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!
As the grounds thaw out, you might be thinking that it's time to test your soil's health. To make sure that your soil is as productive as possible this spring, first understand the report that will come back from a soil test. Below we've outlines some common metrics you might get back from a soil test and what they mean:
pH is a measure of acidity. 7 is considered neutral, while lower values reflect more acidic soil. For reference, pure water has a pH of 7 and rain water has a typical pH of 5-6. The chart below shows how pH affects nutrient availability in soil:
Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC)
CEC can indicate the soil texture, with lower numbers indicating sandier soil and higher numbers indicating soil with more clay and organic matter. 8 is usually considered the middle ground for CEC.
This is a proportion of the following nutrients in soil: potassium, magnesium, calcium, hydrogen, and sodium. Good soil structure and water-holding capacity is usually associated with the following proportions:
Other desired nutrient levels will depend on your specific planting needs. For example, most crops have specific nitrogen recommendations and will require about 1/10 the amount of Sulfur in comparison to nitrogen needs. Potassium is critical for many garden fruits and vegetables, and supplementing could be more beneficial to soils with higher CEC values. Phosphorous recommendations will depend on crop yield and current phosphorous levels in the soil.
We hope this brief overview will help you decipher your next soil test, but if you have additional questions we're always available! Please email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be happy to help however we can!
Another Annual Meeting is in the books! We had a great room of folks join us at the Fourwinds Resort on Lake Monroe early Saturday morning to support conservation efforts in Monroe County. The Agenda moved quickly with awards, speakers, elections, and door prizes! Here are a few highlights we want to share with those that couldn’t make it in person:
The Monroe County Soil & Water Conservation District recognizes three conservation award winners every year at our Annual Meeting to highlight the efforts of the county’s local conservationists.
Joe Bailey is new to the role of Land Steward, but has taken it on with great enthusiasm! Having previously lived in apartment spaces, Joe only moved onto property with significant land a few years ago. He certainly chose a true gem of nature on his first move into rural life! Joe’s land has plentiful springs and opportunities for wildlife, but has also previously been used for agriculture and even includes an old railroad bed. Joe has worked closely with Eco Logic, the MCSWCD, and the NRCS to restore and preserve his land. This has included invasive removal, conservation cover, and habitat management with a special focus on pollinator friendly habitats. We’re proud to recognize Joe as a true conservationist and thank him for his stewardship to the Land of Monroe County.
Established Conservationist: Mark Ryan
Mark Ryan has been tending to his land with conservation in mind for years. Mark takes care of just over 100 acres – and he knows every acre like the back of his hand! He is well-versed on invasive species, having removed nearly every kind we see in Southern Indiana from his property. Mark works with the MCSWCD and the NRCS, but he has been more than willing to take on conservation challenges on his own too; he recently restored a pond on his land essential for a healthy wildlife habitat. Mark is also working on tree stand improvement and brush management. We’re lucky to have Mark in Monroe County and are excited to present him with this award!
Friend of Conservation:
IU @ Hinkle-Garden was born through a joint effort by the MCSWCD, Bloomington Restoration, Inc and James Farmer. When the MCSWCD first picked up the project in 2013 soil tests showed that the soil was not just unhealthy, but in critical condition. Through cover crops, soil amendments, and patience, the team at IU Farm has brought the soil back to a healthy and productive state. It is safe to say that Mrs. Daisey Garten is smiling at her beautiful little farm once again thriving. It was her vision for her farm to remain an active and useful educational resource for future generations.
To nominate an individual or organization, contact Martha Miller at email@example.com by the end of the calendar year with the name of the individual/organization, which award they are being nominated for, and why they should be considered for the award (2 paragraphs maximum).
We filled two elected positions, to complete our board of supervisors for the upcoming year. Mr. Dallas Condor and Mrs. Georgia Davis were both elected and then sworn in by Commissioner Thomas.
Mr. Condor and Mrs. Davis join Keith McConnell, Whitney Schlegel, and Ryan Conway to round out of Board of Supervisors:
Finally, we were honored to have Mr. Stephen Ball attend our Annual Meeting as the keynote speaker. Stephen Ball is an archeologist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
Mr. Ball presented on the history of Barns in Indiana, taking a unique anthropological look at how Barn styles were influences by settlers from the South and East.
We would also like to give special thanks to all of the elected City, State, and County officials that were in attendance! Additionally, we appreciate the support from all community businesses, non-profits, and conservation organizations that donated door prizes and offered their financial support.
We are always appreciative of the support we have in this community, and it was great to see it on display! We truly hope that everyone in attendance had as great of an experience as we did. We can't wait to see you again next year!
The 2nd annual conservation poster contest is officially underway! The theme this year is "Where Would We BEE Without Pollinators?" - A conservation question a lot of us have probably had on our minds recently, since several bats, birds, bees, and butterflies are listed as endangered or threatened.
The theme this year is designated to spread awareness about pollinators and their critical role in global health. The movement of pollen is essential to reproduction in flowering plants, and at least 75% of these plants require help with pollination. That's where our pollinator friends come in! Birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, small mammals, and of course bees all help pollinate flowers through their natural day-to-day business.
The plants that pollinators support are responsible for:
Help us spread the word and participate in our contest! All students K-12 who live in Monroe County are welcome to participate.
All Entries must be on 11"x17” paper, be original artwork, and be accompanied by this registration form
For the informational flyer, click here
There will be a total of 5 winners, one winner from each of the following grade ranges:
If you'd like to get more involved, The MCSWCD is happy to come speak with your class about pollinators throughout this spring! E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a visit from us!
The Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District is excited to announce our 2020 Annual Meeting is officially set for Saturday, February 29th at the Fourwinds Resort on Lake Monroe! The meeting will start with a full breakfast buffet at 9AM, and wrap up around 12PM.
The core purpose of the annual meeting is to facilitate elections for district board members, release an annual report of completed projects, and to celebrate local conservation efforts. We want you to be a part of the meeting too, so we'll also be seeking suggestions for the upcoming year and handing out door prizes!
Finally, we are very excited to announce our keynote speaker for this year will be Stephen Ball, State Archeologist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Stephen Ball has been a professional archeologist working in Indiana for over 30 years, having received his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1999. Stephen will go over the design and history of barns for our meeting this year.
You can reserve your spot at this year's meeting here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/85517891315
We hope to see you there!
We're proud to announce that our own district manager, Martha Miller, will be the 2020 president of the Indiana District Employees Association!
The purpose of the Indiana District Employees Association - or IDEA - is to strengthen the Indiana Soil and water Conservation Districts and empower district employees. That's a mission that Martha is more than ready to take on.
Martha has been a district employee for about 17 years, and has seen firsthand how much work goes into operating a district office. A typical office only has 1-2 employees, forcing them to wear a lot of hats on the job: Manager, Administrator, Bookkeeper, Event planner, Conservation Planner, etc. Most of this work is done behind the scenes, making it easy to go unnoticed and under appreciated.
As Martha herself puts it: "The SWCD employees really are doing a lot of work and make a big difference. It' just that they're a very small part of a bigger plan for conservation."
Martha views this new position as her opportunity to offer support to other district employees and make sure that no one feels overwhelmed or alone in their districts. That means making sure that everyone feels like they are seen and that their contributions are being recognized.
"I would like to think that in 2020 we would be able to move the organization forward in such a way that employees feel their voices being heard."
Conservation is the ultimate goal of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the employees make that goal achievable. As President of IDEA, Martha wants to make sure that every employee is able to get the support they need to be the best stewards of conservation they can be.
We hope you'll join us in Congratulating Martha in her new role this upcoming year!
As fall continues to fade away, we're about to turn the corner into the holiday season! Here at the MCSWCD, we have a long list of things to be thankful for this year.
First, we're thankful for our community and the incredible effort being made toward conservation here. This topic is fresh in our minds, as we just finished wrapping up our Soil-Health mini-series to celebrate soil conservation in southern Indiana. Three sessions were delivered to help residents understand their soil, keep it healthy, and use it to grow successfully. Thank you to everyone who contributed and joined us for the series!
(To make sure you don't miss out on local events, be sure to check our events page (here) regularly!)
We're not the only ones grateful for conservation this year though; the USDA is hosting "No-Till November" again, by popular demand! No-till November is a campaign from the Natural Resource Conservation Service to discourage fall tilling. Instead, you should keep the stubble in your fields. This is great for the soil for many reasons:
Practices like no-till are examples of how America's farmers are on the front lines of soil conservation. Soil health is essential to our health because everything we eat, including that big Thanksgiving Turkey, starts with healthy soil. That's why we should all be thankful for farmers this year!
Finally, we have to give thanks to YOU too! We're grateful to everyone who joined us this month to learn about soil, to everyone who is dedicated to conservation efforts, and to our local supporters as well!
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!
Fall is already in the air, and to celebrate we've been out in the community with some of our favorite annual events!
At the Detmer Gardens Open House, we enjoyed educating attendees about soil health and composting, while also spending some time with our partners. The Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District worked with the County's Parks and Recreation Department and the Purdue Cooperative Extension for the event. If you missed it this year, don't worry! We hope to make it an annual event around the beginning of fall each year.
Following the Gardens Open House, we quickly started preparing for one of the biggest fall events in the county - the Children's Farm Festival! The Children's Farm Festival is held every year at the Peden Family Farm and is packed with fun events. This year our friends at the NRCS joined us with their Soil Health Trailer to put on even more demonstrations for the kids. We believe there's no better way to learn than by experience - and by getting your hands dirty!
We're so grateful for everyone that joined us at our September events, and we can't wait to see what October brings!