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Cooking with Fresh Herbs, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2016. http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-may-2016#FreshHerbs
Adding fresh herbs, like these chives, to your cooking is a quick way to transform ordinary meals into extraordinary ones. 

Cooking with Fresh Herbs

By Alice Henneman, Nebraska Extension Food, Nutrition & Health Educator

Whether you plant them or pick them up at the grocery store or farmers’ market, adding fresh herbs is a quick way to transform ordinary meals into extraordinary meals. 

Besides helping flavor foods when cutting back on salt, fat and sugar, herbs may offer additional benefits of their own. Researchers are finding many culinary herbs (both fresh and dried) have antioxidants that may help protect against such diseases as cancer and heart disease. 

A snip of a fresh herb into a dish instantly kicks up the appearance a notch! Unless directed otherwise by your recipe, add the more delicate herbs — basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, and mint — a minute or two before the end of cooking or sprinkle them on the food before it's served. 

The less delicate herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, and thyme, can be added about the last 20 minutes of cooking

Substituting Fresh Herbs for Dried Herbs

A general guideline when using fresh herbs in a recipe is to use 3 times as much as you would use of a dried herb. When substituting, you'll often be more successful substituting fresh herbs for dried herbs, rather than the other way around. For example, think potato salad with fresh versus dried parsley!

When to Pick or Purchase Herbs 

Purchase herbs close to the time you plan to use them. When growing herbs in your own garden, the ideal time for picking is in the morning after the dew has dried but before the sun gets hot. This helps ensure the best flavor and storage quality. 

How to Store Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs can be stored in an open or a perforated plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper drawer for a few days. If you don’t have access to commercial perforated bags, use a sharp object to make several small holes in a regular plastic bag. 

If you have more herbs than you can eat, enjoy herbal bouquets throughout your house. You can use either single herbs, combinations of herbs, or you can use the herbs as greenery mixed in with other flowers. To help preserve the aroma and color of your herb bouquets, place them out of direct sunlight.

To view (a) a chart giving fresh herb and food combinations, (b) illustrations of how to chop herbs, and (3) samples of how you can garnish with fresh herbs, visit: Fresh Herbs: a Picture of Healthy Eating.

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Drinkinn Water Week First Week of May, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2016. http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-may-2016#DrikingWaterWeek
In Nebraska, about 80% of the population consumes drinking water pumped from groundwater sources, including all rural residents with private drinking water wells. The photo above shows the well head for the author's private drinking water well.

Drinking Water Week First Week of May

By Nebraska Extension Water Quality Educator Sharon Skipton and Nebraska Extension Environmental Engineering Specialist Bruce Dvorak

Drinking Water Week will be celebrated May 1 through 7, 2016.  Activities will occur across the country to bring attention to our most precious natural resource – water. How much do you really know about the water you drink every day? Where does it come from? Is it safe to drink?

Where Does Your Drinking Water Come From?
In Nebraska, about 80 percent of the population consumes drinking water that is pumped from groundwater sources, including all rural residents who have private drinking water wells. Groundwater comes from natural underground layers, often of sand and/or gravel that contain water. Although groundwater was once thought to be protected by layers of rock and soil, we now know that aquifers, which supply groundwater, are vulnerable to many types of contamination.

The groundwater that supplies your drinking water is never pure. It contains minerals and microorganisms from the rocks, soil, and air with which it comes in contact. Human activities can add many more substances to water. But your drinking water does not need to be pure to be safe. In fact, some dissolved minerals in water can be beneficial to health. Whether or not your drinking water is safe will depend on which substances are present and in what amounts. That information can be obtained by having your water tested.

There is no single test to determine the safety of your drinking water. Many contaminants can present a health risk if they are present in sufficient concentrations. These include biological contaminants such as bacteria or viruses; inorganic chemicals such as lead or nitrate; and organic chemicals such as insecticides and herbicides. Other contaminants, while not a health risk, can make your water less desirable for use. These are referred to as nuisance contaminants and include calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide. It would be very costly and unnecessary to test your private water supply for the nearly 100 contaminants that public water supplies are required to monitor. But you must decide which contaminants to monitor and order tests accordingly.

Monitoring Private Well Water Quality
So, where do you start? We recommend you have your water tested annually for nitrate and bacteria for a general indication of the safety of your water supply. Testing for nitrate and bacteria does not guarantee your water is safe, as other contaminants could be present. Have tests done if you suspect any specific contamination other than bacteria or nitrate. This might be the result of a spill, backflow, use of product in close proximity to your well, contamination found in a nearby private or public well, problems such as staining or odor associated with your water, or other circumstance.

For additional information on water testing and water testing laboratories, see the NebGuides

What should you do when you receive your water test results? The quality of water from your private well is not currently regulated by federal or state statutes so any action you take is your choice.

The quality of water supplied by Public Water Systems is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. We recommend you voluntarily compare your water test results to the EPA regulations for public water supplies to evaluate the level of risk or nuisance associated with your drinking water. Use the information to make informed decisions, taking into account risks and potential cost and benefits of any action taken.

For more information on contaminants of most concern in Nebraska, see NebGuides on specific contaminants.

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Body Condition Key to Healthy Horse Rations, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2016. http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-may-2016#HealthyRations
Horses that get proper nutrition will live longer and perform better, so be sure to meet their needs throughout their lives. 

Body Condition Key to Healthy Horse Rations

By Monte Stauffer, Nebraska Extension Livestock Educator

“Feed all the hay your horse will eat, but recognize that may not meet all the animal’s needs.”

  • Grass hay- The advantage of grass hay in a dry ration is its lower susceptibility to mold.  Because there’s fiber in the stem, it dries more quickly than alfalfa.  This makes harvest timing more flexible.  The leaf-to-stem ratio is a good indicator of quality.  Most of the plant’s nutrition is in the leaves.  The hay should retain its green color and it should be free of mold and foreign matter like sticks, cardboard or other debris.
  • Legume hay - Alfalfa contains about twice as much protein and 20 to 30 percent more energy than grass.  It also contains a lot more calcium for colts and lactating brood mares.  That additional nutrition can be a disadvantage; however, when owners can’t limit the amount of it their horses eat.  In “easy keepers” too much alfalfa hay can lead to obesity.  Legume hay is a little harder to harvest because it’s more susceptible to mold and harvest must be timed so that it dries effectively without getting so dry it loses its leaves.  To get good quality legume hay, again, look for green color.  Make sure the leaves are still intact and that it’s free of foreign matter.
  • Grain – If hay alone will not maintain a horse’s condition, the owner can supplement with grain.  Since alfalfa hay is high in calcium, the grain supplement should contain less calcium than phosphorus.  Grass hay contains less calcium, so a grain supplement can have equal parts calcium and phosphorus.  Starting with no grain and add it a little bit at a time.  If the horse starts to gain weight, reduce the amount of grain; if it’s still not in good condition, add more.  More than 50 percent grain in a ration is likely to be too much.
  • Roughage – Horses need plenty of roughage to keep their digestive systems healthy and to keep them from chewing on other things, like fences, gates and other horse’s manes and tails.
  • Crop residues – Grazing crop residues can be a cheap way of providing roughage in the winter.  Consider the horse’s age and condition.  Cornstalks may not provide enough protein and energy for growing colts or horses in their geriatric years.  Make sure the site has a good water source and some kind of shelter or windbreak.  If there’s a lot of grain on the ground, it might cause the horse to founder.

Horses that get proper nutrition will live longer and perform better, so be sure to meet their needs throughout their lives.

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Spring Planting in the Vegetable Garden, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2016. http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-may-2016#SpringVegetableGarden
Mother's Day is a good rule of thumb for planting warm season vegetables in the garden.

Spring Planting in the Vegetable Garden

By Nicole Stoner, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator

Mother’s Day is coming and its a great time to honor our mothers, but its also a great time to get out and start planting our gardens. I get my interest in horticulture from my mother and so I like to buy her plants for Mother’s Day gifts.

In the vegetable garden, Mother’s day is a good rule of thumb for planting warm season vegetables outdoors. It's important to not plant frost sensitive crops until after the last spring frost has occurred. Warm season crops include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, garden beans, corn, watermelons, cantaloupe, squash, okra, and sweet potatoes.

Choosing Healthy Plants
When purchasing plants, be sure to look at the root system. Roots are very important to a plant, absorbing water and nutrients for growth and production. To check for good root development, gently pull the plant out of its container and look at the root system. If there are a lot of roots along the outside edge of the soil ball, it may be rootbound. When a plant is rootbound, the roots become entangled because the plant has gotten too large for the container it is growing in. Rootbound plants should not be your first choice for planting because these plants often continue to grow with encircling roots, which can cause stunting or even death of the plants. If a rootbound plant is purchased, be sure to thoroughly break up the root ball to help the plant grow correctly for better health.

Choose a Good Garden Site
Make sure the garden will receive at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, but 8-10 hours of sunlight is even better.  Vegetable gardens need 1-inch of water per week. The best option for watering is a soaker hose or drip irrigation to reduce the spread of diseases from splashing water.  Make sure that it is planted on level ground to ensure uniform watering. 

Mulch is necessary to a garden for moisture retention and weed reduction for less competition.  Good mulches include wood chips, lawn clippings, and newspaper.

Vegetables can also be planted in containers or in raised beds. Containers that can be used include shoes, pallets, boxes, ceramic containers, whiskey barrels, tires, and cow tanks, in addition to containers bought at a garden center. Just make sure that your container has a drainage hole in the bottom. Container gardening is a great option for people with disabilities that restrict them from traditional gardening or for those living in apartments or rental properties where they have no room for a ground bed.

Raised beds are another alternative to traditional gardening for those with disabilities or those with poor soils. Raised beds are gardens built up higher than their surrounding soil level. Raised beds can be made without an enclosure as a berm or with an enclosure using items such as landscape timbers or old railroad ties, as long as creosote does not still ooze from them. Raised beds can typically be much larger than a container garden, but should be only as wide as your reach to the center for weeding purposes.  This type of gardening would be a good choice for those facing problems with toxicity from black walnut trees.

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May Turf Tips, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2016. http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-may-2016#MayTurfTips
UNL Turfgrass Specialist Keenan Amundsen discusses buffalograss cultivars at the 2015 Turfgrass Field Day. 

May Turf Tips

By John Fech, Nebraska Extension Educator - Horticulture

By any stretch of the imagination, turning the calendar from April to May puts us into the heart of spring.  To keep turf thriving, several functions should be attended to.

Fertilization of Warm Season Grasses
In May, warm season turf such as buffalograss and zoysiagrass begins growth.  Once it has been fully coaxed out of dormancy by Mother Nature, it’s a good time for fertilization.  Unlike cool season grasses - Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue - warm season turfs grow best with low fertility.  Generally, 2 weeks after green-up, 0.25 to 0.5 lb of nitrogen should be applied, which amounts to about 1/4 to 1/2 the amount called for on the bag.

May Turf Tips, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2016. http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-may-2016#MayTurfTips
Dollar spot fungal mycelium and leaf lesions. 

Establishment of Warm Season Grasses
Mid May is a good timeframe for establishment of warm season turf as well.  Whether from seed, sod or plugs, the soil should be prepared as for flower and veggie gardens.  Keeping the soil moist, not soggy or dry is another must.  Application of starter fertilizer 2-3 weeks after emergence will encourage rooting and spreading of the turf.

Weed control is the major limiting factor during establishment.  Once emergence has taken place, preemergent weed control products prodiamine or pendimethalin can be applied according to label directions.  For post emergent weed control, quinclorac, carfentrazone, sulfentrazone or mesotrione can be applied sequentially according to label directions throughout the season. 

Disease Control
Dollar spot, a common fungal disease of Kentucky bluegrass often shows up in May.  Caused by warm, moist conditions, it can extend into June, depending on weather conditions of the year.  Dollar spot is a leaf disease, and as such usually responds favorably to an increase in air circulation.  This particular fungus is also common on underfertilized turfs, thus, a light fertilization often provides a reasonable measure of control.  If the turf has a history of dollar spot infection, preventative fungicides such as propaconizole or iprodione should be considered.

May Turf Tips, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2016. http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-may-2016#MayTurfTips
Brown patch leaf lesion. 

Brown patch is often found invading turf type tall fescue turfs.  This disease is also favored by leaf wetness, and usually is first seen when warm temperatures remain overnight.  Brown patch injury occurs by thinning and weakening the crowns of the turf stand.  If high temperature and humidity are present in turf stands with a history of brown patch, control measures used for dollar spot should also be considered for brown patch.

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Nebraska Local Foods – 3 Easy Ways for Consumers to Connect with Growers

By Sarah Browning, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator

Increasing numbers of consumers like buying locally grown foods and getting to know their producers.  Fortunately, it’s easier than ever for consumers to connect with growers outside the traditional grocery store system.

Nebraska Local Foods - 3 Easy Ways for Consumers to Connect with Growers, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2016. http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-may-2016#NebraskaLocalFoods
Lacate Farmers Markets near you through the Nebraska Department of Agriculture's Farmers Market and Produce Vendor database. 

Farmers’ Markets
One great way to connect with local growers is to meet and talk with them at a farmers’ market. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) has made it simple to find markets through their online Farmers Market and Produce Vendor database.  

Choose a city or county from the database and it will show you all the markets in that area, along with the markets hours of operation. You can also search for individual growers by city or county. 

Community Supported Agriculture
Some growers sell directly to their customers following a community supported agriculture (CSA) business model. This allows customers to purchase a share of the farm’s produce, providing funds for farm labor and expenses. When harvest begins, customers get their share of the farm’s yields. CSA customers also shoulder some of the farm’s risk. If some crops don’t do well, then customers get less of that produce at harvest.

Farms vary on what is considered a “share”, but usually it’s a weekly variety of produce, either delivered to the customer or picked up at the farm, for a set number of weeks during summer. Many farms offer half-shares or bi-weekly shares for small families. Customers don’t get to pick what produce is included in their weekly basket, which gives them the opportunity to try new vegetables.

Some have additional offerings, which can be added to a basic share like herbs, eggs and cheese, or extra produce for canning.

Talk with your favorite grower to find out if they have a CSA option available. Or visit http://food.unl.edu/csa for a partial list of Nebraska CSA farms.

Food Cooperatives
Nebraska is also home to two food cooperatives – the Nebraska Food Cooperative and Lone Tree Foods. Both cooperatives connect growers and buyers through their year-round, online farmers market and food distribution system.  Find them online at:p

Anyone can become a member and have year-round access to a wide variety of locally produced food, including eggs, cheese, meat, organic flour and popcorn, baked goods, herbs, and fresh produce.  Organic, all natural, and grass-fed options are available.  Shop from multiple producers to compare prices, types, and the production practices used by each producer to find a product that meets your needs.

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Control of Perennial Weedy Grasses, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2016. http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-may-2016
Quackgrass, Elymus repens. Ohio State Weed Lab, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org.

Control of Perennial Weedy Grasses

By Sarah Browning, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator

Perennial grasses, such as nimblewill, quackgrass, and windmillgrass, are some of the most difficult to control weeds in an acreage lawn. Whenever lawns are thinned, openings are created allowing weedy grasses to take hold. 

Nimblewill, Muhlenbergia schreberi, is a native, warm season, weedy grass that is a frequent turf invader. Nimblewill is a thin, wiry, pale green grass.  The leaf blades are short and emerge at 45 degrees angles from the stems, which are slender, smooth and tend to lie flat on the ground.  It spreads by short stolons, or above ground stems, that root at the nodes.  Nimblewill forms circular patches as a result of its stoloniferous growth pattern, which grow larger each year.

It grows best during the warmest summer months and can often be found in damp, shady areas or in areas that receive only a partial day of full sun.  It is objectionable in cool season turfs like Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue because of its delayed green up in the spring and early fall dormancy.  Many homeowners also dislike the fine-bladed texture of nimblewill and its habit to lie very flat on the ground, making it difficult to mow. 

Control of Perennial Weedy Grasses, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2016. http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-may-2016#NebraskaLocalFoods
Nimblewill, Muhlenbergia scheberi. Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org. 

Quackgrass, Elymus repens, is a European native, cool-season grass that has become naturalized throughout Nebraska.  It prefers to grow in moist areas of the lawn, but can survive well in dry areas once established, becoming a serious invasive weed.  It spreads through an aggressive rhizomatous root system, choking out more desirable grasses. The leaf blades are flat and thin, with few hairs, and no noticeable ridges or folds. 

Windmill grassChloris verticillata, is a native, warm-season bunchgrass.  It is found throughout Nebraska, but is most common the eastern and southern parts of the state.  It grows in all types of soil, and is common in lawns.  As a warm-season grass it begins growth late in spring, but grows and seeds quickly during the summer from May through September. As a bunchgrass, it spreads primarily through seeds.  Plants have coarse, light green leaves and produce seedheads at a short height, becoming unsightly in a mowed lawn.  The seedheads consist of 6-20 spike-like branches attached to a central axis, which resemble small tumbleweeds and can roll across the lawn in fall dispersing seeds.

Pictures of windmill grass. 

Control
Nimblewill and windmillgrass can be controlled selectively with the herbicide Tenacity (mesotrione).  Several applications, usually at least 3, should be made on 3-4 week intervals for the best control.  Susceptible grasses will turn white following the application, as chlorophyll in their leaves breaks down.  Tenacity is labeled for use on Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, fine fescue, perennial ryegrass, and buffalograss.  It should not be used on zoysiagrass unless damage or grass death can be tolerated.   Tenacity can be applied by commercial pesticide applicators, or purchased online by homeowners.

Quackgrass is more difficult to control since there are no herbicides to selectively kill it without damaging the lawn. Also, pulling or digging is often unsuccessful since only a small portion of rhizome remaining in the soil is needed to generate a new plant. So the best way to control quackgrass, is to spot treat the weed-infested areas with glyphosate (Roundup, Kleenup, etc.).

Glyphosate is a systemic, non-selective herbicide. Glyphosate is absorbed through the foliage and is then translocated to all plant parts. It kills nearly all plants that are directly sprayed. Visible symptoms usually develop in 7 to 10 days of the application. Death occurs in 2 to 4 weeks.

Always read and follow all label directions when using any pesticide. 

Efforts to control undesirable perennial grasses in the lawn should begin in mid-summer. This allows adequate time to kill the weedy grasses, then prepare the areas for seeding or sodding in late summer. Complete destruction of the weeds is necessary to prevent their reappearance. If the treated areas are not dead in 2 to 4 weeks, a second application is necessary. Treated areas can be seeded or sodded 7 days after application.

If you plan to sow seed, it's not necessary to dig up the destroyed areas. Vigorously rake these areas with a stiff tined garden rake to remove some of the dead debris and to break the soil surface. After seeding, work the seed into the soil by lightly raking the area and keep the soil moist with frequent, light applications of water. The best time to seed bare spots is mid-August through September. If you plan to sod, remove the dead debris before laying the sod.

The establishment of a thick, healthy lawn and its proper maintenance will help prevent future weed infestations.

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