—by Steve Lekwa
It’s still above freezing as I sit down to write this week’s column, but it won’t be by day’s end. A narrow but wintry burst of snow is in northern Iowa and will be here by mid day. We had some snow showers some time ago, but this is the real thing; winter’s first shot across the bow. I’m not mentally ready for it, yet. Oh, my snow thrower is fueled and tested out OK. I cleaned up the mower and changed its oil last week. Even the garden plots are tilled and ready with lots of shredded leaves and composted manure to keep my pet worms happy and well fed. I just want fall to last a little longer. I haven’t had my fill of the fall things I love to do. Will there be a few more sunrises out in some wild area, or maybe a sunset or two? I don’t know.
I had been hoping there would be another opportunity or two to get the boat out on the water for some late fishing or even to motor out to a duck hunting site. There will still be some open water around even after the forecast burst of real cold for the next few days. Saylorville and Red Rock Reservoirs will likely be at least partially open for several weeks, yet, but my boat is too small with too little free board to risk being on big water in late fall weather. Perhaps I’ll get out with a friend with a larger, more seaworthy craft that can safely take some wind and waves.
The approaching winter season has its own charms. The kids will be headed home for some holiday visits that will mean some cheery fires in the fireplace. Maybe there will be some skiing snow for me and some sledding with our grandson. There’s always ice fishing once the ice thickens up enough. Unfortunately, I’m not a deer hunter. The approach of shotgun deer season doesn’t hold much excitement for me even though it has largely replaced the pheasant season opening day as Iowa’s biggest hunting event. Even with the deer herd down somewhat in some areas, Iowa will see more hunters in the field than at any other time of the year from December 7 to the 22nd.
I have noticed several fields planted to winter cover crops in our area. This new conservation practice has several benefits. Reduced soil erosion protects the future of that precious resource and leads to improved water quality due to better retention of soil nutrients. Some cover crops with deep tap roots lead to improved water and air infiltration just like deep tillage when the roots die and decompose leaving open spaces. That, in turn, will lead to less runoff in future rain storms or rapid spring snow melt.
My hat’s off to the farmers who are trying this new technique along with other techniques that keep our precious soil safely covered with at least the past year’s crop residue. We need more new tools like that in the kit to help Iowa and all those down stream from us toward healthier land and water. Sadly, the innovators are still a minority. Vast acreages of Iowa soil will have little or no cover as the usual fall tillage exposes it to the ravages of wind and running water for at least the next six months.
Well, I’ve put it off long enough. It’s time to go out and put the boat away. The rain barrel ought to be drained, too, so it doesn’t break when the temperature drops into the teens the next couple of nights. I’ll probably haul some buckets of water out to trees and shrubs that have been added to the yard over the past couple of years. I may rake up some leaves that are falling from a red oak that has had some disease problems in recent years, too. Some fungus diseases winter over in fallen leaves and can infect the tree again next spring, especially if we have another period of cool, wet weather while the tree is leafing out.