Environment

Soil pH – The Master Variable

The UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab tests for and analyzes multiple soil parameters; but none as critical, and as often overlooked, as pH. Soil pH plays a crucial role in the growth of vegetation planted, as well as ground water quality. Before we start talking about soil pH, I think it is a good idea to try to define what exactly pH is, and how it is determined.

When most of us think of pH, a pool probably comes to mind. I remember growing up, watching my mother apply different chemicals to our pool, and impatiently wondering why I had to wait to go swimming. She would tell me that she was adjusting the pH of the water to ensure it was safe to swim in. The basic understanding is that pH is tells us how acidic, neutral, or alkaline something is. To get a little more technical, pH is the measurement of the activity of Hydrogen Ions (H+) in an aqueous solution. The equation for determining and quantifying pH is:

pH = -log10 (aH+)

(aH+= Hydrogen Ion Activity in Moles/L)

We express pH on a logarithmic scale of 0-14, where 0-6 is considered “acidic”, 7 is “neutral”, and 8-14 is “basic”.

soil pH scale
Image from: http://www.edu.pe.ca/gulfshore/Archives/ACIDSBAS/scipage.htm

Mineral soil pH values generally range from 3.0 – 10.0. There are numerous factors that determine soil pH including climate, parent material, weathering, relief, and time. Texture and organic matter content also influence soil pH. Most Connecticut soils are naturally acidic. Nutrient availability is directly influenced by pH with most plants (with some exceptions) thriving at pH values between 6 and 7. A majority of nutrients are available within this range.

Our lab measures pH using an 1:1 soil-to-DI water ratio. The saturated soil paste is mixed, then is analyzed using a glass electrode and a pH meter. We calibrate our meter using 2 solutions with known pH values, 4 and 7. We use these values because we expect most Connecticut soils to fall within this range. Once the initial pH value is obtained, a buffering agent is added. In our lab we use the Modified Mehlich Buffer. A second pH reading is obtained, and from these two values plus crop information, we are able to make limestone and/or sulfur recommendations.

The Buffering Capacity of a soil is the resistance it has to change in pH. Soil buffering is controlled by its Cation-Exchange-Capacity, Aluminum content (in acidic soils), organic matter content, and texture. A soil with a lot of organic matter and clay will have a higher buffering capacity than one with little organic matter that is mostly sandy.

If the soil pH is lower than the target range for a particular plant, limestone would be recommended. Whether you use pelletized, ground or granular limestone, the application rate would be the same. Once the target pH is reached, a maintenance application of 50 lbs/1000 sq ft would be applied every other year to maintain it.

If the soil pH is higher than desired, sulfur recommendations are made. Typically only powdered sulfur is available locally but granular sulfur could be mail ordered. Aluminum sulfate can be substituted for sulfur and used at a higher rate. Check out this listof preferred pH ranges for many common plants.

Monitoring your soil pH is essential to ensure that it is falling within the range best suited for the vegetation you are growing. The Standard Nutrient Analysis performed at our lab gives you a pH value, a buffer pH value, a lime/sulfur recommendation, available micro & macro nutrient levels, and a fertilizer recommendation. For more information on pH, you can contact Dawn or myself (Joe) at the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab (www.soiltest.uconn.edu). Test, don’t guess!

By Joe C.

CT’s First Stormwater Utility

Earlier this summer, New London became the first municipality in Connecticut to establish a stormwater utility which goes into effect January 1, 2019.  This means they will begin charging all property owners a fee for their contribution to the city’s stormwater runoff.  Previously, New London relied on property taxes to fund maintenance of their stormwater infrastructure which includes all the storm drains and underground pipes that carry runoff from buildings, streets, and parking lots into nearby waterbodies.  This model has left much of the city’s stormwater management efforts significantly underfunded.  By charging stormwater fees, New London, a small city with many tax-exempt properties, is securing a dedicated funding source to pay for maintaining their stormwater infrastructure and complying with other management efforts, like public outreach, removing illegal discharges from the stormwater system and sampling stormwater discharge for pollutants.

New London may be the only stormwater utility in Connecticut but not in New England. According to a 2016 survey of U.S. stormwater utilities by Western Kentucky University, 3 New England states were home to established stormwater utilities: Maine (5), Vermont (3), and Massachusetts (7).  But outside our region, these utilities have become much more common.  Overall, the U.S. had nearly 1,600 stormwater utilities led by Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin each having more than 100 a piece.  Clearly, there are many states (including some with reputations of having less stringent regulatory environments than CT) that have already embraced stormwater utilities as a practical way to pay for strong municipal stormwater management programs.

stormwater utilities map
Number of Stormwater Utilities in every state. From Western Kentucky University Stormwater Utility Survey 2016.

By Amanda Ryan

 

A Marsh Migration Buffer Takes Shape

Dodge Paddock Beal Preserve is a small oasis in Stonington Borough and is owned by Avalonia Land Conservancy. With tidal wetlands, coastal grassland and a rocky intertidal area, the area has much to offer visitors. The preserve has been the focus of many efforts involving the land trust, CT Dept of Energy and Environmental Protection, Mystic Aquarium and Connecticut Sea Grant. Superstorm Sandy (2012) had significant impacts to the site with both physical (seawall damage) and ecological impacts. Work by Avalonia, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Mystic Aquarium have focused on restoration and management of the tidal wetland with extensive regrading, Phragmites australiscontrol work and planting of native marsh vegetation. Other significant site work includes grassland management to control invasive plants in upland areas.

Landward of the tidal wetland, numerous questions have arisen with the upland habitats. The Beal Family maintained several beautiful, large gardens as a condition of their land donation. Mrs. Beal recently passed away, so Avalonia needed to determine how to manage a large area of the property bordering the wetlands. Given the proximity of the formal gardens to the marsh, projections of sea level rise of approximately 20 inches by 2050, and observations indicating that the marsh is migrating landward in parts of the Preserve, the creation of a marsh migration buffer seems to be the most prudent approach. With a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Long Island Sound Futures Fund, we are moving forward with the creation of such a buffer.

Land Trust Steward, Beth Sullivan, led the clearing of the formal gardens by having local garden clubs, neighbors and friends come in and remove plants which included everything from fennel to canna lilies. More volunteers pulled roots and cleared as much as possible. Then we covered the gardens with black plastic, letting it “solarize” over the summer months. After much planning and determining what plants would work best, we planted the new buffer on Oct 19th. A hardy crew of volunteers rolled up the plastic, raked and leveled the gardens and then sowed seeds with a mix of native coastal grass species. We were also fortunate to obtain seeds for several native species that had been collected several years ago by the New England Wildflower Society as part of their Seeds of Successprogram. Seeds of native species that were collected locally include switch grass and little bluestem as well as herbaceous perennials such as tall goldenrod. Other donations included milkweed seeds and root balls of joe pye weed from local gardens.

people walking with plastic uncovering ground
Removal of the plastic sheeting that was used to solarize the area over the summer months. Photo by J. Benson Oct 19, 2018

spreading mulch over dirt and seed
Seeded area is covered with a thin layer of straw for the winter months. Photo by J. Benson Oct 19, 2018

 

So now we can wait out the winter months and hope for a fruitful spring. While marsh migration with sea level rise is very slow, we are hoping to develop a coastal grassland/meadow that will be an ecologically productive habitat.

By Juliana Barrett

Nitrogen – The Fix

corn
Chlorotic corn. Image provided by T. Morris, 2018

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient required for the production and growth of all plants, vegetation, and living organisms. It makes up 78% of our atmosphere; however, that only accounts for 2% of the Nitrogen on our planet. The remaining 98% can be found within the Earth’s lithosphere; the crust and outer mantel. The Nitrogen found within the nonliving and living fractions of soil represents an unimaginably low fraction of a percentage of all the Nitrogen on our planet. That tiny percent of all total Nitrogen found in our soils is what we can interact with to help or hinder plant production.

To be considered an essential nutrient, an element must satisfy certain criteria:

  • Plants cannot complete their life cycles without it.
  • Its role must be specific and defined, with no other element being able to completely substitute for it.
  • It must be directly involved in the nutrition of the plant, meaning that it is a constituent of a metabolic pathway of an essential enzyme.

In plants, Nitrogen is necessary in the formation of amino acids, nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), proteins, chlorophyll, and coenzymes. Nitrogen gives plants their lush, green color while promoting succulent growth and hastens maturity. When plants do not receive adequate Nitrogen, the leaves and tissues develop chlorosis. However, over-application of Nitrogen can cause even more problems, including delayed maturity, higher disease indigence, lower tolerance to environmental stresses, reduced carbohydrate reserves, and poor root development.

Read more….

Pesticide Safety Educator Receives Award

Candace and teammates receive their pesticide safety award at the impact collaborative
Candace Bartholomew (far left) and team members receive their award at the eXtension Impact Collaborative.

Indianapolis, IN. A NPSEC team comprised of staff and PSEP coordinators that are members of the Respirator Collaboration Team participated in eXtension’s Impact Collaborative Summit in Indianapolis from October 16th – 18th. The purpose of the Summit was for institutional and national Extension teams to bring projects and programs from various topic areas to find new and innovative ways to move their projects and programs forward with the help of the Impact Collaborative Innovation process, Key Informants, and partner/supporting organizations. 32 teams representing 40 institutions attended.

Working from where they left off at the 2018 National Pesticide Applicator Certification and Safety Education Workshop in San Antonio this past August, the NPSEC Team focused on finding innovative ways to get Collaboration Teams off the ground. The three-day event culminated in a PitchFest, where the team presented their project idea to eXtension and Cooperative Extension leaders, along with external partner and supporting organizations.

As a result of the PitchFest, the NPSEC team won an award in the Most Fundable Project or Program category that has earned the team recognition and a strategic partnership with the eXtension Partner Development Team. The goal is to raise $20,000 for each of NPSEC’s five identified collaboration teams to develop educational materials which have been identified as urgently needed for Pesticide Safety Education Programs in all the states and territories.

The NPSEC team was comprised of the following individuals:

Candace Bartholomew, University of Connecticut
Mike Wierda, Utah State University
Kerry Richards, University of Delaware
Courtney Weatherbee, Michigan State University
Dean Herzfeld, University of Minnesota
Wayne Buhler, North Carolina State University

Coastal Storm Preparedness Story Map for Connecticut

coastal house damaged from a storm in ConnecticutAs part of the Coastal Storm Awareness Program (CSAP) 10 social science research and related new technology projects were funded to improve public response to coastal storm hazard information. In one of these studies, Jennifer Marlon, of Yale University, and other collaborators in 2015 found that 70 percent of coastal Connecticut residents are either unsure or unaware if their home is in an evacuation zone as determined by flood maps developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Another 74 percent of coastal Connecticut residents have never seen an evacuation map for their community.

In order to provide information on evacuation zones, local evacuation routes and customized municipal preparedness, Extension faculty at Connecticut Sea Grant and UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research and a UConn student developed a Coastal Storm Story Map. A story map is a tool developed by the software company, Esri, that allows authoritative maps to be combined with text, images and videos to tell a story. This story map provides information on evacuation zones and local evacuation routes, as well as links to sign up for town emergency alerts. Piloted with four coastal towns, the project’s goal is to have information for all coastal and riverine communities throughout the state. Any town interested in providing evacuation route and shelter information for the story map, please contact Juliana Barrett at juliana.barrett@uconn.edu.

CT Trail Census Update

CT Trail Census logo

Greetings, trail folks! As seasons change and everyone debates which one is the best, we here at the CT Trail Census (CTTC) realized that thanks to last year’s CTTC volunteer participants, we actually do have data with which to rank the seasons with!

Trail use data, of course!

So here it goes: According to last year’s data, the average total daily uses across all trails during the summer was 336 versus 221 in the fall. This may surprise people since fall is such a beautiful time to use the trails for walking, running, horseback riding, and almost any activity besides skiing! We should probably compare these numbers to next year’s data before we make any hefty conclusions about which season is the best.

Show us know how you enjoy the trails in the fall! Tag Connecticut Trail Census on Facebook with your fall trail photos!

Fall Data Update
While volunteer teams continue to hit their local trails and greenways counting and intercepting the autumn trail users, CTTC staff are busy travelling the state, enjoying the views of the foliage while checking on the IR counters and downloading the IR counter trail use data from the summer.  To date, we have received over 700 surveys! Considering it is only October not all sites have sent surveys yet, we are well on our way to exceeding last year’s total of 1,003 surveys!
As a reminder, please send us any completed surveys once you have around 100 and don’t forget to include a Data Summary & Refusal Form with each group of surveys. 
Any & all surveys should be completed and sent in the mail by the end of the month.
Behind the Scenes
If you catch us not on the road, you will most likely find us hard at work behind computers crunching numbers and compiling resources for our application to continue the program using funds from the Connecticut Recreational Trails Plan Program. This process has lead us to think a lot about the future and we are excited about what we have come up with. Our goals involve program expansions and alterations that we hope will only improve the Trail Census. We will keep you posted!

Well Water: Protecting Your Well

faucet with running water
Photo: Kara Bonsack

There are a number of steps that a homeowner can take to help protect their private well.

  • Water should be diverted away from the wellhead to prevent the pooling and potential introduction of contaminated water  into the well.
  • Keep the well in good repair.  A faulty well can allow surface water to reach groundwater without filtering through the soil.
  • Use care when applying pesticides and fertilizers to lawns and gardens near the well (better yet, avoid use entirely if possible).  These products contain chemicals and/or nutrients that can contaminate well water.
  • Abandoned wells should be sealed.  They are a prime entryway for contaminants.

Article by Karen Filchak, Retired Extension Educator

Equine Owners Should Vaccinate for EEE, Warns CVMDL at UConn

Eastern equine encephalitis slide
Colourised transmission electron micrograph (TEM) depicting a salivary gland that had been extracted from a mosquito, which was infected by the Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus, which has been colorized red; magnified 83,900x. {{PD-USGov-HHS-CDC}}

Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) is a disease caused by a virus that mosquitos transmit. The name of the disease is misleading in that this virus can infect and cause disease in humans and a wide variety of animal species, including birds as well as horses and other equids. Horses that have not been vaccinated for EEE die within days of being infected as there is no treatment. There is an effective equine vaccine for EEE, however not for other species. In recent weeks. two unrelated sick birds, one of which was a bald eagle, tested positive for EEE at UConn’s Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL). Researchers and veterinarians at CVMDL encourage equine owners to consider vaccinating their animals, and other animal owners to implement measures to reduce mosquito habitats and thereby potential contact with mosquitos.

Mosquitos that feed on infected wild birds transmit EEE to horses and humans. Once infected, the virus attacks the central nervous system of the host. For horses, disease signs usually appear within five days and the clinical signs include fever, a dull or sleepy appearance, muscle twitches, and a weak staggering gait. Fatality in horses is 90% or higher as horses often go down and are unable to stand again, and those that do survive may have permanent brain damage.

EEE is transmitted by two main types of mosquito vectors; the primary vector and the bridging vector. Culiseta melanura, the primary vector which feeds almost exclusively on birds, serves to amplify and maintain the virus within wild bird populations. Other mosquito species, which indiscriminatingly feed on birds, horses, and humans, serve as the bridging vector capable of transmitting EEE from wildlife to horses and humans.

With the location of horse barns and pastures in rural areas the animals have increased exposure to mosquitos. Horses cannot pass EEE to humans, or to other horses, and are therefore referred to as a dead-end host. If an infected mosquito bites a human, that person can be infected and may develop disease. According to the Center for Disease Control, illness in humans due to EEE is rare, but when disease develops, it is serious.

Proactive steps can be taken to prevent EEE virus infection in humans and horses. A vaccine is available for horses, talk to your veterinarian about vaccinating annually for EEE. Mosquito control techniques include eliminating standing water, cleaning water troughs weekly, avoiding mosquito-infested areas, and using insect repellent.

CVMDL, part of the Department of Pathobiology in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, is on the frontlines of research and testing to keep humans and animals safe. For more information visit http://cvmdl.uconn.eduor call 860-486-3738.

References:

LSU Ag Center Research and Extension: http://www.lmca.us/PDF/pub2834eee.pdf

CAES Finds Spotted Lanternfly in Farmington

CAES Announces the Finding of Spotted Lanternfly in Farmington, Connecticut

spotted lantern flyNew Haven, CT – The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) in cooperation with USDA APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) announce that a single dead adult spotted lanternfly,Lycoma delicatula, has been detected and confirmed from a private residence in Farmington, CT. The insect appears to have been a hitch hiker that was likely transported on a vehicle from Pennsylvania. No other spotted lanternflies were found upon visiting the property. However, some additional survey in the area is planned to confirm that no other spotted lanternflies are present.

The spotted lanternfly is an invasive sap-feeding planthopper that was discovered in Berks County, Pennsylvania in 2014. It is native to China, India, and Vietnam. It attacks many hosts and has the potential to severely impact Connecticut’s farm crops, particularly apples, grapes, and hops, as well as a number of tree species. In the fall, adults can often be found congregating on tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus), willows and other trees. They will lay egg masses on trees and almost any nearby surface. Early detection is important for the protection of Connecticut businesses and agriculture. The public is urged to report potential sightings of this invasive pest to CAES.StateEntomologist@ct.gov. Submission of a photograph with any report is encouraged.