Franklin Soil and Water Backyard Conservation Update May 28, 2014
Dear Friend of Conservation,
Thanks go to all of you who sent me suggestions for backyard conservation workshop topics. As we plan for 2015 workshops, we will try to incorporate as many of your suggestions as possible. Currently, we are considering squeezing in another workshop this year, on soil testing. If this topic interests you, hit reply and let me know.
We are still working on our new database and I may make mistakes. I have removed all of you who requested not to receive this, after the last Update, but if you have received it again, my sincerest apologies. Hit reply and I’ll do it first thing and let you know I have.
Below are some backyard conservation tips from my co-workers and some upcoming events that you may find interesting.
Most mowers now mulch grass clippings and we are advised to let them lie. Clippings act as fertilizer and do not cause thatch. If you have an old mower like I have, or the grass is too long to leave on the lawn, what do you do with it? It is a great nitrogen source (a green) for composting; just mix it up with dry course material so it doesn’t mat down and prevent air pockets. If you live in a community with yard trimmings pick-up, don’t feel badly about using that option—it is used for commercial compost.
What you don’t want to do is throw the grass clippings over the bank into or near a stream. If the pile of clippings is on the streambank, it will kill the vegetation under it, leading to streambank erosion. If the clippings land in the stream itself, the decomposing bacteria use up available oxygen and can cause a fish kill. You are also adding nutrients to the water that can lead to overgrowth of algae.
If you don’t have curbside pick-up, SWACO recommends these yard trimming drop-offs:
Ohio Mulch, 4120 Roberts Road, Columbus 43228
Kurtz Bros., 2850 Rohr Road, Groveport 43125; 6055 Westerville Road, Westerville 43081; 6279 Houchard Road, Dublin 43016; and 2409 Johnstown-Alexandria Road, Alexandria 43001
Zoning regulations concerning chickens in developed areas ensure that that they don’t become a health nuisance. One concern is that rainwater can carry nutrients and pathogens from feces to local waterways. Co-worker Aaron Hebert is our “chicken whisperer,” so he shared some water-quality tips for you chicken wranglers. Your coop should be on an impervious surface, one that water can’t go through. Do not compost chicken droppings. Keep your yard clean. Rake up droppings and any spilled feed. This prevents polluted runoff and disease from droppings growing in the soil, and minimizes rat habitat. Aaron keeps his chicken-coop shoes outside and cleans his feeders and waterers outside. And of course, always wash your hands after handling your chickens or their accoutrements.
Speaking of rats, our partners at both Franklin County Public Health and Columbus Public Health have the same message: Some backyard conservation practices, if done incorrectly, can create favorable habitat for rats. Don’t leave birdseed on the ground where those pesky birds may have scattered it from your feeder. Don’t leave pet food outside; if you feed your animals outside, collect the bowls after the meal. Pick up dog poop in your yard—this is also a water quality issue. Don’t leave piles of dry leaves in a corner of the yard to use in your compost bin in the spring. This makes nice nesting material for rats. You can save your leaves in plastic bags in the garage. (Oops, I was guilty of that one!) Cover any kitchen scraps added to your compost bin with browns, that is the dry course material. Keep the kitchen scraps away from the edges of your bin too. Rats, like all other animals, need food, water, oxygen shelter and space, don’t make your yard into a rat habitat!
And More Pests!
Last one, I promise. Mosquitoes like to lay their eggs in still water, including any small puddles in your roof gutters. The eggs then get washed down into your rain barrel where they become larvae, then pupae and finally adult mosquitoes (complete metamorphosis), which can fly up the downspout and pester you and your neighbors. The larva stage, “wigglers,” takes seven to ten days, so empty your rain barrel completely each week. Alternatively, you can use mosquito “dunks.”
If you live in the Cities of Columbus or Worthington, Columbus Public Health has a program where, at your request and at no cost to you, employees will come to your house on either June 7 or 21 and place a long-lasting mosquito larvicide in your rain barrel. To learn more and to sign up, visit http://www.columbus.gov/rainbarrel2014/. This is a great program—please take advantage of it!
Since I’ve brought the subject up, have you taken advantage of our county-wide program to learn about stormwater runoff and buy a discounted rain barrel? You can register for an in-person workshop and take your barrel home with you, or participate in online learning before purchasing your barrel online and picking it up here, at our office. All the info is at http://www.franklinswcd.org/programs-and-services/backyard-assistance/rain-barrels/. As this program is to introduce you to the concepts, not to compete with our private-sector partners, only one rain barrel per household please. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll want to purchase more from local vendors!
Another great opportunity to help you get started with backyard conservation. The cities of Canal Winchester, Gahanna, New Albany and Westerville offer funding to help homeowners in these communities install a rain garden. How does the program work? If you are a homeowner in one of these cities, first call my co-worker, Sara Ernst, at (614) 486-9613 and chat about rain gardens. Sara will visit your home and help you site and size your rain garden. Remember that rain gardens can be in sun or shade, be formal or informal, full of flowers or stocked with grasses and shrubs. If you work with Sara (we don’t want any drainage issues!), install your rain garden, and present Sara with the receipt for plants and mulch, she can then OK your re-imbursement for the amount offered by your city. This varies, but it is usually around $200. To learn more about rain gardens, visit http://www.franklinswcd.org/programs-and-services/backyard-assistance/rain-gardens-2/.
Another fun way to learn about rain gardens is to visit one of our nursery or garden center partners in the Gardening for Clean Water program. These are businesses whose staff members have received training in rain gardens and who carry rain garden appropriate plants. They also can give you handouts and suggestions to help get you started. Participating nurseries and garden centers include: Dill’s Greenhouse, 5800 Rager Rd., Groveport 43125; Oakland Nursery, 1156 Oakland Park Ave., Columbus 43224; Strader’s Garden Center, 5350 Riverside Dr., Columbus 43220; Scioto Gardens, 3351 S.R 37 West, Delaware 43015; and Acorn Farms, 7679 Worthington Rd., Galena 43021. (Acorn Farms is wholesale only and open to pre-approved landscape professionals.)
You have probably heard by now that monarch butterflies are in trouble, primarily from loss of habitat. If enough of us plant native milkweed plants (the only plant that monarch caterpillars feed on), then we can start to create new habitat. It’s a beautiful plant (and suitable for rain gardens), although mine gets a little leggy because it doesn’t get enough sun—right plant in the right place. I do get the occasional monarch in my yard, but co-worker Kurt Keljo shared a fantastic idea—purchase monarch caterpillars and feed them on your milkweed! A great educational organization, Monarch Watch, offers ‘Monarch Rearing Kits’ that contain 14-16 first to third instar monarch larvae (caterpillars) for $18. This would be a fun project for families over the summer. While you’re at the Monarch Watch site, visit the home page and browse through all of the educational materials available.
A persistent problem in developing areas, which now includes most of Franklin County, is streambank erosion. Much of the cause lies upstream from your property, i.e. as vegetated areas are built on or paved, more rainwater is directed to local streams. This additional volume of water erodes the bottoms and banks of streams, causing pollution from siltation, flooding and property loss. As a neighborhood, installation of rain gardens and rain barrels can make a difference in the volume of runoff. There are also actions that you can take yourself to minimize streambank erosion on your property.
The easiest and cheapest action is to quit mowing all the way to the streambank. Turf grass has very short roots compared to native species and can’t hold soil as well. It is best to manage the growth of vegetation along your stream by planting native trees shrubs, gasses and perennials that are attractive and attract birds and other wildlife. Cities may have zoning ordinances covering allowed vegetation, and in the country, you don’t want to allow noxious weeds to grow that could harm a farmer’s pasture or crops. A good resource for streamside landowners is OSU Extension’s “Streamside Landowner Guides” available here: http://ohiowatersheds.osu.edu/education/watershed-management/streamside-landowner-guides
Some homeowners are resistant to plantings along a stream because they appreciate the view. If that is you, have you thought about planting some native grasses? They can be very attractive and give landscaping interest in all seasons. If you’re interested in recommended streambank species, give Kurt Keljo a call at (614) 486-9613.
Important Notice for Woodlot Owners!
OK, this is late notice for this workshop, but attend if you can. OSU Extension and ODNR are sponsoring “Managing Small Woodlots for Wildlife” tomorrow, Thursday May 29, at Gahanna City Hall, 200 South Hamilton Road, Gahanna, 43230 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. You can learn how to enjoy woodland wildlife while minimizing wildlife damage. To RSVP, contact Jason VanHouten at (614) 265-6703 or Jason.VanHouten@dnr.state.oh.us. Even if you can’t attend tomorrow’s workshop, let Jason know that you would be interested in attending woodlot management workshops in the future. I received at least one suggestion from the last Update about offering woodlot management workshops, and Jason is willing to help.
Drainage and Wet Spots
Always a big topic this time of the year, drainage is as important as it is complex. It is covered in Ohio Revised Code and in local zoning ordinances. For drainage complaints, call your city offices first—they may already be aware of the issue. In unincorporated Franklin County, the County Drainage Engineer handles roadside ditches and petition ditches. If it is simply an area of your yard that stays wet too long, planting trees can help. For instance, a mature oak can take up 300 gallons of water a day during the growing season. Make sure that you discuss where the tree will go with your nurseryman, who can recommend trees that like or tolerate wet soils. OSU Extension is always a good resource; here is one fact sheet with information on deciduous trees http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1082.html. If grass just won’t grow due to wetness, consider planting water-tolerant species such as inkberry or silky dogwood. This will reduce your lawn maintenance worries and attract wildlife. For additional species recommendations try http://Ohioline.osu.edu, your local nursery or Sara Ernst at (614) 486-9613.
If you’ve been following the blue-green algae issues in Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys, you’ll have read of the additional steps farmers are taking to test their soils more frequently in order to apply the right fertilizer source at the right rate at the right time and in the right place. This is known as the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship and applies to us homeowners as well. Besides, why waste money on fertilizer that isn’t needed and will wash into our local streams with the next rain?
Have you noticed that some fertilizer manufactures, including the central Ohio Scotts Miracle-Gro, have removed phosphorous from their regular turf grass fertilizer? Phosphorous is P, or the middle number on a fertilizer bag. For instance, Scott’s Turf Builder Lawn Food has a fertilizer analysis of 32-0-4. Nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium. N-P-K. Phosphorous is usually not a limiting nutrient in central Ohio soils and is needed only when your soil tests low for root growth. Their Starter Food for New Grass has a fertilizer analysis of 24-25-4, adding P for the new grass’s root growth.
Testing your soil each year should become your standard operating procedure before adding any fertilizers. We have a list of soil labs on our web site or you can buy a simple home test at most stores that sell fertilizer. As mentioned above, if you would be interested in attending a workshop on soil testing, hit reply and let me know. If we have enough interest, we’ll try to squeeze it in.
Hold the Date for Our Annual Meeting!
Each year we hold an annual meeting for all our partners, to share what we have accomplished over the past year and to honor some outstanding conservationists in the community. We also hold a public election for one or two members of our five-member Board of Supervisors. This year our Annual Meeting will be here, in our new location, on Thursday evening, September 18. I hope you will be able to join us! I’ll get back to you as I know more details, such as time and cost.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this Backyard Conservation Update. Feel free to contact me with topics that interest you or questions you may have about conservation in Franklin County. You can also contact us through Facebook (www.facebook.com/franklinsoilandwater) or Twitter (@franklinswcd).
To be added or removed from this list, please contact Mary Ann Brouillette at (614) 486-9613 x 113 or email@example.com, or just reply to this e-mail.
Mary Ann Brouillette
Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District
1328 Dublin Road, Suite 101
Columbus, OH 43215
Creating Conservation Solutions for Over 60 Years