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Nature is Amazing

September 21, 2016

The other day I noticed this odd caterpillar crawling around. Of course I took like 15 pictures with my iPhone for identifying later. Initially I thought I found a caterpillar with 4 parasitic wasp eggs on its back. img_0026

Now that I’ve identified it as a White-marked Tussock Moth Orgyia leucostigma, I know differently. The White-marked Tussock Moth has 4 white tufts on its back close to its head. This got me wondering…why does it have these tufts? are these tufts suppose to look like parasitic wasp eggs? is there a purpose to these tufts? With a little research, aka typing a question into Google, I found an article from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on the White-marked Tussock Moth. This article talks about a theory that the 4 white tufts are indeed mimicking the external cocoons of parasitic wasps. Other parasitic species see these white tufts as a sign that the caterpillar is “occupied” with a parasite and leave the caterpillar alone. This is a great form of deception. Nature is Amazing!

Article mentioned: https://www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/white-marked-tussock-moth.cfm

 

What is considered a Waters of the United States?

June 8, 2015

The recent finalized Clean Water Rule from EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers has a lot of people confused. It also has created concerns among farmers and industry groups about potential effects on production agriculture. I’ve reviewed the part of the rule that defines what is considered a Waters of the United States. Here is my summary:

Waters of the United States as defined in the Clean Water Rule

  • Navigable waters that can be / are / have been used for national and foreign commerce
  • All interstate waters and wetlands, which includes waters that flow across states or form state boundaries
  • Territorial Seas which extend up to 12 nautical miles from the baseline of all US coasts
  • All water controls and tributaries associated with navigable waters, interstate waters/wetlands, and territorial seas
  • All waters adjacent to navigable waters, interstate waters/wetlands, territorial seas, and their associated water controls and tributaries. This includes wetlands, ponds, lakes, oxbows, and similar waters
  • Waters that have been determined to be of significant nexus to navigable waters, interstate waters/wetlands, and territorial seas. Significant nexus is defined as waters that have a significant affect on the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of navigable waters, interstate waters/wetlands, and territorial seas
  • All waters located within the 100-year floodplain of navigable waters, interstate waters/wetlands, and territorial seas and all waters located within 4000 feet of the high tide line or ordinary high water mark and have a significant nexus to navigable waters, interstate waters/wetlands, and territorial seas
  • When water is determined to be significant nexus the entire water is considered a water of the United States even if just a small portion is located in the 100-year floodplain or 4000ft ordinary high water mark.

NOT Waters of the United State as defined in the Clean Water Rule

  • Waste treatment systems and associated industry approved practices
  • Prior converted cropland
  • ditches that are not a relocated tributary or excavated tributary and ditches that do not flow directly or through another waters into a Waters of the United States
  • Artificial irrigation areas and constructed lakes and ponds including those used for livestock watering, irrigation, settling, log cleaning, cooling, and flooding of rice fields
  • All dry land constructed reflecting pools, swimming pools, and ornamental waters
  • Water filled depressions created on dry land relating to mining or construction
  • Erosion created rills, gullies, and ephemeral gullies
  • Puddles
  • Storm water control features on dry land
  • Waste Water recycling structures on dry land

  

May is for Field Trips

May 20, 2015

May has been very busy for me at work. My Conservation District rents out 2 different no-till drills to local farmers. I have been helping move the drill through out the county with my one co-worker. This can be time consuming because you can’t drive very fast when hauling a heavy no-till drill. I’ve also been helping out with school education programs. I really enjoy getting to teach kids about science, agriculture, and the environment.

The first program I did was for 6th graders. This program focused on pH and its effects on water quality and wildlife. Explaining pH to 6th graders can be challenging, so I used a lesson plan called Red Cabbage Chemistry. The juice from a red cabbage works like a pH indicator and will change colors when you add acids or bases to it. This is a great way to demonstrate different pHs in household products. I also collected water samples from my family farm pond, which is full of fish, and from a local Acid Mine Drainage(AMD) impacted stream. The kids had visited the AMD stream in 5th grade and knew that there was no aquatic wildlife. Showing the students the difference in pH between the farm pond at 6.5 and the AMD stream at 4 helped them to understand the importance and effects of pH on water quality.

The second program I did was for 2nd graders. This program showed the students what foods they eat come from farms in PA. I complied pictures of plants and animals that can be found on PA farms and pictures of the food products that come from these plants and animals. The students really enjoyed getting to guess/shout out the answers. Something I found very interesting is that at least half of the students didn’t know where chocolate comes from. The #1 response I got when I asked them where chocolate comes from was “Milk.” This provided me the opportunity to explain that chocolate comes from the cacao tree and all milk that comes out of any color of cow is white milk. Some of the students were shocked!

As much as I enjoy teaching students, I realize at the end of the day I do not have the patience to be a full time teacher. I have complete respect for teachers and all their hard work. Teachers are truly amazing individuals.

Farmers Care About Conservation

May 7, 2015

Everything on Earth depends on our natural resources for survival. Air, water, soil, plants, and animals are essential to the survival and productivity of the earth. As unlimited as these resources seem, without conservation we will destroy them. Farmers have always been stewards for the environment because they rely on our natural resources to make a living. Conservation is key and the majority of farmers are already using conservation practices on their operations. Farmers need natural resources to be productive and make a living. Clean air and pollution free fresh water is essential for livestock and crops to grow and survive. Farmers use conservation practices like buffer stripes and no-till to reduce nutrients and sediments from getting into surface and ground water. Farmers also use practices like no-till and windbreaks to diminish wind erosion and odor. The basis of our food, fiber, and raw material production is the soil. Healthy productive soils are essential to farmers. There are many different conservation practices used to promote healthy productive soils. Soil erosion is reduced using conservation tillage, no-tillage, contour farming, cover crops, and many other practices. Soil health is measured by the amount of organic matter and soil biology present. Farmers increase soil health by using conservation tillage, cover crops, manure, residue management, and diversity. These practices are used by all farmers to varying degrees. A lot of fruits and vegetables require pollination to produce a crop. Farmers that rely on natural pollinators will plant alternative plants to create pollinator habitat. These alternative plants are not harvested and usually planted along field edges and areas of limited production. By using conservation practices farmers not only help protect the environment, they also save money. Conservation tillage and no-tillage reduces the number of trips a tractor takes across the farm. This reduction in trips decreases the amount of fuel used on the farm and cuts back on fuel costs and emissions. Fields utilizing no-tillage and cover crops will retain water better than plowed and uncovered fields. The no-tillage and cover cropped fields will yield higher than other fields during droughty years. By utilizing various conservation practices farmers are able to protect our natural resources and save money at the same time. Your local Conservation District and NRCS Office work directly with farmers to include conservation practices on their farms.

“We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we borrow it from our Children.”
– Native American Proverb

Find me on Facebook!!

April 23, 2015

PAfarmgirl is now on facebook. Stay up to date with all my adventures!

https://www.facebook.com/Pafarmgirlblog

PA Manure Application Setbacks

April 14, 2015

All agricultural operations in Pennsylvania that land apply manure need to have a Manure Management Plan (MMP) and follow setbacks established by the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law. These are the minimum setback requirements. Any operation considered a Concentrated Animal Operation (CAO) must have an ACT 38 Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) and follow specific ACT 38 setbacks.

The following setback requirements are for MMPs. A 100ft setback is mandatory for all manure application near an existing open sinkhole, private drinking well or spring, and public water well. When applying manure near surface waters like a stream, lake, or pond a 100ft setback is required. If a 35ft permanent vegetative buffer is established, manure can be land applied up to the buffer. A 50ft setback is allowed if current soil tests show less than 200ppm phosphorous, no-till practices are used, and a cover crop is planted when residue is removed. Winter application of manure can occur if there is a 100ft setback from streams, lakes, ponds, existing open sinkholes, private drinking wells and springs, public water wells, and above ground inlets to agricultural drainage systems. Plus no application on slopes greater than 15% and there must be a minimum of 25% ground cover from cover crops or crop residue.

When following an ACT 38 NMP slightly different manure application setbacks are required. A 100ft setback is mandatory for all manure application near an existing open sinkhole, private drinking well or spring, and public water well. However, if a 35ft permanent vegetative buffer is established around an existing open sinkhole, manure can be land applied up to the buffer. When applying manure near surface waters like a stream, lake, or pond a 100ft setback is required. If a 35ft permanent vegetative buffer is established, manure can be land applied up to the buffer. Fall application of manure must follow all surface and ground water setbacks plus there must be a minimum of 25% ground cover from a cover crop or crop residue or manure must be injected or incorporated with 5 days with minimum soil disturbance. Winter application of manure can occur if there is a 100ft setback from streams, lakes, ponds, existing open sinkholes, private drinking wells and springs, public water wells, and above ground inlets to agricultural drainage systems. An additional 100ft setback is required from all wetlands identified on the National Wetlands Inventory, if that wetland is within a 100 year floodplain of an Exceptional Value stream and surface flow is toward the wetland. There must also be a minimum of 25% ground cover from cover crops or crop residue.

Anyone that works at your local Conservation District or NRCS can help you determine the necessary manure setbacks on your operation. In addition you can visit https://www.paonestop.org/ to create your own operation maps showing the location of necessary manure setbacks.

Is It a Weed?

April 9, 2015

This is not as simple of a question as it may seem. A weed is defined by Merriam-Webster as a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth, especially one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants. In crop production a weed is any plant competing with the crop for nutrients, sunlight, water, and space. A volunteer corn plant in a soybean field is a weed. But the same volunteer corn plant in a corn field would be a crop. Another example is a dandelion. When it is found in an alfalfa hay field it is not a weed. However, when it is found in a turf lawn it is a weed. Location is a key factor when determining if a plant is a weed or not. Another key factor to consider is the plants use. We have to ask ourselves: does this plant have any usefulness to me or my goals. A lot of plants that are typically called weeds make great food for pollinators and wildlife. A major portion of our food supply comes from plants that require pollination. Providing pollinators food in the “off-season” is highly important for good yields during food production. So called weeds also can provide continuous ground cover to reduce soil loss and increase wildlife habitat. There are species and situations when a plant is definitely a weed. Species like eastern black nightshade, horse nettle, and ground cherry are all part of the nightshade family. These weeds can harbor diseases and pests that affect tomatoes and potatoes, which are also members of the nightshade family. All plants classified as invasive species are definitely weeds. A few examples of invasive species includes: Purple Loosestrife, Jimsonweed, Japanese Knotweed, Cheatgrass, and Multiflora Rose. Each state maintains of list of species designated as invasive. In Pennsylvania the plant list is maintained by the DCNR: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/plants/invasiveplants/index.htm.

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Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria

Musk Thistle Carduus nutans

Musk Thistle Carduus nutans

Designating a plant as a weed is not a cut and dry process. Always consider the plants location and use. Most importantly, if you determine a plant is invasive use proper control methods to eliminate the problem.