Candlewood Lake area residents asked to mail in soil samples

April 7, 2019 GMT

With planting season around the corner, organizers of a recently expanded program are looking to keep fertilizer and other nutrients out of Candlewood Lake.

The Candlewood Watershed Initiative held soil testing days in New Fairfield and Sherman for 11 years, but this is the first time the initiative is encouraging residents around the whole lake to mail in samples to be tested. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station then creates a report with recommendations on what fertilizer to use, how much and when to apply it to get the best results as well as reduce the amount entering the water.

“What we’re trying to do is bring the science factor into the fertilizer piece so it’s not just going out and buying so many bags and spreading them out,” said Jim McAlister, chairman of the Candlewood Watershed Initiative.

Added nutrients can cause algae and weeds to grow in the lake.

These plans help reduce the amount of nutrients put on the ground and that subsequently run into the bodies of water, said Greg Bugbee, who oversees the program at the CAES New Haven lab.

“Applying more than what you need is a problem, particularly in a watershed where there are lakes,” Bugbee said. “It keeps people overdoing it. A lot of people think the more the better.”

The soil testing and reports are completed for free by the station. The technique was started in the 1930s and the station completes about 11,000 tests annually, including for garden centers, farms, lawn care companies, golf courses and houses, said Bugbee.

He said the program is still free because it’s an important program and good way to protect the environment.

Residents only have to pay for the mailing costs.

Instructions on how to collect the samples will be posted on the Candlewood Lake Authority’s website, but are also available on the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station website. Residents will also have to say what they want to grow in that site so they can get the appropriate recommendations, which are generally good for about five years unless the land has changed or what will be grown there changes. People should specify if they want organic solutions.

It takes about a week or two for the one-page report.

“It’s surprisingly fast,” McAlister said.

Bugbee also studies the invasive species on area lakes, including Candlewood.

McAlister started soil testing days in 2008. Residents would collect a kit — complete with plastic bags and instructions — and come back that day with the sample. He would then drive the samples to New Haven to be tested.

This year, the group decided to expand it and are asking everyone to mail their samples in instead of coming to a set site. They are also partnering with garden centers to cover the costs and offer discounts on the products recommended in the reports.

He’s encouraging people to mail in the samples between April 12 and 26 to coincide with Earth Day, though the tests are run year-round.

This will not only expand the reach of the program, but also cuts down on the costs to run the program, McAlister said.

About 100 people have participated annually since the program started, he said.

“We’ve been surprised that the number has stayed up around 100,” McAlister said. “We’ve been pleased with the participation.”

kkoerting@newstimes.com; 203-731-3345