An update on the SWCD and USGS partnership: Edge of Field Project. This project collaborates with local farmers to collect water samples for an estimate five years to measure nutrients, sediment, and other critical elements for USGS research.
In January 2021, the SWCD staff were trained how to collect samples and send the collection and other information to USGS. Information is collected and sent after significant rain/snow fall events when water has entered the systems.
The systems are built on the land of cooperating landowners and farmers, at no cost to the farmer. USGS incurs all of the installation costs and other necessary elements. USGS is always looking for new sites to host these Edge of Field sites. Contact our office if you would like more information about this project.
This fall, the Allen County SWCD and the Maumee Watershed Alliance had numerous opportunities to give tours of Fort Wayne’s three rivers – the St. Mary’s, the St. Joseph’s, and the Maumee. These tours were designed to educate both farmers and urbanites on the importance of water quality and the part everyone plays in maintaining and improving the water quality around Allen County. Greg Lake, the Allen Co. SWCD Director, and Dan Wire, an Associate SWCD Board Member and Maumee Watershed Alliance Member, expressed how important it is to get people on the water. According to Dan Wire, “When people get on the river, they realize it’s not as bad as they thought.” Riding the river also gives an understanding of the programs already in place to improve and maintain water quality and the opportunities to get involved.
The Allen County SWCD even had the chance to give a tour to both Tom Bechman, the editor for the Indiana Prairie Farmer, and Jerry Raynor, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist. Dan Wire and Greg Lake shared about the programs that improve water quality locally, and Jerry Raynor spoke about what is happening statewide in the promotion of conservation. Tom Bechman wrote several stories about his trip to Allen County and published them in the October 2020 issue of the Indiana Prairie Farmer. Now the message of water quality is being spread across Indiana.
Take a look at these articles written by Tom Bechman from his visit to Allen County!
In a 2022 Coffee and Pest Management webinar, Dr. Laura Ingwell, an Assistant Professor in Horticulture Entomology at Purdue University, described Integrated Pest Management for three different pests. Dr. Ingwell takes a look at cabbage worms, aphids, and cucumber beetles.
If you want to learn more about our “Coffee and” webinars, be sure to check the page on our website. Learn more about our Urban and Small Farms Program to see if you are eligible for free soil testing and other services.
Integrate Pest Management (IPM) is an “ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests and their damage through a combination of techniques.” IPM uses variety/cultivar selection, timing, location, habitat manipulation, biological controls, and as a last result, pesticides to manage the pests in your farm and garden.
Cabbage worms go through complete metamorphoses. Larvae are the dangerous form of this insect to our plants. The bigger the larvae get, the more they eat the plant. Once they complete their larval stage, they go through a pupal phase where they make the transition to adulthood. After the adults mate, they lay eggs. The best way to manage cabbage worms is preventing the adults from laying eggs on your plants. If you’re too late, you can address them as small caterpillars.
Crop selection can be used to prevent cabbage worms. Take notes and see which crops are chewed most in your garden, avoid planting those the following year. Another tool is exclusion. Use low tunnels to add a physical barrier keeping the moths from making contact with your plants. Biological controls such as tachinid flies, parasitic wasps, and predatory stinkbugs are natural enemies to cabbage worms. Chemical controls are a last resort, but foliar sprays of Bt are an effective organic option.
Aphids are small and sneaky. They feed on plants with a sucking mouthpart much like a straw. They can kill seedlings and young transplants and vector plant viruses. Thier direct feeding on plant sap results in excess sugar that the insect excretes in the form of honeydew. The honeydew attracts other insects, like ants, wasps and bees, and also facilitates the growth of sooty mold, a black-white powdery substance which inhibits photosynthesis. Aphids undergo incomplete metamorphosis. The juveniles look like miniature versions of the adults. They also give live births, so you won’t find any eggs. There are both winged forms, for long distance dispersal, and wingless forms. Cultural controls include monitoring your plants and the plants around them for the presence of aphids and their natural enemies. Biological controls include parasitic wasps, lacewings, ladybeetles, minute pirate bugs, and syrphid flies. If natural enemies are present, just monitor the population to see if they continue to build or remain the same/decline. If cultural and biological controls fail, chemical controls are a last resort. Horticultural soaps and oils can be effective in a home garden setting.
There are two different species of cucumber beetles: striped and spotted. Striped cucumber beetles only feed on cucurbits, whereas spotted cucumber beetles are not as picky. All of them can transmit a bacterium that leads to bacterial wilt. There are two peak times during the growing season when adults are present and transmitting the disease – early spring when they are looking to feed and lay eggs and, in the late summer, when the second generation is preparing to overwinter in the soil. A major portion of their lifecycle takes place in the soil. Cultural controls include delayed planting. Waiting to plant any cucurbits in the spring prevents the adults that overwintered from finding food when they emerge from weedy habitat where they have overwintered. Mechanical controls include exclusion with a screen that will allow small beneficial insects in but not cucumber beetles. Spiders are a great biological control. Chemical controls such as foliar sprays and powders can be used but only as a last resort.
If you want to learn more about IPM other resources include the Purdue Consumer Horticulture website, the Purdue Entomology Extension Vegetable Website, the Purdue Entomology Extension Fruit Website, and the Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory.
Organic matter makes up 1-6% of most soils. Organic matter (OM) is what makes your soil fertile. Soil biology can live and thrive in OM and so can your plants. Organic matter is derived from decomposed plant and animal materials, which supplies nutrients for organisms. It also forms different sized aggregates that aid in better gas and water exchanges in the soil. So, what makes up organic matter? OM is made up of three parts: the living, the dead, and the very dead.
The “living” part of organic matter is made up of the organisms that call soil their home. Bacteria, fungi, viruses, algae, moles, rabbits, woodchucks, plant roots, etc. are all considered living organic matter. Soil organisms make up 25% of the earth’s total biodiversity. In just a teaspoon of soil, there are tens of thousands of different organisms. Soil organisms have 3 main roles:
Microorganisms, earthworms, and insects feed on plant residues and manures for energy and nutrition. In the process, they mix OM into the mineral soil. Earthworms have a sticky substance on their skin that helps bind soil particles together. Other materials produced by fungi have a similar effect. These aggregates make up good soil structure. Roots and other organisms produce channels that stabilize soil structure and help with water infiltration. The sun puts energy into plants through photosynthesis. This energy ends up in the residue of plants after they die which microorganisms break down to create new chemical compounds.
The “dead” part of organic matter is made up of the fresh residues including dead microorganisms and earthworms, old plant roots, crop residues, recently added manures, etc. Fresh residues have 3 main roles:
Soil organisms eat the dead organic matter for energy, breaking it down which releases the nutrients necessary for plant growth. As the living organisms decompose the dead material, they release chemical compounds that bind soil particles together and benefit soil structure.
Some residues are broken down by soil organisms more easily than others. Proteins, amino acids, sugars, and starches are broken down very easily. While lignin, which is a fibrous compound, takes much longer for organisms to break down.
The Very Dead
The “very dead” part of organic matter is made up of substances in the soil that have already been decomposed by soil organisms and are inaccessible for further breakdown. We refer to this as humus. Humus has 4 main functions:
Humus has a good Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) and has the ability to bind to nutrients that are essential for plants. It slowly releases these nutrients for plants to utilize while reducing the risk of leaching. Some humus molecules can encase potentially harmful chemical compounds in order to protect plants from taking them up. Humus can rebound and prevent compaction problems while also reducing soil density, improving aggregation to hold onto and release water when necessary.
What do we learn from soil organic matter?
Organic matter is extremely important for nutrient availability for crops, soil structure, and water retention. Disturbing soil has effects on the living, the dead, and the very dead parts of organic matter. Tillage destroys the habitat of living soil organisms and aggregates of soil structure. It can also make humus (organic matter that is inaccessible for further breakdown) more accessible to soil organisms for decomposition, releasing carbon into the atmosphere.
Converting your growing operation to a no-till system is easily manageable and can even save you time and money! To learn more about growing no-till click here.
Magdoff, F., & Van Es, H. (2021). Building Soils for Better Crops: Ecological Management for Healthy Soils (Fourth Edition). Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).
The Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District is extending a huge thank you and round of applause to Mike Werling, our Conservation Programs Specialist. Mike, a fourth-generation conservation farmer in Adams County, has been working for the District since 2018. Before this, he frequently volunteered for the Allen Co. SWCD at the Fort Wayne Farm Show and other events. Mike started his journey of soil health and conservation farming because he hated seeing erosion in his fields. Today he uses over 17 cover crops, incorporates no-till, and utilizes other best management practices such as grass waterways, water and sediment control basins, buffer strips around his upland areas, and drainage water management.
During his time with the District, Mike advocated for soil health through public presentations, educational workshops, farm tours, and working directly with local producers. We cannot thank Mike enough for all the time and energy he dedicated to the Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District. We wish him the best as he takes on his new role as the Adams County, IN Surveyor. We know he will be successful in improving drainage systems, reducing erosion, and keeping nutrients from entering Adams County’s waterways.
The Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District has greatly enjoyed serving Allen County and the surrounding counties in 2022. We conducted numerous field days, workshops, webinars, tours, and provided other forms of education to the community. We can’t wait to continue serving our community in 2023.
Bloomingdale Urban Gardens
With the partnership of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood in Fort Wayne and through the financial aid of USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), we were able to develop a demonstration garden. This garden demonstrates the soil health practices which include 1) minimizing disturbance of the soil, 2) keeping the soil covered, 3) maintaining living roots in the soil, and 4) increasing diversity.
Before the growing season ended, we planted a cover crop mix of cereal rye and crimson clover in one of the beds. We are excited to have a cover crop termination workshop this spring at the garden! If you have any questions or would like to tour the garden, give us a call at 260-484-5848 ext. 3.
The Allen County Education Trailer build was completed in June of this year. It has been professionally wrapped and our educational displays will be installed this winter. We look forward to a great season with it in 2023.
The Soils Project which provided resources to local producers to better understand their soils as well as the Flatrock-Auglaize Watershed Management Planning Grant have been completed and closed out. A huge thanks to the staff, partners, and contractors who worked so diligently on these projects and made them great successes.
The Flatrock-Auglaize Watershed Management Plan will be available on the Allen County SWCD website as soon as it is finalized.
Field Days and Workshops
The District hosted numerous field days and workshops. Around 100 people joined us for Going Green for Ag on March 17th with various topics on soil health, innovative technologies, and nutrient supply changes. The Annual Soil Health Field Day at Roemke Farms was a great way to connect with over 200 farmers and landowners about soil health, cover crops, and advances in equipment. Fifty people joined us for Day at the Lake which is an educational trip to Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie. The “Coffee and” webinar series hosted 8 seminars with topics focused on urban and small farmers.
The Urban and Small Farms Program hosted a farm tour to the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center and gave a cover crop planting demos at Bloomingdale Gardens.
Nine educational pontoon tours were conducted in 2022 reaching over 80 individuals. These tours traveled Fort Wayne’s 3 rivers: the St. Marys, the St. Joseph, and the Maumee. Participants learned about the history of the rivers as well as current management strategies that are improving water quality. We will continue to provide pontoon tours in 2023 when the weather warms up!
Community Partnerships and Involvement
Staff from the Allen County SWCD participated in numerous community events including the Fort Wayne Farm Show, Black Loam Conference, EcoFest, Master Gardener Garden Walk, 4H Fair, Pedal Paddle Play, Fort Wayne Farmers’ Market, Bloom Fest, and World Rivers Day.
The District also partnered with the following organizations and agencies: USDA – NRCS, Farm Service Agency, Indiana DNR, Maumee Watershed Alliance, Legacy Taste of the Garden, Northeast Indiana Local Food Network, Purdue Extension, Fort Wayne Parks Dept, ISDA, Roemke Farms, Farm Bureau, Bloomingdale Neighborhood Association, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, New Tech Academy, Washington Elementary School, United States Geological Survey, Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management, IUPUI, etc.
There’s so much that happens below the surface of the soil. There is an entire ecosystem within the rich earth that we grow crops, grass, and trees in. Below are just a few examples of the diverse life that can be found beneath the surface.
Earthworms: Earthworms are “nature’s tillers”. They eat their way through the soil making burrows which increase water infiltration and make room for plant roots to reach deep into the soil. Poop might be gross, but earthworm poop adds a lot of good bacteria, organic matter, and nutrients that plants can use right away into the soil. Tillage is the biggest “bad guy” when it comes to earthworms, and certain fertilizers and insecticides can greatly harm these beneficial animals.
Ants: Ants are arthropods which means they are animals that have a hard exoskeleton. You can find ants all over the world. They form large colonies that make their homes underground. These nests and the tunnels that connect to them allow increased air and water movement throughout the soil. Ant nests also make microbes happy which results in more available nitrogen.
Protozoa: Protozoa are microscopic, but they are still bigger than bacteria, protozoa’s main source of food. Protozoa can impact the amount of organic matter and nutrients available to plants by how much bacteria they eat. Protozoa can take on several shapes. Some are amoebas which move by getting big and then small again. Some have little waving hairs called ciliates, and some move with a flagellum which spins like a whip or a tail.
Nematodes: Nematodes are microscopic worms that live in tiny air and water filled pore spaces in the soil. They eat all kinds of things like fungi, bacteria, algae, other nematodes, protozoa, and insect larvae. Some types of nematodes feed on plant roots which can harm crop growth. Even though some species of nematodes are pests, others are not, and they actually help the release of nitrogen that the plant can easily use. Some species even prey on harmful insect pests.
Fungi: There are at least 1 million fungal species present in the soil. Mushrooms are a type of fungi. They do a really good job of breaking down dead plants and animals which put nutrients into the soil. Fungi helps to stabilize the soil structure and is good at cycling nutrients.
Grubs: Grubs are beetle larvae, meaning they’re baby beetles. Grubs are worm-like, and they live in the soil. They can be anywhere from ¼ inch to 1 inch long with bodies curved in a “C” shape. Grubs feed on plant roots which can greatly stunt the plants growth. They also eat seeds and seedlings which can keep plants from growing.
Ground nesting bees and wasps: Some bees and wasps live inside the soil by making burrows. One example of a ground nesting wasp in a Cicada Killer. These large wasps can be 2 inches long. They dig burrows into the soil that can be 12-18 inches long and 1 ½ inches wide. Cicada Killers paralyze cicadas and lay eggs on them to feed their larvae. These insects do not colonize, but Cicada Killers will often burrow near each other. The males cannot sting, and the females will only sting if they are mishandled.
Annual Cicadas: Cicadas spend their adult lives above ground, but they spend their time as nymphs in the soil. Cicadas lay their eggs in tree branches. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs fall to the ground where they burrow into the soil and feed on plant roots. This can cause damage to young trees and plants. After two years of living in the soil, the nymphs, which look like adult cicadas but without the wings, will emerge from the soil and molt to become a fully formed cicada.
Mole Crickets: Mole crickets have large front legs that they use for digging. Much of their life is spent in the soil. Mole crickets hatch as nymphs, looking very similar to adults, and they dig around in the soil looking for food. Although they spend some of their adult life outside of the soil, they return to the ground in winter. These insects’ tunneling can cause a lot of damage to turf grass, but they can also increase soil aeration and infiltration.
Moles: Moles are insectivores, and they can grow from 5 to 7 inches long. They spend most of their lives in the soil. They have small eyes and ears that are protected by fur. Underground, they don’t have much need for eyesight. They have large claws which help them dig through the soil. Moles can benefit the soil by increasing aeration and infiltration. They help organic matter to travel deeper into the soil, and for subsoil material to move closer to the surface bringing nutrients along with it. Although they can add benefits to the soil, many homeowners find moles a nuisance.
Brady, N. C., & Weil, R. R. (2010). Elements of the nature and properties of soil (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson.
Mike Werling is a fourth generation farmer in Decatur, Indiana. Farming is his lifestyle. He started with his father and now its in his blood. Mike started on his journey of soil health and conservation farming because he hated seeing erosion on his fields.
As a part time employee with the Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Mike has learned that it’s hard for people to change their attitudes, and this lends to challenges in educating other farmers to adopt conservation practices. This does not altar Werling’s determination, though.
Some practices Mike incorporates are cover crops, no-till, grass waterways, water and sediment control basins, buffer strips around his upland areas, and drainage water management.
Werling’s motivation is to leave his soil better than how he found it. Enjoy the full interview with Mike Werling!
In the interview below, Marissa Renz, the founder of Plant Happiness LLC, shares about her journey in developing her 4,000 sq. ft. market garden. Marissa married her love of native plants to her gardening business, and the result has been phenomenal! Not only does she provide food for her family, customers, and beneficial wildlife, but she also educates others on incorporating conservation practices in their growing spaces. Plant Happiness LLC continues to make a positive impact on the environment and the Fort Wayne community.
The market garden grows dozens of plant varieties including vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, and native plants that provide habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects. Crops are grown using sustainable practices such as cover cropping, composting, integrated pest management, and companion planting.
Marissa’s garden shows that no matter what size your lot, garden, or farm is, you can make a big difference on the environment around you. Adding native plants to your landscaping or garden can increase water infiltration into the soil and can provide habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators. Keeping your soil covered with biodiverse plants, mulch, or cover crops keeps soil intact and can build organic matter.
Learn from gardeners like Marissa about how to make a big impact in your community and in your home!
Visit the Plant Happiness LLC website here: planthappinessfw.square.site/
Want to learn from Marissa directly? Check out some of her upcoming classes: https://www.enrole.com/pfw/jsp/instructorDetail.jsp?instructorId=83CE1F68
Where does your food come from? Many students across Indiana give the answer “the grocery store.” Although this is often true, the grocery store is not the starting place of our food. Farm Bureau’s Agriculture in the Classroom Program works with kids around Indiana teaching them about the origins of their food and why farmers are important. Through this program, Farm Bureau holds summer workshops for teachers and volunteers giving them ideas about how to teach agriculture in their hometown school systems.
The Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District had the opportunity to participate and lead a couple of sessions in one of the Agriculture in the Classroom workshops on June 1st at Huntington University. Mike Werling, a farmer and part time employee with the Allen County SWCD, lead a workshop on managing erosion. Erosion is a menace that has plagued agriculture for millennia. Werling used the slake test, a homemade rainfall simulator, and a purchased rainfall simulator to demonstrate different ways teachers can educate about soil health and erosion control in their own classroom.
The slake test shows the structural difference between soil in a no-till situation and soil in a tillage situation. It utilizes two class cylinders filled with water. Mesh wiring drapes like a hammock from the top of the cylinders and submerges in the water. For this demonstration, you must have two different dried peds of soil. One ped should be from a no-till field and the other from a tilled field. When the aggregates are submerged into the water and placed on the mesh wiring, the audience can see the difference between the tilled soil and the soil from a no-till field. The no-till ped will hold together, but the soil from the tilled field will break apart easily in the cylinder. Check out this video of a slake test!
The homemade rainfall simulator can be made out of 3 plastic, two-liter bottles with 1/3 of the plastic cut out of the side. One of the bottles should contain nothing but bare soil. The second bottle should be filled with soil, but covered with residue like straw, leaves, or sticks. The third bottle should contain growing cover crops (clover, annual rye, cereal rye, oats, etc). Water is then poured over the two-liter bottles. The bottle with bare soil will lose the largest amount of soil to erosion, the soil with a residue will lose significantly less soil because of the residue, and the cover crop soil will lose the least amount of soil when “rain” is introduced to it. Check out this video of a two-liter bottle simulator!
The purchased rainfall simulator works very similarly to the homemade version. Watch this video to see how a rainfall simulator works!
The Allen SWCD also shared a lesson on watersheds and water quality. Joelle Neff used an Enviroscape to teach about how water moves downhill and picks up pollutants in a watershed. Neff also taught a lesson called “Growing with Water” which uses data collected from the Water Quality Initiative Program to discuss why pollutants have varying impacts at different times in the year.
An Enviroscape is a model of a watershed landscape that funnels water into the landscape’s reservoir. The model has a farm, factory, nature preserve, golf course, construction site, neighborhood, water treatment facility, roads, and ditches. Pollutants such as fertilizers, pesticides, human and animal waste, oil, road salt, etc are introduced to the landscape. Simulated rain is then applied to the landscape. Students are able to see all the pollutants that have entered the reservoir after the rain. This tool has fairly easy clean up. You can remove the plug in the reservoir to drain water into the basin below.
Like mentioned earlier, “Growing with Water” uses data collected from the Fort Wayne Water Quality Initiative Program which has been collecting water samples weekly in Northeast Indiana and Northwest Ohio since 2002. Check with your local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) to see if collect water samples in your area. “Growing with Water” teaches students about the quality of water in their area and the different pollutants that can impact their water systems. Growing with Water shows the variances of water quality in different seasons. Split your class into three different groups: spring, summer, and fall. Have each group come up with a list of what is happening in agriculture and with the weather in their season. Then, provide students a tracking sheet with the percentage of time that the pollutants were higher than they should have been. Have the students work in their groups to make hypotheses about reasoning for the pollutant levels based off what is happening in their season.
If you would like to use any of these demonstrations to teach in your classroom, give the Allen County SWCD a call at 260-484-5848 ext. 3.
Derek Thompson, a Noble County Farmer and NRCS District Conservationist, shared about life on the farm and the return on investment of incorporating conservation practices onto his operation in an interview with the Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Thompson is a third generation farmer of a 1,000-acre grain and dairy farm. His family’s conservation journey started in the ’70s when his father tried out a no-till corn planter from the Noble County SWCD. Although not lead adopters, the Thompson family now incorporates no-till and VRT soil management into all their acreage because of their return on investment, time savings, and the pride that comes with restoring the soil and the land. Their other conservation practices include sidedressing nitrogen, buffers along ditches, grass waterways, cover crops, and planting green.
Although being a District Conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has played a role in the farm’s conservation journey, Thompson believes they would have still ended up exactly where they are even without his involvement with NRCS.
Watch the full interview below!
Soil testing is a valuable way for farmers, gardeners, and those with lawns to know what nutrients are already available in their soil, as well as what nutrients should be added. Not knowing what is already available in your soil, makes it easy to over-apply or under-apply fertilizers. Over application can cause negative impacts on water quality if runoff transfers the excess nutrients to waterways. Having too few nutrients in your soil can impede plant growth.
No matter what you’re growing, getting a soil test is important!
On Friday, May 14th, the Allen County SWCD and Purdue Extension partnered to teach soil testing to the first grade students at Washington Elementary School in downtown Fort Wayne. The students did an excellent job listening!
The class learned the importance of getting a soil test. Their faces lit up as they answered questions about how we can protect our water systems by keeping excess nutrients out of them. Excitement filled the school grounds as teachers, students, and agency staff chose different locations to collect soil samples. Each student was able to pick a sampling location.
The first graders not only learned about soil testing, but they also learned about the different textures of soil. Students felt examples of sand, silt, and clay, as well as play a game that taught them the different properties of these textures. Sand is the largest particle with lots of surface area. It feels course when rubbed between your fingers. It allows for good drainage and doesn’t hold water or nutrients very well. Silt is the medium-sized particle. It feels smooth like baking flour when wet. It doesn’t stick together, so it still has good drainage, but it is small enough to hold water and nutrients. Clay is the smallest soil texture. It sticks together when wet, giving it a sticky texture. Much of the soil in Northeast Indiana has a heavy clay content. Clay does not drain water easily, sometimes remaining waterlogged and causing root rot in plants. On the other hand, clay soils are excellent at holding nutrients.
If you knew all this, congrats! You are smarter than a first grader, but don’t stop there! Keep learning about Conservation Practices like soil testing.
This demonstration was sponsored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through our Urban and Small Farms Program. The USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.