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Kolb Forest

Kolb 500-Year Forest

(View Audio Slideshow)

Since 1973, Jean and Hal Kolb have owned property in a mountainous area southwest of Charlottesville, Virginia, which consists of a 113-acre north-facing tract and a 63-acre south-facing tract. Both parcels are forested, and the upper reaches of the larger one contain some oaks and hickories approximately 200 years old. A clause in the conservation easement donated by the Kolbs to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation states that the 500-Year Forest Foundation will supply services to help “promote old-growth forest.”

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October 2014 Forest Report

The end of the year’s growing season prompts us to give a short report on the Kolb forest. The greater than normal precipitation in the last several years (68.15″ in 2011, 47.8 in 2012, 61.8 in 2013, 43.4 so far this year) has produced strong plant growth, and we now have a lot of trees with a dbh of 36″ or greater. On the other hand, the wildlife seems to be diminished, probably due to the severely reduced mast crop last year. The roadways in the county were littered with dead squirrels, apparently migrating out of their normal habitats. This year we haven’t seen a squirrel in months. The irony is that this has been a strong fruiting year, with acorns, nuts, berries, and fruits in abundance, which are not being eaten.


Japanese-Stilt-Grass-SmOn the invasives front, Jean notes that if the economy were as robust as our stilt grass, growth would be phenomenal and new startups would abound. Stilt grass tried to invest this year’s heavy rain in extra seed production, but by putting in two or three hours nearly every day this summer, we were able to find and thwart patches (some large) on most of 113 acres. Starting at the mountain top, we sprayed and pulled our way down the slopes and hollows—taking out wineberry, bittersweet, and other invasives as we went—but by the time we got to the lowest part of the property, stilt grass had begun to make seeds. Spraying is no use at that point, so we’ve been pulling big plants and piling them (see photo). But we won’t be able to attack all of them before the seeds begin to eject. I think, however, we’ve stopped about 85% of next year’s stilt grass plants; some seeds, of course, wait a year or two before germinating. (You need to check each patch at least twice to get new plants or ones you missed.) It’s been a ton of work. The worst non-native invasive plants on our property are Japanese stilt grass, garlic mustard, beefsteak plant (Perilla frutescens), wineberry, Oriental bittersweet, mile-a-minute (Persicaria perfoliata), Asiatic hawkweed (Youngia japonica), long-bristled smartweed (Persicaria longiseta), and multi-flora rose.


The-Forks-Bridge-06-SmOn the positive side, we can report that we now have four major trails, giving us convenient access to different parts of the forest: the Ridge Top Trail to the summit of Boaz Mountain on the south; inside that, the shorter Two Bridges (loop) Trail, which we used at the outing last fall; the Creek Trail along the northern boundary to the west; and a new Sunrise Trail which starts near the mail box and runs up the eastern side to connect to the summit. These trails total about 3½ miles, and there are additional connectors and crossovers. And we just finished another new bridge, our fifth, which fords the stream where the upper two branches come together.


Earlier Forest Reports

September 2004

Phil Coulling, Vegetation Ecologist for the Virginia Natural Heritage Program, visited the Kolb forest in September 2004 and reported that the vegetation consists primarily of mid- to late-successional forest recovering from both timber harvesting in the early 20th century and a wild fire on the south-facing tract in 2001. Two broad community groups are present. Rich cove and slope forests occupy the north-facing parcel, whereas oak/heath forests dominate the south-facing tract.


Year Long 2005

Tom Dierauf and Jean Kolb laying out transect

Tom Dierauf, retired research forester, with the Kolbs assistance, conducted a tree and plant inventory during spring, summer and fall in twelve permanent study plots. In addition the same inventory was recorded in the Natural Heritage plot, bringing it into harmony with the other twelve plots. With this information a conservation plan has been created. The plan calls for the forest to age naturally, invasives to be controlled, and certain trees to be restocked in canopy gaps. The plan is to be reviewed at least every ten years.


April 2006

Jean and Hal Kolb standing and Ted Harris sitting setting a wire cage around an oak seedling.

Deer like to eat oak seedlings. Placing a strong wire cage around a small oak protects it until it grows above a deer’s reach. Since oaks require plenty of sun, five small oaks in forest canopy gaps (where more sunlight reaches the ground) have been enclosed in five-foot-high cages. These little oaks will be monitored and their cages removed when they are tall enough to make it on their own.

A Louisiana waterthrush has returned to nest, as usual, along the small stream in a hollow. Ovenbirds, Wood thrushes, a Cerulean warbler, Scarlet tanagers, and Red-eyed vireos are beginning to sing in the woods.

Garlic mustard is on Jean Kolb’s hit list for hand-pulling or a squirt of Round-up. (Jean always carries water with her to douse and mis-sprayed plant or animal.) Garlic mustard is in bloom, so the "window of opportunity" for zapping it is getting short. Fifteen years of dedicated effort have kept it to a minimum in the Kolb forest.


August 2006 by Jean Kolb

Hal with Bittersweet RootBack in June, Hal spent a lot of time cutting or pulling Oriental Bittersweet and we’re beginning to see a reduction in the worst places. For most of August, it was too “too darn hot” to be out in the woods doing anything at all. The drought has reduced the stream in the hollow above the house to five very small pools in the exposed bedrock, the least water I’ve observed there in 30 years. It’s too dry to set out more oak seedlings. When it rains and/or the days cool off, we’ll get back in the woods.

On banks and well drained spots, the Stilt Grass is looking deathly dry but, where it grows in low places and has plenty of sun, the Stilt Grass is thick and knee high. After I worked in a really thick patch (to eradicate it) and acquired 21 baby ticks and 29 chiggers on my ankles, I started rethinking my timing. In the past, I left the Stilt Grass (invasive) till later because it blooms so late, but I think I should attack it earlier.

Japanese Stilt GrassDuring a cool spell, I re-checked the (Hurricane) Isabel plot and removed the remaining Mile-a-Minute vines left after we’d pulled most of them back in the spring. A fallen tree’s upturned root mass that was engulfed with Mile-a Minute last summer had only one diminished vine on it. A native wild grape was now taking over the root mass.


May 2007

Rock foundation of an old farm house enveloped by forest

For more than a year, the 500-Year Forest Foundation has been mapping sites of previous human activity in the Kolb 500-Year Forest using GPS technology and the owners’ knowledge of historical and natural features.

The often steep terrain in between holds hollows, old apple orchard terraces, remnants of old house sites, and a maturing mixed deciduous forest covering nearly all of the property.

On the lower slopes, an abandoned cabin and the scant remains of a barn mark the site of the earliest farm on the property. An abandoned frame house, higher up and near the western property border, overlooks orchard terraces of a later farm. Upslope from each, rusted iron pipe remnants, former water lines to the dwellings, protrude from the ground. A half-buried barrel, used for mixing calcium carbide and water to produce acetylene gas for light fixtures and a set of kitchen cooking burners, is still in place near a third old house foundation.


October 2007

Peter Mehring, the Kolb's capable help

This has been a good year for the Kolb forest. The Kolbs, with volunteer and paid help, have put a significant dent in the invasive plant population in their forest. There’s now a lot less Ailanthus, Oriental bittersweet, garlic mustard, and mile-a-minute vine.

Peter Mehring (whose work was paid for by grant funds from our Foundation) helped attack bittersweet and pretty well exterminated the autumn olive, and Peter’s sons, Ryan and Adam, assisted. Japanese stilt grass will take years to control but with the Kolbs’ daily surges against invasives and their competent, knowledgeable, and industrious helpers, they are optimistic that they can protect native species in their forest.

Shirley Halladay with Stilt Grass

Shirley Halladay contributes to the 500-Year Forest
Foundation by volunteering to remove non-native invasive
plants from the Kolb Forest. Shown here holding Japanese Stilt Grass she has just pulled out, Shirley helped Jean Kolb work over this patch last year before it made seed, so that this year there are only a few new plants to pull. Shirley, a member of the Virginia Native Plant Society, has also pulled garlic mustard, mile-a-minute, and other invasive species in the Kolb forest. She volunteers as well with Stream Watch, a group that monitors the health of local streams.


May 2008

Wildflowers protected from deer by fencing

Non-native invasive plants coming into the forest from adjacent properties present an ongoing problem. Birds and animals disseminate seeds of invasive as well as other plants over the areas of their territory which of course do not correspond to human property lines.

Thus, the battle to control invasive plants takes continual effort. Over the years Jean Kolb has worked diligently to control garlic mustard. Her efforts have been successful in removing it from many areas and greatly limiting its spread in others.

With serious help from the Mehrings, Peter and sons, Adam and Ryan, oriental bittersweet is beginning to be reigned in. Although Japanese stilt grass has been cleared from several small areas and reduced in some others, it remains a major problem. Areas infested with mile-a-minute vines are relatively small and will be attacked in the coming weeks.

Of the many flowering plants in the Kolb forest, some have been so heavily browsed by deer that the Kolbs have fenced in an area 65 by 85 feet to protect the deer-favored species such as the ones pictured here.


November 2008 by Jean Kolb

Hal measuring a tulip poplarOur attack on non-native invasive plants continues. I checked all the old garlic mustard sites--already marked with orange surveyor’s tape--for new plants and either pulled or squirted them with Roundup. As I pursued garlic mustard and any remaining mile-a-minute, Peter Mehring cut bittersweet vines and treated their cut surfaces with Roundup to kill the roots. We cleared Bristled Knotweed, Polygonum cespitosum, from trails where it was being tracked in both directions and, as stilt grass grew more visible, we put our efforts into pulling it--in a few cases, spraying it. When a split-stem end showed tiny seed development, we bagged our pulled plants and safely cached them inside my garden fence. We made major progress in clearing many sites, and next year we’ll see how thorough we were. Stilt grass patches that have been pulled for two years in succession produced only a few plants this year, and most patches pulled for three years have disappeared.


October 2009

Jean Kolb explaining her Stilt grass control strategy to our directors.In late October, four 500-Year Forest Foundation directors visited the Kolb Forest where they saw some large tulip trees and heard Jean Kolb talk about removing non-native invasive Japanese stilt grass, Microstegium vimineum. Stilt grass, she explained, can grow three feet tall and fall sideways, which puts its top-growing seeds several feet beyond the mother plant, and advances its spread. If seeds have not formed, they pull the grass and hang it in bunches above ground; if seeds have formed inside the stem tip, they bag the plants and pile them in Jean's fenced garden to be monitored. "It's amazing to me," Jean says, "that we can actually win this battle."


June 2010

One of Nature's lovliest sightsThis beautiful stream in the Kolb 500-Year Forest is flush with melting snow and rainfall. Hal Kolb says, “There is nothing prettier that a stream running through a forest. It seems to me that one of the great contributions of a mature forest is to store water for slow release and botanical nourishment.”

Hal and Jean Kolb are so fortunate to have Peter Mehring continue to help them with invasive control in their forest. In April and May he has divided his working time between oriental bittersweet and garlic mustard. It should be said that Hal and especially Jean spend many hours in their forest removing the noxious plants.


November 2010

by Jean Kolb

Bear Food.

When a storm takes down a good-sized tree in our forest, it slowly becomes a food bar for bears—a rotting log offering grubs, ant larvae, termites, and perhaps a mouse nest or seed cache.  Pulled-off chunks of softened wood mark a bear’s visit.  A pile of large splinters beside a less decayed log is the work of a pileated woodpecker with similar intent.  This year, I found wild turkey droppings and a feather among hundreds of discarded burrs under a nut-loaded chinquapin and  empty shreds of chewed-open acorns under the chestnut oaks.  Gray squirrels husked and planted the black walnuts they didn’t eat, and although chipmunks and birds harvested most of the spice bush berries, we found several small caches of bright red berries stored by an Allegheny woodrat.  Orange persimmons adorning leafless female persimmon trees will drop now and then for weeks, extending the fall food supply, while clusters of wild grapes, blue greenbriar berries, and white poison ivy berries (enjoyed by woodpeckers) will be available through most of the winter.

With an eye on future mast production, we distributed sprouting white oak acorns provided by Peter Mehring.  To keep antlers away from a beautiful, straight American chestnut—35 feet tall, 4 inches in diameter in a canopy gap—we caged its trunk and hope it lives to produce chestnuts.  Beech trees, recent additions in our forest, have pushed their shade tolerant tops 30 feet toward the canopy; when about 40 years old, they should begin adding beechnuts to the wildlife food supply.

To be sure, we’ve continued to attack non-native invasive bittersweet, garlic mustard, ailanthus, and stilt grass, because, if invasives take over, there’ll be much less food for wildlife.


June 2012

Michael Jordan - UVA 2012 graduate.

As owners of a 500-Year Forest for almost eight years now, Hal and Jean can see real progress in their invasive efforts. This year they added 4th year student Michael Jordan to their crew of occasional workers with Peter Mehring, Lee & Kathryn Kolb, Shirley Halliday (reimbursed with firewood), and Ryan Mehring (compensated by University of Virginia’s charity day program). In addition to the routine invasive work done by all, Michael helped with clearing under the electric line and building the new Taylor Creek loop trail.

 

 


Fall 2103

bridge-9-25-13-014SmJust before hosting visitors during the Foundation’s annual meeting day in October, the owners finished a new Two Bridge Trail. Also, they added a fifth bridge to their network. This one takes hikers across a ravine carved out by Hurricane Camille. With substantial paid staff hired with an assist from the Foundation, all trails were cleared from water, storm, wind, snow, and electric company damage. But such tasks never stop. Soon after the clean-up, a large tree came down on the Ridge Trail ten seconds after Jean Kolb passed by it. An unusual summer (July had nine inches of rain and cool weather) contributed even more to the never-ending challenge of war against invasives.

 

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