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Category Archive: Agriculture

  1. The Dos and Don’ts of Dealing with Water Drainage

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    We often receive calls regarding the best practices of water drainage. (“Water” is in our name, after all!)

    Below are water drainage “rules of thumb” that we at Fairfield Soil and Water Conservation District often recommend to folks.  Some information is found in more detail in the resource sections of our website at www.fairfieldswcd.org.

    Streambanks and Ditches

    DO:

    Seek advice prior to placing hard materials (stone, etc.) in streams and determine if permits are required for your planned work.
    Maintain vegetation; turf-type fescue is recommended.
    Use a rigid material such as PVC for tile outlets. Single-wall tile can droop, catching passing debris and ultimately causing stream bank erosion.
    Locate rock pads below tile outlets to prevent bank erosion from falling water.
    Remove fallen trees quickly to avoid back-ups and logjams. Logjams cause erosion when water makes its way around them, cutting into streambanks.
    Add rock in the toe of the streambank to secure it, as this is where water velocities erode the soil causing collapse of the area above it.
    Learn more about preventing erosion and stabilizing your streambank in our Stream Management Guide.

    DON’T:

    Don’t dump concrete over the bank. Concrete floats and can cause issues downstream.
    Don’t spray herbicides creating bare soil. This will cause erosion issues quickly.

    Water Patterns and Waterways

    DO:

    Maintain vegetative cover where possible; turf-type fescue is recommended.
    Repair any tile blowholes as soon as possible to prevent additional erosion. To learn more about tile, refer to our article, What is Field Tile?
    Seed and mulch any bare areas that develop.

    DON’T:

    Don’t pollute! Do not throw grass clippings or yard waste into any water course or pattern. Keep any compost/manure away that could leach into water. Learn more about keeping yard waste out of drainage patterns in Engulfed in Leaves? 3 Options for Dealing with your Trees’ Autumn Offerings!
    Don’t build structures (house, barn, shed, etc.) in or too close to a water pattern.
    Don’t drive across a waterway when it is too wet; ruts could prevent proper flow.

    Watch a grassed waterway in action! The timber drop structure at the bottom of the waterway helps to control flow and prevent erosion.

    Residential Drainage

    DO:

    Work with your neighbors. In most cases, drainage issues are a civil matter that must be resolved in court. Read more about Ohio Drainage Laws.
    If possible, talk to previous landowners about the location of drainage tiles, including those that connect to gutters/downspouts, sump pumps, leach fields, perimeter/foundation drains, etc.
    Add animal guards to tile outlets. Small critters can crawl into tiles and cause a blockage.
    Checking historical aerial imagery may assist in identifying existing tiles. Download Google Earth
    Pro
    (free version) and enter the address or intersection in the search window at the top left. Clicking on the clock icon in the toolbar at the top will allow you to scroll through several years of
    aerials through the timeline (usually 1994-2017, depending on location) . Contact our office for older aerials, dating back to 1938.

    DON’T:

    Don’t plant trees near tile, unless the tile is non-perforated. Tree roots searching for water will quickly plug tile.
    Don’t plant trees under power lines.

    Aerials can be very revealing! The aerial on the left clearly shows systematic tile in a field. The aerial on the right was taken a few years later after the western portion of the property had been sold as a house lot.

    As you can see, tile lines were cut when the house was built. Unfortunately, the tiles weren’t appropriately rerouted during construction. This resulted in a very wet basement (see below) and had to be addressed.

  2. Ghost Plant, Kudzu, and Dodder, OH MY! 3 REAL Plants that Rival Halloween MONSTERS

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    From Vampires and Ghosts to Werewolves and Zombies, science fiction and horror writers have created many startling characters with terrifying, yet memorable, traits. With Halloween quickly approaching, let’s take a look at three science fiction inspirations…that are anything but fiction.

    Dodder

    With nicknames that include “Devil’s guts,” “vampire plant,” and “witch’s hair,” few plants hold the spook-factor that dodder does.

    Belonging to the morning glory family, 13 species of dodder can be found in Ohio. Common Dodder and Field Dodder are the two most common species that are native to our state, and both have been reported in Fairfield County.

    There are many characteristics that make this plant peculiar, the first of which is that most dodder species lack something we often think of as fundamental in the plant world: leaves.

    As a result, dodder produces very little chlorophyll, thus doesn’t quite have the “umph” to readily photosynthesize.

    Following germination a dodder plant, depending upon its feeble capacity to make food, only has the ability to power its solitary existence for up to 15 days….unless it finds a host.

    As illustrated in this video, a young dodder plant will mosey around until it is able to sniff out a suitable host. As an obligate parasite, it has no other choice, and it turns out it’s not too picky.

    From goldenrod, to Callery pear, to soybeans, dodder has a wide range of tastes.

    Once a host is detected, dodder will begin wrapping itself around the plant.

    Soon after, it develops small piercing structures called haustoria that penetrate the host plant, allowing the dodder to imbibe water, nutrients, and carbohydrates from its host.

    It turns out “vampire plant” is quite fitting.

    Since dodder now has a free source of goodies, it no longer has the need for roots. Once severed from the Earth, dodder is truly one with its host.

    Because of this fraternization, it is impossible at this point to terminate the dodder without also killing the host plant. As a result, dodder causes millions of dollars in crop losses worldwide every year.

    Learn more about this fascinating, life-sucking creature in Buckeye Yard & Garden OnLine’s article “Weaving the Dodder’s Tale“.


    Indian Pipe (a.k.a. Ghost Plant)


    Perhaps you’ve noticed this “ghostly” plant species while walking in densely wooded areas.

    Often confused for a fungus, Indian Pipe, also known as Ghost Plant, is indeed a type of flora.

    As you may have guessed by its pale complexion, this perennial wildflower lacks chlorophyll. This is the green pigment most plants use for photosynthesis, the process in which plants harness the sun’s energy to produce food.

    Instead, this species elected a different and somewhat unconventional evolutionary path.

    Image by 018, Indian Pipe, CC by 3.0

    Because it is not reliant on sunlight, the Ghost Plant has free range of shaded, thickly forested areas. And since it is not producing its own food, it must rely on outside sources. This is where things get interesting.

    Whereas many parasites feed directly on other plants, such as dodders discussed above, Ghost Plant receives its energy from….let’s say a food delivery service.

    Deep under the forest floor there’s a constant give-and-take proceeding between tree roots and a tangle of stringy underground fungus called Mycorrhizal Fungi.

    Like an intricate game of telephone, tree roots and fungi are relentlessly exchanging goods: the tree roots provide fungi with carbohydrates that the tree makes through photosynthesis, while the fungi swaps minerals & nutrients that are out of the tree’s reach.

    Ghost plant takes advantage of this bartering, stealing the newly gifted carbohydrates from the fungi, in turn stealing from the tree…and offering nothing in exchange.

    The term for this shifty embezzlement is scary in its own right: mycoheterotrophic.


    Kudzu

    With the ability to grow up to one foot per day, this green monster can quickly conquer natural areas and turn them into a green monoculture. There’s a reason this plant is known as the vine that ate the South

    Image by Katie Ashdown, Kudzu, CC by 2.0

    Kudzu is native to East Asia, primarily Korea, Japan, and China. It was first introduced at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition as an ornamental plant and was widely distributed in southeastern U.S. for forage and erosion control purposes until its wicked nature was fully comprehended.

    Images by Pollinator (Kudzu seedpods) and Forest & Kim Starr (Pueraria montana var. lobata with flowers), CC by 3.0

    There are more than a few adaptations that give this green beast the ability to dominate both inside and outside of its native range.

    Kudzu is a legume, such as soybeans, and capable of fixing its own nitrogen. As a result, it can exist in poor soils that other plant species must pass up.
    Because of its ability to grow up to 60’ a season, it easily suffocates existing vegetation and literally crushes native biodiversity.
    Stems are lined with versatile nodes, capable of sending out tendrils when there is something to climb OR roots when there is soil to further anchor itself.
    This plant has a killer foundation. Thick storage roots can account for up to 40% of total biomass for the plant….meaning that what you see above the ground is only a bit more than what is under the ground.
    Kudzu has a sweet tooth for CO2. So increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will likely favor its spread.

    Kudzu is now present in Ohio and appears on Ohio’s prohibited noxious weed list. Although our shorter growing season and cooler winters help to suppress this monster, it still poses many threats to our woodlands and should be reported.

    Management techniques do exist, including manual removal, chemical application, and animal grazing & browsing.

  3. Engulfed in Leaves? 3 Options for Dealing with your Trees’ Autumn Offerings!

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    This week we wrap up our series on leaves by examining the methods and benefits of utilizing the fallen ones!

    I don’t know about you, but one of the keystone autumn memories I cherish from my childhood is raking leaves into an enormous pile…only to wreck my efforts by diving into them.

    Of course, this would happen repeatedly until my father would declare the scattered mess off limits and hurry me inside to clean up.

    As I got older, the task of raking lost its allure and became more of a chore, so as an adult, I’ve become a bit savvier when dealing with autumn’s leafy offerings.

    Engulfed in leaves? Here are some options!

    1. Leave the Leaves!

    Option one, and likely the easiest route, is to simply leave the leaves where they fall!

    If your yard is scattered with black cherry, locust, or other broadleaf species that have mostly smaller leaves, there may not be much action to take after they fall.

    In the case of maple, oak, and other trees with larger foliage, however, a bit of mulching may be in order.

    Use a lawnmower to shred the leaves into dime-sized pieces.

    There are several benefits to gracing your grass with this mulchy mixture:

    Provide habitat for wildlife such as frogs, turtles, bats & salamanders. Additionally, many moths and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring.
    Increase your soil fertility and offer your lawn a nutrient boost! As leaves decompose, nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen, and potassium are added to the soil.
    Supply food for critters like earthworms, millipedes, and other essential decomposers.
    Suppress weeds in your lawn. Decomposing leaves cover the soil in between individual grass plants where weeds are most likely to germinate.
    Save your back! Mulching is far faster and much easier on the body than raking leaves.

    2. Compost to Feed Future Plants

    If your yard is rather arborous and fallen leaves are too thick to mulch with a lawn mower, it may be necessary to turn to plan B: Collect and compost leaves in a designated location.

    Composting is a process in which microbes break down organic materials into a nutrient dense, soil-like material.

    When done correctly, leaves and other fall garden debris can be composted and ready to use by late spring.

    This is a great option for gardeners with the desire to build their own rich planting medium.

    In the case of leaf piles, size and location matters!

    A pile that is 3’ x 3’ x 3’ is manageable and large enough to maintain the heat needed for the composting process. Make as many piles as necessary, choosing a shaded site with good air flow.

    “Feed” your compost pile throughout the fall season by adding freshly fallen leaves to a pile of older leaves.

    You can also supplement by adding other natural materials you may have laying around such as grass clippings, garden debris, and kitchen scraps. (It’s important to note there are a number of materials that shouldn’t be added to backyard compost piles, such as animal products, that will attract pests and take too long to compost.)

    Maintain your compost by keeping it moist and oxygenated.

    Water is needed for the composting process, so it may be necessary to add water to your pile. Additionally, compost requires aeration. This can be accomplished by occasionally turning the pile with a spading fork or other garden tool.

    Additional information on backyard composting can be found in OSU Extension’s Composting Series.

    3. Utilize a Leaf Pickup Service

    If you don’t have the space to compost your leaves and live in an area that offers leaf pickup, this service may be a good option. There are some important tips to remember when readying your leaves for collection however.

    Keep yard waste, including leaves, grass clippings and garden debris, out of drainage ditches and storm drains.

    If you caught our earlier article on stormwater, Only Rain Down the Drain, you likely remember that everything that enters a storm drain is ultimately outletted, untreated, into a local water body.  Leaves, in particular, can be very problematic for storm sewer systems so never leave them in the path of stormwater. Even if leaves are left behind, water filtering through can become rich in nutrients. When this “leafy brew” makes its way into rivers and streams it can cause an overgrowth of algae and wreak havoc on water quality.

    These same rules should also be followed in rural ditches and waterways.

    Avoid piling leaves, grass clippings, etc. in drainage ditches and grassed waterways. Doing so blocks the natural path of water and can result in flooding and erosion.  

    When bagging leaves and yard waste, use biodegradable paper bags.

    Paper is a better option, as plastic trash bags can take many years to break down. Better yet, designate a trash can for yard waste and mark it appropriately.

    Specific leaf pickup guidelines for Fairfield County communities can be found below:

  4. 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


    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


    Sunflowers


    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

  5. 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.

  6. ‘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.