One thing that unites all of us is food. Though there may be a diverse range of tastes and diets, we all still need that life sustaining nourishment to survive. This means we are all intrinsically linked and dependent on healthy soils across the globe, for it is from the soil that we can grow our food, and that soil is alive with organisms and organic elements that provide for a healthy and fertile base for plant life.
The 2022 theme for World Soils Day, “Soils: Where food begins”, seeks to promote how important proper soil management is to the health and well being of our ecosystems and human societies. The loss of nutrients in the soil from poor management is a critical degradation which threatens nutrition across the world. However, agricultural practices can go a long way to support soil health and conserve this precious resource, and whether you operate acres of cropland or raise a small vegetable garden, there are steps you can take to protect your soil!
To properly care for your soil, it is important that you know what condition your soil is currently in. Soil testing is a tool to evaluate nutrient imbalances and understand plant growth. Soil testing allows landowners to adjust soil pH to the optimum range (6.0-7.0), which makes nutrients more available for plant growth. Any application of phosphorus or nitrogen fertilizers can be done in a targeted, as-needed basis which then prevents excess of these nutrients from entering our surface and ground waters through over-application and runoff. The organic matter present in soil contributes to the physical, chemical, and biological properties of that soil. Soil structure, water holding capacity, nutrient contributions, biological activity, water and air infiltration rate, and pesticide activity are all properties influenced by organic matter. The more organic matter present, the better water holding capacity, nutrient holding, and more beneficial biological activity that soil will demonstrate. Learn more about soil testing on our website HERE.
One of the best ways to safeguard soil health and conserve the organic matter of the soil is to reduce erosion. Wind and water can carry soil particles away, depositing them elsewhere in the environment where often this sediment itself then becomes a type of pollution. Poor soil structure connected to low organic matter increases this erodibility. Visit our previous blog Shifting Soils to learn more about solutions to erosion!
Have more soils questions? Contact our office to speak with one of our knowledgeable staff members about your soil needs!
When we see a bright orange and black butterfly, many of us will recognize that iconic coloration of the beautiful monarch butterfly. Monarchs have captured the hearts of many an admirer with their amazing powers of metamorphosis, pollination, and migration. Yet the secret to their success all lies with having a good meal to start off! And when you are a monarch caterpillar freshly hatched from your egg, that meal can only come from the milkweed plant.
Milkweed species occur across almost all regions of the continental United States, except parts of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Milkweed is also native to southern Canada and Mexico. Of the 17 milkweed species native to Ohio, there are 10 species which serve as host plants for monarchs. Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate) are two of those species. Another common species which occurs and is a good nectar source for adult butterflies but does not serve as a caterpillar host is hemp dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum). These different milkweed perennials differ from one another in a couple of structural ways. Common milkweed has a single stem that is hairy and can reach 6.5 feet tall. Hemp dogbane and swamp milkweed both have multiple stems, but the leaf pattern is different. Hemp dogbane has leaves that grow opposite each other on the stem while swamp milkweed has long, narrow leaves that grow in pairs up the stem.
While there are multiple subfamilies of milkweed, the milkweeds in the subfamily Asclepias, like the common and swamp milkweeds, are considered host plants for the monarch butterfly. As host plants, they are the only plants that monarchs can lay eggs on because these milkweeds are the only food source of the monarch’s distinctive yellow and black striped caterpillar. Natural chemicals monarchs ingest from milkweed in this larval stage of their lifecycle also protect them from predation.
The milkweed plant starts the monarch off on its amazing transformational journey. An adult female will lay eggs on the milkweed, that egg will hatch into a leaf munching caterpillar (larva stage), that caterpillar will form a J shape and then spin a chrysalis (pupa stage), and finally an adult butterfly will eclose out of the chrysalis to start the cycle over again. The adult monarchs we see in Ohio at the end of summer are known as the super generation because these are the monarchs that will migrate all the way to Mexico to overwinter. That’s a lot of motion!
Do you want to help be a champion for monarchs? Consider planting milkweed on your property! Already have milkweed plants? Consider collecting your brown seed pods between September and November and dropping them off at the Warren County SWCD office as part of the Milkweed Seed Pod Collection drive we do in conjunction with the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative (OPHI). Learn more at https://www.warrenswcd.com/milkweed-seed-pod-collection.html.
Many of us have fond childhood memories of spending summer evenings catching lightning bugs! But did you know that they are not all the same? In fact, here in North America, there are three main families of flashing fireflies--Photinus, Pyractomena, and Photuris. You can observe the flash patterns of the lights to tell them apart! This flashing, which gives the beetle its common name of firefly, is a chemical reaction in their abdomen. Specific blinking patterns are a way for the insects to communicate, and each type has its own kind of "language".
If you enjoy watching fireflies, then put your observations to work and become a firefly watcher as part of the citizen science project Firefly Watch. Spend 10 mins a week watching firefly activity in a location of your choice and submit your findings. You will provide details about the habitat and then count the number of flashing fireflies you see over the course of 10 minutes in three 10 second periods, as well as the number of flashing patterns.
Ready to get involved? Go to
Happy firefly watching!
As the school year winds down, and gearing up for summer begins, here are some ideas to keep your young students engaged in the natural sciences through outdoor discovery and play! Whether you have a whole day or just a spare hour, including outdoor activities into the routine can help to keep the mind and senses tapped into the natural world around us. According to the National Association for the Education of young Children (NAEYC) some of the benefits of outdoor play are:
Getting outside can involve going to a near by park or green space, or simply stepping outside your own front door to see what you can see. Keep a journal of notes or drawings to track changes you see over the summer. This is called phenology. Watch our "Making Observations" video series on YouTube to learn about what kind of observations we can make.
And here are some other simple, fun outdoor activities from various partners and organizations across the country!
Check out our Education page for more activity ideas!
World Wildlife Day is observed on March 3rd each year to celebrate and raise awareness about the flora and fauna around the globe! The United Nations selected this date as it corresponds with the signing of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1973. CITES is one of the world's most powerful tools for wildlife conservation the world community has because it regulates the international trade of over 38,000 species of wild animals and plants to ensure that international trade in such species is sustainable, legal and traceable. Additionally that trade should contribute to both the livelihoods of the communities that live closest to them and to national economies for a healthy planet and the prosperity of the people in support of UN Sustainable Development Goals.
This year's theme for WWD is "Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration". Each species plays a vital role in its ecosystem, and when one of those species is lost it can trigger a cascading effect. And with more and more organisms being pushed to the brink of extinction, we risk these cascades increasing. According to the International Union of Conservation of Nature's Red List of Endangered Species, over 30,000 species are endangered or vulnerable with another 8,400 species listed as critically endangered. Continued loss of these species and degradation of ecosystems is a threat to people around the world that rely on wildlife and biodiversity-based resources to meet their needs
Dagmar the Dragonfly wants you to know what Ohio is doing to protect its vulnerable wildlife populations, like the 13 species of endangered dragonflies! In Ohio, the Division of Wildlife uses six categories of classification for wildlife status in the state:
By assessing and tracking these species we can take the best steps to conserve their populations and habitat to protect them from further decline. Want to know which animals are endangered in Ohio? Learn more from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ohio Division of Wildlife by clicking the buttons below!
The soils of the world are diverse and allow us to produce a plethora of crops and food to support the global population. World Soil Day, celebrated annually on December 5th, was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to celebrate one of our most vital resources. Soil is essential for filtering pollutants from our water, storing carbon, and providing the foundation for an estimated 95 percent of the world’s food supply. The theme for the 2021 World Soil Day is Halt soil salinization, boost soil productivity.
According to the FAO, soil salinization and sodification are major soil degradation processes threatening ecosystems and are recognized as being among the most important problems at a global level for agricultural production, food security and sustainability in arid and semi-arid regions. The goal of World Soil Day aims to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems and human well-being by addressing the growing challenges in soil management, fighting soil salinization, increasing soil awareness and encouraging societies to improve soil health.
Soil is a non-renewable resource that we must conserve and care for in order to continue thriving in this world. However soils are subjected to pollution and loss, especially due to erosion. Soil particles can be detached and moved out of a field by both wind and water. Wind can pick up small soil particles, transporting them long distances. Water moving along the ground surface can remove a thin sheet of soil, create small channels, or wash out large gullies.
Factors that contribute to erosion:
1. Rainfall — soil erosion increases as length or intensity of rainfall increases
2. Slope length/grade — soil erosion is worse on longer/steeper slopes because water moves faster across the soil
3. Vegetation/residue — growing plants and residue protect the soil from rain impact, slow down flowing water and increase infiltration of water into the soil, as well as protecting the soil from wind erosion.
4. Soil texture/structure — Courser soils (sands) with larger pores allow for faster infiltration (less erosion) of water than soils with finer textures (clays). Soil structure is the arrangement of sand, silt, and clay particles into aggregates. Good structure at the soil surface will also allow for increased infiltration, poor structure leads to more runoff and erosion. Poor structure is associated with low organic matter, equipment traffic on wet soils, and exposure of disturbed soil to adverse weather.
1. Yield Potential — soil erosion removes topsoil, which is high in organic matter and contains the nutrients essential for crop growth. Erosion generally decreases yield potential.
2. Nutrients — nutrients needed for crop growth are located in the topsoil where fertilizers, crop residues, and manure are applied; soil erosion will decrease the nutrient content.
3. Water holding capacity — loss of topsoil organic matter can change the overall texture of a soil and result in lower water holding capacity
4. Organic matter — topsoil is high in organic matter where crop residues and manure have been added to the soil. Erosion usually results in decreased organic matter.
5. The environment — water quality in streams, lakes, etc. can be greatly negatively affected by sediment and nutrients that are brought in by soil erosion. Wind erosion can result in reduced air quality.
Possible Solutions on the Farm:
1. Reduce tillage — tillage exposes soil to the environment and makes it more likely to be eroded by wind or water.
2. Manage crop residue — keeping crop residues on the soil surface helps protect soil from wind, rain, and running water. Residue can protect soil from erosion when crops are not growing in a field
3. Grass waterways — maintaining grass waterways in low areas where a high volume of runoff is possible will slow the speed of running water and allow for sediment to be kept in the field.
4. Cover crops — cover crops allow protection for a field during times of the year when crops are not growing. Cover crops protect the soil from wind, rain, and running water.
5. Row width/direction — narrower crop rows will canopy sooner and allow for better protection of the soil. Crop rows that are planted perpendicular to slopes will decrease runoff and increase infiltration vs. rows that are planted in the same direction as the slope
...And in the Neighborhood:
1. Stabilize soil by mulching with shredded bark, wood chips, leaves, or even pine needles - Look for locally sourced materials and cover bare patches of soil, hill sides, and spaces between plants.
2. Ground Cover - From lawn daisies to clover, keep it covered. The roots of larger perennial plants do the job too of reducing erosion.
3. Rain Gardens & Plant Catchments - Catch and control water when it’s moving downhill by creating a rain garden. A well-positioned rain garden can cut down on erosion and the possibility of pollutants reaching neighboring tributaries by over 30%. To plant a rain garden, select water loving plants adapted to your region and climate, and add stones and other features to direct the water.
Soil erosion has a large number of negative effects to both crops and the environment. It is important to use various management practices to protect the soil’s surface and minimize the likelihood of erosion.
We all have soil to thank for the food on our tables and our ability to thrive on the planet. Recognizing its importance and what steps can be taken to protect this vital resource are critical to that continued existence.
Here at Warren County SWCD we are always striving to find the most engaging ways to connect with students of all ages about environmental education and conservation. And what better way to do that than with an awesome animal! Education ambassador animals help to create personal connections with people and increase the retention of information learned. Our newest education team member hopes to share enthusiasm and knowledge across Warren County about all things nature.
ABOUT TUCKER "SPEEDY" TURTLE
Our newest team member is a Woodland Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina a.k.a. Eastern Box Turtle) of unknown age. Woodland box turtles are native to Ohio and are very familiar and identifiable wildlife to students of all ages. Sporting red eyes and a concave plastron (belly side part of shell), our new box turtle is a male that was seized from a private owner who did not have a permit, and released to the care of Brukner Nature Center in Troy, OH. Because he had been under human care for an indeterminate amount of time, he could not be released back into the wild. Taking individual animals from the wild in an unregulated fashion negatively impacts the wild population numbers of these species which is one reason a permit is required to possess such native animals. Because Warren County SWCD holds an education permit from the Ohio Division of Wildlife, we were eligible to become a new home for this little guy.
If you are a teacher or community group leader and would like to have Tucker visit your classroom or meeting with his trove of conservation knowledge, check out our program offerings on our Education Page! For questions or to schedule a program, contact Melissa Proffitt, Education & Communications Specialist, at (513) 695-3086.
Click the image to be taken to the website for full details!
Caring For Our Watersheds empowers high school students to imagine, develop and create solutions in their local watersheds. CFW is both an environmental proposal contest and a project funding opportunity for high school students. The program promotes watershed awareness and stewardship, values student ideas and offers support when turning theoretical ideas into action. Caring For Our Watersheds fits in perfectly with your STEAM curricula and is very compatible with project-based learning.
Students are asked to identify an environmental concern in their local community and write a 1,000-word proposal about how they would fix the problem. Proposals are due January 14th and will be reviewed by a panel of judges to narrow down to a top 10. The top 10 students will then receive money (up to $1,000) and mentorship to implement their idea. After implementation, students will come to the final event to present their solutions to a panel of judges and win cash prizes. Schools also receive matching prize monies.
For more info, please check out www.CaringForOurWatersheds.com and for specific Ohio info, go to www.CaringForOurWatersheds.com/usa/ohio. If you would like to schedule a classroom presentation about the program, please contact our Education Specialist! email@example.com
Water Supports All Life! That is the message from Dagmar the Dragonfly, and she is ready to fly into your classroom or visit your event to help spread the word! Our education team is always looking to expand how we engage with audiences of all ages to teach about the importance of water quality. Check out the video for a sneak peek at what Dagmar has been up to, and contact our Education Specialist Melissa to schedule a Dagmar the Dragonfly program!