Friday, August 13, 2010

My last story for the Missourian: Conservation!

I learned a lot about conservation at Jefferson Farms and Gardens yesterday morning.

Mostly, I learned that spirits can not walk in a zig zag pattern.

Yeah, I know, who knew, right?

Here's the story!

Jefferson Farm teaches conservation techniques to property owners
Thursday, August 12, 2010 | 7:50 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — If you want to participate in land conservation, there are lots of ways to do it.

On Thursday morning, two public tours at Jefferson Farm and Gardens were held to show ways to improve land conservation. About 20 people walked or went by wagon around the 67 acres in south Columbia and learned about permeable parking lots, rain gardens, pond management and wildlife habitats.

Porous asphalt: The first stop was a comparison of porous and conventional asphalt staffed by Robert Christensen, owner of Christensen Construction Company. Porous asphalt decreases runoff, which can erode soil and potentially send toxins into water sources. It also deters ice and snow from collecting because of tiny holes within the asphalt, Christensen said.

Porous asphalt is about 35 percent more expensive than conventional asphalt.

Rain gardens: At the next stop, Rebecca Spicer and Catherine Bohnert stood in front of a rain garden, which slows down and feeds on the runoff. The rain garden at Jefferson Farm and Gardens was made with compost, not fertilizer, and it had stones throughout it.

The women drew plants from a bucket to show examples of good plants for rain gardens. They include: palm sedge, water canna, arrowhead, irises, purple coneflowers, goldenrod, butterfly weed (a favorite of Monarchs) and the compass plant.

The stop for pond management was alongside a seven-acre lake. There, Kelly Mottaz explained that planting native grasses around the edges of a pond will limit soil erosion and runoff and deter Canada geese, all of which can worsen water quality.

Mottaz said pond weed is a problem for ponds; the small, floating vegetation reproduces rapidly. Tour guide Rob Myers, director of programs at the Jefferson Institute, which oversees Jefferson Farm and Gardens, said a canoe is sent out once a year onto the lake to clear out pond weed.

Another suggestion to limit runoff into ponds is building a Riparian zone, an area of trees and shrubs placed farther away from the pond to disrupt the runoff flow.

Buffer plants to consider are pickerelweed, prairie dropseed, big bluestem and little bluestem grasses and orange coneflowers.

The important thing is to use native plants, Mottaz said, because foreign plants tend to take over the area.

As for aquatic vegetation, native water lilies are less invasive than foreign species and will not spread as quickly.

Wildlife habitat: At the wildlife habitat stop, Bob Pierce, MU Extension assistant professor in fisheries and wildlife, stood next to a rectangular plot of plants.

"It's not just about food plots (for wildlife)," Pierce said. "You need to create a habitat that works for you."

Food plots are sections of foliage that attract wildlife but are unlikely to be successful if they exceed 65 feet from the tree lines.

Building a habitat for Bobwhite quail, for example, requires a food plot with a lot of foliage cover. Effective plots have 77 plants, such as ragweed, planted five feet apart. Once the cover has grown enough for the quail to feel safe, they tend to move in quickly.

"They say they'll move right in overnight," said Mark McCulloch, a private land conservationist for the Missouri Department of Conservation who was at the farm to speak later about the department's private lands program.

McCulloch said Missouri is the only state that has a division of private land. He said the Private Land Services Division, which is part of the Department of Conservation, began a decade ago, and part of its mission is to assist property owners looking to improve the well-being of their land. He said he gets between 150 and 200 calls a year.

"I will come out for a person with one sick tree," McCulloch said, talking about the range of his duties. "I'll help you out."

Conservation programs: The final stop was to give information about conservation programs offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dwaine Gelnar, assistant state conservationist for programs, said the Environmental Quality Incentives Program offers financial help and technical advice for farmers who have signed a contract to improve their conservation practices. A lot of the money goes to grazing lands, improving the health of the native plant population and protecting the water quality of nearby streams.

Nationally, the quality incentive program is allotted $1 billion, Gelnar said, $26 million of which was awarded to Missouri this year.

The 2008 Farm Bill changed the EQIP's fund disbursement focus so that it now targets locally driven initiatives. Applicants must register and be aware that selection is competitive, Gelnar said.

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