Environment

Beware of Volcano Mulch

volcano mulch around a tree in Storrs, Connecticut is damaging the bark and the tree
Volcano mulch on a tree. Photo: Stacey Stearns

In three short decades, volcano mulch has become one of the greatest threats to newly planted and young trees and shrubs. If unchecked, the significant monetary and human investment in greenscapes will result in more and more dead and dying trees.

Volcano mulch is the over-mulching of plant material, notably trees and shrubs. Mulch plays an important role in protecting plant material from irreversible lawnmower and weed whacker damage as well as providing for some control over weed competition and soil water retention. Seemingly, rings of mulch have also become landscape design features.

While deadly, the problem is simple; people are placing heaps and heaps of mulch around trees and shrubs and right next to the thin, vulnerable bark. The fact is you do not need more than 2-3 inches of mulch in depth for the desired purposes. Mulch should not come closer than 2-3 inches from the plant.  Yet people are piling mulch 6 inches or more, and right on the trunks of the trees, causing damage to life sustaining cambium (the live tissue just below the bark). Beware of volcano mulch in your yard.

Article by Robert Ricard, Ph.D.

The best time to submit a soil sample

Article by Joseph Croze

soil samples in boxes along a bookshelf in the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab on the Depot Campus
Soil samples waiting for analysis at UConn. Photo: Joseph Croze

As most of you are probably already familiar with, the University of Connecticut is home to the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory. This lab is staffed by Dawn Pettinelli, the manager, and myself, the technician. We also have a few part time and student employees throughout the year that help with the receiving, spreading, and sieving of soil samples; among other things. We offer an array of tests designed to help homeowners, community gardeners, farmers, etc… maximize the efficiency of their soil to produce the greatest yields in whatever plant or crop they are growing, from silage corn to turf. We can test for soil organic matter content, textural fractionation, soluble salts, Nitrogen, and Carbon. We also provide tests for plant tissues and corn stalks. However, our most vital and popular test is the Standard Nutrient Analysis. This is a relatively comprehensive test that allows us to make limestone and fertilizer recommendations. We check the pH, add a buffering agent and then retest the pH. From there we are able to determine the soils capacity to resist the change in pH, this allows us to make an accurate and precise limestone recommendation, in lbs/1000 square feet, or lbs/acre, depending on the desired crop production. The second part of the Standard Nutrient Analysis is the actual nutrient content. Soil samples are analyzed for micro and macro nutrients; Potassium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Aluminum, Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Zinc, and Sulfur. Samples are also screened for Lead. Using the nutrient results, we are able to make fertilizer recommendations based on what is being grown. We give results in N-P-K format, and also provide organic alternatives.

We get calls year round from customers asking if they can submit a soil sample, and the answer is always yes! You can submit a soil sample any time of the year, we receive soils from throughout the country (although we have to be careful of areas under certain quarantines). Generally, it only takes around a week from when we receive a sample for us to send out the results. As you might imagine, Spring is an extreme exception. We are so busy and backed up with thousands of soil samples right now, we are expecting a 3 week turn-around time. We understand that everyone is eager to get their hands dirty and work on their lawns and gardens, but waiting until Spring to submit soil samples isn’t the best idea.

Continue reading….

Internship Available – Fall 2019

Community & Economic Development Paid Internship Summer – Fall 2019 – Connecticut Economic Development Association Best Practices Program

Naugatuck Greenway
Naugatuck Greenway

The Connecticut Economic Development Association (CEDAS) is seeking an intern to assist with all aspects of implementation of a new community Best Practices program pilot.  The intern will be involved program’s implementation and will work closely with economic development professionals through the Connecticut Economic Development Association, the state’s only organization for economic development professionals, including opportunities to attend regular professional board meetings and CEDAS events. The intern will specifically be involved with implementation of an innovative economic development pilot program called “Connecticut Best Practices in Land Use and Economic Development.” This program was developed to set a standard for best practices in economic development and land use among communities in Connecticut, recognize communities that document the use of established best practices, and drive communities to pursue excellence in land use and economic development practices.  Partners on the program include the Connecticut Economic Development Association with the Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association and University of Connecticut Programs in Community & Economic Development. More information at https://www.cedas.org/Resources/CT-Best-Practices-In-Land-Use-and-Economic-Development/

Tasks will include but are not limited to researching and documenting similar programs and best practices, creating written and online educational materials, assisting with development and assessment of program evaluation, communicating with applying communities, assisting with application management, and providing regular reporting to the CEDAS board of directors. Students applying for this internship must have a demonstrated interest in state and municipal community and economic development programs and policy.  Students with backgrounds in geography, economics, business, geography, public policy, and urban studies are strongly encouraged to apply but other areas of study will be considered. The successful candidate will demonstrate excellent verbal and written communication skills and an ability to manage her/himself professionally in a community setting.  This will be a remote internship (no office space will be provided) so the candidate must also demonstrate an ability to self manage her/his work plan, adapt to changing circumstances and opportunities as the program evolves, and solve problems,  A computer or laptop and internet access as well as a vehicle for occasional travel are required to complete this internship. The intern will be overseen by Laura Brown, Community and Economic Development Educator with UConn Extension with additional guidance from the Best Practices steering committee and the CEDAS board. This will be a part-time (approximately 10 hours per week) remote internship for a maximum of 120 hours to start as soon as possible for Summer into Fall 2019.  Hourly pay is $25.

Apply by submitting a cover letter explaining your course of study and why you are interested in the internship, writing sample, resume, transcript, and three references to Laura Brown, laura.brown@uconn.edu by May 24, 2019.  Please reference the CEDAS INTERNSHIP/  Applicants will be considered on a rolling basis. Open until filled.

Trail Etiquette 101

bicycle on trailHeaded out on the trails? Trail safety and etiquette is vital on our trails for all users, including bicyclists, hikers, and equestrians. Be courteous to other trail users. Here are some simple steps to follow.

What does “Yield” mean?

Yielding means slow down, establish communication, be prepared to stop if necessary, and pass in a safe and friendly manner.

All Trail Users

  • Avoid Wet Trails. Minimize trail erosion and ecological impact around wet trails by walking/ biking/riding through the center of the trail, even if muddy, to keep the trail narrow.
  • Stay on the Trail. Do not go off trail (even to pass), create new trails, or cut switchbacks. Narrow trails mean less environmental impact and happier critters.
  • Respect. If you offer respect, you are more likely to receive it. All user groups have rights and responsibilities to our trails, and to each other.
  • Don’t Block the Trail. When taking a break, move to the side of the trail.
  • Smile. Greet. Nod. Every user on the trail is a fellow nature lover. Be friendly and expect to see other folks around every corner.
  • Travel on the right side of the trail, and pass on the left.
  • Remain Attentive. If you wear headphones, keep the volume down, or only wear one earpiece so you can hear other trail users.
  • Expect the Unexpected. Humans and animals can be unpredictable.

For Walkers, Hikers, Runners

  • Keep dogs on a short leash. Other trail users may be frightened by dogs or be unsure how to pass safely.
  • Dog poop on the trail is a major complaint among other trail users. Clean up after your dog, and take the waste home to dispose it. UConn Extension educator Dave Dickson explains why it’s important to scoop poop: http://s.uconn.edu/4gg.
  • Yield to equestrians.

For Bicyclists

  • You move fast – and many other trail users will be startled, especially if you approach from behind. Greet other trail users early to alert them of your presence.
  • Anticipate other trail users around blind corners.
  • Yield to hikers and equestrians.

For Equestrians

  • Communicate your needs. Most people aren’t familiar with horses and are intimidated by them – let other trail users know what will help make the situation safer for everyone.
  • Slow down to a walk to pass other trail users.
  • Clean up any manure your horse may leave at trail heads and on trails whenever possible.

Download the brochure: http://bit.ly/TrailEtq 

This message is brought to you by the UConn Extension PATHS team – People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability. We are an interdisciplinary team of University of Connecticut extension educators, faculty, and staff committed to understanding and promoting the benefits of trails and natural resources for health, community & economic development and implementing a social ecological approach to health education.

Real Farmers – Real Risks: Sentiments from Sheldon Family Farms

Real Farmers – Real Risks: Sentiments from Steve Sheldon of Sheldon Mel & Sheldon Family Farms

Article by Evan Lentz

Steve Sheldon, along with his family, own and operate two farms in Connecticut, one in Suffield and one in East Granby. Together, they have over 100 acres of hay, 150 acres of corn, 7 acres of broadleaf tobacco, and 8 acres of mixed vegetables. Steve Sheldon sat down to speak with UConn Extension about the importance of crop insurance and the role that it plays for him and his family on their two farms. Steve was not shy, stating right away that crop insurance is absolutely important to his operation, “There have been years that I’ve lost a crop and without crop insurance we wouldn’t be able to grow the following year because of outstanding debt. It’s an absolute necessity”. For Steve, he chooses to insure his two largest expenses, which are the grain corn and broadleaf tobacco, “We just can’t take the risk when we have a lot of money out on the crop”.

 

To get a better idea of the specific role that crop insurance plays at the Sheldon farms, Steve explains his operating strategy for tobacco production. “We take out an operating loan for tobacco production from Farm Credit and they won’t even give you a loan unless you have the crop insured”, he says. In the case of tobacco at Sheldon Farm, crop insurance has become a necessity unless they find a way to fund the crop themselves. Steve goes on to explain that the tobacco is a high-risk crop, “I’ve had to used it in the past. Blue mold can come and wipe your crop out, hail too”. He explains that the process is simple, stating the agents make it easy, “When you meet with an agent, they help you plan for your farm: What percentage coverage you want, what the cost will be per acre, and what you’re covered for.” Steve explains the process, “If you do have a loss, you simply file a notification of loss. An agent will come out to your farm to assess the damage, calculate the loss and cut you a check.” He makes it sound easy and stress free which is great considering a crop loss is stressful enough. 

Steve gave us his final thoughts on crop insurance, “I wouldn’t grow tobacco without it, even the grain corn. I haven’t had to use it yet on the corn, but if I had a loss, I know that I’d be covered.” And as far as advice for those seeking crop insurance? Steve says, “Choose a high enough option, to cover all of your expenses. That way, even if there is a total loss, at least your expenses will be covered”. For more information about crop insurance plans, please contact your local Extension office. And to watch Steve’s whole video on crop insurance visit the UConn Extension’s RMA website at http://ctfarmrisk.uconn.edu under the Resource Library Tab.

Private Well Water Testing

dripping tapPrivate wells provide water to 820,000 people in Connecticut, approximately 23% of the population’s water supply comes from private wells according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health. These wells are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, although Local Health Departments do have the authority over the proper siting and construction of private wells. It is the responsibility of the well owners to test the quality of the water—it is recommended that you perform a Basic Indicators Test once a year. Additionally, if you notice a difference in taste, color, odor, or clarity contact your Local Health Department for assistance. Well water testing can be done for bacteriological elements, trace metals and minerals, pesticides and herbicides, and organic and inorganic chemicals. Click here to read about what elements you should test for and how frequently.

After your water is tested you should document the date of the test and the results. The EPA has established standards for maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) and the CT DPH has set action levels for certain contaminants. Should your results come back high you should retest the water to verify the results, stop drinking the water until the issue is resolved, and contact your Local Health Department for advice moving forward.

You can get your well water tested at state certified testing facilities. Procedures vary depending on the facility that is being used. Some facilities will send a technician to the location to take a sample and bring it back to the lab for testing. Other facilities allow for the homeowner to collect a sample. It is important to follow their instructions to ensure the proper collection practices and prevent contamination. Proper maintenance and operation of your well water system is important for protecting the water quality. Check out this best management practice checklist for private well owners.

Originally published by the Eastern Highlands Health District

Is Your Well Water Contaminated?

faucet with running water
Photo: Kara Bonsack

Is your well water contaminated with road salt? Dr. Mike Dietz of the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources talked to NBC Connecticut last week about how we can reduce contamination.

“‘This is a worldwide problem. It’s a really big problem in the United States because the amount of salt that we’ve been applying has been increasing dramatically over the past few decades,’ he said.

Dietz says the only solution is to apply less salt. Over the winter, a UConn pilot program showed encouraging results, and saved the university $300,000.”

Read the full story:

GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future

GMO panel flyer

GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future

Wednesday, April 24th

7 PM, UConn Student Union Theater, Storrs, CT

Finding understandable science-based information on GMOs is challenging for the public. Our project goal is to bridge the information gap surrounding GMOs with farmers and the general public.

Moderator: Dean Indrajeet Chaubey, UConn CAHNR

Speakers:

  • Paul Vincelli, Extension Professor & Provost Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Kentucky (focus area: overview of risks and benefits of genetically engineered crops)
  • Robert C. Bird, Professor of Business Law and Eversource Energy Chair in Business Ethics, UConn School of Business (focus area: Ethical/Legal/Social Implications of GMOs)
  • Yi Li, Professor, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, UConn CAHNR, (focus area: GMO technologies/CRISPR)
  • Gerry Berkowitz, Professor, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, UConn CAHNR (focus area: GMOs and big agriculture in the US?)

Download the flyer.pdf.

The event is free, but RSVPs are appreciated.

It’s Spring – Head Outside!

picture of a bridge on a trail that says let's be adventurers

Finally the weather is getting warmer and we can wake up from our winter hibernation. With milder temperatures, heading outside is a great plan. We are fortunate to live in Connecticut and have access to many beautiful parks, beaches and trails.  Here are some moderate to vigorous activities to get us started in the right direction for the Spring season. Hope to see you out there!

https://www.eatright.org/fitness/exercise/workout-ideas/spring-into-action

This message is brought to you by the UConn Extension PATHS team – People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability. We are an interdisciplinary team of University of Connecticut extension educators, faculty, and staff committed to understanding and promoting the benefits of trails and natural resources for health, community & economic development and implementing a social ecological approach to health education

Join UConn for a Panel Presentation on GMOs

UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources is offering two events on the science of GMOs next week that we welcome you to attend.

GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future is on Wednesday, April 24th in the UConn Student Union Theater on the Storrs Campus at 7 PM.

The panel features four experts that have research connections to GMOs, and will be moderated by Dean Indrajeet Chaubey from the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. Panel topics include the risks and benefits of genetically engineered crops; ethical, legal, and social implications of GMOs; CRISPR and other GMO technologies; and the future of GMOs and big agriculture. It’s open to anyone interested in attending.

The goal of the panel presentation is to provide science-based, and unbiased information on GMOs, and the misinformation around them. The panelists will present information in a non-science format for those unfamiliar with the terminology and nuances of the subjects.

GMOs: Answering Difficult Questions from your Customers is being held on Thursday, April 25th at 7 PM at the Tolland County Extension Center, 24 Hyde Avenue, in Vernon.

This presentation is specifically for farmers, but all are welcome to attend. Dr. Paul Vincelli from the University of Kentucky will give a presentation on the risks and benefits of GMOs, and answering questions about GMOs. His presentation will be followed by a question and answer session.

Both events are free for anyone to attend, but registration is requested for planning purposes. For more information on the events, or to register please visit https://gmo.uconn.edu/events/ or call 860-486-9228.