Written By: Jen Cushman, Hartford County 4-H Extension Educator
Six youth from the Granby 4-H Club won the State VEX Robotics competition and qualified to represent CT at the VEX Robotics World Championship, April 29-May 1st, in Louisville, KY.
At Worlds, the youth will compete in teamwork, programming and driving competitions. In addition, they are eligible for team awards for energy, journal, design and research project. Throughout the competition, these youth will also network with teams from around the world as they promote 4-H through their team booth.
Since May of 2017, the youth have been learning about this year’s Ring Master Challenge in preparation for the build season. Using science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts, competition team members developed, designed, and practiced their robot driving skills. In addition, the 4-H’ers maintain an engineering journal of their robot design process in order to develop and strengthen their record keeping skills. Participants also demonstrate and hone their public speaking and research skills through the annual STEM Research Project which is also component of the competition.
Supported by six 4-H volunteer mentors and parents, this group of 4-H youth competed as the only 4-H team in Connecticut. While 4-H volunteer mentors are there to guide and facilitate the youth, 4-Hers do all the design and construction work. Each member of the team is assigned a leadership role in a specific area. Team members meet 1-2 times per week for 8 months of the year and then 2 to 6 times a week as the competition gets closer. Along with the leadership, STEM, teamwork, communication, citizenship and life skills that the youth gain they also develop entrepreneurial skills designing and running fundraisers to cover the expenses of the robot and competition fees.
Members implement the values of the 4-H motto to Make the Best Better by improving their robot after practice and competition sessions. 4-H members note that they
have benefited from participating in the VEX 4-H Robotics Program by gaining and enhancing their skills; for example, in the area of spatial geometry or in programming their robot using the C language. Also, these experiences have provided opportunities for them to demonstrate and strengthen their teamwork and cooperation skills in preparation for their future education and careers. In fact, during the qualification rounds at the State Competition, the team was twice awarded the Judges Award for Spirit and Energy at the Regional Level and they were the Teamwork Challenge winners on the state level. The competition members also serve as mentors to the non-competition 4-H VEX Robotics group members. Lastly, members see their experiences in VEX 4-H Robotics helping them to identify future career opportunities. Beyond the VEX Robot competition, this project group of the Granby 4-H Club also attends UConn STEM events, participates in community service activities as well as county-level activities including the annual Hartford County 4-H Fair.
UConn 4-H is the youth development program of the UConn Extension in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. 4-H is a community of over 6 million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, citizenship and life skills through their 4-H project work. 4-H provides youth with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills including citizenship and healthy living. To find a 4-H club near you visit 4-H.UConn.edu or call 860-486-4127.
Garden Master Classes are offered through the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program. For Certified Master Gardeners they provide continuing education as part of the Advanced Master Gardener certification process.
These classes are also open to the general public. Anyone with an interest in gardening and horticulture is welcome!
Data Collection Program Releases 2017 Data Shedding Light on Statewide Multi-use Trail Use
The Connecticut Trail Census (CTTC), a program tracking use on multi-use trails statewide, has released publically available data for the 2017 calendar year on their website http://www.cttrailcensus.uconn.edu/. The CTTC collects data regarding trail use patterns including who is using these trails, when people are using them, how, and why at multi-use trails across Connecticut. The Census currently includes 15 trail locations on 11 multi-use trails. Trail use is tracked with infrared counters and by trail user intercept surveys deployed by volunteers. In 2017, the program recorded 1.4 million trips taken on trail segments where counts are being conducted, and analyzed 1,003 trail user surveys collected by over 63 volunteers from trail advocacy groups around the state. The trails with the highest volumes were the Naugatuck River Greenway in Derby (303,550 uses), the Still River Greenway in Brookfield (197,945 uses) and the Hop River Trail in Vernon (133,016 uses).
“We hope this data will be used by communities and trail advocacy groups, researchers, and funding organizations to show the impacts of multi-use trails on public health, transportation systems, and local communities,” said Kristina Kelly, the Statewide Coordinator of the Census.
The program is funded by a 2016 Recreational Trails Grant received from the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and is overseen by the Connecticut Greenways Council. It is being undertaken in a partnership between UConn Extension, The Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, and the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Outreach (CLEAR).
The infrared counters record hourly totals of trail use year-round, and show use patterns seasonally, by time of day, and day of week. The heaviest use occurred between
the months of April and October when approximately 76% of trail uses across all sites were recorded. Because all trails involved in the program are of similar typology (multi-use, two-directional, and either paved or stone dust), the trail use data can be utilized to explore variables that may affect trail use. For example, trails that offer connection between towns and cities such as the New Britain Fastrak and the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, seem to show less difference in the number of users between weekday and weekend. The counters are installed semi-permanently, which also will allow trails to measure the effects of future trail improvements.
The 2017 intercept survey data showed trail users who completed the survey tended to be older than the general population of Connecticut with 63% of trail users being over the age of 45 versus only 44% of the general population. While the majority of users got to the trail by car or motorcycle alone (49%), an encouraging 31% traveled in a car with someone else. Demonstrating the potential economic value of trails, 61.5% of all respondents reported spending $277 annually related to their trail use.
The 2018 Trail Census Program will launch the second week of May at trail sites across the state. Trails with an interest in participating should contact the Census Coordinator Kristina Kelly at email@example.com. Existing data including infrared counter and survey data reports, and recording of a recent webinar with in-depth discussion of the available data are on the Connecticut Trail Census website at http://www.cttrailcensus.uconn.edu/. All data collected is free and available to explore and download.
As the weather starts to warm, an increased awareness of ticks and the symptoms associated with Lyme disease is important.
Tips for preventing Lyme disease:
Avoid tall grass and over-grown, brushy areas.
Stay in the middle of trails when hiking in the woods.
Wear light-colored clothing to allow ticks to be more easily seen.
Examine yourself, your children, and pets for ticks when returning indoors.
Remove found ticks as soon as possible.
It takes approximately 24 hours for a tick to infect a person with Lyme disease. The longer an infected tick stays on your skin the greater the chance it will pass the Lyme bacteria on to you. If you find a tick remove it immediately and be on the lookout for Lyme disease symptoms such as rash (sometimes in the shape of a bulls-eye) fever, muscle aches or fatigue.
UConn Extension’s Solid Ground Training class for beginner farmers on the “Safe and Effective Use of Pesticides For Organic and Non-Organic Producers”, held in Bethel on April 10 and taught by Mary Concklin. A part of the class was devoted to learning about personal protective equipment (PPE) with Chelsey Hahn modeling several different PPE items.
Put Local on Your Tray is a farm-to-school program helping Connecticut schools serve and celebrate regionally grown food. Even if you’re not a school, they have some advice for getting local onto your plate this season.
Days are getting slightly warmer and longer, the breeze is sharp, and the land is both awakened and nourished by fresh spring rain. Farmers are in a busy period of transition, from indoor planning and preparing for the height of summer – to the beginning stages of planting outdoors – making sure everything is ready to go. While there may not be an abundance of produce to choose from this month, there still are some special products to take advantage of for their especially sweet and distinct flavors of spring that they offer. For instance, mixed greens!
Spinach is our suggested local item to look out for – according to our Tray team Farmer Liaison, Shannon. After a long winter, the sugars stored in it’s leaves give it flavor hard to find any other time of year. Seen below, are rows of sweet greens growing at Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge.
Haddam – As the state gets wetter, Connecticut cities and towns have little choice but to take better control of the water that flows over streets, parking lots and fields from rainfall and snowmelt.
“There are two drivers related to stormwater,” said David Dickson, faculty member of the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR). “One is climate change. New England is seeing more rain and more intense rainfall events. The other is the MS4 general permit, which became effective in 2017.”
Dickson, speaking at a March 22 symposium sponsored by the UConn Climate Adaptation Academy, explained that MS4 — the shorthand term for the new state regulation for how municipal stormwater is managed — now requires cities and towns to reduce nonporous pavement on streets, sidewalks and parking lots. It also requires they establish “low impact development” practices as the standard for new construction. The state regulation is the result of a federal mandate under provisions of the Clean Water Act requiring gradually stricter rules to curb pollution.
“Towns have to enter into a retrofit program to reduce impervious surface areas by two percent by 2022,” Dickson said. “LID now has to be the standard for development. You can’t just say it’s too costly. This is going to change how we think about site development in this state.”
The third workshop in a series on the impacts of changing weather patterns on local land-use practices, the symposium drew about 50 municipal officials from around the state. It was presented at the Middlesex County Extension Center by the Climate Adaptation Academy, a partnership of CT Sea Grant, CLEAR and the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. The Rockfall Foundation co-sponsored the event.
Overall, the purpose of the session was to educate local officials about “what works and what to watch out for to ensure success” when it comes to implementing low impact development, said Tony Marino, executive director of the Rockfall Foundation.
Dickson, the first of the four presenters, explained that with increasing amounts and intensity of precipitation, the impacts of unmanaged stormwater carrying road and agricultural pollutants into the environment are increasing.
“Stormwater is the top source of water pollution into Long Island Sound,” he said.
In the 1990s, low-impact development techniques emerged including “green roofs” covered with planted beds to absorb rainfall, grass swales to replace curbs and gutters, rain gardens and bio-retention areas with trees and shrubs situated to absorb runoff, and permeable pavement that allows water to infiltrate into the soil. That allows the soil to capture pollutants and groundwater to be recharged.
Since then, LID designs have been used at several sites on UConn’s main campus and in the Jordan Cove housing development in Waterford, among other locations around the state. While at least one-third of towns in Connecticut have adopted LID techniques at various levels, Dickson said, the new regulation means all towns will have to commit to making them the standard practice because it’s an economical and effective way to comply with the requirement to curtail stormwater runoff.
“Towns will have to start thinking about where impervious cover drains directly into their stormwater system, and enter into retrofit programs to reduce impervious areas,” he said.
Michael Dietz, water resources educator with CLEAR, said that more than 20 years after they were built, the LID features in the Jordan Cove development are still working. Research shows significantly less runoff coming from the portion of the development with LID compared to the control section built with traditional design features, he said. The LID structures continued to function even when the homeowners failed to maintain the areas correctly, he noted.
“The take-home message is that LID mostly still works, in spite of what people do,” he said.
At the main UConn campus, Dietz said, LID has “become part of the fabric of the design” for all new construction since it was first used in the early 2000s. But over those years, there have been mistakes and lessons learned, he added. In one case, curbs were installed where they weren’t supposed to be so runoff ended up being directed away from a bio-retention area. In another case, the bio-retention area was poorly located on the way students took to a dining hall, creating a compacted path that reduced its effectiveness.
“We failed to factor in people,” Dietz said.
The area, he said, was redesigned with a footpath through the middle that still allowed for runoff capture.
In another example, a parking lot next to the field house covered with permeable concrete “totally failed” last year and was allowing for “zero infiltration.” The concrete was not mixed and handled properly, he said, and curing time was insufficient, among other problems. It has been replaced with pre-cast pervious concrete blocks. Other challenges include the need for regular cleaning of pervious pavement to unclog porous spaces.
“You neglect it, it costs you down the road,” Dietz said.
Giovanni Zinn, city engineer for New Haven, said the dozens of bio-retention areas, rain gardens, swales and pervious pavement areas installed around the city do require more planning and attention.
“But if you simplify your designs, the construction will be less costly and they’ll be easier to maintain,” he said. Overall, he added, maintenance costs are less costly than for traditional infrastructure.
He advised choosing low-maintenance plantings and involving local residents and community groups in the projects. Looking ahead, New Haven is planning to build 200 more planted swales to capture runoff in the downtown area and another 75 in other parts of town.
“The bio-swales are the first step in dealing with our flash flooding issues in the downtown,” he said.
David Sousa, the final speaker, is a senior planner and landscape architect with CDM Smith, which has its headquarters in Boston and an office in East Hartford. Instead of talking about development practices to minimize runoff, Sousa focused on “how to avoid it altogether.”
He advocated for compact urban redevelopment over “big box” stores with large parking lots. Not only does this give residents stores and restaurants they can get to on foot, by bicycle or mass transportation, “it also saves acres of green fields.”
“It’s being done in our communities,” he said, citing examples in Mansfield, Stamford and Middletown. “But it’s not being done enough.”
Redevelopment of urban areas, he said, creates communities that use fewer resources, which in turn is better for the environment.
“The carbon footprint of people in cities is so much less than those with suburban lifestyles,” he said. “With less vehicle miles traveled, there is less need for impervious parking surfaces, less stormwater flooding and less emissions. We need to think about ways to avoid using LID in the first place.”
Judy Benson is the communications coordinator at Connecticut Sea Grant. She can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the weekend, before the most recent snow, I looked out my kitchen window to see my dog squatting over the chive patch in our vegetable garden. It was too late to stop him.
I spend a lot of time with Connecticut farmers, talking about producing safe fruits and vegetables. We always talk about how animal feces can affect food safety. Animals and birds are often the source human pathogens or microorganisms that can make us sick. Some examples of those pathogens include E. coli O157:H7 (associated with many outbreaks tied to meat, poultry and fresh produce, most recently lettuce); Salmonella (eggs, poultry, pork, sprouts, cucumbers and cantaloupe); and Listeria monocytogenes (all types of foods, including processed meats, cheese, cantaloupe, apples, and frozen vegetables).
Wildlife can spread human pathogens by depositing feces in fields or water sources and spreading fecal contamination as they move. This is very difficult to control. Complete exclusion may not be possible, depending on the species of wildlife. It can be a tough job for farmers to exert any kind of control over geese, other birds, deer, or rodents.
Generally speaking, a home garden is a more manageable space. There are things you can do to discourage the presence of wildlife, though nothing is fail-proof. The first thing you may have to do is to identify the pest. Once you know which animal is eating the lettuce or leaving droppings around, knowledge of their habits and food needs can help you choose the best method to deter them. The University of Connecticut www.ladybug.uconn.edu site has fact sheets that give advice regarding control of wildlife in your yard. In addition, take a look at http://npic.orst.edu/pest/wildyard.html for additional suggestions on specific species.
Here are some suggestions that may help:
Fence your garden. Fences can make for good neighbors, they say, and this is certainly true of fences that keep animals away from your tomatoes. The fence can be as simple as a strong wire mesh. You may have to bury the fence several inches into the ground to prevent creatures from burrowing under the fence. Some animals are perfectly capable of climbing the fence to get to the other side (did someone say, “squirrel”?). A metal shield at the top of the fence might be useful.
Be careful where you hang your bird feeders/houses/bird baths. If birds are feeding or nesting at the bird feeders or houses you have purposely added to your yard, they will be more than happy to poop on your plants as they fly back and forth. This is a lesson easily learned as our birdhouse attracts lots of birds and their droppings on our patio furniture and patio tomatoes alike.
In addition, do not let garden trash build up—dropped fruit and pulled weeds can feed and shelter small animals. Cover trashcans, compost bins and other potential sources of food. Remove pet food or birdseed from the yard.
Use decoys or other deterrents. While these can be effective on a variety of wildlife, it is important to move the decoys every few days. Deer, birds and rodents may be smarter than the average bear: they can figure out when a fake coyote is fake.
One of the most difficult “pests” in the backyard vegetable garden can be Fido or Fluffy—resident dogs and cats. Fencing is most likely to help keep the dog away. Of course, you need to remember to close the gate. An open gate turned out to be how my dog got into the chive patch.
Cats love the soft soil of a garden and WILL use it as a litter box. Of course, the best course of action is not to let your cat out at all. There are too many ways they can get injured, sick, or worse whether you live in a city, suburb, or on acres of land.
If the dog gets through the gate or over the fence and poops on your edibles, there is little you can do. If it is early in the season and the plant has no edible parts, you can wait 120 days to harvest, treating the feces like raw manure—feces from another species. If harvestable or close to harvestable produce is affected, it is best to leave it on the plant. Do not harvest, do not eat; do not harvest, wash and eat. It is just too risky.
This would be true if you see signs that indicate the presence of other wildlife as well. Bird poop on the tomatoes or lettuce leaves; mouse droppings in the herb bed; or evidence that rabbits have been gnawing on the cucumbers. You really should not eat any fruits or vegetables that have been pooped upon. Washing is not necessarily going to totally eliminate any risk from human pathogens that might have been left behind. Do not toss affected produce in the compost bin either. Animal feces should never be added to compost that will be used on edible plants.
This advice is especially important if you have kids, seniors or others in your family who might have a compromised immune system. It is just not worth the risk.
For more information about food safety and controlling wildlife in your back yard, visit our website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu, check out some of the links in the article, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at email@example.com or 1-877-486-6271.
Organic Farming is Affected by a New Law: The Worker Protection Standard (WPS)
The new law provides protections for agricultural workers, pesticide handlers, family members and volunteers. UConn Extension and CT NOFA are offering a workshop specifically designed for organic growers on May 3, 2018 from 6:30 to 8:30 PM at 1796 Asylum Avenue in West Hartford. The workshop will provide the nuts and bolts of the law, and growers will learn about what should be done on their farm. Seating is limited. Call 860-570-9010 to register.
If you use a pesticide product registered by the EPA in the production of organic agricultural plants, AND ANYONE IS doing tasks directly related to the production of agricultural plants on an agricultural establishment such as harvesting, weeding, carrying nursery stock, repotting plants, pruning or watering, the WPS probably applies to you.
This workshop will introduce you to the WPS and what’s involved with providing information, protection and in the event necessary guidance on mitigation from exposure to pesticides, sanitizers and cleaners.