All posts by musksoil

Bringing Back the Rain Barrel

Lisa Crock

ZANESVILLE, Ohio – Although 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh water. Of that number only a fraction is accessible to use as drinking water. The remainder is encapsulated in ice caps and glaciers. With so very little fresh water on Earth and the demand increasing all the time, it makes sense to conserve as much as possible.

There are numerous ways to conserve water, including using a rain barrel. As far back as 2000 years ago, rainwater was collected in clay containers; they progressed to the rain barrel, which remained a common sight until the 1940’s. With the advent of modern plumbing rain barrels became unnecessary. Many people are now returning to this old-fashioned way of water conservation due to the rising costs of municipal water, use restrictions, and droughts.

A rain barrel is a container placed under the downspouts of the house’s gutters. It can consist of a simple barrel with an inlet on the top and an outlet at the bottom, or a more advanced system of numerous barrels that use pumps and flow controls. There are even adapters that can be placed on the downspout so that the barrel fills up, but then the overflow continues through the downspout and away from the foundation. Rain barrels can be purchased at many garden centers or on-line. A large food-grade container can be adapted for use. Trashcans should be avoided because they cannot withstand the water pressure long-term.

Rain barrels must have a cover or screen on top to prevent children, small animals and mosquitoes from getting in the water. Never use an open container because a child can drown in only a few inches of water. To avoid mosquito contamination, the rain barrel should be emptied in less than ten days. Simple rain barrels rely on gravity flow to work, so place the barrel slightly higher than the point of use. Rain barrels must be drained and disconnected before winter so that they don’t crack.

Harvesting rainfall helps the environment by not drawing on current water reserves and saves the homeowner money. Rainwater is naturally soft and is especially useful for watering landscapes and gardens or even washing your car. Keep in mind that some contamination can also be picked up from leaves, bird droppings, dust, other environmental factors, and roof and gutter materials. Collected rainwater should not be used for drinking water and may not be suitable for watering vegetable gardens.

Depending upon the size of your house and the amount of rainfall, a substantial amount can be collected. Approximately 550 gallons of rainwater can be collected for every 1000 square feet of collection surface per inch of rain. Even if you only collect enough to water a few tomatoes and houseplants, it is still conserving fresh water and saving yourself some money on the water bill.

For more information contact the Muskingum Soil and Water Conservation District at 740-454-2027.

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Eat Locally Grown Foods

By Lisa Crock:

We all eat; it’s a fact of life. What we chose to eat is up to us, whether we decide to hit a fast-food drive through on our way home or whether we head home after work to a pot roast and vegetables in the slow cooker. Why not make the choice to eat at least some locally grown food?

Growing produce yourself is one option. Nothing could be fresher than when you walk into your back yard garden, pick some lettuce, tomatoes and a cucumber, and immediately prepare yourself a salad. If you don’t have the room in your back yard, but want to try growing some produce, check into the local community garden scene. There are several community gardens open to the public, but space is generally limited so you should reserve your space early.

If you aren’t into gardening, Muskingum County is blessed to have several farmers’ markets and road-side stands that sell locally grown, fresh produce. Some markets have vendors selling locally raised meats. These markets and stands give the consumer the chance to meet the people growing the food they are purchasing. Buyers can ask questions about growing methods used, environmental practices employed, and even how to store and prepare the food purchased Through the exchanges at markets and stands, farmers are given the chance to educate consumers on the health benefits of their food and about their farming practices.

The warm weather we have had in the past week or so has me thinking of spring, and the delicious fresh food that comes with it! Some of the first things that are available are asparagus, rhubarb, and salad greens. While these items can usually be purchased at a grocery store year round, there are advantages to waiting until locally grown versions of the fruits and vegetables are available.

Most people agree that food grown locally, and in season, tastes better than food that has been shipped into our area. Compare the strawberries that are currently available in the grocery stores (that are shipped in from Florida or California) to those that you can buy locally in late-May or early-June. The local berries are usually smaller, and more expensive, but the taste difference is worth the wait and cost! Locally grown food is picked at the peak of ripeness, usually within hours of it being available for purchase. Food that is shipped in is picked before it ripens, thus reducing the amount of nutrients it contains. Less time in transport means less spoilage also.

Local food can create a sense of community and provide a social experience. I can’t go to the farmers’ market and get out in and out in under an hour because I stop to visit with everyone, even if I don’t buy their produce that day! Community gardens often function as outdoor community centers in some neighborhoods. People gather in the evenings to work on the plots, pick their produce, and visit with neighbors. I think that this sense of community is something most of us could use more of in today’s solitary, technology-driven world.

Shopping locally helps support the local economy. The funds are used by the local farmer to support their farm and possibly other employees. An economically stable farm preserves green space and keeps the land in production instead of it being developed into housing, shopping centers, or manufacturing sites.

It may be impossible to eat locally year-round in Ohio; after all, sometimes you just really want strawberries in February. But I encourage you to try to include more locally grown produce and meats in your meals this coming year. In the process you will be helping the local economy and environment.

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I bought this bird feeder because it was on sale at the hardware store, now what?

We’ve all been there, meandering around the local hardware store when we spot a barn shaped bird feeder. We think to ourselves “how adorable is that thing! I need one of those to hang from the Shepherd’s Hook that my kids bought me for Mother’s Day a few years ago. It’ll be so much prettier than the dead hanging basket I usually hang there”. Okay, maybe you don’t suffer from the “petunias hate my guts” syndrome that I seem to be afflicted with, but many of us have definitely fallen prey to the impulse buy of the adorable bird feeder. But what do you do with that feeder once you get it home?
Well to begin, different birds like different foods. What birds are you trying to draw to your yard? My favorite go-to seed is the Black Oil Sunflower seed. It’s an extremely nutritious seed and it draws my favorite Cardinals, Blue Jays, Nuthatches and Titmice to the feeder. Cracked corn will bring in Mourning Doves, Sparrows and Blackbirds. Clinging birds like Finches tend to prefer small seeds like Nyjer Seed. Peanuts are a popular offering for Woodpeckers, Crows, Jays and Grackles. The Mourning Doves are happy to pick through anything that the messier of the birds throw to the ground and all birds benefit from suet cakes. Suet is made using animal fat and a variety of seeds to offer wintering birds a high energy meal that keeps them healthy and active during the cold of winter. Some folks also offer peanut butter and fruit to their winter birds but note that suet, peanut butter and fruit can quickly turn rancid in the summer heat.
“Alright” you say, “I hung my bird feeder out and I’ve been watching it for 15 minutes now. Where are the birds?” I’ve been there too. The first time I hung a feeder in my yard, it stayed full for three weeks. Not a single bird. As I stood in the yard, puzzled and staring at that feeder, I realized that the bench it looked so lovely hanging next to was a perfect place for my cat to lay and watch for birds. Location is important. A nearby tree gives the birds someplace to stage while they’re using the feeder and the higher the feeder hangs, the less likely your kitty will use it as a personal hunting ground. Unfortunately, patience is also of the essence here. Birds are creatures of habit. Why else would they fly thousands of miles to the same place every year for vacation? They need to start seeing your feeder as a reliable food source. It takes some time. You’ll know when you’ve reached your goal. Your feeder will be emptied in a day and when you trudge out in the snow to fill it, there will be a Nuthatch in a tree nearby giving you loads of grief for daring to take so long. Have I mentioned that I have a very cheeky resident Nuthatch? Don’t forget to try to offer a winter water source as well. Birds often suffer from a lack of good water during the winter, even more than a lack of good food.
The last step is making sure your feeders stay relatively clean. Birds get sick too. Seed gets moldy. Feeders can be covered in bird droppings. Make sure that you are diligent about your bird feeder hygiene and regular cleanings are a necessity. And last but definitely not least, wash your hands well when you clean your feeders as bird droppings can be a potential health hazard for you as well. For those of you thinking about purchasing feeders this year, we happen to carry some of the nicest feeders I’ve ever seen for sale. Made locally here in Ohio from kiln dried cedar, these feeders are built to last. Stop by the District office and check them out. It’s a good way to know that your dollars are staying here in Ohio and it’s a bonus that you’re helping to support your Muskingum Soil and Water Conservation District so we can continue our conservation education efforts in Muskingum County.
If you want to draw in lots of birds, spend some time installing bird houses too. If you have a reliable food source and shelter, you’ll be running a bird B&B in no time. They’re pretty opportunistic little critters and they will reward you for your winter diligence by eating unbelievable amounts of plant destroying bugs during the summer. It’s estimated that a single Carolina Chickadee nest can consume 6000 caterpillars in a single season. That’s a lot of produce destroying caterpillars going into baby bird bellies and for me, a bit of sweet retribution for all the heads of cabbage and tomato plants those caterpillars have destroyed over the years.
Worried about the birds picking your berries and destroying your crops? For those of us with crops that birds find tasty, it’s a well-founded fear. The research is ongoing but is ever expanding. However, research studies over the years have found that birds vastly prefer bugs over berries, with a particular study group from the University of Basel in Switzerland releasing a report in 2017 that birds eat between 400 and 500 million tons of bugs worldwide annually. In fact, the vast majority of farmers worldwide who have engaged in professional studies report better yields with resident birds. A vineyard manager in Napa Valley, Ron Rosenbrand installed 1000 bluebird boxes at the Spring Mountain Vineyard based on university research being done at UC Berkley by Ornithologist Julie Jedlicka. His results? The vineyard has seen the near eradication of the Pierce Disease Blight since 2006, a deadly grape blight that had once caused vast damage in that very vineyard. The bluebirds eat the insects that infect the plants and their grape yield has seen a significant annual increase. Similar research is being done in the Missouri Ozarks to try to eradicate pests killing the state’s White Oak trees. Add to that the number of mosquitoes and other disease carrying insects that birds consume, which directly impact human health and contagious disease outbreaks, and you can see how critical healthy bird populations can be to our existence. In the late 1940s, the island nation of Guam saw the accidental introduction of a non-native brown tree snake. That snake thrived in Guam’s climate and the island experienced a significant decline in native bird populations over the next six decades, resulting in the ultimate extinction of all but two of their native bird species. The outcome? A 40 fold increase in the island’s spider population. I simply cannot think of a better reason to support your local bird population. Birds are great allies in the fight against bugs and seriously, who needs more spiders? So out to my feeders I go, rain or shine. My little Nuthatch neighbor will be expecting me.

April Lovejoy

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Change Just One Thing

By: Lisa Crock

With the start of a new year, many of us make vague resolutions about what we want to accomplish in the coming year. Usually those resolutions are along the lines of eating healthy, exercising more, and/or staying within our budgets. By March, most of us have fallen off of whichever bandwagon we got up on at the beginning of the year. Most resolutions are too broad and vague, and we never get around to breaking them down into small, do-able steps that actually fit into our everyday lives.

What if we tried a different approach? What might happen if we decide to change just one small thing in our lives?

For example, let’s say you decide you need to drink more water for your health. At first, it might seem that the easiest way to accomplish this is to buy bottled water. Bottled water is available everywhere, including the vending machine at work, and it is easily portable. It is recommended that the average person consume 64 oz. of water daily. That equates to four 16 oz. bottles a day. Sounds doable, right? You grab a bottle on the way out the door in the morning, then get one from the vending machine at lunch time, and you fit the other two into your evening routine. This sounds like a really good idea, and one that you can actually accomplish.

Now let’s take a look at some numbers. If you stay the course and drink four bottles of water each day, at the end of the year that is 1,460 bottles of water. Those 1,460 plastic bottles – what did you do with them? According to, Americans recycle only roughly 23% of plastic. So maybe you recycled 336 of those plastic bottles. What happened to the rest? Most likely they went to a landfill, where they will stay for 400 or more years until they decompose. If they weren’t properly disposed of, they eventually make it our streams, rivers, and oceans, polluting the water and harming the wildlife that lives on and in the water.

If you buy the “off brand” bottled water, you can usually get it for around 20¢ per bottle. More recognized name brands are closer to 50¢ per bottle, when bought in multi-packs. If you grab those same bottles as singles from the vending machine, you’ll pay $1.00 – 1.49 or more. Even at its cheapest, the bottled water will cost you close to $300 per year.

Between destroying the environment and the cost to your pocket, drinking bottled water no longer sounds like a great idea. There is a better option. Buy a reusable water bottle, a bamboo or metal straw, and fill the bottle with tap water. This will cost you anywhere from $10-$50 depending upon what type and brand of bottle you buy and just pennies a day for the actual water. If you don’t like the taste of tap water, buy a filtered pitcher. Most cost around $30 and will filter 40-120 gallons of water, depending upon which filter you purchase. Sticking with your resolution to drink 64 oz. of water day you will drink 183 gallons of water over the course of a year, so you’ll need to purchase 1-5 filters per year (again, depending upon what filter you buy). Even with the cost of a water bottle, non-plastic straw, water pitcher and filters, you will still come in under $300 and you won’t be contributing to the plastic pollution problem.

None of the figures above took into consideration what you’d save if you stopped buying pop in cans, coffee in disposable cups, or flavored drinks in glass bottles. That’s another article! As we start 2019, I challenge you to change just one small thing in your life that not only betters your life, but that of the planet as well. And when you have to grab a beverage of any type while you’re on the go, please recycle the container!

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Muskingum SWCD 2019 Board Meeting Dates

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

**Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

**This is a change from the normal second Tuesday because the second Tuesday in August is during fair week.

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Douglas Fir

Good morning Muskingum County! Today we will be focusing on the Douglas Fir, the first of our trees that we have for sale as part of our 2019 tree sale.

Not considered a true fir and sometimes referred to as a false hemlock, the Douglas Fir is native to a large swath of the western US and Canada. It is a large tree, growing from between 50-70 feet tall. The Douglas Fir is reasonably picky about its growing location and for optimum growth should be planted in a well-drained sandy loam soil. They do not tolerate wet feet or heavy soils and should be watered during extreme drought. The Douglas Fir is one of the more popular species of Christmas Tree with beautiful dark green-blue green flattened, flexible needles that emit a sweet fragrance when handled and when cut, their needle retention is excellent. For commercial growth, they require good management, especially when young as they do not tolerate high weeds and they are sensitive to spring frost damage. Plantings should occur outside of frost pockets or areas with poor air drainage. They are a popular tree for wildlife, commonly browsed by deer, rabbit, squirrel, and mice. The seeds of Douglas fir are a good food source for a number of birds that overwinter in our area. The Douglas Fir is an excellent specimen for windbreak and soil erosion, acting as a restorer for eroded soils.

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Christmas Tree Compromises

Why do I buy a live Christmas tree? Well, I have to be honest and admit that I didn’t always buy a live tree. I’ve actually owned an artificial tree for almost 20 years. I have lots of beautiful and very fragile old ornaments and I have always been afraid of weak branches allowing my ornaments to fall crashing to the ground. However, a decade ago my husband put his foot down and insisted on getting a live tree in addition to our artificial tree. He missed the smell and the tradition. What kind of Christmas memories, he asked, would the kids have if we didn’t get up one frigid Saturday morning in December and dutifully follow him across a hillside with an ax, arguing about whether he gets a fat tree or I get a more graceful, slender tree? He was right about having a live tree, although don’t tell him that I said so. There are many perks to buying a live Christmas tree.
1. The smell! Is there anything that says Christmas more than the smell of a fir tree? Well, maybe the smell of gingerbread, but since my entire existence revolves around food, nobody is going to be surprised by the fact that I am willing to go to bat for gingerbread here on the Christmas smell chart.
2. The experience. The kids do a lot of complaining about getting up before noon to drive to a farm and walk across a field. They argue endlessly about which tree we are getting. One of them usually gets hives. But every year, they want to know when we are getting the tree. If I offer the option of not having the live tree, it’s met with a mixture of disbelief and anger. So out they go, complaining merrily all the way.
3. The environmental impact. What? How is cutting down a tree good for the environment? Aha! Here it is. Christmas tree farms are a sustainable and environmentally friendly enterprise. Christmas tree farmers plant thousands of trees each year. Those trees grow for almost 10 years before they are large enough to cut. That’s a decade of benefits per tree and when those trees are cut, the tree farmer generally plants at least one more in its place. Tree farms aren’t cutting down old growth timber out of forests to sell to consumers. Think of the Christmas tree as a huge crop, like tomatoes and lettuce. You grow trees intended for harvest and reap all the added environmental benefits of having millions of extra trees growing each year. Artificial trees are made of plastic and millions of those trees end up in landfills each year. The majority of the artificial trees that are sold in the US are made in China and shipped to the United States. Even with the necessary chemical interventions required to keep live Christmas trees at their optimum, the current accepted estimate is that you have to reuse your artificial tree for a minimum of seven years for the environmental impact of a live tree to be equal to that of an artificial tree. To be honest, many of the pre-lit trees that are being sold these days don’t seem to last very long.
4. The economic impact. This is where your decisions matter to your community. Big box stores generally buy their trees in bulk from states like Oregon where there are massive commercial wholesale tree farms. They ship those trees across the US and then you purchase them at your local big box store. But when you buy a tree from a local tree farm, you’re keeping your money in your community. The family that owns that tree farm is using those funds to support their households. They’re keeping their farmland from being developed into housing and preserving local rural businesses. There is less environmental impact because your trees aren’t being shipped from thousands of miles away, and you are literally keeping the dollars you spend in your own community. The Christmas tree industry is a billion dollar industry. That’s lots of American jobs raising, harvesting, and preparing Christmas trees and that money stays right here at home.
Sure, there are cons to live trees. They’re more work. You MUST water them daily. A dry tree is a dangerous tree and live trees aren’t sprayed with fire retardant chemicals to make them safer (I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s a pro or a con). They’re messy, although they’re a lot less messy if you follow rule number one and water that tree daily. But needles drop and they have to be swept up. Some folks have famously had issues with squirrels. I will admit that although I have never experienced a single squirrel issue yet, we do get spiders occasionally. Having the tree farm shake your tree before you take it helps tremendously.
You also have to properly dispose of the tree at the end of the season. Lots of places offer recycling and removal services if you live in the city. We usually use ours as a winter garden mulch. I drag the tree outside and use the cut branches to cover some of my less hardy plants, it keeps the ice off of them and offers them winter protection. During the spring thaw, those branches go to the compost pile or are shredded into mulch for the blueberries. We use the trunk during the summer as logs for our outdoor fireplace where we enjoy roasting hot dogs over our Christmas tree while we look at the stars. If you don’t want to mess with the tree at all while the snow is falling, just lay the tree outside near the woods and let the wildlife use it as a great winter shelter. A bonus if you leave it upright next to a fence and use it to hang your bird feeders or suet cakes, the birds will adore the sheltered space and flock to its branches. I’ve never had a moment of regret about our decision to include a live tree in our holiday festivities. I look forward to seeing you at one of our many local tree farms, many of which offer a variety of activities this holiday season. We will be the family arguing loudly about whether tall or fat trees are perfect Christmas trees. Blessings to you all.

By April Lovejoy

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Wrapping up the garden for the year

By Lisa Crock-

While the recent temperatures have remained summer-like, I have noticed that some trees are beginning to change color. It’s not too early to start thinking about preparing your garden and yard for winter. It’s not unusual to see snow fly in November, and I know I’d rather do my outdoor chores in a light sweatshirt than bundled up in a winter coat!

If your garden and flower beds still have some plants standing, now is a good time to remove them. This will help avoid diseases and pests that can over-winter in the plant material and cause problems in next year’s plants. Remove any unpicked vegetables to avoid them going to seed, which will result in hundreds of volunteer plants next year. After all the plants have been cleaned up, sow a cover crop down. I usually rake the surface of the garden strips or raised beds, throw on some rye, and rake it around again. Sometimes it will then get covered with a little straw or grass clippings. Rye is cheap, so I tend to put the seed on pretty heavily to get a thick stand.

After pruning out the dead perennials from the flower beds, I’ve found the beds are great places to use up some chopped leaf mulch. For winter, mow your grass a little shorter. This is supposed to help suppress disease and fungus that could over-winter in taller grass. It also allows those pesky fall leaves to blow off your yard and pile up along fences, in corners, etc. Piles of leaves are easier to gather up than leaves across the entire yard. Or, you can run your lawn mower through the leaves, chopping them up finer. They make a wonderful mulch or addition to your compost pile, and chopping them up helps them to decompose faster. Flower pots should also be emptied, cleaned, and stored for the winter.

Don’t forget about your tools. Take the time now to clean up your gardening tools, sharpen anything that needs it, and put everything away. Drain and wind up hoses and empty rain barrels and any plumbing they have so that they don’t freeze and bust. You’ll be ready for next spring that much faster! While you’re at it, make sure to find your snow shovel because nothing’s worse than waking up one morning and needing it…yet having no idea where it’s actually located. Happy autumn!

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Funding Now Available to Treat Spotted Knapweed and Other Invasive Species

Application Deadline is October 19, 2018

The Morgan Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) announces new funding available for the Spotted Knapweed Treatment for Ohio Producers (STOP) Project. Morgan SWCD and other partners received project funding through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
RCPP is a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) program that encourages partners to join efforts with producers to increase the restoration and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife and related natural resources. Through the program, NRCS and its partners help producers install and maintain conservation activities in selected project areas.
The STOP project will focus on the treatment and control of spotted knapweed and other invasive species in four Appalachian counties in southeastern Ohio: Guernsey, Morgan, Muskingum and Noble. These counties have each experienced an exponential spread of the spotted knapweed in privately owned pastures and hay land in recent years.
To implement the STOP Project, NRCS will provide agricultural producers with financial assistance, and one-on-one technical help, to plan and implement improvements to their pastures and permanent hay land. NRCS calls these improvements “conservation practices”. Using these conservation practices will improve the producers’ grazing and hay land operations and lead to cleaner water, cleaner air, healthier soils, and better wildlife habitat.
Other local partners who will also be providing technical assistance for the STOP Project include the Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and Ohio State University Extension (OSUE) staff located in each of the four counties.
To participate in the STOP Project, applicants must be farm operators or farm landowners who are managing pasture or hay land in Guernsey, Morgan, Muskingum and/or Noble Counties. They must also meet other NRCS eligibility criteria. Applications for the STOP Project must be signed and submitted to NRCS by the October 19, 2018 deadline to be eligible.
To learn more about the STOP Project or to submit an application, visit your local USDA Service Center or visit the NRCS website and select Get Started with NRCS.
The USDA Service Center for Muskingum and Morgan Counties is located at 225 Underwood Street, Suite 100, Zanesville Ohio. You can contact the NRCS office at 740-454-2867 extension 3 to speak with Lori Ryan-Griffin, NRCS District Conservationist.
USDA is an Equal Opportunity Provider, Employer, and Lender

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