Organic farms are excellent hosts for pollinators because of the reduced danger of pesticides, but also because of the greater diversity that organic operations often support, says Ohio State Bee lab director Denise Ellsworth. With over 450 different species of bees in Ohio, a variety of plants and habitats is important.
Ohio State’s Bee Lab is dedicated to research and outreach on topics related to honey bees, wild bees, and other pollinators. Ellsworth has partnered with others to develop numerous factsheets and resources on Ohio-specific bee and pollinator topics, including id guides to common Ohio bees, and tips for creating pollinator habitats with specific tree and plant suggestions.
Honey bees can of course serve as an additional source of income. Honey production comes to mind immediately, but some farmers also manage pollinator services, renting out their hives to various fields during the growing season. For those not looking to raise bees commercially, there are still benefits to creating pollinator habitats. According to Ellsworth, pollinators share the same habitat needs as other beneficial insects. “So even if you’re not growing something that relies on pollinators, you’ll be creating a habitat for other beneficial insects: wasps, lady beetles, and other ‘good guys,’” she says.
Whether you’re managing a small personal garden or a multi-acre farm, areas to develop for pollinator habitat are easy to identify: Fallow fields, cover crops, hedgerows, windbreaks, riparian buffers, ponds and ditches, natural or undeveloped areas, pastures, and flower gardens can all be improved with features and plants to attract pollinators.
Selected Ohio State resources are listed below. You can also visit the Ohio State Bee Lab website for more resources including current research, and information on the Ohio Bee Atlas, to which citizen scientists can contribute photos and observations. Additional resources are available through the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. They have several general factsheets and guides related to organic farms and pollinators. https://xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/organic-farms/
Honey Bee Resources
Getting Started with Honey Bees, IPM for Bees, etc.
Creating Pollinator Habitat
presentations from 2019 OEFFA Conference and 2019 Grazing Conference
Attracting Pollinators to the Garden
Bee, Wasp, Hornet, and Yellow Jacket Stings for Trainers and Supervisors
Bumble Bees in Ohio: Natural History and Identification of Common Species
How to Identify and Enhance Ohio’s Wild Bees in Your Landscape
Ohio Bee Identification Guide
Ohio Bee Identification Cards and Posters
Ohio Trees for Bees
Pollinator Quick Guide: What You Can Do to Help Bumble Bees
Pollinator Quick Guide: What You Can Do to Help Honey Bees
Pollinator Quick Guide: What You Can Do to Help Native Bees
Pollinator Quick Guide: What You Can Do to Help Pollinators
Honey Bees in House Walls
Recordings are available from the 27th Annual Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference, held in Ada, Ohio, in March 2019. This two-day event brought together speakers in a variety of subject areas – many of which will be of interest to organic farmers.
Videos are available on the conference’s You Tube Channel.
Here are some of the offerings:
Cover Crop Panel: Addressing Cover Crop Seed Issues
Sarah Noggle, OSU Extension, Paulding Co., Moderator; Jay and Ann Brandt, Walnut Creek Seeds; Don Grimes, Ohio Seed Improvement; Cody Beacom, Bird Hybrids
Protecting Identity Preserved Crops In The Field:
Managing Pollen Drift to minimize contamination of Non-GMO Corn
Dr. Peter Thomison, OSU Extension Corn Specialist
Enhancing Mycorrhizae And Metarhizium Fungus
Jim Hoorman, USDA-NRCS, Soil Health Specialist
What Management Practices Most Influence Soil Health In Corn Production?
Dr. Christine Sprunger, OSU Assistant Professor, SENR
Enhancing Beneficial Insects With Pollinators
Dr. Stephanie Frischie, Xerces Society Agronomist / Native Plant Materials Specialist, Plymouth, WI
Can Weeds Be Managed With Calcium Amendments?
Dr. Doug Doohan, OSU Professor, HCS, and Andrea Leiva Soto, OSU PhD Student, HCS
Elephant In The Room: Why Do So Many Farmers Practice 'Soil Balancing' Despite The Lack Of Scientific Evidence?
Dr. Doug Jackson-Smith, OSU Professor, SENR, and Dr. Caroline Brock, OSU Senior Research Associate, SENR
The Effects Of Manipulating Ca:Mg Ratios On Ohio Crop Yields And Soil Health
Dr. Steve Culman, OSU Assistant Professor, SENR, and Will Osterholz, USDA-ARS
Weather Pattern Effects On Conservation Practices
Dr. Aaron Wilson, OSU, Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center
Return On Investment With Using Gypsum
Dr. Subbu Kumarappan, OSU Associate Professor, ATI
Gypsum Is More Than Calcium: Summary Of Ohio Field Crop Responses To Sulfur
Louceline Fleuridor, OSU MS student, HCS
Weed control without chemicals means fewer options. In fact, weed control is often cited as a reason farmers decide not to pursue organic certification. Although ecological weed management tactics are available, research reveals that many organic farmers do not take advantage of them.
This may happen for a variety of reasons. All weed control methods come with pros and cons, which vary depending on specific growing conditions, cropping systems, and farmer priorities. For example, in a low-value crop, investing time into mechanical or hand-weeding may not be economically feasible. In poorly draining soils, frequent cultivation may lead to soil compaction and drainage problems, or field conditions may make it difficult to add a cover crop into the rotation.
To help farmers consider these trade-offs, a team at The Ohio State University and Michigan State University has developed an online tool to present different weed control strategies, along with their historic long and short-term performance.
How it works.
The Organic Weed Manager tool collects specific information on growing conditions and farmer priorities. The program then compares the users’ current strategy with alternative approaches, showing the predicted impacts over time across diverse objectives (weed seedbank, costs, soil health, etc.). For those who want to consider a new approach to weed control, the tool also suggests specific steps to take.
The online tool is easy to use and gives individualized results. The tool is not meant to make management decisions for you, but rather to provide an opportunity to consider and compare alternative strategies, while reflecting on individual priorities and values. In this way, the research team hopes to lower barriers to on-farm experimentation and improve adoption of organic weed management techniques.
The Organic Weed Manager software is free and available at organicweedmanager.com. Completing the tool takes approximately 20 minutes. Users may save their progress and return later to complete it. Users can access the tool from a desktop or laptop computer, tablet, but not from a phone. Farmers and farm advisors are encouraged to use the tool and provide feedback for further development. The tools itself contains an area for evaluation and comments.
For more information about organic weed control options, including case studies, resources, and ongoing research projects, visit go.osu.edu/eco-weed-mngt.
"Soil balancing is complex, it's prevalent, and it's shown the capacity to endure. It also raises very interesting, and sometimes difficult to answer, questions. All of those are reason enough for us to chat, but as we address those questions we’re also very likely to learn about soils, about crops, about farms and farmers, and the people who advise farmers and supply them."
- Matt Kleinhenz, Ohio State, vegetable production specialist
Below are a few notes and quotes from our first two Soil Balancing call-in conversation. Recordings of both calls are available at our website, go.osu.edu/SB-call-in, where you can also find details about our final call-in event on December 12, 2018, 1:30-3:00 p.m. eastern time.
What We Think Soil Balancing Does
“The physical and biological aspects of the soil have more impact on an ultimate yield than actual N, P, and K does. So we're in working with these heavier clay soils. Our main goal is to minimize stress and duration of stress on the crop, so we're trying to preserve yield, because we continually stress this crop and most of the stress on those clay soils comes from water.“
- Joe Nestor, Nestor Ag, LLC (November call-in)
Joe Nestor works as an independent crop consultant in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana. He estimates about 70% of the soils he works with are heavy clay. His main goal using soil balancing is to improve water infiltration for less stress on crops.
“As we reduce flooding in the fields, we end up with a healthier crop in many cases -- a crop that survives, versus a crop that dies out under flooding conditions, and as a result, fewer weeds. When the crop dies or when the crop is not vigorous what grows in those in those areas of the field are weeds primarily. And we've all seen those dead areas in the field that come up in foxtail and other weeds.”
- Doug Doohan, Ohio State, weed specialist (October call-in)
Doug Doohan theorizes that soil balancing might affect weed populations indirectly through improved soil structure and infiltration. He cautions that there is no hard data on this yet, but it’s a research question be is studying based on conversations with farmers.
What Soils Does SB Work Best On?
“I think guys that have promoted the Albrecht balance have kind of given people the idea it works in any soil and that's really not the case. And so I think some of that has drifted into the research facilities in thinking that it works in all situations and that's not the case.”
- Bill McKibben, consultant, Soil Tech, Inc. (October call-in)
Although McKibben says he grew up as an “Albrecht guy,” i.e., focused on the 65% Ca, 15% Mg base saturation recommendations, his experience has shown him this technique is much more effective on clay soils.
However, by growing and incorporating a mixed species cover crop into his soils, vegetable grower Bob Jones reports significantly increasing the CEC on his sandy loam soils. He also uses compost teas and mineral applications, rotating fields in and out of production. He feels this increase of organic matter combined with increasing his Ca:Mg ratio has led to improvements in soil and crops.
“We're raising the CEC, we're raising the organic matter levels, we're getting the calcium up in that seventy to seventy-five percent ratio with magnesium in line with that of 7:1 and that seems to be— We seem to be seeing a very marked improvement in the quality and the shelf life of the product that we're growing.”
- Bob Jones, The Chef's Garden (November call-in)
Focus on the Crop, not Just the Numbers
“The number one goal, the number one objective, needs to be to grow a really healthy crop…. So in terms of priorities sometimes the lab report might indicate that we have a soil that is severely out of alignment and we need to make major adjustments, but the budget doesn't exist and it's not possible to make that happen. In those cases, the priority always needs to be to grow a really healthy crop first and then fix the soil over time as we're able to.”
- John Kempf, consultant, Advancing EcoAgriculture (October call-in)
Other consultants chimed in, saying it’s important to get out in the field and see what’s happening. Both Kempf and McKibben recommended a Paste Analysis test to examine how nutrients are moving into the soil solution and becoming available to plants.
"I can only say what works on our farm. Going back to the question of the truth, what's the truth on your farm? Then go with that. And you can only do that by experience. My father told me a long time ago that the best fertilizer you can put on a field comes from the soles of your feet and that means walking through the field and seeing what's going on and listening to the plant. The plant’s the best test mechanism we have. Does the plant look healthy?"
- Bob Jones, The Chef's Garden (November call-in)
On-Farm Experience vs. Research
“If the universities have a different opinion than the farmers, I normally go with the farmer opinion. They may not know why something is working, but they do know that it does work. And maybe the researchers…. they may not have the whole system, where a farmer would.”
- Will Glazik, organic farmer, Cow Creek Organic Farm
Glazik spoke in detail about how he applied soil balancing on his fifth-generation family farm: how his inputs changed over time and what improvements he saw. He looks to researchers to answer questions about ‘why’ something works, which helps him replicate a practice at his own farm.
“Scientists, I think, legitimately, have a healthy skepticism about what they might consider anecdotal reports of things that people say, especially when it comes…with the sales interest in mind, and they want us to validate that. On the other hand, farmers have a very healthy skepticism and legitimate skepticism of science, and the degree to which scientists’ work is directly as applicable or useful in their work, and that's why they turn to farmers often and legitimately to get advice and counsel.”
- Doug Jackson-Smith, Ohio State, natural resources and rural sociology specialist
Doug Jackson-Smith says that if soil balancing is to move forward, farmers and scientists must work together and bring the on-farm experience to science, and science to the on-farm experience.
Why Aren’t More Universities Studying Soil Balancing?
Steve Culman said many scientists feel this topic has already been decided. But his review of published literature and farmer input, made him think there was more to study. Other panelists theorized that Soil Balancing was an unpopular topic for study because there were few products (and sales revenues) tied to it or because previous research was done on soils poorly suited for the technique.
“I think that the beauty of science is that we… claim to be a self-correcting enterprise. It might take a year or two, it might take ten years, it might take decades. We believe that truth is the foundational thing that we're after, and that, if we have it wrong now, that in time and with additional evidence, we're going to change the way we think about things.”
- Steve Culman, Ohio State, soil fertility specialist (October call-in)
"You're asking, should we be doing more research and generating more numbers. I think so in this regard, because it is a question that I get at almost every soils talk I give. Can I improve my drainage by increasing the calcium-magnesium ratio?"
- Josh McGrath, University of Kentucky (November call-in)
Join the Conversation
- Read more details about future Call-ins
- Register for December call-in.
- Read about the basics of soil balancing and Ohio State's project.
- Listen to full conversation (below).