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Category Archive: Agriculture

  1. Tree Sale Highlight: Red Osier Dogwood

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Our 2021 Seedling Tree Sale has finally arrived! Additional information on this year’s selection and details on ordering can be found on our website.

    Join us weekly as we highlight this year’s available tree species.

    Red Osier Dogwood

    This week’s 2021 Tree Sale highlight is the Red Osier Dogwood. Though it tends to be a bit of an underdog, this beautiful red-stemmed shrub has a boatload of functionality. As a Soil and Water Conservation District, we advocate for this species often, as it is at the top of its class at stabilizing soil and preventing erosion. This is especially true along streambanks.

    Red Osier Dogwood is one tough cookie. This species can take a beating and keep on going. Once established, it can be inundated along a stream edge and live to tell its story. It can be pruned hard for live fascines (more on that later!) and easily make a comeback the following spring.  Talk about resiliency!

    Additionally, due to the striking red color of its stems, red osier dogwood is often used as an ornamental to beautify landscapes.

    Let’s take a closer look at this shrubby native that has found the sweet spot between durability and charm.

    Planting Requirements

    The red osier dogwood doesn’t mind getting its feet wet…in fact it prefers it! They grow best in soils that are saturated for at least a portion of the growing season. Therefore, they are often seen growing on the edges of lakes, ponds, within wetlands, and on streambanks. Red osier dogwoods are perfect for sites that are nitrogen-rich and shallowly inundated in the spring, only to dry out by late summer.

    Mature Size

    On average, the red osier dogwood grows to a height and width of approximately 10’. It has a fast growth rate, gaining more than 2’ a year in height.

    Red osier dogwood benefits from a type of pruning called coppicing. This management method involves cutting all stems to approximately 2-3 inches from the base in late fall, after the shrub has shed its leaves. Following pruning, apply mulch and fertilizer around the base. Coppicing will stimulate the shrub to send up new stems, often with especially vivid burgundy color.

    Wildlife Benefits

    The fleshy white berries that ripen in late summer are favored by many bird species, including eastern bluebirds, cardinals, woodpeckers, and grosbeaks. Gamebirds such as bobwhite quail, ring-necked pheasants, and wild turkeys also benefit from red osier dogwood fruit.

    The fruit and foliage are enjoyed by mammals too, including black bear, beaver, squirrels, and deer.

    Phenology

    Red osier dogwood typically begins leafing out in April. The bark, twigs, and leaves of the new growth are bright green in color.

    White to cream-colored flower clusters appear from June to August, eventually developing to smooth, white berries that ripen in late summer.

    Beginning in September, leaves turn from green to shades of red and purple and are eventually shed for the winter.

    Bare, deep burgundy branches provide an interesting contrast with white snow and the drab browns of the off-season.

    Flowering red osier dogwood
    Flowers develop into white berries
    Fruit persists into the fall
    Naked red osier dogwood stems
    Red osier dogwood buds

    Functionality

    Because of its dense growth nature, red osier dogwood can be used as a secondary plant in windbreaks. It is also an ideal species to use for streambank stabilization as live fascines.

    Live fascines are long bundles of live woody vegetation (6-8 inches in diameter) buried in a streambank in shallow trenches placed parallel to the flow of the stream. These branches are harvested from adult red osier dogwoods – a great use of stems leftover from a fall coppicing session!

    The plant bundles sprout in the spring and develop a root mass that will hold the soil in place and protect the streambank from erosion. This method is often coupled with a row of stone placed at the toe (bottom of the slope that supports the weight of the bank) of an eroding bank.

    Below are photos from a streambank stabilization project that Fairfield SWCD designed for Lancaster City School District to address streambank erosion issues along Fetters Run.

    Dogwood branches were harvested from dormant mature shrubs
    Branches were tied into bundles
    Red osier dogwood bundles being staged for installation
    Red osier dogwood bundles were laid into shallow trenches and buried
    Live fascines are now fully-grown shrubs

    Visit Fairfield SWCD to order your Red Osier Dogwood tree seedlings today! Seedlings can be purchased in sets of 5, 25, or 100 while supplies last. It is also offered individually as a 3′-4′ sapling.

    Purchased trees from us in the past? If so, enter our Facebook “Show us your Trees” contest! Visit our Facebook Page for details.

    Additional information can be found below:

    Bare-root Tree Planting Guide

    National Tree Benefits Calculator

    South Central Power: Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place

    Fairfield SWCD Tree Planting Guide

  2. Exploring an Amazing Underground World: Assessing Soil Health

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    By Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Healthy soil equals healthy plants. Learn how to properly assess your soil’s health.

    In our last post on Soil Health, we explored the many microscopic organisms and creepy-crawlies that make soil their home. From nitrogen-fixing bacteria and nutrient-cycling fungi, to soil-aggregating earthworms and residue-shredding arthropods, soil is teeming with a great diversity of life. And by supporting this complex food web, we are helping to improve and maintain the quality and health of our plant life.


    In order to best manage our soil, we first need to assess the status of its current health. Below, we present resources that you can use to learn more about your amazing underground world.

    Considering Soil Type

    When assessing and managing your soil, it’s important to consider your soil type. There are many factors that influence your soil’s composition, such as parent materials (ex. bedrock that has weathered to become soil particles), whether the area in question was once covered in glaciers, weather patterns, plant & animal life, and recent land use.

    Web Soil Survey

    Web Soil Survey provides soil data and information produced by the National Cooperative Soil Survey. It is operated by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and provides access to the largest natural resource information system in the world. NRCS has soil maps and data available online for more than 95 percent of the nation’s counties and anticipates having 100 percent in the near future. Soil surveys can be used for general farm, local, and wider area planning.


    Soil Explorer

    The Soil Explorer allows users to explore soil properties and landscapes around the world. It shows topography, fragipans, soil orders, drainage class, and dominant soil parent materials on an interactive map. This user-friendly online resource is free and available to find more information on soil qualities.


    Soil Assessment Tools & Resources

    Soil health cannot be determined by measuring just one factor, and there are many indicators that can be evaluated. As such, it’s important to consider soil health from a variety of angles. An abundance of tools are available through agencies such as USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and Ohio State University Extension that can help you to assess the health of your soils. A few helpful links are below.

    These resources, provided by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, are designed to help visitors understand the basics and benefits of soil health—and to learn about Soil Health Management Systems from farmers who are using those systems.


    In this weekly series, farmers, industry, and academic experts weigh in on practical steps to improve soil health and measure impact on crop yield and farm profitability. Sessions are Thursdays, January 14 – March 18, 2021, 8am-8:30am. CCA CEUs are available for each session. There is no cost to attend, but registration is required.


    Soil Health Kit Guides and Videos help teachers and educators implement their soils curriculum. Each guide includes an introduction to the soil property, discussion of the inherent and management factors influencing it, and explanation of the property’s relationship to soil function. The educator’s guides also include detailed information on a method to measure the soil property and interpretations of the test results. Helpful to educators, the guides double as lesson plans with thought-provoking questions so students can start to apply what they have learned. Videos cover the concepts and soil properties from overview to testing.


    Soil Testing for Producers and Landowners

    Soil testing is important in determining the overall health of your soil. Whether you are a producer who is developing a nutrient application plan or a homeowner striving to optimize vegetable production in your garden, soil testing can provide you with a baseline of your soil health.

    Soil testing is an inexpensive way to maintain good plant health in lawns and landscapes, and to maximize productivity of vegetable gardens and fruit crops. Soil test results pinpoint plant nutrient needs, and a soil testing lab’s recommendations can help guide fertilizer applications so just the right amount is used. Test results also provide information for making plant selection decisions based on “the right plant in the right place” and a soil test can help diagnose what went wrong if good plants go bad.


    Productive agriculture is dependent upon healthy soils. The goal of a comprehensive soil fertility program is to maximize economic return while minimizing potential off-site environmental impacts. A soil fertility program starts with a representative soil sample that is used to develop nutrient recommendations.

    If you are a producer who is interested in a Nutrient Management Plan, contact your local NRCS office. Fairfield County Residents can reach out to Dave Libben at 740-415-3921 or Brice Shaw at 740-415-3907.


    Fairfield County OSU Extension has developed a partnership with the University of Kentucky Soil Testing Laboratory that allows them to work with Fairfield County residents and farmers to service all soil nutrient testing needs. Soil bags, input forms, and instructions are available through your local Fairfield County OSU Extension office to assist those interested in having their soil analyzed. Contact OSU Extension at 740-653-5419.

  3. Exploring an Amazing Underground World: Soil Function & Biology

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    By Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Join us for Part 1 in this exciting series as we investigate the many important functions of soil and the hidden biology behind it!

    You may not know it, but there is an entire world that exists under your feet that is as grand and complex as any ecosystem you may find on the surface of the Earth.

    Like all other ecosystems, it is composed of plants, animals, and fungi, along with a few organisms you may not be quite as familiar with such as protozoans and nematodes.

    Though it is often overlooked, this world is responsible for providing us with clean water & air, diverse forest ecosystems & wildlife, and the majority of the world’s food in the form of crops and grazing land for meat production.

    Soil provides a basis for all life and has many essential functions.

    What is Soil?

    Soil is a complex blend of minerals, water, air, organic (living) materials, and the decaying remains of once-living organisms.

    As formally defined in the Soil Science Society of America Glossary of Soil Science Terms, soil is:

    1. The unconsolidated mineral or organic material on the immediate surface of the earth that serves as a natural medium for the growth of land plants.

    2. The unconsolidated mineral or organic matter on the surface of the earth that has been subjected to and shows effects of genetic and environmental factors of: climate (including water and temperature effects), and macro- and microorganisms, conditioned by relief, acting on parent material over a period of time.

    Because plant life is dependent upon this underground ecosystem as a growing medium, there would be no food without it. This is just the beginning, however, as soil has many other essential functions:

    Soils moderate the atmosphere by emitting and absorbing gases such as water vapor, methane, and carbon dioxide.
    Soils provide a habitat for wildlife we can observe, such as mice, snakes, and groundhogs, and organisms too small to see, such as fungi and bacteria.
    Soils play an important role in the water cycle, absorbing, holding, and filtering water.
    Soils provide a perfect building material for the construction of roadbeds, house foundations, and dams.

    Soil is essential for life as we know it on this planet. Let us take a closer look at this complex environment.

    Soil Biology

    Did you know that there are more microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on this planet?

    Though we cannot see it with the naked eye, soil is teeming with a great diversity of life.

    If you think back to elementary school science class, you may remember the concept of a food web.

    A food web is a representation of how organisms are related to each other based on what they eat.

    And you might recall that the source of the energy getting passed along is the Sun. Plants are able to utilize the Sun’s rays to make food for consumers, such as humans.

    It turns out that within the soil there are numerous organisms that are also dependent upon plants and many assist plants in making this energy transformation.

    Let’s take a look at some of the major players:

    Image by NRCS, The Soil Food Web

    Soil Bacteria

    Though very tiny, bacteria are abundant in soil and serve many essential functions. Most bacteria are decomposers and play the important role of transforming dead matter into a form that can be used by other organisms in the food web. Some can even break down pesticides and pollutants in the soil.


    Additionally, many people are aware of the symbiotic relationship some bacteria form with the roots of legumes such as soybean and clover, ultimately transforming nitrogen from the air into a form that other plants can utilize.


    Soil Fungi

    Most of us think of mushrooms when we hear the word fungi. If we think of fungi in terms of an apple tree, the apple is represented by the mushroom, also called the fruiting body. Fruiting bodies produce spores rather than the seeds found inside of an apple, but the purpose is the same: to ensure that there are future generations.

    The apple is only a small portion of the apple tree, just like the mushroom is only a small portion of the fungus. But rather than having a large structure above the ground such as a tree, most of the fungus organism is found below the ground! In fact, a single fungus is a complex underground tangle of strands that can cover areas even larger than a baseball diamond.


    Soil fungi have a variety of functions in the food web including nutrient-cycling. As such, fungi will colonize the roots of plants, essentially extending the plant roots’ reach, allowing it to obtain important nutrients, such as phosphorus, that would normally be out of grasp. In return, the fungi are supplied with carbohydrates from the plant. This symbiotic relationship is essential for healthy plant function.

    Image by Charlotte Roy, Mycorrhizal network, CC by-SA 4.0

    Soil Arthropods

    Ranging in size from microscopic to several inches long, there are many species of bugs that call the soil home. While some act as pests consuming live plant matter, most consume fungi, worms, or other arthropods.

    Image by Walter Siegmund, Armadillidium vulgare, CC by-SA 3.0

    As they feed, arthropods aerate and mix the soil, regulate the population size of other soil organisms, and shred organic material.


    This is not an exclusive list of soil-dwelling organisms, however. There are many types of single-celled soil protozoa, primarily feeding on bacteria. Additionally, tiny worms called soil nematodes exist and can be both beneficial and detrimental.

    And one cannot forget to mention the most notorious soil resident, the earthworm. These critters benefit crop production in many ways such as mixing and aggregating soil, increasing water filtration, and providing channels for root growth.

    Join us in 2021 as we take a look at assessing the health of your soil and review tips on maintaining soil health.

  4. Farmers and Farm & Forest Owners Can Conserve Natural Resources with EQIP Cost-Share

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    The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a voluntary conservation program which helps producers make conservation work for them. Applications are due by January 15, 2021.

    NRCS provides agricultural producers with financial resources and one-on-one help to plan and implement improvements, or what NRCS calls conservation practices. Using these practices can lead to cleaner water and air, healthier soil and better wildlife habitat, all while improving agricultural operations.

    Through EQIP, you can voluntarily implement conservation practices, and NRCS co-invests in these practices with you. Together, NRCS and producers invest in solutions that conserve natural resources for the future while also improving agricultural operations.

    Accepting Applications

    Any eligible agricultural producer can submit an EQIP application at any time. NRCS announces “cut-off” or application submission deadline dates to evaluate, rank, and approve applications received by the announced date. EQIP contains provisions to distribute percentages of program funds by categories including type of agricultural land use, type of producer, natural resource concern, conservation practice and special initiatives.

    The State Conservationist, in consultation with the State Technical Committee and Local Work Groups, has developed the 2021 ranking criteria to prioritize and subsequently fund applications addressing priority natural resource concerns in Ohio. To learn how to get started with NRCS, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/getstarted.

    Applications signed and submitted to NRCS by the January 15, 2021 deadline will be evaluated for fiscal year 2021 funding.

    To discuss eligibility and/or apply for EQIP, contact your local service center. If you live in Fairfield County or Hocking County, contact District Conservationist, Dave Libben at dave.libben@usda.gov or 740-415-3921; or Soil Conservationist, Brice Shaw at brice.shaw@usda.gov or 740-415-3907.

    Eligibility

    Eligible EQIP applicants include agricultural producers, owners of non-industrial private forestland, and Tribes that:

    Control or own eligible land
    Comply with adjusted gross income limitation (AGI) provisions
    Comply with the highly erodible land and wetland conservation requirements
    Agree to develop an NRCS EQIP plan of operations

    Eligible land includes cropland, rangeland, pastureland, non-industrial private forestland and other farm or ranch lands. Additional restrictions and program requirements may apply.

    Participant Responsibilities

    Applicants must complete and file all application and eligibility paperwork as required. Applicants approved for funding must sign an EQIP contract and implement the planned conservation practices to NRCS standards and specifications as scheduled.

    Starting a conservation practice in an EQIP contract before final written contract approval renders that practice ineligible for EQIP assistance unless NRCS granted a written waiver.

    EQIP Categories

    Applications may be considered for funding in a variety of agricultural categories such as cropland, pasture operations, and organic. Several special projects are also available which address water quality, forestry management, improving pollinator populations and wildlife habitat, pasture improvements and many more. See the EQIP Category Table for full details.


    Supporting Local Pollinators and Wildlife

    Wildlife Habitat Conservation: This category promotes habitat conservation for at-risk wildlife species, including restoring, developing, or enhancing wildlife habitat.
    Honey Bee Pollinator: This category assists producers to increase honey bee habitat. The honey bee pollinator effort will provide floral forage habitats to benefit hive nutritional health as part of an overall effort to increase the health of honey bees.
    Monarch Butterfly Habitat Development Project: This category assists producers to increase monarch butterfly habitat. Planting milkweed and nectar-rich plants not only benefit butterflies, they also strengthen agricultural operations and support other beneficial insects and wildlife.

    Forestry Practices

    Forestry: This category assists producers with non-industrial private forest land to address resource concerns on land used for producing forest-related products.
    Conservation Activity Plan (CAP): A Conservation Activity Plan (CAP) developed by a non-NRCS individual or entity identifies conservation practices needed to address a specific natural resource need, typically for land transitioning to organic production, grazing land, or forest land, or for specific resource needs such as nutrient management.

    Livestock/Cropland

    Cropland: This category addresses soil erosion and water quality resource concerns on cropland and adjacent incidental areas and managed on a regional basis.
    Pasture Operations: This category assists producers that have a pasture operation to address natural resource concerns related to the growing, raising, or reproducing of livestock.
    Confined Livestock & Manure Management: This category assists producers with confined livestock to address resource concerns related to the storage, treatment, and management of animal waste.

    Other Opportunities

    Seasonal High Tunnels: This category assists producers to extend the growing season, improve plant and soil quality, reduce nutrient and pesticide transportation, improve air quality through reduced transportation inputs, and reduce energy use by providing consumers with a local source of fresh produce.
    Beginning Farmer and Rancher: This fund category is for applicants meeting the definition of Beginning Farmer/Rancher or Veteran Farmer/Ranchers who also meet the Beginning Farmer/Rancher definition.
    Limited Resource Farmer: This category assists limited resource producers to address resource concerns.
    Socially Disadvantaged Producer: This category assists socially disadvantaged producers to address resource concerns.
  5. 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.

  6. Ghost Pipes, Kudzu, and Dodder, OH MY!

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    3 Real Plants that Rival Halloween Monsters

    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“.


    Ghost Pipes


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

    Often confused for a fungus, Ghost Pipes, also known as Indian Pipes, 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 Pipe 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 Pipe 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 pipes take 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.

  7. 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:

  8. 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 typically 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

  9. 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.

  10. ‘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.