It’s fall in Ohio so that means crazy weather. One day it’s snowing and the next day it’s a balmy 55 degrees! We can take advantage of the remaining pleasant days to complete a few more chores before Jack Frost visits us for the winter.
An excellent fall chore is to implement strategies that protect your land against erosion. Did you know that soil erosion, and resulting sedimentation, are a leading cause of water quality problems in Ohio? Sediment is the number one pollutant, by volume, of our state’s surface waters.
Why should we worry about soil erosion during the fall and early winter? Soil erosion occurs from strong winds, hard rains, and flowing water and occurs as a three-part process.
First, when there is little to no vegetation or plant residue on the ground, the impact from a hard rain can cause detachment of soil particles from the soil mass. According to research from Vanderbilt and Arizona State universities, raindrops in a normal rainfall can hit the ground at 20 miles per hour, dislodging soil particles up to two feet in the air and splashing them three to five feet away. Next, flowing surface water can transport the detached particles across the land. Lastly, the detached particles eventually make their way into a body of water and become sediment in our streams, rivers, and lakes.
Homeowners and agricultural producers alike can implement various practices to keep valuable topsoil in place. Here are a few tips:
• Keep it under cover. Homeowners can mulch flower beds to a depth of two to three inches and vegetable beds can be mulched with straw. Mulch and straw provide additional benefits by conserving water during the hot summer months and reducing weed pressure.
• Plant cover crops. Farm fields and vegetable gardens benefit in multiple ways from a winter cover. While it is too late to plant a cover crop this fall, include a cover crop in your 2022 plans. Late summer is a perfect time to plant a variety of cover crops and gardeners can learn more at https://extension.psu.edu/tips-for-planting-cover-crops-in-home-gardens. Ag producers can access https://agbmps.osu.edu/bmp/cover-crops-nrcs-340 for the latest cover crop information. Cover crops not only blanket the soil against winter winds and snowmelt, they provide food for the microorganisms in the soil that keep it healthy and productive.
• Protect the edge. Leave a buffer of grasses, trees/shrubs, or a mixture of grass, trees, and shrubs along streambanks, around ponds, and along a road ditch. This vegetation filters surface runoff, preventing pollutants from reaching the waterbody. Pollutants such as sediment, herbicides, fertilizers, livestock and pet waste, litter, motor oil, and ice melt products can be carried away in surface runoff. Excess nutrients degrade water quality and can lead to harmful algal blooms.
• Reduce tillage. The plant residue that is leftover after harvest performs like mulch to shield the soil. Plowing buries this residue and leaves your topsoil vulnerable to raindrop impact. Conservation tillage, strip till, and no-till are ways to save your soil and all of these are suited to agricultural fields as well as your vegetable garden.
• Consider permanent cover. Are you utilizing marginal or inferior sites for growing crops? The odd corners in farm fields and lawn areas that are difficult to reach with the mower may not be “earning their keep.” These sites often require more time, energy, and expense but yield poorly. Maybe it is time to establish these as pollinator and wildlife habitat.
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service offers financial assistance to help agricultural producers implement practices such as cover crops, reduced tillage, buffers, and permanent cover. Delaware County farmers can explore available resources about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program by calling 740-362-4011. The signup ends Jan. 14, 2022.
Find Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District on Facebook and at soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to https://soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us/.