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As we travel around the county, going to and from work, doing the mundane things in life, wrapped up in our own little world, do we ever take the time to really look and notice things going on around us? When did that sign go up? When did that house or business go in? Why is that field green in the middle of winter when everything else in the outdoor world is dead and lifeless? Is there a reason for this? Why would someone be worried about growing something in the winter months? Is it something that affects me? Is it something I should be doing? Or, do we just not “see” it and continue to drive on?

For those of you that may be wondering what is going on (with the green fields), I will try to explain some of it.  The most important thing that I would like to tell you is that, “yes, it does affect YOU.” And if you do anything agriculturally related, including having a garden, it is something that you could/should be doing. Why? Simply put – It affects YOU because it helps not only keep our water clean, but also allows more water to be infiltrated into the ground.

We all like to have water (from our wells) and we like it to be clean water. If we have a garden, we would also like to have water infiltrate the ground. The more water that goes into the ground, the less we need to water it ourselves.  Almost everything we do with soil decreases water infiltration, including erecting a building, developing land, converting forest land to anything else, or even something as trivial as tilling the soil. 

You may consider the first few things I mentioned common sense. It’s easy to see that putting up a house or building where good soil used to be will keep water from entering that soil. However, subtle things can have the same effect. Tillage can destroy soil structure. There has been a big movement in the agricultural world to get away from tillage (called no-till) and incorporate cover crops. 

What is a cover crop?  Yep, we are now back to the title.  They are the green fields in winter. Farmers hear it all the time, but what about you? Do you have a garden? Do you rototill it? You have now turned a soil capable of infiltration into a plot of land with a runoff problem.

You have destroyed soil structure and now it is a bed of very fine soil particles. What happens to most fine particles (of anything) when they get wet? They “glue” themselves back together when they dry out. The first rain, you have infiltration. But when it dries, it packs together.  The second rain, the same thing. By the third rain, it has sealed itself off and most of the water now runs off.  Have you ever really watched where water goes when you water the garden or the flowerbed? I have. It usually runs off. Dig into the ground after watering it and see what you find.  Check out the videos on our website www.bccdpa.com.  It’s pretty amazing to see.

I know, “get back to the point,” you say. The reason you see green fields in the winter is because someone is investing in building that soil. Soil structure equals water infiltration which equals everything I have talked about above.  Cover crops build soil structure and add biological life to the soil. We will dig deeper into soil structure next time.  For now, notice how you and your community are managing soil, and don’t be afraid to dig a little – you may learn a lot!

The Bradford County Conservation District is committed to helping people manage resources wisely. You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd. in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall. Contact us at (570) 485-3144 or visit our web page at www.bccdpa.com.