The Maine Big Night Project is Coming to Runamuk!

maine big night project

This spring the Maine Big Night project is coming to the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm! Amphibians and reptiles played an important part in my childhood, fostering my love for wildlife at an early age. Even today, these keystone species continue to hold a special place in my heart. I am super excited to be able to bring this citizen science project to this part of Maine.

I Love Frogs and Turtles!

Runamuk loves amphibians and reptiles
Caution: We brake for turtles.

As a young girl, I was the proverbial tomboy. I spent a lot of time playing outside with my younger brother. We played in the dirt making mud-pies or cakes, creating cities for his matchbox cars or digging with his tonka trucks. We found secret forts, explored the forested landscape that surrounded our home, and climbed trees.

My absolute favorite thing to do, though, was to seek out the nearest pond or wetland habitat, to catch frogs, salamanders, and turtles. I liked hanging out by the water’s edge watching the wriggling tadpoles. It was a treat to see a turtle sunning itself on a log. And I was forever turning over rotted logs and heavy rocks to look for salamanders. If ever we did not come when my mother called, she knew exactly where to look for my brother and I, lol.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by these animals. My science reports, in school, were always about amphibians or reptiles. I was so taken with herpetology that I researched it extensively, even after I graduated high school. Whenever I went hiking, there was always a field guide for amphibians and reptiles in my pack. In fact, until I became obsessed with bees, amphibians were my major passion. I wanted to save the frogs.

The Problem Facing Frogs

Maine Big Night Amphibian Monitoring Project
Amphibian populations are declining. Photo credit: Greg LeClair.

Amphibians’ complex water-and-land life cycle makes them more vulnerable than most animals. Because of their permeable skin, frogs and salamanders are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment. Amphibian eggs have no protective shell, making them susceptible to harmful UV levels. Their mucousy skin easily absorbs harmful pollutants that might be in their watery habitats. Climate change is causing higher levels of disease among populations, while habitat encroachment results in the loss of important breeding grounds.

We’ve been watching the decline of these animals since the 1960’s. Even in protected national parks and wildlife refuges, the average population decline of amphibians is 3.97% each year. In some regions, the population loss is even more severe. Scientists predict that within the next 20 years, some species will disappear from at least half the habitats they occupy.

Note: Check out this article from the USDA to learn more about Why frog and toad populations are declining.

Why Frogs Matter

Amphibians and reptiles are important members of our aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. They serve as both predator and prey, transferring energy between the two systems.

Viewed as indicators of wetland health, amphibians offer us an early indication of ecosystem change when monitored over long periods of time. Populations of amphibians may exhibit measurable changes in site occupancy, distribution, abundance, species richness, and increases in both disease occurrence and malformations. These changes cause a ripple effect on other aspects of the ecosystem. Predator, prey, and competitor populations, for example, as well as energy flow and nutrient recycling.

What is the Maine Big Night Project?

Volunteers record data about species found at sites across Maine. Photo credit: Greg LeClair.

The Maine Big Night (MBN) is a citizen science project led by scientists and UMaine specialists. Programs like these rely on community involvement for data collection, and also provide direct relief to conservation issues. MBN seeks to identify important crossing sites, and relieve pressure from road mortality at the same time.

The project has 3 main goals:

  1. Identify significant and vulnerable migration routes for amphibians across the state of Maine.
  2. Provide direct relief of road mortality to local amphibian populations.
  3. Create an opportunity for Maine citizens to participate in wildlife conservation and natural sciences.

At 286 sites throughout the state, community members can participate in the Maine Big Night project anytime between April 1st and April 30th. Participants are required to complete a brief training course and pass a quiz with a least 80% accuracy. Don’t be intimidated, though, it’s an open-book test, and you can retake the quiz as many times as needed to pass.

Once you’ve signed your liability waiver, you can adopt the site (or sites) you’d like to survey. These are 1000-foot sections of roadway which tend to encompass a wetland or forest, usually within range of a significant vernal pool.

But…What is a Big Night?

“What’s a Big Night?” David asked, trying to understand why I was so excited.

We were at the Whittemore homestead again for Sunday supper. Deron was at the stove cooking (a man who cooks! pretty sexy, right ladies?), while I sat at the table across from his 80-year old father.

“It’s that night in the spring when the frogs are all over the road,” I explained.

Maine Big Night Project
Mass numbers of frogs, toads, and salamanders make their way to vernal pools on a Big Night. Photo credit: Greg LeClair

We’ve all seen it─that first “warm” rainy night in the spring, coming home late and there are frogs all over the roads… It generally happens once the ground has thawed and the nighttime temperatures are consistently above freezing. Then the rains come. This is when amphibians begin migrating to breeding grounds.

A true “Big Night” is when immense numbers of migrating amphibians move simultaneously. For that to happen it needs to be around 45-degrees, and rainy, though you will still see smaller numbers of amphibians moving in temperatures as low as 32-degrees.

I knew that to many of that older generation the idea would sound preposterous. I couldn’t help grinning prematurely at the reaction I expected to this next bit, “This is a citizen science project that involves helping frogs cross the road.”

He looked at me across the table for a moment, then said flatly, “You’re going to help the frogs cross the road.”

I giggled and grinned happily, “Yep! I sure am!”

He glanced over his shoulder at Deron and asked, “Where did you meet this chick anyway!?”

Maine Big Night Comes to Runamuk

Maine Big Night at Runamuk Acres
Volunteers wanted! Photo credit: Greg LeClair.

Believe me, I know it sounds ridiculous. I don’t care. I’m going to take my 14 year-old son out after supper some night in April─along with whomever else I can convince to help me. We’re going to put on reflective vests and headlamps, set our cars along the roadside with 4-way flashers blinking in the night, and stand out in the rain to help frogs and salamanders cross to and from their breeding grounds.

Personally, I just don’t feel good about running over frogs on the road. I never have. And I absolutely cannot imagine a world without frogs or salamanders. The MBN project is one small way I can help. Plus, it’s a great way to get my kids (and yours!) engaged in natural science and community involvement.

With that goal in mind, I’ve enrolled Runamuk to serve as a host organization for MBN volunteers in this part of the state. This means certified participants can sign-out safety gear, data sheets, and ID card for free at Runamuk Acres. I just have to have the materials back by May 30th so I can send them back.

Greg LeClair, Project Coordinator, told me that Runamuk is the northernmost organization to participate in the Maine Big Night project. There’s a real need for data collection in this part of the state, so that we can know that status of amphibian populations in the Kennebec River and Western Maine regions. Once we know what we’ve got, then we can begin monitoring those populations, and monitoring the health of the ecosystems they represent.

If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer click here to go to to the Maine Big Night homepage for more info. OR click here to go directly to the Volunteer Materials & Training page.

I took the training course right away, and have adopted 3 sites in the surrounding area: a site on the Bog Road on Route 16 (just a few hundred yards away from the farm), one over on the Deer Farm Road here in New Portland, and another on the 4 Mile Square Road in North Anson. Locals are invited to join Runamuk’s Maine Big Night excursions, or you can work independently and create your own MBN adventure. I sincerely hope you will.

Thanks so much for following along with the story of this #femalefarmer! It is my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my community, and protect this scrappy patch of Earth through wildlife conservation. Check back soon for more stories from Runamuk Acres, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love, my friend!!

Keys to successful bee stewardship

keys to succesful bee stewardship

This is the third segment of my coverage of the 2014 Maine State Beekeepers’ Association’s annual conference, and the second post regarding Dewey Caron’s lectures about good bee stewardship . This year Dr. Dewey Caron gave two presentations–you can read about the first entitled “Looking in the Beehive” by clicking here, and be sure to read about Matt Scott’s delivery of “Climate Change and Maine Bees“.

For the second time that day, Dr. Dewey Caron went before the audience of Maine beekeepers, this time to talk about some of the things that beekeepers who are practicing bee-stewardship are doing. Dr. Caron said that “bees can do well on their own, but don’t always know better,” and to emphasize the point he used a picture of a swarm that had built up a series of combs off the underside of a bar-b-que table, exposed and open to the elements and other dangers.

keys to succesful bee stewardshipAccording to Caron, swarms have a 1 in 5 chance of successfully surviving the winter on their own, and as beekeepers we haven’t been able to improve much on that statistic.

Caron recommends that beekeepers participate in the annual survey undertaken by the Bee Informed Partnership in order that we all might learn which management practices prove most effective for survival of honeybee colonies. Beekeepers interested in joining this citizen science project can find more details at www.beeinformed.org.

Understand the floral season

“You ought to know what the plants are that drive the hive,” Caron continued. Beekeepers should have a good grasp on what the typical forage and feeding season looks like in their area; what pollen and nectar sources are available? Those resources are what stimulate the colony to begin building up brood and the colony population, so you should know when to expect that to happen. That basic understanding of the floral season will help you, as a beekeeper, to know when to expect swarming, to know when you’ll need to be adding honey-supers for the honey-flow. It will be an asset to know when to anticipate a dearth in the nectar flow, and when it will begin to diminish altogether for the season so that you can know when to start consolidating the colony and gearing up for the winter.

Successful colonies

So what do successful fall and overwintered colonies look like? According to Dr. Caron they are hives with strong populations—but not so strong that they will burn through all of their honey reserves during the winter dormancy period. These successful colonies have young and vigorous Queens that can provide plenty of healthy, disease-free brood, and they have enough honey and bee-bread stores to last them til spring.

Challenges to successful beekeeping

There are, of course, a number of challenges beekeepers are facing that can sometimes prevent the success of overwintering colonies.

Non-native species – There’s the fact that Apis mellifera is not even native to North America and so is not necessarily adapted to the conditions here.

Varying regional conditions – Environmental conditions vary greatly from one region of the continent to the next—for example, Dr. Caron admits that in Oregon where he and his bees reside, they have just one main nectar flow and do not see the boon of the fall flow that we have here in Maine.

Changes in environment from one year to the next – Every environment has its ups and downs as well—this year was cool and Indian summer has prolonged the foraging season, while last year’s mild winter was followed by a very warm summer. These variations in the seasons are bound to have an affect on the success of our honeybee colonies.

MITES – Let’s not forget the mites. The relationship the varroa mites have with honeybees is not a good one, Caron stated. The health of honeybee colonies has declined since the late 1940s, with an accelerated decline in the ’90s as the populations of varroa increased.

Disappearing bees

For more than a century beekeepers have faced the puzzling phenomena of disappearing bees.

  • In 1891 and 1896 large colonies disappeared or dwindled to tiny clusters with Queens in May, and was referred to as “May disease”. It was suspected that the affliction was the result of a fungus known as Aspergillus flavus which can cause a form of “Stonebrood”.
  • On the Island of Wight in the United Kingdom, between 1905 and 1919—90% of the colonies died, and there was some contention about the root cause of the problem; some believed the die-offs were the result of the acarine disease, others thought it was due to the tracheal mite. Still more beekeepers believed the hive losses were related to colony starvation or Nosema.
  • The incidents of colony deaths go on over the course of the century until you come to the 2001 epidemic of the Parasitic Mite Syndrome and then the 2007 spread of Colony Collapse Disorder.

And we’re still losing hives. According to Dr. Caron and surveys by the Bee Informed Partnership in 2014 beekeepers across the U.S. lost approximately 45.2% of their colonies, and in Maine the number here was 41.2%. Furthermore—I think it’s important to note that according to these surveys—backyard beekeepers lose more hives than commercial beekeepers do.

So what can we do to improve upon those statistics?

Utilize Integrated Pest Management techniques

dr. dewey caron and bee stewardshipDr. Caron suggests beekeepers employ what’s known as “Integrated Pest Management”, or IPM. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization defines IPM as “the careful consideration of all available pest control techniques and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of pest populations and keep pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified and reduce or minimize the risks to human health and the environment.”

Basically you’re assessing the problem to determine if the threat level has surpassed a threshold that you regard as the point where action must be taken, and then you would decide what kind of treatment the pest-level warrants.

With an IPM program, beekeepers have a range of tactics available to them in what Caron refers to as their “IPM toolbox” to aid them in the ongoing fight against varroa; from the more preventative cultural and mechanical management techniques, to the interventive softer organic treatments and then the hard chemicals.

Cultural methods include careful selection of the apiary location, induction of locally reared bees and hygienic Queens, along with your choice in cell size. Screened bottom boards, drone brood removal and late-season re-Queening are all physical approaches. Strategies that involve essential oils, powdered sugar, or other repellents fall into the soft or organic category of chemical treatment. Finally the conventional miticides are a beekeeper’s most aggressive course of action, which under the practice of integrated pest management would be reserved for the most serious of mite infestations.

Tough stuff for tough mites

ipm for good bee stewardshipThe Bee Informed Partnership took their survey a step further by asking respondents about the treatments used in their colonies—the results indicate that reporting beekeepers who used Apiguard to treat their colonies for mite infestations only lost approximately 27% of their hives compared to beekeepers who used nothing who lost 37% of hives, and beekeepers who used some other kind of product and lost about 35% of their beehives.

Dr. Caron says “Mites are tough guys and we gotta use tough stuff” to have an affect on them and reduce the numbers of hives lost annually.

Honey pricing & marketing management at MSBA

deborah delaney at msba

At the Maine State Beekeepers’ annual convention, Deborah Delaney took the floor for a second time that day to present a talk that was entitled: “Honey Pricing & Marketing Risk Management Education for Honey Producers”.

Deborah told the crowd about yet another aspect of her research which involves scientifically identifying how to improve marketing of locally produced honey, which would in turn improve sales and education of the public sector regarding the benefits of honey and honeybees.

Domestic honey production has dropped in recent years, while the importation of honey from other countries has increased.  Currently the majority of honey available in the United States comes from China, Argentina, Vietnam, India, or Brazil.

deborah delaney at msba“Consumers need to understand the nuances of honey” Deborah said.  Much like wine–honey can vary from beekeeper to beekeeper, region to region, and even from one season to the next.  Beekeeping is an art, and every honey harvest is a masterpiece to be revered (my personal opinion).

The recent trend in buying local foods and products, and in supporting local farms, offers beekeepers a perfect combination of events for promoting their local honey.  Deborah’s team received a grant to investigate consumers’ motives when purchasing honey, to determine how they could help beekeepers better sell their products.

They began by testing the effects of informational hand-outs on the consumers’ willingness to pay for local honey.  And Deborah discovered that when presented with these hand-out “blurbs” consumers were willing to pay 97-cents more per jar for the local honey.

Deborah’s team also investigated the effect that jar-style played on the consumer’s willingness to pay, and in fact, consumers in their trial study seemed to prefer the bear-shaped jar over the others, which also included hexagonal, tear-shaped, and swingtop bale jars (all glass–no plastic).

At this point Deborah initiated an interactive demonstration of consumers’ willingness to pay with our audience and produced a decadent honey-chocolate and a bottle of mead, both of which she’d purchased at the Honey Exchange in Portland after arriving in the state the night before.  Beginning with the chocolate, Deborah asked for 20 volunteers to stand up and participate in an auction of sorts.  The bidding began and increased at 50-cent intervals; each participant would remain standing until they reached a dollar value they were not willing to pay for the treat, then they sat down.  Same deal for the mead except the bidding began and increased at 1-dollar intervals until the last person sat down.

Participants in the University of Delaware study were interviewed to learn more about their motives for purchasing and using local honey.  56% of their participants believed consuming local honey would help them cope better with allergies; and 70% believed it was good for their health.  What’s more–Deborah discovered that with the recent media coverage of altered and diluted honey imported from other countries to stock the shelves of grocery stores, consumers expressed concerns about food safety as well.

The investigation into the various aspects of honey pricing and marketing is still underway, as Deborah experiments with packaging and labeling in her search to define what affects the average consumer’s willingness to pay more for locally produced honey.  She’s looking for input from beekeepers, as she works to improve our methods and tools to help us take advantage of this perfect storm.

With the information researchers like Deborah are gleaning from these scientific studies, beekeepers can utilize the trend in buying local to sell our own locally produced honey, or to maintain our hives more sustainably.  These studies are important to have done, and beekeepers should watch for the results so that we can know what works and what does not, so that we can take that information and apply it to our own apiaries–it may just be that the backyard beekeeper will save the honeybee industry for the entire nation.

Sustainable beekeeping at the state beekeepers’ conference

deborah delaney ude scientist at msba

I love the assortment of people who are drawn to beekeeping.  Young and old, eccentric and conservative, financially solvent–and bootstrappers like me–those who make do with less.  People from all over the state come together for the annual Maine State Beekeepers’ conference to join together in the spirit of learning; to bask in the feeling of community generated by a diverse group of people with a single common interest.

The topic this year was “Sustainable Beekeeping”–and the speakers the MSBA had lined up for us were Deborah Delaney, assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware; and Kirk Webster, owner and operater at Champlain Valley Bees & Queens in Middlebury, Vermont, who has been keeping bees since 1986, and whose apiary has been treatment free since 2002.  Each of these speakers would be presenting two separate talks.  Since sustainable beekeeping is something that is very important to me, I was keenly interested to hear what these two educated and experienced beekeepers had to say on the matter.  What was their interpretation of sustainable beekeeping?  How did they go about it?  And would they have any insights, tools, or methods that I might be able to utilize in Runamuk’s continued transition to natural beekeeping?

New friends and Old

I arrived almost an hour early in order to be assured a seat at a table near the front of the room, and while the Italian Heritage Center was already bustling with activity, the tables were still largely vacant, and I chose to join a lovely couple from Andover who were sitting just off to the left of the podium and projector screen.  We were joined by another couple who–as it turns out–have a camp on Embden Pond, which is just a short drive from Anson.  This fellow keeps some hives over in Norridgewock and was the winner of the honey tasting last year.  😉

We were eventually joined by the Cronkhite gentlemen, Roy Senior and Junior, and I was glad for it.  Roy Cronkhite Jr is a second generation beekeeper and president of the Kennebec Beekeepers, so our counties and organizations are neighbors, and we have shared open-hive sessions in the past in an effort to instill a greater sense of community among the beekeepers in this part of the state.  And also just to share the learning and the fun that we have beekeeping.  The senior Mr. Cronkhite has more than 40-years beekeeping experience and is an inspiration to new beekeepers like myself.

Our MSBA group president Carol Cottril called us together to welcome us all and the day got underway.  Deborah Delaney took the floor first with her talk entitled “Bee-Having to Bee-Keeping; Moving Toward a Sustainable Bee Industry”.

What’s happening to our bees?

deborah delaney ude scientist at msba
Deborah was animated and enthusiastic.

Deborah was energetic and enthusiastic–a “spunky speaker”–she talked about the problems the bee-industry is facing, the media attention that “Colony Collapse Disorder” has generated since 2007 and all of the doom and gloom reports–but wonders “is it helping?”  She talked about some of the movies CCD has spurred and the numerous cartoons circulating facebook–most of which I myself have seen come through my newsfeed.

But “what’s the big deal?” she asked.  Well of course it’s a big deal because honeybees and other pollinators (she feels it’s important to lump all pollinators together–and I absolutely adore her for that!) provide a service that results in the creation of the food we eat.  It is the basis for the wealth of biodiversity that we know on our planet.  A value estimated at $215 billion-dollars globally.

Pollinator declines first hit mainstream media in 2006-2007 beekeepers were experiencing an annual decline of about 30%; surveys from the winter of 2012-2013 record colony failures at 40-50%.

When the term CCD was first coined back in 2007, it was a big mystery–no one knew what was happening to the bees.  Now, almost 7 years later, we can say with certainty that the problems are:

  1. Pests & Pathogens
  2. Intensified land-use and the use of pesticides.
  3. Phenological shifts due to climate change.
  4. Stress
  5. Invasive species

So how did that happen?  How did we get here?

A little history

beekeeping history
Humanity first hunted beehives to harvest honey, beekeeping evolved later.

Deborah talked about the history of beekeeping–which is really interesting.  Humanity’s relationship with bees began with honey hunting.  Once upon a time there were even sacred rituals related to harvesting.  Honey and beeswax have been prized throughout history.

During the early European settlement of America in the 1600s, hives of honeybees were imported to the new world by ship, and between the 1600s and the 1800s–every farm had bees, despite the fact that the relationship between pollinators and the natural world was not even understood yet.  It wasn’t until the mid-1700s that science finally made the connection.

Unfortunately those early settlers with their founding population of honeybees, only brought to America one-third of about 24 varieties of honeybees, which we’ve since built an entire industry upon–creating a bottleneck of honeybee genetic diversity here in the United States.

The importance of good genetics

Deborah has been studying honeybees in order to identify their genetics so that we might better understand how to manage and maintain our beehives.  She’s studied the effect of genetic variation in hives, the morphological characteristics of various bees, maternal ancestry of American honeybees, the genetics of stock used for large-scale Queen-breeding–and the genetics of feral bee populations too.

Since genetic diversity is necessary for the survival and adaptation of a species to new and adverse environmental conditions, this is crucial information for the beekeeping industry to have in order to improve our honeybee stock.

According to Deborah, 3 major bottleneck events led to the reduction of genetic diversity in our modern American honeybee populations.  The first occurred when early settlers only brought 8 subspecies of the 24 varieties of honeybees available, and then only 3 of those subspecies found accommodation among beekeepers.

The second bottleneck that occurred, was the devestating reduction of both feral and commercial honeybee populations caused by the Varroa mite.

And the third bottleneck event is the current Queen-breeding practices used by breeders.  Deborah says:

“The honeybee breeding industry uses a small number of Queen mothers (less than 600) to produce nearly 1 million replacement Queens for beekeepers in the United States.”

tree nesting bees
Feral bees often find cavities in trees to make their nests in.

Deborah’s research involves sampling the populations of feral and commercial bees in order to analyze the mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA for comparison.  The results indicate that the populations of managed honeybees in the western part of the United States, are genetically different from the populations in the south-eastern part of the country.  What’s more–the feral populations’ genetics show that they are a separate gene-pool altogether, which means they serve as a reservoir of genetic variability for our managed populations of honeybees.

Scientists play a crucial role

These discoveries spurred Deborah’s work with the Feral Bee Project.  Sponsored by the North Caroline State University, the project asks beekeepers and citizen scientists to log the location of wild honeybee hives they find so that researchers can monitor them.  They even offer an app for your iphone or ipad to assist in mapping these feral colonies.

The research that Deborah and scientists like her are doing for the beekeeping community helps us to understand how we can better manage our colonies.  By knowing and understanding the genetics of our bees we can derive better management techniques, select for desirable traits in our bees, and keep healthier bees by ensuring their genetic diversity.

Read more about this year’s MSBA conference in up-coming posts!

“Wings of Life” mesmerizes and inspires

wings of lifeWe received the “Wings of Life” documentary on Saturday, I ordered it from Amazon and had it shipped here by mail, but I couldn’t even begin to think about writing a review of the film until just the other day–so mesmerized by the vivid depiction of the one thing that I prize above all others on this planet. The relationship between plants and pollinators. Read more

Take action this Earth Day

the earth from space
Photo credit: fotopedia.com

At Runamuk Earth Day is a big event.  Any significant event celebrating nature is a big event here because we make it so, the Winter Solstice, Mid-Summer’s Eve, the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes, Arbor Day, Pollinator Week, Compost Awareness Week, just to name a few.  Keith and I are both nature lovers, passionate about embracing nature, preserving and protecting life, and our goal is to foster that love in our children in hopes that they will grow up to value this Earth, and be good stewards of the land. Read more

Studying native bees on the Maine coast

I’m excited to announce that this August I will be participating in a five day seminar called “Native Bees as Pollinators: Diversity, Ecology, Conservation and Enhancing Pollinator Habitats” at the Eagle Hill Institute in Steuben, Maine! Read more

Citizen science for summer

There are some great opportunities for scientific involvement this summer, and it’s not too late to get in on it.
I like citizen science projects.  I think they’re a really fun way to get my family practicing science, and we love the feeling of doing our part to help real scientists.
Usually the projects are really simple, like counting species of birds, insects, etc. and recording your data online.  Each project typically provides you with all the information you’d need about the animal, along with observation recording data sheets.  Then you just log in after you’ve made your study, and type in what you found.
Citizens for Science is a great place to get started.  They offer a project finder, member blogs so you can see what other families are up to, and other resources.
The Audubon Society has a number of species counts throughout the year, which are good to get in on, particularly if you have a bird-lover in the family.
We’re taking part in the Firefly Watch right now, you can read more about it here.  And on the 16th we’ll be counting bees, for the Great Sunflower Project.  You can follow the widget in my sidebar to learn more about this citizen science project.  And if you don’t have a sunflower, don’t worry–there are a number of plants that qualify for the project, so be sure to check it out.
Got a great citizen science project I missed?  Let me know!  Or share a story of one of your family’s exploits in citizen science!