Days before a foot of snow blanketed Middlebury in mid-March, Research Support Specialist Shun Shi and a team of scientists from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) finished the second harvest of shrub willows from the 10-acre test plot located on Route 125 west of the Middlebury campus.
Middlebury initially partnered with SUNY-ESF in 2007 to test the feasibility of growing willow shrubs on Middlebury College land to address concerns over sourcing wood chips for the biomass gasification plant. After the first three-year growth period and harvest in 2010, results from the test burn at the biomass plant showed that willow biomass is not an effective fuel source for Middlebury’s system.
However, the willows do serve a number of other functions. “While the willow shrub is not a feasible source of fuel for the College biomass plant, the willows are a valuable resource nonetheless for research, compost, and stream bank restoration efforts,” explained Jack Byrne, Middlebury’s Director of Sustainability Integration.
Following the first test burn, SUNY-ESF scientists continued to use the study plot to experiment with willow varieties and cultivation methods in Vermont. Shi and his team conducted a yield trial using 30 different varieties of willow and a fertilizer trial using several rates of nitrogen fertizlier and different types of organic soil amendments. The team also collected willow samples to conduct nutrient analyses and determine the moisture content of the biomass.
The March harvest produced nearly 12 truckloads of chips for use at Middlebury’s compost site. Middlebury’s Alpine Ski Coach Stever Bartlett received a select set of the remaining willow stalks for a volunteer stream bank restoration project this spring organized by the New Haven River Anglers.