2020 Conservationist of the Year – Kyle Graham

Every year, the Clinton Conservation District Staff & Board select a Conservationist that has outstood the others in their commitment to conservation. The board & staff recognize these great people each year at our Annual Meetings.

The Clinton Conservation District Board & Staff want to take a moment out of 2020 to recognize Kyle and his accomplishments, even though the Annual Meeting was cancelled. He’s probably okay with the fact that he didn’t have to accept his award in public. We want to recognize and promote his efforts to enhance conservation on his farm and through his continued dedication to establishing quality wildlife habitat. Kyle has planted acres of native grasses and wildflowers and thousands of trees for wildlife on his and his family’s properties and at the Muskrat Lake and Maple River State Game Areas. He volunteers on the board of the local chapter of Pheasants Forever and serves the local community as a trustee for Greenbush Township.

Thanks for all your efforts for conservation and the community, Kyle!

2020 Free Well Water Screening Events

Bring your private well water sample to be screened for nitrites and nitrates and receive more information to keep your well water safe!

  • Thursday, August 27th 5:30-7pm @ Victor Township Hall (6843 E, Alward Rd, Laingsburg, MI 48848)  
  • Thursday, October 1st 1-6pm & Friday, October 2nd 9am-12noon @ Clinton Lakes Park (4665 N Dewitt Rd, St Johns, MI 48879)  

Who can participate?  Anyone who uses a personal well for drinking water

* Please do not bring samples from public water supplies or non-drinking water sources.

Directions for water sample collection:

Samples must be less than 48 hours old for a valid nitrate result. You do not have to use a special bottle for this screening; any small clean container will work.

1. Pick a tap that supplies water that has not run through any treatment devices (water softener, carbon filter, etc.). An outdoor faucet often works well.

2. Run the water for 20-30 minutes before collecting the sample to flush the water pressure tank so you can collect a valid sample. Disconnect any hoses before collecting the sample; do not sample through a hose. Fill sample bottle with at least 1 ounce of water.

3. Label bottle clearly with your name, sampling date, and well name (cottage well, Mom’s well, etc.).

4. Keep the sample dark and cold (on ice or refrigerated) until it is dropped off.

All results are confidential.  On-site screening will indicate nitrate and nitrite levels. You will be mailed a final copy of your results in 8 to 10 weeks, with information about what to do if the concentration of nitrate or nitrite is too high.

This program is sponsored by the Clinton Conservation District, the MAEAP Water Stewardship Program, and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. It is funded through the Michigan Groundwater and Freshwater Protection Act, the MDARD, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Converting Crispy Lawns to a Wildflower Meadow

Katie Hafner, Soil Conservationist

If there is one good thing that has come from 2020, it is the extra time I have been able to spend cleaning up, adding to, and expanding my flower and vegetable gardens. I have traded in and swapped out many ornamental plants for native perennials bringing diversity and color to my flower beds. Another thing I have spent many hours on this year is mowing my lawn, so while on the lawn mower I thought “What if this was all flowers too?”

Converting turf grass into a native prairie or a wildflower meadow is no easy feat. There are many things and many years of work needed to establish the perfect plot. The rewards can be endless! Native flowers bring in a greater variety of pollinators that will help overall native pollinator populations as well as pollinate both your flower and vegetable gardens. Choosing a mix that will keep flowers blooming all season long will bring color to a normally boring green lawn. Small mammals, insects, deer, turkeys, and other wildlife will thank you endlessly. While most country lawns dry up in the month of July and turn crispy, native grasses and wildflowers will penetrate deep into the soil profile and be able to scavenge nutrients and water even during dry times. It will look much nicer than dead turf and crabgrass. 

Thinking about something like this for next year? The first step would begin this fall with site and seat prep. 

Step 1- Site Selection (August-September)

Choose an area of lawn you would like to convert. The area should be mostly sun, away from any major herbicide or pesticide spraying, and a place you will be able to see and enjoy it. Steer clear of any shady, mucky or really wet soil areas. It is not impossible to do an area here, but a special wetland mix will probably be needed, and establishment will be tricky.

Another consideration for location is the availability to burn. If you are not in the city limits, a yearly burn beginning and year three may be a great way to maintain the desired diversity of your plot. Make sure you are able to mow around your plot to create a burn break. Steer clear of planting close to any buildings, houses, or other tall grass that will leave dead and dry residue that may also catch fire. Once you pick a location, measure on a satellite map (like Google maps) to see how many tenths or full acres you have. This will help you calculate seed.

Step 2- Buying Seed (August-October)

Next, choose your seed. There are many great pre-mixed seed mixes that are available that will create the best flower arrangement for your space. The CRP SAFE program has provides options for mixes with all three bloom periods as well as native grasses- CP-42 (this is my favorite).  There are many other mixes that will work, and with a little Googling, you can figure out which flowers will be right for your light and soil requirements. Many local conservation districts sell pre-mixed native grass and wildflower seed. Pheasants Forever also sells native mix. Here in Clinton County we are lucky to be close to the Michigan Wildflower Farm. They also sell seed that is all Michigan genotype and a great option. For help purchasing seed, reach out to the Clinton Conservation District for our full list.

Step 3- Site Preparation (August-October)

Now comes some manual labor… Site prep. It is not too early to start site prep for a spring 2021 planting. The goal is to get the cleanest and deadest surface possible. Staking out the area will help keep edges clean. The grass in the area will first need to be terminated. A broad-spectrum herbicide can be used to kill all vegetation. Looking for a non-herbicide option? Smothering the grass with a tarp or some other dark canvas may work best. Most of the remaining summer and fall will be spent cleaning up this surface. 

Tilling is optional. Most native grass and wildflower seed is so small that if it is buried underneath the ground surface too far it will germinate but never reach light. In a natural setting, wildflower seeds fall from the standing plant onto the ground. Mother nature does not till the soil; it is worked in with frost and is able to sprout the next year. 

Step 4- Planting

First is a dormant planting in the fall (November-February). In my opinion, this works best because most grass and wildflower seed needs cold stratification to germinate. Cold stratification is a time where the seed lays dormant, cold, and wet. Once soil temperatures reach below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (Google the soil temp in your area), premixed seed can be broadcast onto the terminated grass. Split the seed into two and cover the area twice to ensure an even spread. The frost will work the seeds in, nothing is needed afterwards.

Many have been just as successful with planting the same way in the springtime (March-May). If the converted area is large and a tractor is available, renting a no till drill maybe a good option. Many conservation districts have a no-till drill for rent, in most cases someone will come out and calibrate the drill based on your seed. This could save time on a big plot and ensure an even planting.

Now we wait!

Step 5- Maintenance (One to Three Years)

The work is not done. Normally, it takes 3 years for a native grass and wildflower planting to fully establish. There is required maintenance every year to ensure weeds and woody vegetation do not take over and crowd out the young seedlings. Progress in germination may not even be evident until a few months after planting. A rule of thumb with wildflower plantings is “the first year the seed sleeps, the next year it creeps, in the 3rd year it leaps!” Don’t get too discouraged if the meadow comes up ugly. Totally normal!

As the area starts to green up, it will be time to control weeds. Knowing the difference between a weed and a wildflower seedling can be hard but it is important to learn some identification to help weed the bad stuff out. If the plot is small, hand pulling may be the best way to control weeds. If the plot is large, wait until the weeds have almost overtaken any young seedlings and are about to go to seed. For medium plots, using a weed whacker is also a good option. Mow at 4-6 inches to make sure seed heads are removed. It is important that the weeds do not go to seed; it is hard to win the battle after that. Continual hand pulling or mowing four to six times in the first year is normal. The main goal is to keep the weeds from going to seed.

Mowing, weed whacking, hand pulling will continue for the next two years. In year two, flowers (mostly black-eyed Susan) with start to flourish. Some increase the black-eyed Susan content in their seed mix to get a big pop of yellow color during the second year. It can be a great way to show others your success (if they are like my husband and still thinks I am growing solely weeds at the end of year one).

After each mowing, more and more diversity will emerge. Mowing helps knock the weeds back and give more space and nutrients to young desired plants. In a wood setting like mine, battling emerging woody vegetation is normal. The best way to combat this is cutting and treating the stumps of sprouting trees. Trees like cottonwoods, and sassafras will reemerge after cut if the stump is not treated.

Step 6- Deciding to Burn (Year 4)

At year four, it’s time to burn. Burning happens naturally in the ecosystem and is a way to control woody vegetation as well as overtaking grass. It will rebalance species mix as well as help flowers bloom. In many cases, the best blooming years for meadows is the year of burning. Contact the local fire department for any permits needed. In some cases, they will come out and watch or even help as a training. The local conservation district office may be able to point you towards helpful resources and contacts for this activity.

Step 7- Enjoy!

Things to remember:

–           Check and apply herbicides according to the label. It is unlawful to use herbicides not according to the recommended dosage and timing. See how long of a residual the herbicide has. Glyphosate has a relatively short one. 2-4D however has a long residual and you will not want to plant during that time.

–           Help can always be found! The local farm bill biologist or conservation district can assist you with establishment, maintenance, and emotional support with the plot. They’re available by phone, email, and possibly site visits to come out and look to see the progress/problems.

–           A good way to get free seed is to find it yourself. Dried wildflower seed heads can be collected and sprinkled into the converted area. Adding more seeds is never a bad thing, as not all seeds will be successful and survive. 

Here’s a quick look at my experience establishing a half acre pollinator plot.

My goal was to bring different pollinators to my yard as well as establish native flowering plants for my honeybees. The area I was looking to convert was already tall grass yet on desirable. Reed canary, cottonwood, and goldenrod overtook the area that has been neglected for years. I started by spraying the entire area with glyphosate. I tried to remove any small trees. My husband brought the tractor home and disked the area. In hindsight I should not have disc. I believe it opened the ground and released a seed bank that came strong. I spread my seeds in November after the ground temperature was below 50°. The next spring mostly weeds emerged. Convincing myself it was normal I tried hand pulling a lot of the area. Learning that would take an eternity, I turned to the weed whacker and mowed it with that instead. After volunteering at a nature center for the morning I scored a trunk full of well-established wildflower plugs that were extra from an area they had planted. I planted them scattered around in my plot.

Don’t be afraid to try weird stuff! Putting the establishment flowers in my plot will add more seeds in the fall as well as increase the immediate aesthetics.

After four weed whack jobs this is what my plot looks like. The main weeds I am fighting is ragweed and foxtail. The cottonwoods are still emerging and probably always will, but I am carefully cutting and treating the stumps.

Additional resources:

–           This video gives a good how-to and a look at what a successful established planting looks like in a subdivision. It is not impossible to establish something like this in an urban setting. (attach video from FB)

–           Did you know there may be cost share for something like this? The USDA farm Bill program EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) has special funding for native grass and wildflower plantings. This may cover the cost of establishment and seed. Contact your local Conservation District for more information.

–           A quick Google search can lead to other funding sources as well. The bee and butterfly may fund provides seed to landowners who have site prep completed.

So, don’t be afraid to try something new this year!  The risk is small in the rewards may be great!

Happy Michigan Conservation District Day!

If you’re new here, let me tell you a bit about us. Our mission is to promote conservation locally and we are led by an elected board of Clinton County residents. The Clinton Soil Conservation District was officially founded in 1954 by a group of local farmers passionate about conservation and wanting to make sure federal dollars for conservation were spent in their county too. 

Original Board of Directors – 1954
Watershed meeting – 1958

Federal dollars for conservation? What does that mean and why wouldn’t they have been spent here too?

The Soil Conservation Service was established by Congress in 1935 as an answer the wind erosion catastrophe better known as the Dust Bowl, but agency, money was often not spent on projects that local farmers thought useful to their area. Local conservation districts were established as a way for local people to help determine what types of conservation projects federal money should be spent on locally.

The Clinton Soil Conservation District’s early years worked on farm drainage projects to make fertile lands for crop production available for longer growing seasons.  Managing water on farm fields through tile drainage helped reduce farm field runoff and sedimentation of local waterways.

As time went on, the conservation district in Clinton County expanded the types of conservation practices that they worked on. Many of these practices are still promoted today by the District including no-till practices and compaction issues. (Read more in this article from 1979 on Clinton CD’s field day on no-till farming!)

Today, the Clinton Conservation District (renamed in the 90s to better represent the scope of work we do) still works one-on-one with farmers to spend federal dollars on locally important conservation projects. We also provide services such as on-farm sustainability planning through MAEAP, watershed planning, invasive species identification and treatment options, local habitat enhancement and creation projects, and much more. The Clinton Conservation District is thankful to have so many amazing partner organizations and supportive landowners that help complete the work that those original farmers set out to do in our county. 

Declaration of the first Michigan Conservation District Day is important in recognizing our own conservation district and also conservation districts statewide. More than 70 conservation districts exist in Michigan, one in almost every county! We have all adapted from our original form over the years to better serve the residents in our counties, but we all were founded with the same guiding principles. Local conservation led by Local people.

Happy Christmas in July, I mean, Conservation Day in July!

Kelcie Sweeney, Executive Director

Check fuel, fertilizer and pesticide storage during busy summer months

The Clinton Conservation District assists farmers in many ways.  One program that helps farmers promote stewardship and protect the environment is the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).  Helping to protect ground and surface water is one of the objectives of MAEAP, and working towards MAEAP verification can help you assess risks to ground and surface water on your farm.

During this growing season let’s look of some of the things that we don’t always think of year around.  This time of year can be really busy with getting crops planted as well as applying fertilizer and pesticides. All equipment, especially sprayers and gauges need to be properly calibrated and inspected.  Many farmers use temporary tanks, away from the farmstead, to store fuel and chemicals, and there are considerations to remember when using these temporary facilities.  Tanks, hoses, fittings and couplers should be inspected to ensure that leaks and spills do not occur in the field.  Mixing and loading should be done at least 150 feet from any well and more than fifty feet from surface water, and a permanent or temporary fueling and mixing pad should be used.  Every site and vehicle should have a spill kit for cleanup.  Phone numbers for the appropriate agencies that should be called in case of an accidental discharge should also be kept on site.  Other good practices to keep in mind are proper storage with locks, danger or warning signs. and secondary containment of hazardous materials.  Finally, don’t forget to maintain accurate records of applications and proper disposal of containers and rinsates.   

Following these useful and environmentally sound practices, will help to mitigate any adverse effects on the land and provide a safer growing season.

Contact MAEAP Technician Eric Bak for more information.

Mapping Software for Habitat Improvements

By Seth Gibson, Water Resources Coordinator

Most experienced hunters know that there is no off-season if you want to make the most out of the upcoming fall. Mapping software can be an incredibly useful tool in your hunting repertoire, and it can be easier to use than most people think. If you’re looking for an app to show property boundaries, I suggest onX Hunt. If you’re looking for something to show elevation or points or interest in the field, I suggest Navionics. While those are both beneficial apps for use in the field, they don’t really provide a way to edit/draw on the maps at all to get a site plan established.

Google Earth Pro provides all the basic mapping capabilities of more complex system at the same relative ease of use as Google Maps. It’s free to download and includes instructions on how to install it, plus it works on both IOS and Windows operating systems Some of the basic functions can help you plan out work on your property as well as document movement during the season.

Polygons

Creating a site plan for your off-season improvements is as simple as drawing your boundaries. Use the polygon function in Google Earth Pro to draw out a plan for your property at whatever scale or detail you wish right on top of the map of your property.

A habitat grant site made using polygons. Green – Switchgrass, Orange – Grain Sorghum.

Polygons will also allow you to see the exact acreage or square footage of the area you’ve drawn. Right click the polygon, scroll to properties then click the measurements tab. This information is useful when figuring out how much seed you need to cover the field or fencing to close an area off. For waterfowl hunting, we use this function to help us remember what crops went into each field that we have permission on.

Pins

Google Earth Pro also allows you to drop pins when you want to mark a location on the map. We use this to mark occurrences. It can help you see patterns on your property, such as the number of times you saw a certain buck on a camera, or locations where morel mushrooms were found, for example.  

Here we have the occurrences of “Forks” a 4 point that we saw out at our spot. The red markers indicate he was seen by someone who was hunting while the orange are tail cam pics.

While we didn’t learn a ton about “Forks” in the first year watching him, if he makes it back next year we’ll be able to add that data to the same folder with the number 2 on each icon in hopes of eventually figuring out his pattern.

Add Path

The “add path” feature is useful for measuring distances. By drawing the path, this allows you find distances for objects both as if you were going to walk there or as the crow flies. We use these distance measurements to estimate safe firearm distances. A rangefinder is recommended to ground truth these distances, especially when ensuring you’re 450 feet away from an occupied dwelling.

One of my duck hunting spots. We can see that we are safe to hunt anywhere south of the lane.

Finding your hiking distance is just as easy. Draw your anticipated path, or a path you’ve already walked, and do the same as above to see your measurements. Using this feature, I was able to find out I had a mile hike to get to a duck hunting spot I wanted to try. It looked much shorter on the map, so thanks to mapping ahead of time I was able to have a friend bring his UTV.  

Using the path feature, we were able to map the distance if you were to walk around Big Clinton Lake and the Clinton Lakes Prairie.

These are just some of the basic functions, but there are a ton of resources out there to help you familiarize yourself with the app. The Google Earth website can help but I’ve found YouTube videos the most useful as they allow you to follow along.

New Pollinator Plot Looks Bad?

New Pollinator Plot Look Bad? It’s Okay, So Does Mine

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Katie Hafner, Soil Conservationist

Last fall I planted a half acre pollinator plot at my house with the hopes of increasing pollinators and the aesthetics of my yard. I did a snow-seeding around Christmas with a basic Michigan-based pollinator seed mix. I wanted to broadcast the seed on the snow to get an even spread. The snow melts and works the seeds into the soil as well as cold stratifies them.

Itching for spring (between the snow showers) I have spent some time inspecting my now 5-month-old planting only to find some yard grass, plantain, and random weeds I know to be nothing interesting. My ID knowledge of emerging wildflowers is nothing special, but you would think I could see something out of the ordinary to give me reassurance that I didn’t have a failed establishment.

I bet your planting looks like this too…

A pile of dirt and grass field

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The fact of the matter is, your planting did not fail. This is completely normal. For most basic “pollinator plantings” it is a warm-season grass and wildflower mix. The first growing season, native grasses and wildflowers spend most of their energy building their root system. Most of the grasses planted (big blue stem, little blue stem, and Indiangrass) will emerge in bunches rather than a carpet.

Being a warm season mix, most seeds will not germinate or grow until the soil is above 55 degrees and don’t really start to flourish until 73 degrees. This explains why the volunteer lawn grass, which is a cool season grass, emerged and greened up first in my plot, same with the plantain. According to weather.gov, the ground temperature recorded closest to my house on 4/30 is 49 degrees.

A tree in the middle of a field

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More than likely your plot will require maintenance for the first 3 years. Weeds will work to out compete the establishing flowers and should be mowed or weed whacked down. On smaller plots like mine, spot spraying or hand weeding may be an option keeping in mind I have bluebirds and honeybees nearby.

Our Farm Bill Biologist says it takes 3 years for the planting to really take off. “First it sleeps, next it creeps, then it leaps.” Learn more here.

So, don’t feel bad. Yes, the pollinator plot may be a weedy, ugly mess like mine is now, but hold on for warmer weather. Work to keep the weed competition down and your pollinator garden will be flourishing in no time! One of the best things about nature, is it doesn’t have to be pretty all the time to be beautiful. It just naturally is.

Check in to see how my pollinator planting is progressing on Facebook @ClintonConservation or on our website. I’ll keep you posted!       

  -Katie

2020 will be a busy one for Clinton County farmers!

Katie Hafner, NFWF Soil Conservationist

Farmers and landowners in Clinton County are very involved in all the Farm Bill programs offered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with help from the Clinton Conservation District. With the wet spring and harsh fall that 2019 brought, farmers used quick thinking and innovative ways to preserve their soil and prepare fields are the nest spring. Cover crops were planted on almost 30,000 acres. The roots of those cover crops held the soil together while the rain was washing bare fields away as well as help nutrients in the root zone, so it was available to the next crop.

With the help of cost-share from the USDA program EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), every year farmers and landowners can apply for help to install practices or new management strategies that make their farm more sustainable like the cover crops planted in 2019.

2020 is shaping up to be a record year for Farm Bill programs in the county. With over 100 applications, and many becoming contracts, the NRCS and Conservation District staff are working hard to conservation plan and accommodate all interested and involved.

Gearing up the green for #plant2020 at Hafner Farms

The Environmental Quality Incentive Program, EQIP program provides technical, educational, and financial assistance to eligible farmers and landowners to address soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on their lands in an environmentally beneficial and cost-effective manner. Cost-share is available for applicants who were selected for funding.

Sign-up 1 for 2020 closed on March 20th, and Clinton County has 55 applications!

Projects that landowners are working on through this program include cover crops, nutrient management technologies, waste storage facilities, forest management plans, high tunnel systems, grassed waterways, and pollinator habitat. Applications are accepted year-round, and are batched a few times per year.

Many farmers in the county hold themselves to a high environmental standard. Keeping records, only applying nutrients that will be immediately used, watching for run-off, and becoming MAEAP verified are all awesome steps to becoming good stewards of the land (contact Eric Bak, Clinton Conservation District’s MAEAP Technician, to learn more eric.bak@macd.org) Farms with operations like this are great candidates for the Conservation Stewardship Program.

The Conservation Stewardship Program, CSP is a voluntary conservation program and has a unique role among USDA programs. It identifies and rewards those farmers and landowners who meet the highest standards of conservation and environmental management on their operations. It also provides incentives to “up” their level of conservation by applying new projects on their land.

The CSP 2020 sign-up is happening right now through June 1st.

The Conservation Reserve Program, CRP program reduces soil erosion, protects the Nation’s ability to produce food and fiber, reduces sedimentation in streams and lakes, improves water quality, establishes wildlife habitat, and enhances forest and wetland resources.

All three agencies in the USDA Service Center work hard to provide the Conservation Reserve Program to Clinton County! With hundreds of active contracts, this program has historically been a great success; 2020 is no different. 29 landowners will be installing conservation practices through the general CRP sign-up that closed in February. A handful more will be installing water quality projects with the help of the continuous CRP program.

The CRP program for water quality practices will remain open until mid-May. Contact Clinton County FSA to get started!

All of the Farm Bill programs offered in the county totals over 100 applications so far in 2020! This will bring hundreds of thousands federal dollars to the county in order to install projects that help create a more sustainable farm for years to come.

Sound like something that would be a good fit on your farm? We remain open through the COVID-19 outbreak and are working remotely. We know that #plant2020 must go on, and we are here for you!

Contact Katie Hafner at katie.hafner@macd.org to talk about a conservation program.