Environment

Bug Out with UConn Extension

insect imageUConn Extension’s Bug Week is buzzing from July 21 to July 31 with programs for the entire family.

All ages are welcome to attend and explore the activities and events dedicated to insects and their relatives. Bug Week programs include the following:

  • Join UConn Extension faculty,  Spring Valley Student Farm staff and students for an interactive ‘”Insect Wonders at the Farm” event on Wednesday, July 31 from 10 a.m. until noon at 1327 Stafford Rd., Mansfield, CT.  Learn about our amazing and important insect friends by collecting and observing them. Activities for the whole family will include insect collecting, insect-inspired crafts, Bug-Bingo and a scavenger hunt.
  • Be our guest on Thursday, July 25 from noon until 4 p.m. at the UConn Biology/Physics building and the EEB greenhouses on the Storrs campus to tour the Biodiversity Research Collections and greenhouses.  Learn how to identify insects, view a short film, visit the Army Ant Guest exhibit and the live ant colony.  This event has something for everyone with fun giveaways and very special Dairy Bar ice cream.
  • Learn about insects and where to look for them by participating in Bug Walks at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon on Saturday, July 27 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.  The program will three bug hunts in the butterfly/pollinator garden and the vegetable garden as well as live insect displays and part of the insect collection from the UConn Natural History Museum.
  • The Connecticut Science Center will be buzzing with programs to celebrate Bug Week from Monday, July 22 through Saturday, July 27.  Spend time in the tropical Butterfly Encounter, participate in bug-themed Live Science programming, hear a bug themed story during Story Time, and be sure to explore what is flying around the Rooftop Garden.

UConn Extension offices are located across the state and offer an array of services dedicated to educating and informing the public on innovative technology and scientific improvements. Bug Week is one example of UConn Extension’s mission in tying research to real life, by addressing insects and some of their relatives.

For more information on Bug Week, please visit our website at www.bugs.uconn.edu, email bugweek@uconn.edu or call 860-486-9228.

Conservation Planning

aerial view of Connecticut River and agricultural fieldsExcess fertilizer use and inefficient nutrient management strategies often are causes of water quality impairment in the United States. When excess nitrogen enters large water bodies it enhances algae growth and when that algae decomposes, hypoxic conditions—often called a “dead zone” occur.

Nutrients carried to the Long Island Sound have been linked to the seasonal hypoxic conditions in the Sound. There are many different sources of nutrients within the Long Island Sound Watershed, an area encompassing parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. These sources include municipalities, industry, agriculture, forests, residential lawns and septic systems.

The Long Island Sound Watershed Regional Conservation Partnership Program (LISW-RCPP) is a technical and financial assistance program that enables agricultural producers and forest landowners to install and maintain conservation practices. The goal of this program is to enhance natural resources and improve water quality. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the LISW-RCPP supports efforts that find common ground among agricultural producers and conservation organizations in working towards the sustainable use of soil, water, and other natural resources.

Conservation practices can achieve multiple positive environmental outcomes, including water quality improvement. A widemap imagery for conservation planning for farms variety of practices exist including in-field (cover crops, reduced tillage, diversified rotation and nutrient management), and edge-of-field strategies (grassed water ways, buffer strips, riparian area, bioreactors and wetlands). These changes, in turn improves nitrogen retention during vulnerable leaching periods in the spring and fall. Conservation strategies also function to safeguard other ecosystem roles, such as carbon sequestration, animal refuge habitat, fisheries and recreation.

Prioritizing areas for nutrient management strategies requires an understanding of the spatial relationships between land use and impaired surface waterbodies. Our project utilizes a geographic information systems (GIS) based approach to under- stand and act upon these important spatial relationships. In part, we are identifying contemporary and historical hotspots of agricultural land use by using satellite- derived land use land cover (LULC) classifications initially developed by
the University of Connecticut’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR). Spatial analyses depicting the proximity of agriculture to highly valued water resources (both surface and ground- water) serves as the foundational work that informs where efforts to protect and restore water quality will be most impactful to the greater Long Island Sound Watershed.

Our future work will pair spatial maps with modeled contemporary and historical nutrient loading patterns to expand regions of interest. Our goal is to provide education and tools that help farmers realize the benefits of sustainable agriculture with individual conservation plans tailored to their specific needs and objectives. Connecticut’s environment of diverse crops and farms offers unique opportunities and challenges. UConn Extension is offering soil tests and interpretations to assess each farm’s nutrient needs. We look forward to co-creating knowledge with farmers and developing soil health solutions for long-term production goals and resilient farms.

Article by Katherine Van Der Woude and Kevin Jackson

STEM Education for Teens, Adults, and Teachers

nrca students in waterThe Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA) is a group of three linked projects that focus on connecting STEM education for high school students with natural resource conservation at the local level. With over 130 land trusts in the state and each of its 169 municipalities having a Conservation Commission, Connecticut has a long history of local conservation. NRCA provides an assist to these efforts, while educating students and teachers about the science and issues surrounding natural resource protection. The TPL is joined by the foundational NRCA project, the Conservation Ambassador Program (CAP), and the Conservation Training Partnership (CTP). CAP brings high school students from around the state to campus for a week-long intensive field experience at the UConn main campus, from which they return home to partner with a community organization on a conservation project of their own design. CTP moves around the state for two-day training of adult-student teams that teaches them about smart phone mapping applications and their use in conservation. The teams then return and implement a conservation project. Together the three programs have educated 308 participants and resulted in 187 local conservation projects in 105 towns, involving 119 community partner organizations.

Article by Chet Arnold

Teacher Professional Learning: Professional Development Workshop

teachers during a workshopUConn Extension is leading a project that provides high school science teachers from across the state with a head start on a new way of teaching. Over the past two summers, 48 teachers from 38 school districts attended the 3-day Teacher Professional Learning (TPL) workshop, Land and Water.

The training, funded by a USDA/NIFA grant, was developed and is taught by Extension faculty from the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) and partners from the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering, and the Neag School of Education. This formidable partnership conducts three inter-related STEM projects collectively known as the Natural Resources Conservation Academy.

Connecticut is one of 19 states to date that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), an ambitious new way of teaching science that was developed by  a consortium of states and nonprofit science organizations including the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Research Council. Connecticut school districts are still in the very early stages of adopting NGSS method- ologies, and many teachers are eager for educational units and techniques that fit NGSS standards.

The main focus of the UConn workshop is the relationship of land use to water resource health, and the use of online mapping and other geospatial tools to help explore these relationships—particular strengths of the CLEAR team. The UConn campus and surrounding area provide an ideal outdoor laboratory to explore these concepts. Attendees sample three streams within about a mile of campus, all with very different characteristics based on the predominant land use of their respective watersheds—agriculture, urban, and forest. They then come back to the classroom, study their results, and compare notes to get a sense of the importance of land use in determining the health of a water body. Also used in the instruction is the campus itself, which has become a showcase of low impact development (LID) practices designed to reduce the impact of stormwater runoff on local streams. After learning about LID and touring the green roofs, rain gardens, and pervious pavements across campus, the participants visit a nearby campus build- ing and devise their own plan for LID installation. The workshop also introduces them to online mapping and watershed analysis tools that enable them to focus in on their own town, watershed or even high school campus, thus using their community waterways as a teaching tool.

Teachers leave the training with a wide variety of resources to help them in the classroom, not the least of which is their personal experience working through these topics with the Extension instructional team. In addition, the Neag members of the team have developed a 25-unit lesson plan that follows the educational progression of the workshop; teachers are encouraged to adapt all or part of the lesson plan for their use. Of the latest (summer 2018) class of 25 teachers, 100% said that the training was relevant to their classroom instruction, that the training was time well-invested, and that they would recommend the training to other teachers. Research is ongoing on how many teachers implemented all or part of the curriculum, and how it played out with their students. Although the project plan was for two workshops, they have been so well received that the team is holding a third TPL training in the summer of 2019 and is looking for resources that would enable them to continue this program for the foreseeable future.

Article by Chet Arnold

Risk Management Tools: Helping Connecticut Farms Grow

Horsebarn Hill at UConn
A view of Horsebarn Hill at sunrise on July 20, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

“Agriculture is inherently a risk filled profession,” says Associate Extension Educator Joseph Bonelli. “Utilizing risk management is a tool for farmers to minimize the impacts of threats they can’t completely control by reducing the impact of certain dangers on their farm business.”

UConn Extension has a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Risk Management Association (RMA) grant for farmers and growers, specifically focusing on crop insurance and its options. USDA offers fewer disaster assistance funds, and wants farmers to take a greater interest in managing their risks and related financial impacts. The program is designed to create a safety net for operations through insurance for weather incidents, pests, or a lack of market.

The beauty of the programming is that Extension educators can weave in other topics of interest in areas of risk management for farmers. Examples include production risk, plant diseases, or labor. RMA covers any practice that mitigates risk on a farm operation.

“I enjoy helping farmers develop solutions to problems,” Bonelli states. “I ask them what keeps them up at night. For many farmers its problems that risk management can help them mitigate. Extension helps farmers understand the tools that are available, and grow the farm for the next generation.”

Mary Concklin, Visiting Associate Extension Educator for Fruit Production and IPM, is the co- principal investigator on the RMA grant with Bonelli. An advisory board of 12 people meets annually to provide input on programming. Members of the committee include Extension educators, Farm Bureau, the Department of Agriculture, and industry organizations.

Programs offered include workshops and one-on-one sessions with technical advisors. The RMA program has a suite of educational resources. A video series was created featuring farmers from different sectors of agriculture discussing how crop insurance has helped their operation. A monthly e-newsletter was recently introduced. Each issue showcases a farmer, and provides tips that farmers can immediately put into practice.

Agricultural producers appreciate that RMA programs have an impartial approach, and are not trying to sell anything. Program instructors serve as technical advisors and a sounding board.

UConn Extension is part of a network of information through our association with other land grant universities and Extension systems, and brings in outside expertise as it’s needed by our farmers. Risk management is also incorporated into other UConn Extension programs for agricultural producers.

Connecticut farmers have experienced a tremendous shift from wholesale to retail marketing. The demands on farmers and growers to understand how to promote and market value added crops has added another level of responsibility, where before farmers only focused on production. Direct marketing brings another whole area of risk through product liability and competition.

Not all national crop insurance programs fit Connecticut agriculture. Farmers need to make an informed decision
based on the facts as to whether or not a policy fits their business, and should be purchased. Bonelli and Concklin provide feedback to USDA on the reasons why Connecticut farmers choose not to purchase insurance, with the goal of improv- ing federal programs available.

“We try to be on the leading edge of what’s new to help farmers be more productive and financially viable,” Bonelli concludes. “It’s rewarding that UConn Extension is part of the success and resiliency of farmers in our state. No one organization is responsible, we’re part of a team working with the farmers to grow their businesses.”

Article by Stacey Stearns

Natural Pesticide Issues

pink roses in a natural garden in West Hartford
Roses in a garden in West Hartford. Photo: Max Pixel

As the gardening season gets underway, lots of homemade weed-killer “recipes” are cropping up on social media, usually containing some combination of vinegar, Epsom salts, and Dawn dishwashing soap. These are often accompanied by a comment such as “no need for pesticides or herbicides!” It may feel good to use familiar household items to control pests and weeds in your garden, but it’s important to understand the science behind such mixes – and the potential risks.

First and foremost, these mixtures ARE pesticides or herbicides. They are intended to kill a pest, in this case weeds.

Now, let’s look at the science:

Vinegar is an acid. At the right concentration, it damages by burning any part of a plant it comes in contact with. If the plant is in the ground, it does NOT get the root; many plants will grow back. It is non-selective, meaning it will damage any plant it touches, including desired ones. Household vinegar is 5% acetic acid; to be effective on anything other than tiny seedlings the concentration needs to be at least 10%. Horticultural-grade vinegar is 20% and can carry a “Danger – caustic” signal word, which is stronger than many other herbicides on the market.

Salts work by desiccating plants – again, all parts of the plant it touches. Salts, however, build up in the soil and can harm desired plants nearby. Since most homemade recipes need repeated application to be effective, the salts will build up. Epsom salts are touted because they contain magnesium instead of sodium, but too much magnesium will interfere with phosphorus uptake.

Dawn detergent is not a naturally-occurring substance. It, like any soap, is used as a sticker agent, helping the other materials stay on the plant longer. It contains methylisothiazolinone, which has acute aquatic toxicity and 1,4-dioxane, which is a known groundwater contaminant with carcinogenic properties.

These may be do-it-yourself recipes, but they definitely are not natural.

An additional issue with home recipes is the variability of the mix. Many don’t even have specific measurements. Also, because home remedies are often perceived as “safer”, a person may choose to increase the concentrations, changing the potential environmental risk.

Many of these recipes do indeed kill – or at least reduce – weeds and unwanted vegetation. But they also have collateral impacts, some of which may be significant.

The garden center shelves have changed in the last several years. There are now many naturally-derived pesticides on the market, which have been tested for effectiveness, are labelled as to their environmental impact and deliver a consistent product every time. They generally are safer to use and pose less environmental risk than many of the older synthetic materials – the same goal of homemade mixes. Look for products that are OMRI certified. The Organic Materials Review Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides an independent review of products, such as fertilizers and pest controls that are intended for use in organic production.

For more information, please contact the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program. Find the location nearest you at https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ or email Sarah.Bailey@uconn.edu.

Article by Sarah Bailey, State Coordinator, UConn Extension Master Gardener Program

Connecticut Institute of Water Resources

photo of a stream taken by UConn student Molly Cunninghma
Photo: Molly Cunningham

What do taking a trip to the beach, testing a well, and planting a new garden have in common? You guessed it—water. UConn is home to a state-wide organization focused on providing Connecticut’s citizens with information and research about all the water resources we encounter in our daily lives.

As the state’s land grant university, UConn’s College of Agriculture Health and Natural Resources became the home of the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources (CTIWR) in 1964, and it is housed in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. The institute seeks to resolve state and regional water related problems and provide a strong connection between water resource managers and the academic community. CTIWR also shares water-related research and other information with the general public to bridge the gap between scientists and the community.

The institute is currently expanding and focusing more attention on community outreach with the arrival of new center director, Michael Dietz.

“Our goal is to increase visibility of the water research in language that the general public can understand and use in their daily lives,” says Dietz. “We want to become a one-stop shop for information about all kinds of water-related issues. Where can you go to get your water tested, up to date information about drought or water quality around the state, in addition to research reports and funding opportunities for scientists.”

Recent projects explored leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous from lawns, relationships between metals and organic matter in soils, and quantifying the impact of road salts on wetlands in Eastern Connecticut.

“UConn has some really talented water researchers from different disciplines who can help citizens in our state better understand issues that affect our water resources. Through CTIWR, we’ll make sure that these experts and citizens can come together, speak the same language, and learn from one another.”

Article by Jessica McBride, PhD

Reducing Winter Road Salt Use

snow plow on a street in Connecticut during winter stormExtension educator Mike Dietz focuses on protecting surface waters with green infrastructure techniques in his research and Extension work. Mike has been involved in the development of the Green Snow Pro program, and he is the Director of the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources.

The scientific studies continue to pile up, and confirm the same thing: road salt is causing lots of problems in our streams and groundwater. The majority of salt applied is sodium chloride, also known as rock salt. In the absence of a new “miracle” deicer, salt will continue to be the most cost effective product for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the only way to reduce the impacts will be to reduce the amount that gets applied, while still keeping surfaces safe for travel.

New Hampshire began the “Green Snow Pro” voluntary salt applicator certification program to train municipal public works employees and private con- tractors. This training includes information about the science of salt, the downstream impacts of salt, how to properly apply given weather conditions, and how to calibrate equipment. An additional key component of the New Hampshire program is limited liability release: a property owner who hires a Green Snow Pro certified contracted has liability protection from slip and fall litigation.

Given the success of the program in New Hampshire, the Technology Transfer (T2) Center at UConn gathered professionals from UConn Extension, Connecticut Department of Transportation, Connecticut Department of Public Health, municipal public works, and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to adapt the program here in Connecticut. A pilot of the training was per- formed here at UConn in November 2017. UConn public works staff received a classroom and spreader calibration training. Mike Dietz maintains a monitoring station on Eagleville Brook downstream of campus. He was able to compare the amount of salt in runoff for the winter after the training, as compared to prior years (correcting for the number of storms). Substantial reductions were found: over 2,600 less tons of salt were used during the 2017- 2018 season, corrected for the number of storms. This resulted in a savings of over $313,000 in salt costs alone! A summary of these findings is currently under review at the Journal of Extension.

The statewide implementation of the Green Snow Pro program in Connecticut has begun: during the fall of 2018 the T2 center gave two separate trainings for municipal public works crews and more are being scheduled for this year. The group will continue to meet to work on the liability protection here in Connecticut, as well as expanding the offering to private contractors.

This effort has been a great collaboration of UConn educators, regulators, and public works professionals. The success of this program highlights the fact that education truly can have lasting environmental benefits.

Article by Mike Dietz

Living Shoreline Planted in Stonington

group working on living shoreline students planting in Stonington group from living shoreline living shoreline planting

 

The tidal marsh migration buffer at Dodge Paddock Beal Preserve in Stonington was planted on Friday May 3, 2019. With a stalwart group of dedicated volunteers, over 100 native plants were put in. This area borders a coastal wetland and the plants need to be able to withstand occasional salt spray as well as possible inundation during extreme storm events. This part of the preserve, owned by Avalonia Land Conservancy, was formally a cultivated garden. Garden plants were removed and the area was covered in black plastic last summer to kill any remaining roots and seeds. The area was seeded with native grasses in the fall of 2018 with a planned spring planting. As sea level rises, areas within the preserve are getting wetter and wetter, so native plants were carefully chosen to withstand wetland migration.

By Juliana Barrett