Soil is the foundation of life on Earth - Approximately 75% of calories consumed worldwide come from crops grown directly in soil and another 20% come from foods that indirectly rely on soil, like animal products and honey.
Soil doesn’t just support life though, it’s full of life itself! In fact, there are more microorganisms in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on Earth! Those microbes are essential for keeping soil healthy and productive. Microbes are responsible for nutrient cycling in soil, for aerating soil, for maintaining soil's structure, and aiding in soil's water retention and filtration abilities.
Their role in soil health contributes to our food sources, plant products, and supporting ecosystems. All of these services total to an estimated value of 1.5 TRILLION dollars per year worldwide!
Some soil practices can harm these organisms and degrade soil though. Chemical applications, general pollution, tilling, and leaving soil bare can all harm soil health. These practices disrupt and can even kill the microbes that keep soil productive, while also degrading the soil's structure and ability to support plants. Any harm to soil comes back to human populations too; Unhealthy soil can lead to lower crop yields, nutrient losses, erosion, water sedimentation, and a general decline of the surrounding ecosystem.
To help protect soil, practice the four principles of soil management:
These principles can be implemented through practices such as no-tilling, mulching, the use of buffers where appropriate, and cover crops. You should avoid tilling because it can disturb the soil’s living biomass and harm the organisms that cycle nutrients to create rich, dark, productive soil. Using diverse cover crops will help your soil because they reduce erosion, improve water retention, enhance the soil’s biomass, and they promote healthy organisms by providing living root systems and organic matter to the soil.
Simple soil management techniques like these can result in soil that reduces erosion, requires less nutrient inputs, manages heavy rain or drought more effectively, retains and filters water, and increases crop yields.
For more tips on promoting soil health and conservation, visit our resources page here!
Indiana has about 4.7 million acres of forest land that is teeming with diversity! Our forests contain more than 85 different tree species and over 100 other plant species that help support the ecosystem. Forest diversity is essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem, since every species is intertwined. The high level of biodiversity in our forests also leads to a higher output of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are all of the benefits, both explicit and not, that we receive from the forests. In Indiana those services include temperature moderation seen from vegetation, soil maintenance from the root systems, water conservation and filtration from the plants and soil, and pollinator support from flowering plants.
One of the most obvious services we get from forests though is simply wood itself. About 85% of Indiana's forests are privately owned (that's about 3.8 million acres) and those land owners help support the state's large forestry and timber industry. Forest products manufacturing is a $3 billion a year industry in our state and employs more than 50,000 Hoosiers. That hard work pays off too: Indiana ranks 9th nationally in total lumber production and third in hardwood lumber production!
Harvesting forest products is a very different job than it used to be though. Thats because we know now that if we don't apply conservation practices we could easily lose our forests. Indiana is estimated to have been 85% forestland before modern settlements developed. Forests were cleared to create agricultural land, roads, towns, and to make and sell wood products. By the year 1900 deforestation had left only 8% of Indiana’s land forested. Realizing that we were putting a vital resource at risk, the industry changed over time to ensure that we were protecting our forests. Now, about 20% of Indiana is forested and that number is rising! Our forests are growing by volume more than 3 times as fast as they are being lost.
We still have to work to conserve our forests though. Indiana Forests face threats like disease, wood-boring insects, and invasive species. Of the more than 2,000 species of vascular plants in Indiana, roughly 25 percent are non-native to Indiana and the Department of Natural Resources identifies around 25 of those as invasive species of concern for Indiana woodlands. Invasive species like Asian Bush Honeyscukle for example can reduce the chance of survival among tree saplings. Invasives can even disrupt the forest’s entire ecosystem by introducing species that do not belong in the forest's network. Overtime invasive species can spread until they threaten the ecosystem services that we rely on.
The State of Indiana’s Division of Forestry and the Natural Resource Conservation Service offers a variety of programs to promote forest conservation and health:
NRCS Resources: Click Here
IN DNR Resources: Click Here
You’ve probably heard the saying “April Showers Bring may Flowers!”, but spring downpours bring us something else too: Stormwater.
Stormwater is runoff from rain events. When it flows over impervious surfaces, or the rain is too heavy to soak into the ground it lands on, we direct it into surface waters. Most counties or towns control stormwater through Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) which are the systems of gutters, drainage ditches, storm drains, etc used to carry stormwater to streams, lakes, creeks, and rivers. MS4s have to include a large amount of infrastructure, because there is a lot of stormwater to deal with! To get perspective on just how much water we’re talking about, consider the fact that 1” of rain over only 1 acre of land is equivalent to 27,154 gallons of water weighing 113 tons!
So why worry about stormwater? Because unfortunately stormwater can pick up just about everything it flows over before it gets to our surface waters. Stormwater contributes to sediment pollution, the number 1 pollutant in surface waters, but it can also pick up trash, oils, grease, chemicals from building or cars, pesticides, pet wastes, and more.
You can help protect our waters though! Here are a few simple ways you can help prevent stormwater pollution:
Spring is fast approaching in Indiana, and The Monroe County Conservation District wants to be there to help you meet your conservation goals! That’s why this month, we’re focusing on the resources available to YOU from us. We have a range of resources available for your soil and water needs!
Stormwater Partnership Grants:
The Monroe County Soil & Water Conservation District partners with the County Stormwater Board to offer small grant opportunities to landowners. These grants are for stormwater resource concerns specifically to protect soil and water. These grants can be used for pasture erosion control, invasive species removal for soil health, water catchment system installations for repurposing stormwater, seawall developments, and more!
Critical Area Seeding:
The critical area seeding program was started in 2020 to provide a seed mix that establishes quickly in order to protect soil. The mix grows deep roots that will stabilize soil long-term. The program is being offered again in 2021 - but only while supplies last!
The MCSWCD rents out our no-till drill on a first come/first served basis. The drill requires a minimum deposit of $50, which will cover up to 5 acres of seeding. You can put your name on the waiting list to be next in line to rent the drill.
The MCSWCD also has a variety of equipment available to borrow FREE of charge too! We have tree planers, soil probes, and Hay-check probes all available for use.
A variety of educational resources are available for free to students, parents, and teachers in Monroe County! You can look through our educational site to find booklets, classroom exercises, and our very own book - We’re very excited to continue to offer our book “The Seriously Silly Story of a Waterdrops Journey” for free to students in Monroe County!
If you are not in Monroe County the book is also available for purchase on Amazon. The book is authored by our very own District Manager Martha Miller, and all proceeds go to conservation efforts in Monroe County.
If you have questions about any of our resources contacts us here!
The Monroe County Soil & Water Conservation District is excited to launch The Nature Files: Uncovering the World of Conservation! On the last Friday of each month, the MCSWCD will release a new video dedicated to a topic in Conservation. Each video will highlight conservation efforts in Monroe County, and the unique issues facing us in Southern Indiana.
For our first episode, How Soil Connects Us, we spoke with Jon Eldon of Indiana University about his life and experiences as a soil scientist. In his discussion, Eldon talks about his journey from the son of a produce supplier, to an ecologist and forester, to a soil scientist for IU. Along the way, we got to learn about the insights his journey gave him, like how people living on a small island avoid depleting their very limited resources and how soil health can connect all of us. Check out the video below to learn more about Eldon and his relationship with our soil!
You can also find the archive of all MCSWCD original videos here: Video Series Archives
December 5th is World Soil Day! World Soil day is an international day supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization branch of the United Nations. It's intended to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and to advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources. This year, we want to focus our attention on our own official state soil: the Miami Soil!
The Miami soil is named after the Miami Native American nation. The nation included Great Lakes tribes and occupied regions of modern-day Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. In 1986 the Indiana Association of Professional Soil Scientists (IAPSC) voted to designate Miami as our state soil.
Miami soil's native vegetative is hardwood forest, but it's a highly productive agricultural soil too; the less sloping Miami soils are used mainly for growing corn, soybeans, or winter wheat while the steeper areas are used as pasture, hay land, or forest land. This productive cropland, hay land and pasture also supports extensive livestock production. Miami soil has helped keep Indiana nationally ranked for agricultural production!
Due to the critical role the Miami soil has in Indian's success, managing it properly is important. A conservation cropping system that minimizes disturbance, maximizes soil cover, maximizes biodiversity, and provides continuous living roots will maintain the soil's health. Cover crops and no-till drilling are great ways to achieve these goals.
You can learn about soil conservation resources here: MCSWCD resources
Happy World Soil Day!
November 15th is America Recycles Day! Recycling has become a cornerstone for sustainable waste management in the United States, but it only works if we all commit to it. Recycling reduces trash that is sent to landfills or incinerators, and conserves our natural resources by giving old items new life.
Recycling is also great for our local communities; in a single year recycling in America contributes 757,000 jobs, 36.6 billion in wages, and 6.7 billion in tax revenues. Most of these benefits are taken in by the municipalities that support recycling efforts, helping communities thrive on sustainability!
For people living in Bloomington the city offers single stream recycling, which means you don't even have to sort your items! All you have to do is place your recyclable items loose in the cart provided by the city. A full list of what items are and are not acceptable can be found at the city's website: Bloomington Recycling
We advise you look over the list of acceptable items carefully to ensure that your recycling doesn't end up as trash in the future! If non-recyclables get mixed in with your recycling, it could contaminate the rest of the items. If the items get contaminated in a way that prevents sorting at the recycling facility, the load might have to be thrown out altogether. So, if you're not sure whether or not something can be recycled, you should err on the side of caution and throw it out with your normal trash.
If you have more specific recycling needs or you don't live in a city that offers recycling, you can turn to Monroe County! You can find a list of recycling facilities that accept a wide range of items here: Monroe County Go Green District
Farmer's in Iowa might have discovered a secret weapon to land management in Native Prairie. Prairie plantings are a land management tool that involves integrating native plant species into farm fields as contour buffers and edge-of-field filters.
Native prairie once stretched from Missouri to Ohio and contributed to some of the richest soils on Earth. The soil doesn't regenerate once the prairie is taken out though. Since the mid-19th century soil organic content has dropped by 40%-60% across the Midwest and topsoil has shrunk by nearly 14 inches on average. Pesticides and loss of habitat have also hurt insect populations and the biodiversity within the soil has similarly suffered.
Most of Indiana's prairie, which once accounted for 15% of the state's land, has been lost to drainage, urbanization, and agriculture. The Department of Natural Resources holds up Hoosier Prairie in Lake County as one of the best preserved pieces of our home state's prairie.
Teams from Iowa State University have been studying native prairie's potential for decades through their STRIPS (Science based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Prairie Strips) program. According to new research, planting just 10% of farmland with native prairie can drastically reduce soil loss and nutrient runoff.
Prairies are an effective way to mitigate the damages of decades of development. Prairies can help restore soil, foster carbon sequestration, and generally improve biological functioning. They also provide habitat to birds, small mammals, and pollinators.
You may have heard it said that good soil is alive. Good, healthy soil is packed with living creatures like plants, insects, and lots and lots of bacteria and fungi. These last two groups, the bacteria and fungi, are two residents of soil that help make up the microbiome of soil. This microbiome is teeming with life and works hard every day to support us and our modern society.
Microbes start by bringing relief to the natural world from human activities. They help break down environmental pollutants, conserve water, and capture atmospheric carbon. Microbes in the soil can even prevent erosion.
Their benefits reach beyond what's under our feet though! The microbes of soil can influence how we respond to allergens in our environment. Their ability to reach into our own immune systems and physical health comes in part from their role in feeding us.
Plants and microbes have evolved together to benefit plant productivity and in turn to benefit us. Plants release compounds that feed microbes, who then aid plants in absorbing essential nutrients. Microbes also produce phytonutrients and antioxidants for plants to soak up. These compounds then directly benefit us when we harvest the plants for food.
To protect your soil and the microbiome that comes with it, implement conservation practices everyday. This can include planting cover crops, and moving away from tillage. We're here to help you too! You can rent our no-till drill and explore other resources from the MCSWCD here!
While things remain uncertain and disorderly during this time, people are staying secluded in their homes in order to stay safe. While staying safe is the most important priority, it may be detrimental to the environment as we are using much more resources through domestic use like electricity and extra waste. So, while staying safe at home, here are some helpful tips to be eco-friendly during isolation!
Bloomington residents also have the great opportunity to sign up for composting curbside pickup through Green Camino Compost. Participation in this program gets you buckets and bags for compost, instruction guides, and more. Instead of throwing food scraps and many other products (even cotton balls!) away, you can reduce your at-home-waste and help the recovery of organic waste through composting.
There are a lot of ways to stay sanitary but stay green during this time, too. Stay safe and practice social distancing…we at the MCSWCD are thinking of you!
Here you'll find our blog posts relating to conservation, soil health, and Monroe County!