Mark McCauley, Resource Conservationist
The Hamilton County SWCD has been conducting an annual tillage transect in the county for the past 20+ years. I was going through my files the other day and came across the very first transect data we collected in 1990! More recently we have also added a cover crop transect, which is done in the fall while the tillage transect is done in the spring.
So what’s it all about? When the tillage transect was first developed a route was laid out starting in the northwest part of the county and crisscrossing back and forth as we moved south, collecting data at 300+ points along the way. These same points have been sampled every year since, with the exception of some changes that had to be made due to road closures, new developments, etc. The original route was meant to represent a cross section of the agricultural land use in the county which covered a variety of soil types and land uses.
So why is that important? The SWCD has been promoting conservation practices since its inception back in the 1960’s. Conservation practices help protect our natural resources by reducing soil erosion, improving water quality in streams, lakes, and ponds, and reducing potential associated costs with clean-up and remediation. By tracking changes in land use, the SWCD can better tailor our efforts and programs to address any needs and shortfalls we are seeing in conservation. The transect data also helps our conservation partners better target potential funding programs to address conservation needs in the state. Over time the data has shown that more conservation tillage is being used across the county by farmers, as well as a uptick in cover crop use, so our efforts have been worthwhile.
In recent years we have added the cover crop transect. Cover crops are probably the single most beneficial practice that can be implemented to reduce soil erosion, improve soil health, improve the quality of stormwater runoff, and increase ground water recharge. By conducting this transect in the fall we can track the adoption of cover crops used in the county over time. We do the cover crop transect in the fall because crops are typically planted close to harvest of the cash crop (usually corn or soybeans locally). Since some of these cover crop species “winter kill” (meaning they die back in the winter), it would be more difficult to identify them the following spring than it is in the fall, so thus the reason for a fall transect.
So if you see a county or USDA vehicle crisscrossing the county in the spring and fall with flashers on, slowing down at intervals, with SWCD staff peering out both sides of the windows taking notes on the current status of the land use… don’t worry. That’s just us helping to promote conservation in the county--which in the end benefits us all.
Ginger Davis, Conservation Administrator
The Neighborhoods of James Place and Wellington North East in Noblesville have been concerned about the erosion and stream flow changes they have seen in Stony Creek over the past several years. There has been a lot of focus on this stream in the past, with the Firestone cleanup and Greenfield Avenue realignment. Now, the stream is reacting to the disturbance by taking a new route that has increased the speed of the creek and is causing major bank erosion in the area. The two neighborhoods contacted the Soil and Water Conservation District to see what could be done to help the neighborhoods get their stream back. After observing the issues and determining the negative resource concerns in the area, the Soil and Water Conservation District decided to pursue an engineering feasibility study to help determine what can be done to alleviate the resource concerns in the area.
“We pursued a grant through the Department of Natural Resources to conduct the feasibility study and were awarded the grant in late 2019. Now that the grant has been officially awarded, we are now ready to get started,” stated Ginger Davis, Conservation Administrator at the Soil and Water Conservation District. The grant was awarded out of the Lake and River Enhancement Fund. The goal of the Division of Fish & Wildlife's Lake and River Enhancement (L.A.R.E.) Program is to protect and enhance aquatic habitat for fish and wildlife and to ensure the continued viability of Indiana's publicly accessible lakes and streams for multiple uses including recreational opportunities. This is accomplished through measures that reduce non-point sediment and nutrient pollution of surface waters to a level that meets state water quality standards.
With funding in hand, several firms that work with streams and bank stabilization were contacted and interviewed by representatives of the neighborhoods. After deliberations and consideration over all submitted bids, FlatLand Resources of Muncie was selected and will be contracted to conduct the feasibility study. “Many great firms submitted bids, but the community members wanted to work with someone that could take the project all the way from a study through the design-build process while focusing on the stream characteristics and habitat potential of Stony Creek,” states Ginger.
Please stay tuned for more information on this project in coming months.
Ginger Davis, Conservation Administrator
Most homeowners would agree that standing water around the home is a nuisance and many have great concern about it. Unfortunately, we are projected to see even more rain and heavier downpours in Indiana’s future. Purdue is projecting that many of these rainfalls will happen in the winter months making it even harder for us to keep up with. Our general rule of thumb is that if the water sits for only 24-48 hours and then dries up, it is not a resource concern – it is actually a resource benefit. Typically, water can pond over grass for 72 hours before impacting the health of the grass. Ponding water can be looked upon as a badge of honor. You are helping to prevent flooding, to clean and replenish drinking water supplies, and to improve the drainage systems in our communities. Ponded water acts as storage so that storm drains are not overwhelmed. It helps prevent flooding of our streets and roadways and reduce the nutrients that make it into our waterways. If only there was a way to turn that excess water into a positive, more people would appreciate the water in their yard and not try to push it off onto their neighbors or community.
Drainage is the most important thing to look at when you are buying a home. Most people buy their homes in dryer, warmer months, and they do not see what issues may be creeping behind the rain clouds. The main concerns people have is that either 1) soggy ground is making it difficult to mow the lawn , 2) the standing water is killing plants and becoming an insect habitat, 3) water is entering a structure and causing property damage, or 4) erosion from water moving through the property is becoming a serious problem. Each of these concerns are a big deal for the property owner especially when a person is trying to move, or they notice that it is getting worse and worse every year.
We recognize that most people would like to alleviate the drainage problems their property has, so we developed a quick tip sheet that discusses some common practices that can be used to reduce drainage problems around the home. These practices can be considered positive impacts that homeowners can make on the drainage woes they are dealing with.
Some basic pointers can be checked first before diving into an intensive drainage plan. First, check storm sewer inlets. If there is an inlet in your yard, keep this drain clear of all obstructions including leaves, grass and debris. Debris at storm sewer inlets build-up after a storm event. This is a good time to check the inlet to make sure that the system will work well in the next storm. Second, ensure that you do not have a broken irrigation line that is causing the issue. With more and more irrigation lines being installed to fight the droughts in the summer, there is a higher risk of broken lines that cause soggy ground. Third, soil compaction is most often the biggest source of drainage problems. Helping to prevent and improve compaction will benefit more drainage problems over time than all other practices combined.
For all other drainage needs, see the new fact sheet out of our office for pointers and direction to deal with the drainage concerns.
Andrew Fritz, Urban Conservation Technician
Technical assistance through the Hamilton County SWCD is a type of consulting that provides support, planning, and guidance for anyone or any group interested in applying conservation to the land. It is a free service offered to citizens of Hamilton County who desire to work toward conservation.
One way we offer technical assistance is through an invasive species assessment. The goal of this assessment is to identify where invasive species are on your property and how to manage and remove them to improve ecosystem health.
With an invasives species assessment we help you with:
Who can Receive Invasive Technical Assistance?
While technical assistance is available to all county residents, those with multi-acre properties are in greater need of protection and are a priority for invasive species assessments.
Is Financial Assistance Available to Help Manage Invasives?
Financial assistance may be available to landowners with financial need who demonstrate a commitment to conservation. Depending on the specific conditions, financial assistance or cost-share grants are available through the HCSWCD or other partnering agencies for invasive species management as part of a conservation management plan.
How do you request technical assistance for an invasive species assessment?
To request technical assistance, contact our office at (317) 773-2181. You may also contact Urban Conservation Technician, Andrew Fritz, by email at Andrew.email@example.com.
What are invasive species?
Invasive species resources on our website
Andrew Fritz, Urban Conservation Technician
Solastalgia is a new word coined by environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht that describes the distress caused by environmental change, specifically, loss. Environmental change can mean the loss of nature that we attach emotions or identity to. It can mean uncertainty, despair or powerlessness. Farmers who rely on steady rains experience solastalgia during droughts. It can be the feeling of despair associated with climate change. The lament you feel from the loss of a beautiful tree or prairie that you enjoyed on the way to work is solastalgia. It is the loss of the beautiful fall colors of Ash trees due Emerald Ash Borer. Put another way, if nostalgia is the distress associated with being away from home then solastalgia is the distress when our natural home is leaving us.
Those with a connection to the land will feel this more intensely, especially farmers and nature enthusiasts who depend, first-hand, on the benefits of natural resources. As areas of nature disappear, or evidence of people working with the land is lost, the more likely a community will lose its grounding, literally and psychologically. That's why words like solastalgia are needed: to help us grieve the loss of nature by naming what we are feeling at a deeper level – an initial and important step toward healing and action.
Learn more about solastalgia and other new words in Glenn Albrecht’s book, “Earth Emotions.” There is also a plethora of information found on the internet by searching “solastalgia” or “Glenn Albrecht” in your preferred search engine.
Taylor Wilson, Conservation Technician and Outreach Assistant
Easy eco-friendly ideas you can use to make this winter more fun
Snow and freezing temperatures are something we all have to deal with—so why not deal with them in a way that conserves our natural resources? Snow can be a major hindrance to our routines. It can easily add up to an hour to your commute when it comes down to cleaning your driveway, cleaning your car, and then navigating icy roads. Salt and chemical de-icers can be a life saver in a pinch, but they have been building up in our soil and water resources for years. There are better, less expensive, and more efficient ways to deal with snow than the current norm.
Through years of using salt de-icers we’ve added chloride to the soil and water resources across the United States.
How it happens:
Salt de-icers work by mixing with the water in the snow and lowering the freezing temperature of the water. That water then, like all storm water, runs off the road into roadside ditches, storm water drains, creeks, rivers, etc. When snow melts, all the salt we put on roads all over the county goes with it straight into our water sources. This means that all those ecosystems are affected. The salt ends up accumulating as the water filters down through soil in our yards and then finally accumulating in the groundwater below.
Why it matters:
Salt is a problem in both soil and water. In soil, excess salts in the rooting zone, or where plant roots grow, stop plants from being able to uptake water. This slows or stops plant growth, resulting in plant death. This can affect your grass, gardens, trees, or anything you have growing. Additionally, built up salts are corrosive to infrastructure and cars, bad for pets, and much more.
How to Deal with Snow Without Salt:
There are several products out there that can melt snow without salt. Simply search “salt free de-icer” and pick one that fits your needs and budget. Additionally, things like beet juice, alfalfa meal, and coffee grounds can help melt snow and ice.
Other Ecofriendly Ideas this Winter:
The hardest part about environmentalism is that the most ecofriendly way of doing something often requires creative solutions and/or more labor. Sometimes at the end of a long day the last thing anyone wants to do is brainstorm how to lessen their footprint on the world. We’re all guilty of choosing the easy option over the green option because, well, it’s easier. For this reason, we’ve gathered a list of easy ecofriendly things that you can do to deal with the snow and ice this year that are ecofriendly and can REDUCE the amount of labor and time you must spend in the cold.
So, now what?
At the end of the day almost all ecofriendly solutions have their downfalls. If we all used salt free de-icer eventually we would probably have a buildup of salt free de-icer in our soil and water. Alternatives like alfalfa meal is a fertilizer and will run off into our streams. Coffee grounds are acidic and can be damaging to some plants—but neither are as bad as road salt. It all comes down to moderation. Using a little bit of salt, or a little bit of an alternative will always be better than using as much as we’re using now. There are very few perfect options. Reducing our use of ecologically damaging goods is a great start to a greener tomorrow.
Taylor Wilson, Conservation Technician and Outreach Assistant
The winter weather can make it seem like nothing is growing this time of year, but if you know where to look you can find all types of life. Foraging is a great winter activity. Getting out and enjoying nature and even enjoying the cold helps stimulate your mind and overcome the winter “lull” it’s so easy to be stuck in. This winter consider getting outside and seeking out watercress to add to your foraging list.
Watercress is an evergreen plant found in cold, quick moving streams in the winter. If you’ve ever been hiking in the cold and wondered what that bright green water plant was—it was probably watercress! This plant is in the mustard family and has a peppery taste. It can be used similarly to spinach in soups, salads, sauces, etc. It contains significant amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C. To identify, check here.
As with every water plant, before picking and eating ensure that you know the cleanliness of the water you’re harvesting from. Plants are great water filters for pollution, which means they can uptake toxic materials. Never pick plants from polluted streams, large urban rivers, or near drainage areas from where livestock are kept.
Not interested in watercress? If you own land, you can tap your trees. More than just maple trees can be tapped. You can use a phone app like iNaturalist to identify trees and then do an internet search to see if and how to tap them for sap. Trees such as birch, walnut, boxelder, and hickory can be tapped for slightly different tasting syrups. Ideal conditions for this activity are when temperatures fluctuate between freezing and 45 degrees fahrenheit throughout the day.
Remember: Harvesting or ingesting the wrong species of plants can have dire consequences, which is why experts suggest that you identify a plant based on three separate characteristics. Verify AT LEAST THREE between the fruit, stem, bark, flower, root, leaves, etc. Check here for an identification guide, and remember:
Never ingest or handle any type of wild plant without being certain you know what it is.
Any doubt, LEAVE IT OUT !
Do you forage? What are some of your favorite things to look for in winter? Share with us in a comment!
Taylor Wilson, Conservation Technician and Outreach Assistant
As we move into the new decade, it’s great to see people doing things that benefit the environment. Especially when a business is integrating ecological integrity to their business model. Wood Warbler Coffee is a small batch coffee roaster located right here in Noblesville on the corner of 8th Street and Chestnut. What are they doing for the environment? Purchasing and supplying Bird Friendly Coffee.
What is Bird Friendly Coffee?
Bird Friendly Coffee is a certification awarded by the Smithsonian to coffee growers internationally. The certification requires shade grown coffee with a 39-foot canopy level and 90% native ecosystem. This means that the coffee is grown natively among a balanced, diverse range of native plants, insects, animals, and fungi. As you would expect, having all native plants, relatively old growth forests, and a noninvasive harvest is great for the world’s soil and water! Additionally, shade grown coffee has a fresher, smoother taste. There are only 23 Bird Friendly Coffee roasters in the United states, and now we have one in Hamilton County.
The Certification Process
Farms are certified by a third-party inspector. The farmer is then awarded a certification of inspection for every bag (see right). The certification is then passed down the line of transactions all the way to the coffee roaster to ensure your coffee is certified.
About the Business
Wood Warbler coffee opened on August 22nd, 2019 in Noblesville. Currently they roast all their coffee in house in small batches and ship it out to customers same day. Wood Warbler offers 6 varieties of Bird Friendly Coffee. Coming up in 2020 they plan to expand to cold brew and offer it in several coffee establishments around the county.
Wood Warbler Coffee partners with several ecological agencies. Partners get a coffee named after their organization or mission and 10% of those coffee sales. Additionally, Wood Warbler does a coffee roasting demonstration and a Bird Friendly Certification presentation. These can be done at events, workshops, or wherever else. Raising awareness is Wood Warbler’s main goal. There are relatively few bird friendly coffee roasters so it can be difficult to find information on this certification. For more information check the Smithsonian’s certification page and Wood Warbler Coffee’s website. This coffee can be purchased locally for pickup or be shipped to your doorstep. Make sure to visit Wood Warbler’s Facebook page for more information and coffee sales!
Learn More and Get Involved
Learn about invasive species and what you can do
We’ve compiled our favorite invasive species resources on our website. Take a look to find great identification and management/control guides to help you combat invasives on your property.
Join the CISMA
Want to be a part of the Hamilton County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area group? Interested citizens are welcome to join—you do not have to be an expert! Join us for our monthly meetings or join a committee to put your special skills or interests to use in our communities fight against invasive species.
Join the CISMA working group mailing list by filling out the form on the CISMA page.
2020 CISMA State Conference
On March 26th, Hamilton County will play host to the first ever statewide CISMA conference. CISMA reps, parks professionals, land managers, foresters, contractors, farmers, landscape professionals, and interested citizens will meet in Noblesville for a day long conference focused on building partnerships across the state to exchange information and increase capacity for conservation. The event will include technical control training, the latest research and news, and an overview of the Terrestrial Plant Rule which will become enforceable in April.
Do not miss this amazing opportunity right in our own backyard. Registration is now open and sponsorship opportunities are also available. Learn more and register here.
2020 Spring Sustainability Workshop- Invasive Species
Each spring the Urban Conservation program holds a Sustainability Workshop. The workshop topic varies each year according to emerging technology, new resources, and feedback from SWCD program participants. This year, the workshop will focus on invasive species. This workshop will be held on Saturday April 18th at the 4-H Fairgrounds in Noblesville. Information on the threat of invasive species and why natives are important, invasive species ID, management techniques, and more will be shared as well as hands on control demonstrations. This workshop will be ideal for landowners who want to learn how to manage invasive species on their property.
Hamilton County Weed Wrangle
Weed Wrangles are events hosted nationwide to gather volunteer effort to help control invasive plants that are negatively impacting our public parks, green spaces and natural areas. For instance, garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a plant in the mustard family that is native to Europe that can harm our native plants and wildlife. In addition to eliminating our native plants, research shows that garlic mustard can be fatal to several butterfly species. For instance, the West Virginia white butterfly (Pieris virginiensis) is a rare species that lays eggs on plants in the mustard family. Butterfly eggs laid on garlic mustard do not survive. Community members learn to identify and control through hands-on removal of these invasive trees, shrubs, vines and plants.
At Weed Wrangles, volunteers (supervised by an expert) are learning across America to identify and manage invasive plants. We are hoping that by engaging our community members and challenging them to act in their own spaces we foster a collective effort to have a large and positive impact for our native plants and wildlife.
On Saturday May 2nd, the Hamilton County CISMA partners will be hosting a series of Weed Wrangles across Hamilton County. These events will be perfect opportunities to join with other like-minded individuals for a volunteer workday targeting invasive species that are threatening beloved local natural areas.
Event locations and times are being finalized and more information should be available soon. If you are interested, mark May 2nd on your calendar and sign up for the CISMA mailing list for notifications.
The SWCD offers technical assistance to Hamilton County property owners on a variety of conservation and natural resources issues. This free, on-site assistance is meant to help urban and rural property owners identify natural resource solutions on their properties that benefit property values and our environment. We are happy to be offering more robust invasive species technical assistance in 2020. These on-site property evaluations will help you identify invasive species issues on your property and develop a management and restoration plan. This assistance is primarily focused toward multi-acre and wooded properties but evaluations of smaller or residential properties may be available if several homeowners in a neighborhood solicit evaluations. For more information, email Andrew Fritz, Urban Conservation Technician, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Compaction Test: A penetrometer is used to measure the level of compaction on soils that have cover crops and on soils that do not. Compaction can have a negative impact on many things, such as plant rooting, water infiltration, biological activity, storm water runoff, and more.
Infiltration Test: A controlled test is performed in the field to measure the rate of infiltration (how much and how fast 1 inch of rainfall will infiltrate into the soil). This is important to soil moisture levels, runoff erosion, and ground water recharge.
Earthworm Count: This count is done by a visual inspection of soil cores to look for biological life--particularly earthworms. A measure of earthworm activity correlates well with the health of the soil. More worms mean more tunnels, more air space, more water infiltration, more places for roots to grows, and more incorporation of organic matter.
Slake Test: A comparison of the stability of soil aggregates. The more stable a soil the more resistant to erosion it is.
Respiration Test: The Solvita test, a measure of the CO2 coming off the soil, is conducted on soil samples. Since CO2 is a product of life in the soil, it can be used as a measure of the microbial life in the soil. A healthy soil is a “living soil”!
Soil Temperature: Temperature readings are taken on site to look at differences in both soils with cover crops and those without. Soil temperature can affect many things, such as seed germination, microbial life, plant stress and health, and water retention.
Soil Moisture: A measure of the soil moisture at a predetermined depth is taken to compare sites. Soil moisture also affects several parameters similar to soil temperature.
Cover Crop Biomass: Biomass will be sent to the lab to measure the nutrient content. The amount of nutrients cover crops can pull from the soil and hold will affect the nutrients that are available to the next year’s crop. This reduces the potential for excess nutrients to move off site causing potential harm to water quality.
Basic Soil Test: Soil samples are sent to the lab for fertility analysis. In general, we would expect that soils with cover crops will have more nutrients (fertility) available for crop uptake than soils without cover crops.
Other Lab Test to Compare Soil Quality/Health: These tests include, Soil Microbial Biomass, Active Carbon, Mineralizable Nitrogen (all done at University of Missouri), and Haney Test (completed at Ward Laboratories).
Our goal with this program is to provide real on-site research specific to each farm that can be used to make future decisions when it comes to cover crops. We’re reaching to define the benefits of using, or not using, cover crops as part of the farming operation.