dwindled down to 2 acres and it was quickly disappearing into the Chesapeake Bay. The State of Maryland established the Poplar Island Restoration Project in efforts to restore the island to its original land mass. The project has been very successful, with them reaching the original size of 1100 acres. The goal is to add another 500 acres to complete the project.

After landing at the dock, we checked in and all of us climbed into a van and off we went to the first Least Tern monitoring site. We had been told by both the USFW and the USGS that we would need to be extra careful where we walked because the nests are on the ground and the chicks and eggs are hard to see. As you will see in the slideshow, they were not kidding! The nests are small depressions in the ground, the eggs are the same color as the sand, and chicks are so tiny that they blend in with their surroundings. Jennifer and I were extra careful for the rest of the day where we stepped.

The day was not all butterflies and unicorns, we did experience the “circle of life” when it came to the birds. We saw nests that had been filled in with sediment from rainstorms, eggs that had been cracked open, and even three dead adult terns. The cause of death for these terns was pretty dramatic—one was decapitated, we only found the mandible of one, and the last one only the wings were left. After seeing these birds, the USFW set up cameras in the areas, but they are sure these deaths mean there are owls on the island. Altogether, we monitored four Common and Least Tern nesting sites. It was an amazing day looking at monitoring all of the nests, eggs, chicks, and getting to learn more about the history of Poplar Island. And we saw more than just terns during the day. We saw a Bald eagle, and immature Bald eagle, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, many shorebirds, Terrapin nests, and even some very small toads.

“It was a special opportunity that I got to be a part of because I am a CCC intern and because of the great relationship the South River Federation has with the USFW” said Jennifer. And she was right, Jennifer and I had an amazing day learning about the restoration project, taking pictures of shorebirds, and of course watching where we walked.