Humans have used salt for centuries as a seasoning, a preservative, and even as currency. But one of its primary uses may surprise you. The #1 use for salt in the United States is road de-icing. According to the United States Geological Survey’s 2020 Mineral Commodities Report, 43% of salt used in the US in 2019 was put on our roads to melt snow and ice during the winter.
This adds up to a big problem, because the 42 million tons of salt we put on our roads doesn’t stay there. Every bit of salt put down on the road eventually ends up dissolved in melting snow or rain and runs into our lakes, rivers, and groundwater, which puts freshwater ecosystems at risk. Once salt gets in the water, treatment options are limited and costly. Additionally, the salt itself is expensive and carries a big price tag.
So why do we even use salt? Well, it is an effective way to keep our roads and sidewalks ice free – at least above 15°F. Above 15°F, salt mixes with snow and ice and raises its freezing point, keeping things liquid. Below this temperature it cannot do its job and ends up accumulating in clumps. When it gets cold, it is best to switch to a different de-icer or use sand for traction.
The biggest problem with salt-use is over-application. Using salt when it will not work or simply putting too much down does not increase safety, instead, it puts our freshwater resources at risk. And in most circumstances, not that much salt is needed. Over-application can be avoided by lightly scattering salt and leaving 3” of space between the crystals.
Experts taken from WI Salt Wise Partnership (https://www.wisaltwise.com/documents/Linnea-s-Article---WI-Salt-Awareness-Wk-2021.pdf)
Photo credit Banks Photo.
Claire Lane, Urban Conservationist at the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), was recently certified as a Green Infrastructure Practitioner (GIP) through the National Green Infrastructure Certification Program. Lane received a scholarship to complete the training and sit for the certification exam through the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) Great Urban Parks Initiative. Lane intends to use her training as a Green Infrastructure Practitioner to enhance the offerings of the SWCD urban conservation program at the SWCD and to encourage and improve green infrastructure throughout the county’s parks, municipalities, and residential communities.
View the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) Great Urban Parks Initiative resources here.
Diane Turner, Conservation Technician and Outreach Assistant
Autumn leaves don’t have to become trash. On the contrary, they easily can be turned into valuable soil-enhancing organic matter. For many urban dwellers, who already have their yard waste picked up by the city, this service is likely to continue. Many communities compost their leaves and make the finished compost available to their citizens. Compost improves soil aeration, moisture retention and drainage, and nutrient-holding capabilities.
For those who do not have the luxury of yard waste pick up, there are several ways to manage tree leaves at home. Green-thumbed gardeners long have known the value of recycling plant material. Dry leaves can be plowed or tilled under in the vegetable or annual flower bed in fall to provide a source of organic matter. Shredding the leaves first will speed the breakdown so that the leaves will not be visible by spring. Be sure to mix the leaves into the soil, rather than leaving them on top through the winter, to avoid keeping the soil too cold and wet to work in the spring.
Tree leaves can be recycled directly on the lawn. Use your mulching mower or shredder/vacuum to break dry leaves up into smaller pieces. A mulching blade will speed this process, but even a standard blade will do an adequate job. For large leaves like maple and sycamore, it may take several passes to get a finely shredded product. Once the leaves are pulverized, they will break down quickly. A fall application of nitrogen fertilizer (about 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet) will help speed decomposition of the leaves and also will benefit the grass plants.
Fall leaves also make great composting ingredients, especially when mixed with green trimmings and grass clippings. Again, the smaller the pieces, the faster they’ll break down, so shred or chop dry leaves before adding them to the compost pile. If you don’t have green trimmings or grass clippings, add a source of nitrogen to the leaves, such as dry cow, horse, sheep, or poultry manure. The nitrogen is needed by the microorganisms that break down the carbon in plant materials. Add a sprinkling of soil or finished compost to introduce a source of the microorganisms, and water just enough to moisten. The compost will heat up in the center as it breaks down. Stir the contents occasionally to add air and allow for uniform heating. Generally, the more often you turn the pile, the faster you’ll get a finished product. Compost is ready to add back into the garden when it looks uniformly dark and crumbly.
Last, but not least, shredded leaves can be used as a winter mulch to protect tender perennials through the coming harsh weather. Shredding the leaves will help prevent them from packing down as they get wet and smothering the plants that they are supposed to protect. To provide winter protection, apply a 3-6 inch layer of shredded leaves over the top of tender perennials after several hard freezes. The goal of winter mulch is to keep plants dormant through the winter, so it must be applied after the ground is cold and plants are fully dormant. The timing of application will vary from year to year with the weather, but generally will be appropriate sometime between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Excerpts taken from the Much Ado About Leaves by Rosie Lerner, Purdue Consumer Horticulture Program.
Ginger Davis, Conservation Administrator
Stony Creek feasibility study was brought forth through our office to investigate whether alterations to Stony Creek’s past have created some natural resource concerns and what potential solutions might be necessary to address any concerns of erosion, flooding, wildlife habitat, and quality of place. Over the past decade, Stony Creek has gone through some tremendous barriers and changes as any stream does in its lifetime. The difference is that in this case the alterations were all done by us and not natural changes typically seen in rivers.
In the 50’s and 60’s influence from the Firestone plant caused a major impact on the river health of Stony Creek. The impacts to the stream from the mitigation of these pollutants were incredible, our fish population has rebounded in this area and a reduction of PCB’s are showing up in fish tissue. However, alterations seen with land improvements have created major erosional features on the stream. In the 1960’s there was construction of a low head dam to create a ponded area for area residents. Next was a stream realignment in late 1980’s early 1990’s under Greenfield Ave during road and bridge reconstruction. In the Early 2000’s several utility crossings of the stream have also created some excess stone buildup within the channel, blocking the flow through. The once main channel in the meander totaling approximately 1,900 feet of linear stream length is now running in a much shorter 500 foot route.
During the feasibility study we have been exploring these influences on the channel and have looked at the bank erosion and channel erosion within the newly constructed channel. The COVID pandemic have caused a large delay on the progress of the project since public input was a large part of the study. However, our residents were resilient through the crisis and provided some very helpful feedback. Most people very much appreciate the value of the creek for wildlife and for its quality, but they have concerns with its health and future potential erosion.
We have conducted a study of the Bank Erosion Hazard Index through the area and will have the results of this survey shortly, but as you can see from the image below there are some very high banks that are exhibiting significant erosion.
We will be holding a public meeting and live virtual event on December 2, 2020 in the late afternoon/early evening and encourage all to join us for this event. We will have an in-person portion at the Annex building on the Fairgrounds and a virtual option online. More details of this event will be advertised on our website, through social media, and with direct email mailings. If you have not had a chance, please sign up for notifications here and keep informed of the progress of this project.
Ginger Davis, Conservation Administrator
Landowners may grant conservation easements out of a personal desire or under a public policy to keep specific land in its current use, preventing its further development. In other words, a conservation easement is a legal agreement to stop an area of land from being developed in the future. Also known as a conservation restriction, or conservation agreement, a conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement that limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. However, it has become the policy in many states including Indiana to preserve lands indefinitely, not only for recreation, maintenance of wildlife, and scenic value, but also for maintenance of agriculture and of a way of life. One creative use of an easement is the preservation of natural resources and wildlife. If you have a piece of land that is loved “as-is” and you want to keep it that way for your kids, grandkids, and the animals who call it home, a conservation easement may be something to consider. An easement stays with the title to the property, which can allow the property to remain in private ownership and to be used for purposes consistent with the conservation values of the property. An easement can also be a recorded land donation to a 501 (C)(3) trust that sets out a number of future-use restrictions to protect and conserve natural resources, including native wildlife. The terms of the easement remain intact if the property is sold or bequeathed, thus requiring all future owners to abide by the terms of the agreement. Indiana law was modified to permit the establishment of conservation easements to last forever. However, some types of easements are only for specific timeframes.
There is significant benefit to considering an easement both financially and for conservation purposes. Donated land into an easement, can benefit the donor as they are then entitled to an income tax benefit for their charitable contribution, which can be a significant value. There are three other types of potential tax savings associated with donating a conservation easement: real property tax, federal gift and estate tax, and an estate tax exclusion. The Internal Revenue Code provides that gifts for a “conservation purpose” of “qualified real property interests” to a “qualified organization” are deductible for federal income, gift, and estate tax purposes. Another feature in the tax law allows for an additional exclusion of land value from an estate tax estate under limited circumstances.
Conservation easement options are available in many different methods depending on the land management and goals of the land you are considering placing into an easement. Land trusts and other 501 (C)(3) entities exist in Indiana for acquiring and holding land with your easement restrictions being honored, while other easements are for land that is privately held and sold or turned over to your children. The following programs are available from local, federal and state partners.
The Classified Forest and Wildlands Program through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) encourages timber production, watershed protection, and wildlife habitat management on private lands in Indiana. Program landowners receive a property tax reduction in return for following a professionally written management plan. In addition to the tax incentive, landowners receive free technical assistance from DNR foresters and wildlife biologists, priority for cost share to offset the cost of doing management, and the ability to "green" certify their forests. The minimum requirement for program enrollment is 10 acres of forest, wetland, shrubland, and/or grassland.
In 2019, State Conservationist Jerry Raynor announced that Indiana’s USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) made funding available to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across Indiana. The funding is provided through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), created to protect critical water resources and wildlife habitat, and encourage private owners to maintain land for farming.
“Conservation easements help Hoosier farmers protect valuable agricultural lands from development while enhancing lands best suited for grazing and wetlands to their natural conditions,” said Raynor. “These easements are making a dramatic and positive impact for food supply, rural communities, and species habitat.”
ACEP streamlines the conservation easement options into two primary components: a working lands component where NRCS provides assistance to partners with farmland protection programs to purchase agricultural land easements, and a wetlands reserve component where NRCS works directly with landowners to restore and protect their agricultural wetlands. In Indiana, over 1,900 acres were enrolled in ACEP in 2018 alone. Once restored, these acres will join over 77,500 acres of protected easements within the state.
ACEP's Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) protects the long-term viability of the nation's food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses while supporting environmental quality, wildlife habitat, historic preservation and protection of open spaces. State and local governments, non-governmental organizations and Native American Tribes that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with NRCS to protect farmland through easements.
Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE) help landowners reduce damage from flooding, recharge groundwater, restore, enhance and protect habitat for wildlife, and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. Eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement. Tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts.
The Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP) helps landowners restore, enhance and protect forestland resources on private lands through easements and financial assistance. HRFP aids the recovery of endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, improves plant and animal biodiversity and enhances carbon sequestration.
ACEP applications may be submitted at any time to NRCS. To learn about ACEP and other technical and financial assistance available through Indiana NRCS conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or contact your District Conservationist Angela Garrison at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone (765)482-6355 extension x8675.
For more information on conservation easements consider looking here:
As always, please reach out to our office to find out what opportunities and partner programs would best fit with your land. email@example.com or give us a call at (317)773-2181.
Mark McCauley, Resource Conservationist
As Fall has arrived our minds might be turning to things we need to do around the home to prepare for winter, but that may not necessarily include our lawns. People are prone to think that the grass has done its thing all year, and now will be going into a dormant period and not really need much attention until next growing season …Spring. However, does it really stop growing completely during the colder months? In reality, cool season grasses (which account for most lawn mixes locally) do continue to grow underground, even during the winter, although much more slowly. Providing your lawn the right fertilizers it needs in the Fall will help it create and store the necessary reserves (carbohydrates) to keep building a healthy root system, one of the keys to a beautiful resilient lawn next Spring. Penn State Extension explains it this way; “Lawn fertilizers are often marketed as 'plant food'. Although most people realize that nutrients from fertilizers are required by plants for proper growth and development, they may not realize that fertilizers are not really plant food. Plants make their own food through photosynthesis, a chemical reaction in leaves involving water, carbon dioxide (CO2 ) and light energy. The end products, carbohydrates, are used by plants for energy and growth and are the true plant food” (source). Fall fertilization may be far from the minds of many homeowners, but it shouldn’t be. Taking the time to perform some simple fertilizer applications this Fall will likely pay off big next Spring ! Completing a soil test to determine nutrient needs is also a good idea. You don't want to overfertilize as that can lead to water quality issues in storm water runoff. Information about soil testing can be found on our website at: https://www.hamiltonswcd.org/soil-testing.html
Fall Weed Control
But what about broadleaf weed control? Could that also be an issue to address in the Fall? Aren’t weeds also going into the winter and entering a dormant period? Well, not actually for several problem weeds. Some, like Chickweed, germinate as tiny plants under the grass canopy in the Fall, and will be there ready to take off growing in full force next Spring. In that regard, Fall weed control can be a very effective management tool in controlling problematic broadleaves. Applying the right herbicides going into the fall can outright kill the weed, or at least weaken it going into the winter, when it will die from lack of reserves. Kansas State Extension discusses the issue of fall weed control: “Broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, henbit and chickweed all germinate in the cool, moist periods of September and October. They overwinter as small plants no larger than a quarter. Arrival of warm spring weather promotes the weeds’ rapid growth and flowering. Once plants reach the flowering stage, they are practically impossible to control. The advantage of fall control is that the seedlings are not well-established. This is the stage at which control methods are most effective”(Source).
Good Resources Available Through Purdue University
See links below for excellent publications to help you manage your lawn.
Taking Care of Your Yard, The Homeowner's Essential Guide to Lawns, Trees, Shrubs, and Garden Flowers H0-236-W
Lawn Improvement Programs AY-13-W
Maintenance Calendar for Indiana Lawns AY-27
Control of Broadleaf Weeds in Home Lawns AY-9-W
Kris Gertz - Office Coordinator
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Kris Gertz. My last position was with the Arthritis Foundation in the nonprofit world. I have lived in Hamilton County for the past 10 years. We moved around for a bit so I have lived in a few other states as well. I have 3 amazing daughters, one is at Purdue, one at Indiana Academy in Muncie, and one at West.
Ellie Karst - Noblesville High School Intern
Our local SWCD office is happy to have Ellie here in house working with us for her Senior Internship with Noblesville High School. Ellie has committed to play golf at Taylor University in 2021 and she plans to Major in Environmental Science where she hopes to eventually become a land manager for federal lands.
While with us the next few months, Ellie is filming educational videos on various conservation topics for the Hamilton County IN Soil and Water YouTube channel. Be sure to click here to subscribe to see these videos when they're released soon.
Diane Turner - Conservation Technician and Outreach Assistant
I would like to introduce myself and express my excitement to be the new CTOA for Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District. I have over 14 years of experience with Conservation programs with Purdue University and NC State University. I look forward to working with Hamilton County farmers and landowners to improve their conservation practices. My husband Jim, a beef nutritionist with CHR Hansen, and I have 2 daughters and 2 Australian shepherd furbabies that keep us busy.
Diane Turner, Conservation Technician and Outreach Assistant
Did you know that Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District is one of the eight Indiana agencies and organizations who share the common goal of promoting conservation in the Indiana Conservation Partnership? The agencies have agreed upon the mission to provide technical, financial and educational assistance needed to implement economically and environmentally compatible land and water stewardship decisions, practices and technologies.
The primary customers of the partnership are Indiana’s Farmers who are recognized as national leaders in our collaborative efforts to incorporate soil health systems into conservation planning, farm management and educational activities. The primary focus on implementing a soil health strategy has had tremendous success in helping farmers voluntarily address many of Indiana’s primary resource concerns.
The full list of partners includes:
• Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and our 92 SWCDs
• Indiana Department of Environmental Management
• Indiana Department of Natural Resources
• ISDA Division of Soil Conservation
• Purdue Cooperative Extension Service
• Indiana State Soil Conservation Board
• USDA Farm Service Agency
• USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
The partners provide leadership within Indiana on natural resource conservation issues. This innovative group is dedicated to land and water stewardship vision assistance that will improve the water quality of Indiana’s streams, rivers, and lakes.
For more information on the Indiana Conservation Partnership or the agencies and organization involved, go to http://icp.iaswcd.org/.
Taylor Wilson, Urban Conservation Technician
English ivy, or Hedera helix is an evergreen vine found in landscaping, yards, and invasively creeping across forest floors. This plant originates in Europe and was brought over to North America in the 1700s by colonial settlers. English ivy is an aggressive invader of or native forests, so it is imperative that we manage it. Uncontrolled, English ivy outcompetes and covers the native understory and climbs trees, eventually killing them.
English Ivy is a hardy vine and usually has a long lifespan. It can grow in a variety of soil types, sun-shade, and withstand periods of drought. Although the vine can cover vast areas of ground, its shallow root system makes it a bad ground cover to prevent erosion and can even increase erosion issues on slopes where it is the only plant growing.
Now is a great time to identify English ivy as it stays green while everything else has gone dormant for the winter. The leaves alternate on the stem, are waxy, and are usually green with white veins. The leaves have variable forms, usually being more lobed when they are younger and maturing into a broader, unlobed leaf. This vine produces small round clusters of yellow-green flowers on the end of mature vines, and occasionally in the middle of the vine. These fruits are eaten by birds, spreading the seeds into wild areas. Although the fruit is consumed by birds, it doesn’t hold much value to their diet, and can even make them temporarily sick due to the toxic glycoside hederin, which causes GI upset.
Depending on the severity of the situation, different control methods may be ideal. Manual removal is a great option, especially for smaller patches in a landscaping bed, yard, or elsewhere. Manual removal is made much easier due to the shallow root system of this plant. Like with any plant, it is key to remove as much of the root as possible when manually removing. This can quickly become labor intensive in larger areas. Additionally, removing large areas of English ivy can leave large patches of disturbed bare soil. This is bad for soil health and erosion and is a welcome invitation for more invasives to come back and grow. If removing a large area of English ivy have a replanting plan or erosion control plan before you pull.
Chemical control is often a better option for larger English ivy infestations. If the English Ivy you're looking to treat is growing on a building or other non-soil medium, chemical treatment may be the best option. Treatment of this plant is most effective between October and March. Using a broadleaf specific foliar spray after the first frost, but when the temperature is above 50 degrees is highly effective. For larger areas where you’re not as worried about overspray, a general foliar spray may be appropriate. For more detailed information about what foliar spray to use in what amounts, check this handout under “English ivy.”
While this plant is valued as a low maintenance ground cover, there are several other alternatives that can be planted in its place. Wild Ginger, Lady fern, Jacobs’s Ladder, and Maiden Hair fern are all wonderful options that recreate the look of a native Indiana forest.
Want to get started in the fight against invasive species? Hamilton County has a group Hamilton County Invasive Partnership (HIP) dedicated to battling invasive species across our county. We are doing this through education and action, and we welcome you to join us. Additionally, the SWCD is offering free on-site invasive species technical assistance for property owners and a tool loan program where you can check out supplies to address invasive species.
More information can be found here.