Author Archives: Carrie Brown

  1. Don’t Farm Naked!

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Increase organic matter, protect soil, and improve next year’s crop by “clothing” your fields in Cover Crops this fall.

    A cover crop may be a type of grass, such as annual rye or winter wheat, or something a bit showier, such as sunflowers or common buckwheat.

    Cover crops are plants that are seeded into agricultural fields to improve or maintain the quality of the ecosystem found just under the surface. They are grown for the benefit of soil health rather than for crop yield. While cover crops are typically planted in late summer or early fall after harvest, in some instances they are integrated into the cash crops (i.e. corn or beans) during the regular growing season. Cover crops can be grown in a monoculture, however they are often mixed and planted as cover crop “cocktails.” These mixtures have synergy and often offer more benefits than each single species could alone.

    Cover crops are the superheroes of the off-season, as they provide a multitude of benefits to both the farmer and the environment.

    There are many advantages to having living roots in the ground year-round.

    Benefits to the Producer:

    * Reduces erosion by keeping sediment in place

    * Improves soil quality by increasing organic matter

    * Reduces soil compaction and increases water-holding capacity

    * Suppresses weeds by providing competition

    * Controls diseases and pests by breaking disease cycles

    Benefits to the Environment:

    * Enhances biodiversity and soil health by keeping beneficial soil microbes alive

    * Increases soil infiltration, reducing risks of flooding, leaching, and runoff

    *Creates wildlife habitat

    * Supports pollinators and beneficial insects

    Let’s take a closer look at a few Cover Crop species we’ve encountered in the field this season:

    Cereal Rye

    Cereal rye is one of the most common cover crops due to its hardy nature. It is a quick-grower, allowing it to be seeded later in the fall than many other cover crops. Its tall stature allows it to serve as a windbreak and is effective at trapping and holding snow and rainfall over the winter season.

    Benefits: Fibrous root system readily uptakes unused soil Nitrogen and prevents soil erosion; Can fit in a variety of crop rotations; Excellent source of residue in no-till and minimum-tillage systems; Easy to establish and very effective at outcompeting weeds

    Fall Establishment: August – November

    Winter kill? No

    Oilseed Radish

    Oilseed radish is a unique cover crop that is growing in popularity due to its ability to improve soil quality. A top-notch soil nutrient recycler, this member of the mustard family is terminated by freezing temperatures and easily decomposes, allowing nutrients to become available for spring crops.

    Benefits: Fast growth provides quick ground cover to protect against soil erosion; Thick, deep taproot breaks up compacted soils and draws nutrients from deep soil layers; Can be used as livestock forage

    Fall Establishment: August-September or as Prevented Planting

    Winter Kill: Yes

    Crimson Clover

    Crimson clover grows quickly during cool weather and has a high tolerance for shade, which makes it ideal for interseeding or planting as a living cover in orchards.

    Benefits: Provides a Nitrogen source for succeeding crops; Increases soil organic matter and decreases soil erosion; Provides competition to decrease weed pressure; Can be used as a forage or pasture species; Tolerates many soil types

    Fall Establishment: August – September

    Winter kill? No, but mow kill after early bud stage

    Winter Wheat

    Winter wheat is a very versatile crop. It can be grown for cash grain or cover crop, and offers a grazing option as well. It’s less likely than barley or rye to become a weed and is easier to kill. And since it is slower to mature than some cereals, the spring kill timing is more flexible.

    Benefits: Provides erosion control and competes well with weeds once established; Enhances cycling of N, P and K; Can be grown as a cash crop or cover crop; Plentiful source of straw and stubble residue; Effective at building topsoil due to fine root mass

    Fall Establishment: After Hessian fly-free date of October 3rd

    Winter kill? No


    Buckwheat is a fast-growing crop found most often in the northern tier of the United States. Its profuse white flowers are quite striking, and its long bloom period of 6 to 8 weeks makes it a good food source for pollinators. Buckwheat is most often found in cover crop “cocktails” which may include other species such as clover, radish, and sunflower.

    Benefits: Provides rapid growth with an abundance of fine roots; Performs high in low fertility fields and is an effective Phosphorus scavenger; Good food source for bees and other pollinators

    Fall Establishment: May – July

    Winter kill? Yes


    Though not always thought of as a cover crop, sunflowers offer many benefits to soil health. Their deep taproots make them great Nitrogen scavengers, and they support a huge number of pollinators.

    Benefits: Offers a diverse root structure that builds soil health; Effective competitor to weeds; Serves as a food source for pollinators and attracts beneficial insects that can reduce insecticide applications

    Fall Establishment: Summer

    Winter kill? Yes

    Additional Resources

    Midwest Cover Crops Council

    Cover Crop Decision Tool

    Cover Cropping for Pollinators and Beneficial Insects

    Sustainable Crop Rotations with Cover Crops

  2. Only Rain Down the Drain

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    What is Stormwater and Where Does it Go?

    What comes to mind when you hear the word “stormwater”? Perhaps you think of torrential rainfall deluging yards & overwhelming gutters in the springtime. Or maybe you imagine water screaming through large parking lots, making it impossible to avoid puddles as you tiptoe towards the store entrance. And it could be that you visualize the storm drains that line the curb outside of your home (that are often labeled “stormwater”)!  These are all accurate representations of stormwater – but we find there are many misconceptions as of where this water goes.

    Where does this water and the debris it carries end up?

    “Too much yard waste, son? Just stuff it down the storm drain! No one will ever know.”
    “Industries are the greatest cause of water pollution! Our actions don’t matter!”
    “Calm down, Clark! It will end up in a sewage treatment plant!”

    The truth is, anything that enters a storm drain is eventually discharged UNTREATED into a local water body!

    Polluted stormwater runoff is a threat to clean water.

    If you’re a resident of Lancaster, your stormwater eventually spills into the Hocking River and travels southeast until it reaches the Ohio River.

    If you’re from Pickerington or Lithopolis, the stormwater surrounding you outlets into George, Walnut, Blacklick, or Sycamore Creek.  It travels west and soon enters the Scioto River and makes its way down to the Ohio River.

    Those of you in the Buckeye Lake watershed, the water entering your storm drains travels north to the Licking River. This travels east to the Muskingum River and then south to the Ohio River.

    (If you wish to play the long game, the Ohio River later teams up with the Tennessee River to join the Mississippi and travels south to the Gulf of Mexico!)

    These are the very water bodies we use for swimming, recreation, and drinking water. When pollutants enter them, they can destroy aquatic habitats, reduce aesthetic value, and even threaten public health.

    Why is this all important? It’s proof that your actions matter. As stormwater flows over parking lots, streets, and lawns it transports substances such as automotive waste, lawn chemicals, eroded soil, and just about any other small object in its way. And as we just discussed in our geography refresher, this water, and everything it is carrying, has a long path ahead of it!

    What Can You Do At Home?

    * Keep chemicals, yard waste, and other materials out of storm drains.

    * Check your car and lawn equipment for oil leaks and make repairs as soon as possible.

    * Avoid washing your car in your driveway, as this provides detergents a direct path to the storm drain. Instead, use a commercial car wash or wash your vehicle in a grassy area so the ground can filter the water.

    * Keep your soil and sediment from moving. Plant ground cover to protect and stabilize areas prone to erosion.

    * Choose native plants for your landscapes, as these species need fewer chemical inputs and require less water.

    * Cut down on your use of insecticides by providing habitat for pest-eating critters such as birds, bats, and beneficial insects.

    * Is it time to drain your swimming pool? Make sure you know whether its contents can be discharged into the the storm sewer.

    More Information on preventing stormwater pollution can be found by visiting the following links:

    Fairfield SWCD Storm Water Pollution Reduction

    Pickerington Storm Water Management

    Lancaster Storm Water Management

    Ohio EPA Storm Water Program

    U.S. EPA Household Waste

    Ohio EPA Office of Pollution Prevention

    U.S. EPA Nonpoint Source Information

  3. Fairfield SWCD “Drive-Thru” Voting Event

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    Thursday, September 10th, 2020

    5:30pm-7:00pm at Fairfield Agricultural Center

    This year the Fairfield SWCD is celebrating its 77th year, however, due to COVID-19 we are unable to celebrate in our usual way with an Annual Meeting/Banquet.

    This year we will be holding a “Drive-Thru” event which will allow our annual Election of Supervisors to take place. This event will be held on Thursday, September 10, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Fairfield County Ag Center located at 831 College Avenue in Lancaster.

    We have three candidates for two open positions. Our candidates are Jon Gerken of Carroll, David Ochs and Gregg Pontius, both of Lancaster. More information on each candidate can be found below.

  4. Not All Plumbing is Inside: Understanding Field Tile Drainage

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Though often hidden behind a door, wall, or cupboard, we are all aware of our indoor plumbing and the necessity of taking care of it. Few household catastrophes cause greater headaches than an overflowing toilet or frozen line bursting in the wintertime. But did you know your plumbing extends outside your house and that it requires that same care and maintenance to function properly?

    If you have a septic tank and leach field, you are likely familiar with the concept of outdoor plumbing, and you hopefully have an idea of how your system works & how to keep it in optimal condition. (Though I won’t be covering that in this post, HERE is a great resource for homeowners.)

    Your gutters may connect to plastic tile that transports rainwater to a suitable outlet.

    Today I want to talk about the other pipes that move water underground and are often referred to as drain tile.  If you have rain gutters that don’t outlet directly on the surface, you probably have underground tile that carries rainwater downhill to a suitable outlet location. Similarly, the foundations of some houses are below the water table and consequently a sump pump is installed to prevent basement flooding. Groundwater is pumped up and out of the house before it enters a tile that is then outletted away from the foundation.

    Agricultural producers rely on tile to improve crop production by draining excess water through the soil profile. Most of us are familiar with the idea of irrigation – the process of providing growing plants with additional water when the soil becomes too dry. In contrast, tile drainage lessens the amount of moisture in the upper soil profile, and in doing so, increases the amount of air between soil particles so it is accessible to growing roots. Lowering the water table also forces plants to develop a larger root system to reach the water. Ideally, this results in an increase in crop yield.

    Over time, tile can break down and erosion can expose tile at the surface.

    Historically, tile consisted of short segments of clay pipe that were usually hand dug and buried, end to end. Excess water was able to enter the piping system through small gaps between tile pieces. Nowadays, this underground plumbing consists of corrugated plastic pipe that often has perforations throughout, and machinery buries the tile lines, typically at a depth of 2 ½ -5 feet. Depending on the soil type, grade of ground, and crop being raised, farmers may install a few lines of tile to drain an isolated wet spot or an entire network below the surface to provide drainage to a whole field. Though systematic tile can be costly, the investment is generally recouped in approximately five years.

    Corrugated plastic tile is often perforated to allow water from the soil profile to enter.

    Just like your indoor plumbing, underground piping requires regular maintenance to work properly. Roots of woody species such as willow and maple will travel far and wide for water and can often clog tile if intercepted. As a result, we recommend that trees be planted at least 75’-100’ away from tile lines. Issues can also arise when tile lines are disrupted by construction or crushed by heavy equipment. Additionally, outlets must be maintained, ensuring they don’t become inundated or buried in sediment. Signs of tile failure might include “blow holes”, caused by pressure building behind clogged tile, or water pooling in places that used to drain.

    At Fairfield SWCD, we have always aided Fairfield County residents and agencies with drainage issues and provided guidance. With two Engineering Technicians on staff, we offer tile design services to county agricultural producers for a fee. Contact the office if you’re interested in a tile plan for your field.

    Blow holes indicate the need for tile repair.
    Tile comes in all shapes & sizes, as evidenced by our Tile Museum! We are grateful for the many donations we’ve been given throughout the years.

    If your interest is peaked and you’re thirsty for more, check out our “What is Field Tile?” fact sheet or this past edition of Fairfield Focus.

    A systematic tile plan soon after installation.

  5. ‘Tis the Season for the Hover Fly

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Does the hover fly have you “hovering” near the brink of insanity every August? If so, take a deep breath and know they serve a purpose.

    If you’ve spent any amount of time near a corn field in the past couple of weeks, you have likely encountered a bee-like insect that seems to take a special interest in invading your personal space. Though often confused with a sweat bee, this lingering flying insect is actually a species of fly, specifically a hover fly.

    Image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, Toxomerus politus, CC by 2.0

    Also known as a flower fly or syrphid fly, these curious critters are often misunderstood. Unlike sweat bees, hover flies are completely harmless to humans and have no ability to bite or sting. In fact, they share a mutualistic relationship with the crop they are raised on! In the case of the Maize Calligrapher (Toxomerus politus), commonly known as the corn fly, their presence is important for plant pest control. The hover fly larvae, as small, nondescript maggots, readily feed on soft-bodied nuisances such as aphids, helping to rid the corn plants of these sap-sucking parasites. In return the larvae receive a nourishing meal.

    Image by Melissa McMasters, Maize calligrapher, CC by 2.0

    The adult hover fly feeds exclusively on nectar and pollen. If you happened to have caught my article in the last edition of the our newsletter (Getting Frisky with Corn), you’ll know that corn plants produce a surplus of pollen grains (14 million to 18 million per tassel), so there is more than enough to go around. This also explains why the adults tend to hang out around crop fields.

    In addition, hover flies are considered “incidental” pollinators. This means that when they seek nectar from plants that depend on insects for pollination, they happen to brush up against pollen and spread it from flower to flower. In fact, next to wild bees, hover flies are often considered the second most important group of pollinators worldwide.

    Both hover flies and sweat bees tend to loiter nearby for the same purpose: they are attracted to the sweat and moisture on your skin. Unlike sweat bees, hover flies have only one set of wings and have a brightly colored, hairless body. They possess no stinger and their heads are dominated by very large, compound eyes.

    So the next time you see a hover fly, feel your personal space being invaded, and have the urge to swat, take one for the team and just walk away.