Sustainable Landscapes

Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces

Updates from the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources

cover of CT IWR spring newsletter

In a state like Connecticut where water seems plentiful, it is easy to take water for granted. As long as clean water comes out of the tap, water issues may not rise to the top of our list of concerns. Although we do have plentiful water for the most part, there are still many reasons to keep water in mind. Who wants to take their kids to the beach in the summer and find that the beach was closed due to high bacteria levels in the water? Or who wants to have their water heater fail due to high salt in their well? And how do we know that we will have enough water to supply the state if we have another severe drought, like we did just three years ago?

The Connecticut Institute of Water Resources (CT IWR) is part of a national network of 54 state and territory water institutes created by the Federal Water Resources Research Act of 1964. Our mission is focused on all aspects of Connecticut’s water resources, which includes use, preservation, and proper management. Why is this important? It means that CT IWR is addressing the most pressing water issues in our state. Every institute receives funds annually from the United States Geological Survey (around $120,000). A small amount is used for staff support, but the majority of funds are given out to support research on critical water issues every year through a competitive process. In addition to helping address these critical water issues, the grants help support training of undergraduate and graduate students to work in water-related fields, and provide support for early career water resources scientists.

The spring issue of the CT IWR newsletter includes an update on the well water testing campaign being conducted, the stand being taken in Connecticut against “forever chemicals,” and a research spotlight on forecasting the resilience of vernal pool ecosystems to climate-mediated hydrological disruption.

Read the spring newsletter at: https://bit.ly/CTIWR_Spring2020. For more information on CT IWR visit https://ctiwr.uconn.edu/.

What is a Virus?

examples of plant problem symptomsGiven the Coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to focus on viruses to share a little more on these infectious agents.

A virus has a very simple makeup. It is just a piece of DNA or RNA, a protein coat, and in some cases a fatty (lipid) layer. The protein coat provides protection for the piece of genetic information (DNA or RNA), and can code for different functions when the virus infects a host organism.

Viruses are considered neither alive nor dead. Viruses do not consist of cells or have any components to carry out basic functions on their own. They rely on the cell functions of their host to replicate. They hijack their host’s cells to operate in a way that allows the virus to thrive.

For this exact reason, viruses have a biological incentive to keep their hosts alive. If their hosts die, the virus can no longer replicate. Viable virus particles can exist on a surface, such as a table. But without a host, the virus can not cause disease or infection.

The first virus to be crystallized and therefore each of its parts were able to be studied, was actually a plant virus, Tobacco mosaic virus. Rosalind Franklin made this discovery in 1955. Since then, thousands of new viruses have been described.

Read more…

Article by Abby Beissinger

Litchfield County 4-H Helps Distribute Dairy to Families in Need

Litchfield County 4-H to Help Distribute Yogurt and Sour Cream to Families in Need

Background Facts:

  • Because 30% of the fluid milk gets sold to restaurants, schools and institutions that are now closed, there is a huge surplus of fluid milk on the market now that cannot be further processed into more shelf stable products like dried milk and butter fast enough.
  • The price of milk for the farmers have dropped from $19.00 per hundred pounds to $13.00 per hundred pounds because of this.
  • Hundreds of dairy farms across the country are now forced to dump their milk because the dairy plants have such a surplus they have no room at the plants to store and process the milk because of the drop off in demand due to the closures. There are over 1,200 truckloads of milk being dumped every day across the country.
  • Some farms have no choice but to dump the milk that is in their bulk tanks that cannot be picked up by the processing plants in time, because they have to make room for the next milking of their cows.
  • Meanwhile, food pantries are in desperate need of more food to help provide nourishment for the increasing number of food insecure people, due to the pandemic and more people losing their jobs.
4-H members unloading milk from truck
Photo: Jill Davenport

The farm families who own Cabot Creamery Cooperative have generously donated over 23,000 pounds of yogurt and sour cream to the Litchfield County 4-H.  On Wednesday, April 29, 2020, pallets of sour cream and yogurt will be delivered to Litchfield High School, Danbury High School and Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Bank in New London. 4-H members from Litchfield and Fairfield Counties along with volunteers from Litchfield Community Center will be safely distributing the dairy products to local food pantries, homeless shelters and families in need throughout Litchfield County and elsewhere that same day. At the end of this effort, they will have moved 11,000 pounds of sour cream and 12,600 pounds of yogurt from the surplus inventory into the kitchens of families in need.

Litchfield County 4-H, the youth development component of UConn Extension, had already chosen their 2020 theme for the year, which is Operation Community Impact, with an emphasis on food insecurity in January. By coordinating this activity, 4-H members are able to see firsthand how important the community service efforts of 4-H is in order to can make a difference in the lives of others. They hope to secure more donations of milk and other dairy products to continue this effort over the next few weeks for as long as needed. Bill Davenport, Litchfield County 4-H UConn Extension Educator, who grew up on a dairy farm in Litchfield and owns dairy cows in his brother’s herd in Ancram, New York, came up with the idea after learning about the milk surplus and some farms having to dump their milk because of the pandemic.

He organized this effort from securing the donation to organizing the deliveries to Litchfield, Danbury and New London counties as well as assembling the volunteer drivers to the food pantries. He also credits the following individuals without whose help this effort would not be possible: Cabot Creamery and Agri-Mark Milk Cooperative for their generous donation of yogurt and sour cream; Lisa Hagemen of the Community Kitchen of Torrington, Inc., Kathy Minck of Food Rescue, and Berta Andrulis Mette of the Litchfield Community Center for helping connect with the local food pantries and assembling the list of the product orders; Superintendent Chris Leone and Litchfield High School for use of their loading dock and parking lot for distribution, and the Litchfield County UConn 4-H members, parents and volunteers who continually rise to the challenge of community service and helping others in need.

“I am excited to be able to help get some of the surplus dairy products that were packaged for sale to the schools and restaurants that are no longer open out of storage and into the hands of families who are food insecure,” says Bill Davenport. “It makes no sense that farmers are dumping milk while there are people who desperately need food. If we can help move some dairy products out of the surplus storage, the dairy plants can then have more room to accept more milk from the farmers so that we can slow down the wasteful dumping of milk at the farms, while helping to keep the dairy farmers in business. And, as always, I am grateful that our amazing 4-H youth and parents are thrilled to help connect the dots and support the distribution of displaced dairy products. I hope that our actions will increase awareness of the issue and encourage others to help do the same across Connecticut and the region so that we can help move more milk and dairy products out of the surplus and into the refrigerators of people who desperately need it.”

“Farmers work each and every day to provide, nurture and embrace the production of healthy food while taking care of our employees, communities, animals, and our environment,” says Cricket Jacquier of Laurelbrook Farm, LLC and Chairman of the Agri-Mark Cooperative. “Our farmers who own Cabot Creamery, a Certified B Corp, are proud to help provide nutritious dairy products to those in need and it is just another example of our deep commitment to our communities.”

About Cabot Creamery and Agri-Mark Cooperative

Cabot Creamery Co-operative has been in continuous operation in Vermont since 1919, and makes a full line of cheeses, Greek yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese and butter. Widely known as makers of “The World’s Best Cheddar,” Cabot is owned by the 800 dairy farm families of Agri-Mark, the Northeast’s premier dairy cooperative, with farms located throughout New England and upstate New York. For more information, visit: http://www.cabotcheese.coop

Cabot Creamery Co-operative is the world’s first cheese maker and dairy cooperative to achieve B Corporation Certification

About UConn 4-H

4-H is a national program with six million youth participating in various project areas who learn life skills, supervised by over 500,000 volunteer leaders. Litchfield County has 26 active 4-H clubs with over 400 active members in those clubs. Project areas include but are not limited to beef cattle, canine, crafts, dairy cattle, dairy goats, equine, community nutrition, food safety, food preparation skills, horticulture, mechanics, oxen, poultry, robotics, sewing, sheep, small animals, STEM, and swine.

The 4-H program is organized into four program areas including Agriculture, Civic Engagement, Healthy Living and STEM. These themes all overlap throughout the 4-H experience, with emphasis placed on creating well-rounded individuals. 4-H is the youth development program offered through the UConn Extension system. The purpose of UConn as Connecticut’s land grant university is to provide the citizens of Connecticut with educational opportunities through teaching, research and extension programming. For more information about 4-H and how to join, please contact Bill Davenport, Litchfield County Extension 4-H Educator, at william.davenport@uconn.edu or at 860-626-6854.

Getting Started with Vegetable Gardening

It’s exciting for those of us who are already passionate about gardening to see the recent interest in vegetable gardens. Seed companies have been doing a great business. Every winter I love to browse seed catalogs and gardening websites and dream about the perfect garden. There is a special joy in eating something you grew yourself, it is convenient to have fresh food at hand, and you can even save money.

While there are wonderful benefits of growing your own food, it can also be challenging. How can you be successful from the beginning? Where can you turn for reliable science-based information? UConn Extension has numerous resources available online and you can reach out to any of our nine Master Gardener offices around the state with questions.

Before you spend money on seeds, plants or fancy tools, ask yourself if you can provide the basics of adequate sun, soil, and water. Without at least 6-8 hours of sun, few vegetables can thrive. Similarly, if your soil pH is not in the correct range, plants struggle to get nutrients from the soil. Finally, you should have a way to easily water your new vegetable garden if it does not get at least an inch of rain per week.

As long as you can provide enough sun, a yard isn’t necessary. Container gardening is an easy way to get started without a big commitment. Make sure the container is deep enough for the roots to grow and look for dwarf varieties that will be happy with less room to grow. See the container gardening section for more information.

Consider creating a small raised bed in a sunny area. A few tomato plants, 2 or 3 cucumber plants, lettuce, radishes, and basil fit in a 4 x 8-foot raised bed. Purchased garden soil eliminates the need to dig.  Remember to allow space between plants so air can circulate and reduce the chance of disease. If deer, rabbits, and other animals are a problem, you can use netting and stakes to create a simple fence around the bed.

As a beginning gardener, start small so that you aren’t overwhelmed by weeds, insects, other potential problems, or your aching muscles. Grow what you like to eat. I grew Swiss chard for several years because the foliage is colorful, but I don’t actually like to eat it! Consider choosing plants with fewer pest or disease problems. Cool season vegetables like radishes and lettuce grow quickly from seeds planted in the garden and they have few pests. Soil should be at least 40 degrees and not too wet. Beans can also be direct sown in the garden, but watch out for Japanese, Cucumber, and Mexican Bean beetles. Luckily, hand picking insect pests is manageable in a small garden. Home grown tomatoes are delicious, but they are susceptible to disease and take a long time to mature. Seeds must be started indoors 6 weeks before the last frost date (average of mid-May in CT) or you can buy plants to put in the ground in early June. Warm season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant need warm soil (at least 60 degrees) to thrive so don’t start too early.  Whether you grow from seed or plants, keep track of when you plant and how it grows.  This can be as easy as taking pictures with your phone.

Welcome to the world of gardening!

Article by Michelle Winkler, Litchfield County Extension Master Gardener Coordinator

NRCA Program Receives Award

nrca students in water

Congratulations to our Natural Resources Conservation Academy on their 2020 Excellence in Conservation Org Award from the Connecticut Land Conservation Council! The NRCA team comprises faculty members in Natural Resources & the EnvironmentUConn Center for Land Use Education and Research, Extension, UConn CAHNRUConn Neag School of Education, and NRCS!

Grow Your Own Vegetables: We Have Tips and Resources

sprouts with words getting startedHave you been thinking about starting your own vegetable garden while staying home and staying healthy? Now is the perfect time to select some seeds or starter plants and get started.

Growing your own vegetables is fun, cost-effective, and helps provide your family with a safe and nutritious food supply. UConn CAHNR Extension has many programs to assist with your vegetable garden, whether you are starting a garden for the first time, or returning for another season.

We created a new page at http://bit.ly/GrowYourOwnVegetables that will help you get started, select seeds, start your seeds, avoid common garden mistakes, test your soil, diagnose plant problems (we can help with that!), and identify pests.

Perhaps you do not have a yard or other area to start a garden in. Container gardening may be the right choice for you, and our fact sheet explains what you need. Safety is a top priority for all of us. Incorporate food safety into your garden and harvest with information from our educators. Information is also available on how to store your garden produce.

“Along with the satisfaction of growing your own fruits and vegetables, gardening gets you outside, in the fresh air and sunshine. You just feel better all-around after working with plants,” said Sarah Bailey, state coordinator for the UConn Extension Master Gardener program. “Even if you just grow some herbs and flowers in containers, you get the benefits.”

Specialists from our Master Gardener program, Vegetable Crops program, Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory, and Home and Garden Education Center contribute to this page. We are also ready to answer your other questions via email consultation.

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

We are here. We are ready to serve you.

Thank You, Volunteers!

collage of photos with UConn Extension volunteers smiling at the camera that says thank you in the middleThank you, volunteers! It’s National Volunteer Week, and we want to thank all of our volunteers who help us provide programs in all 169 Connecticut municipalities. Last year, our volunteers donated 207,887 hours valued at $5.3 million to Extension programs, a 25% increase over 2018.

Our volunteers shifted to virtual programming with us when COVID-19 arrived and continue to serve our communities. This week and every week, we appreciate your contributions to our Extension programs. Learn more about our volunteer opportunities at https://cahnr.uconn.edu/extension/volunteer/.

 

Common Garden Mistakes

vegetable sprouting out of soil with words common garden problems written on the photoMistakes are a great learning tool, but they also can dampen any enthusiasm for a new project. When early mistakes compound problems further down the road, they can turn someone away from a pastime that offers great satisfaction, healthy activities and a renewed appreciation of the natural world around us.

So, if you are just starting on the gardening odyssey, let’s look at how to avoid a few common mistakes. Avoiding these trouble spots will make gardening easier, much more productive – and fun!

There are three main components to consider when starting out: sun, soil and water. In simpler terms, location, location, location. If you provide your garden the right combination of these three items, you sidestep many problems that can occur as the growing season progresses. These concepts apply to both vegetable and ornamental gardening, and to any specific type of plant you want to grow.

Let’s start with sun. Different plants have different light needs. Plants are categorized as sun, part sun/part shade and shade – but what do those labels mean? Here’s the breakdown. Full sun means at least six to eight hours of full sunlight a day and you start calculating that after 10 AM. Early morning sunlight isn’t considered strong enough to be included in your calculations.

Part sun/part shade is four to six hours of sun daily and anything less than four is considered shady. Make these calculations after the trees have leafed out in the spring; the sunlight in your yard shifts from winter to summer.

Your soil is the foundation of your garden, both literally and figuratively. It provides support, nutrients and water to your plants. Just like humans, different types of plants have different preferences in nutrition and water. Find out what you can provide and choose plants that will thrive in those conditions. First and foremost, if the site is new to you, or it’s been at least five years since the last one, get a soil test. Find out what you do – and don’t – need to add to your soil. Soil tests are available from the UConn soil lab at http://www.soiltest.uconn.edu/sampling.php

You can amend your soil with additional nutrients and elements, but it’s difficult to significantly change water-holding capacity. The test will help you determine how well your soil holds or drains water, allowing you to choose plants that are happiest in those conditions. Observation will also tell you a lot: how quickly does an area drain after a rainstorm? Is it wet is spring, but dry in the summer? Is it always damp?

A related issue is access to water. While an established plant in the right location may not need any supplemental water, both vegetable gardens and newly planted ornamentals will. Is it easy to get water to this area? Do you need to develop a water storage system, such as rain or water barrels? Or is another location really a better overall choice?

Once you know the characteristics of your space, you can then choose plants that will do well in that location without a great deal of extra work. The old phrase ‘Right Plant, Right Place’ is a valid one. Don’t try to significantly alter the location for a favorite plant that really isn’t right for the spot. It will only lead to frustration and poor results. Instead, find plants that like your location and choose from those. Let your gardening provide a positive experience!

For answers to your gardening questions, go to https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ask-us-a-question/  . We’ll be happy to help!

Article by Sarah Bailey, UConn Extension State Master Gardener Coordinator

Happy 50th Year of Earth Day

Earth Day advertising/information

Happy Earth Day!

Earth day is dedicated to raising awareness and support for environmental protection.

This year it is a little different as there are no outdoor events. Luckily, you can still celebrate from home!
Maggi Anstett, one of our UConn CAHNR students, suggests many ways you can demonstrate your support.