April 2014

Life Outside the City Limits

Raising Meat Chickens in Small or Backyard Flocks
By Steve Tonn, UNL Extension Livestock Educator


Raising chickens (broilers) at home for meat is becoming a popular practice on small farms and acreages.  Broilers are young chickens specially bred for fast growth and harvested when they weigh about four pounds, usually between seven and nine weeks of age.  Commercial broilers are the most economical chicken breed to raise for meat.  Good quality broiler strain chicks should come from a reputable hatchery.  April and May is a good time to get chicks. 

Before you start on this enterprise, ask yourself some important questions.

What do you want to accomplish with a home flock?  It is unlikely that you will be able to produce a chicken for less than the cost of purchasing one at the grocery store.  However, the chickens you raise at home will probably be larger than the ones you can buy in the store.  You can also raise a large quantity at one time rather than buying individual chickens at the store.    Having a ready supply of chicken in your home freezer is a nice convenience.

Are you up to the challenge of taking care of a flock of chickens for multiple weeks?  Chickens require daily care, every day, including weekends and holidays.  Consider the time and effort required for the care of a flock before deciding whether or not to start a poultry flock of any kind.

How will you harvest your chickens?  Are you able to harvest and process them yourself or do you need to take them to a facility where you pay to have them harvested and processed?  Do you have enough freezer space to accommodate the number of chickens you plan to produce? 

Raising Chickens
Chickens need a clean, dry, draft-free building or similar housing that provides at least 1.5 square feet of space per chicken.  For best growth, broilers should not be let outdoors in a large area.  They will use up energy in running around instead of gaining weight.

Chicks will need a reliable heat source, such as a heat lamp.  Keeping the chicks warm the first few weeks is very important.  Use a thermometer to measure the correct temperature.  After the broilers are three to five weeks old and fully feathered, heat is seldom required.  It will depend, of course, on the temperature of the pen.  The ideal growing temperature is 60 to 75 degrees after the broilers pass 4 weeks of age.

Chicks require an adequate water supply.  Fresh, clean water is essential for proper chick health and growth.

Simple chick feeders can be used when birds are young, but a larger feeder will be necessary as chicks grow.  Keep in mind that chicks double their size in only a couple of days and will continue to grow rapidly through their first six weeks.  Deep feed troughs help to prevent waste as long as you don't overfill the feed.

Commercial feeds are available that provide the required nutrients for growing chickens.  Select the proper feed for the age of your chicks.  Choose a broiler feeding program for best results. 

Broilers need some form of bedding or litter to help keep them warm and to absorb moisture.  Wood shavings, sawdust, or rice hulls are good litter choices.  Keep about a 3 to 4 inch depth of bedding on the floor.  Clean out any caked or matted litter each day.  Replace any damp bedding with clean, dry bedding as needed.

For additional information on raising broilers check out these resources:
Small and Backyard Flocks, eXtension.org
Raising Meat Chickens in the Small or Backyard Flock, eXtension.org
Raising broilers. Tom Danko, University of New Hampshire.
Home Production of Broiler Chickens. William Owings, Iowa State University.
The Small Flock for Poultry Meat. Melvin Hamre, University of Minnesota.
Production of Eggs and Home-Raised, Home-Butchered Broiler and Turkeys. Scott Beyer and Rhonda Janke, Kansas State University.

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Videos

Looking forward to April showers, May flowers, and a real Spring? This month features videos on Nebraska's newest addition to the noxious weed list, alternatives to lawns, and (if you just have to have a lawn!) choosing a lawnmower.

In 2013, Sericea Lespedeza was added to the Nebraska list of noxious weeds. Nicole Stoner of the University of Nebraska - Lincoln Extension tells about the weed and management options.


 

 

UNL Extension Educator Jim Schild talks about taking a different approach to turf in your lawn. Some alternatives to a traditional cool season turf include buffalograss and wildflowers.


 
When you have a lawn,  the right equipment makes maintenance a great deal easier. UNL Extension Turfgrass Specialist Roch Gaussoin gives us some tips on picking out the right mower. He also gives a quick demonstration on how to check the mowing height on your mower.  

 

 

 

Fencing around Onsite Wastewater Lagoons
By Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Extension Project Manager

Image of wastewater lagoon with warning signIs wastewater from your home treated by a private wastewater lagoon? This is not uncommon in southeastern Nebraska, where soils have a high clay content and wastewater cannot be treated fast enough in a traditional septic system to keep up with household generation.

For a wastewater lagoon, the fence is a vital safety component. Nebraska regulations require that each lagoon be secured with a fence and locking gate. Why? Children have fallen or waded into lagoons and drowned. Wastewater in a lagoon should be three to five feet deep for most efficient treatment to occur. The bottom of the lagoon is covered with sludge, and may be too slippery for a child to walk out. A less traumatic event, but perhaps as dangerous, is the family dog going for a dip in the lagoon. Wastewater from the toilet will contain E. coli, a type of bacterium found in the intestines of all warm-blooded animals. This bacterium can cause disease. How often does a child or adult pet the family dog? How often does the person think about where that dog has been?

Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality regulations give specific requirements regarding lagoon fences. According to Title 124, Rules and Regulations for the Design, Operation and Maintenance of Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, "the lagoon shall be fenced with a four-foot high woven wire, welded wire, or seven-strand barbed wire with the first strand starting three inches from the ground and the following strands spaced evenly. The fence shall be equipped with a standard main gate that is kept locked. The fence shall be placed on the outside edge of the top of the dike or four feet outside the toe of the dike. A sign no less than 12 inches by 24 inches bearing the clearly-readable words "NO TRESPASSING - WASTEWATER LAGOON" shall be located on the gate."

If you have a wastewater lagoon without a fence, have one installed immediately. If you have a fence, check it and the gate on a monthly basis. That fence could save your child or grandchild's life.

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Preventing Bird/Window Collisions
By Stephen Vantassel, UNL Project Manager-Wildlife Damage Management

Spring is the time for male birds (like robins) to establish territory. Part of this behavior involves keeping other males out. Unfortunately, these males can't tell the difference between another real male and their reflection. Thus they charge windows trying to kick that other male out of the area.

To stop this behavior and save the males from injury do what you can to reduce the window's reflectivity. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Apply a thin layer of liquid dish soap to the window. Once spring has passed, you simply wash it off with water.
  2. Place a light behind the window.
  3. Apply stickers to the window, or tape paper to it to break up the reflection
  4. Dangle objects in front of the window

This behavior will only last a few weeks. Once it does, you can change your window back to normal.

Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management

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Tractor Safety Classes Offered Statewide
By Sharry Nielsen, UNL Extension Educator

Image of youth driving a tractorUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Tractor Safety/Hazardous Occupations Courses will be offered at seven locations in Nebraska during May and June.  Any 14 or 15-year-old teen who plans to work on a farm other than their parents' should plan to attend. Classes are open to all participants 14-years old, and older.

Federal law prohibits youth under 16 years of age from working on a farm for anyone other than their parents.   Certification through the course grants an exemption to the law allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to drive a tractor and to do field work with mechanized equipment.

The most common cause of death in agriculture accidents in Nebraska is overturn from tractors and all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs), said Sharry Nielsen, UNL Extension Educator. Tractor and ATV overturn prevention are featured in the class work.

"Instilling an attitude of 'safety first' is a primary goal of the course," Nielsen said. "where youth have the chance to learn respect for agricultural jobs and the tools involved."

Classes consist of two days of instruction plus homework assignments. Classes are from 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. each day. Dates and locations include:

  • May 22-23, Fairgrounds, Kearney
  • May 28-29, Haskell Ag Lab, Concord
  • June 2-3, West Central Research and Extension Center (WCREC), North Platte
  • June 5-6, Fairgrounds, Valentine
  • June 12-13, Farm and Ranch Museum, Gering
  • June 16-17, College Park, Grand Island
  • June 19-20, Ag Research and Development Center (ARDC), Mead

Pre-registration is strongly encouraged at least one week before a location's start date to the Extension Office at the course site. Cost is $60, which includes educational materials, testing, supplies, lunches and breaks. For more information, contact the Extension Office or Sharry Nielsen at (308) 832-0645, snielsen1@unl.edu.

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Trees for a Warming Climate
By Justin Evertson, Nebraska Forest Service

Image of oak leavesIt's getting hotter, folks. And drier as well. And wetter too. And maybe even snowier. What? That can't be. Actually it can. Although climate data clearly shows that the earth is gradually warming right before our eyes, it's not just the heat that will be felt here in the Great Plains. Most experts believe that our future climate will not only be warmer, but will also be more unpredictable and punctuated by extremes of temperature and moisture. We are in the middle of the continent where the climate is less buffeted by oceans and thus naturally more prone to extreme fluctuations. A warming climate means more moisture and energy in the atmosphere, which will likely exacerbate our weather extremes. Droughts could be more severe, rain events could be more sudden and heavy, frozen precipitation (freezing rain, hail and snow) could come in odd ways, strong winds and tornadoes may be on the increase and plant-killing cold snaps in the spring and fall could be more pronounced.

In a part of the world where it's already tough to be a tree, it looks like it's going to be even tougher. Fortunately, many of our trees naturally possess good tolerance to climatic extremes. In fact many of these species have existed in the region for thousands of years and have been regularly challenged by heat, drought, floods, storms and even ice ages. They have evolved amazing abilities to tolerate extreme conditions. Species like elm, hackberry, bur oak, walnut, coffeetree, sycamore, ponderosa pine and cedar will likely be able to survive more punches from a changing climate.

Image of oak treeConversely, species we have planted that come from milder climates will probably struggle against heat and drought. Unfortunately, this includes many commonly planted species of birch, red maple, ginkgo, magnolia, aspen and certain fruit trees. And sadly, many of our favorite evergreens will be especially hard hit-most firs, certain spruces, arborvitae and several pine species, including white pine which has been lost in great numbers in the current drought. Most evergreens come to us from higher elevations and cooler latitudes so it stands to reason that they would struggle in a warming climate. As such, we should think about deemphasizing them in our future plantings.

We'd be wise, therefore, to keep planting our most hardy and proven tree species while expanding our palette of choices to include types, likely more southern in origin, that can better handle heat and drought. Thankfully a wealth of information about such species already exists in inventories of our community forests, in plant collections of arboretum sites across the state and in the trial and inventory work of our friends to the south in Kansas and Oklahoma. Thanks to such efforts, we can already suggest some underutilized species with proven heat- and drought-tolerance: buckley oak, post oak, sugarberry, little walnut, sweetgum, Osage orange, soapberry, lacebark elm and loblolly pine, to name a few.

Buckley oak, also known as Texas red oak, is a good example of a tree we should be planting. This beautiful tree has an attractive pyramidal form, is a relatively fast grower (up to 60' ft. high), and has deeply-lobed leaves that turn a spectacular maroon-red in the fall. Buckley oak is native from south-central Texas through northern Oklahoma where it is often found on dry, rocky and alkaline soils. It laughs at drought (you have to listen very carefully!). Many other southern oaks also hold promise for greater planting in our area: post oak, shumard oak, blackjack oak, cherrybark oak, overcup oak, southern red oak, etc.  Pictured right, and closeup of leaves above.

Trees are enormously important to us, especially the way they help soften the Great Plains climate and make this part of the world more tolerable to all forms of life. As such, tree-oriented organizations and individual tree huggers from across the region will be closely evaluating what's happening with our trees. We'll be paying special attention to tree "survivors" and working with green industry partners to make those trees more available for purchase and planting. We'll keep you posted.

The Nebraska Forest Service strives to enrich lives by protecting, restoring and utilizing Nebraska's tree and forest resources.

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Beyond the Bloom
By Kendall Weyers, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

It's easy to enjoy the bright yellow flowers opening on the bare branches of forsythia that signal the start of spring. Yet the plant is hardly noticed for the other 50 weeks of the year... because it has very limited ornamental value beyond its bloom.

Unfortunately, many landscape plant choices are made based on one characteristic-the flower-despite its short-term effect. The plant currently in bloom in the landscape is usually the top seller in the nursery. However, plants have a wide range of interesting characteristics to offer that deserve more attention. Some characteristics are as bold as a floral display, such as fall color, while others are much more subtle. These subtle traits are often much longer lasting, Image of Redwing Viburnummaking them more valuable in creating an appealing full-season landscape. So when selecting plants, look for those that offer some of the following:

  • Unique texture. Any plant part can add interest with an unusual texture. Narrow leaves (Fine Line® buckthorn), flaky bark (river birch) and fluffy seedheads (many ornamental grasses) are just a few examples.
  • Summer leaf color. Unusual and bold foliage color and variegation can add interest, yet it's easy to go overboard (and many do). Instead, use them sparingly and rely more on subtle variations of green.
  • Fall leaf color. The fall colors in the landscape often put on a better show than spring blooms. And it's more than trees-many shrubs, grasses and even perennials offer an extra shot of autumn beauty.
  • Colorful fruits. Although the crabapple is often selected because of its flower, many varieties put on an underappreciated colorful, and longer lasting, fruit display. Other great choices for their colorful fruits are viburnums, chokeberry and hawthorn. A tangent appeal is the wildlife attracted by the fruits.
  • Fragrance. To those of us with a keen sense of smell, flowers that offer a pleasant fragrance greatly enhance the landscape experience. Koreanspice viburnum, sweet autumn clematis and Russian olive are a few of my favorites.
  • Movement. Plants that move with the breeze, like flowing grasses and rustling cottonwood leaves, add another layer of appeal to the landscape.
  • Winter interest. Many of the above traits can increase the attractiveness of the winter landscape. Also look for stem/bark color (red dogwood, sycamore), form (pagoda dogwood, bur oak) and seed heads (upright sedum, grasses).

Plants that display attractive characteristics for several months of the year are called multi-season interest plants. These plants do more for your landscape, making it more interesting and dynamic as the seasons pass. You simply get more bang for your buck from multi-season contributors. It just makes good sense to use these instead of single season plants, especially if you have limited space to work with. Although there are many multi-season interest plants to choose from, here are a few to consider:

  • London planetree. A large tree with wonderful, mottled, olive green to creamy white bark that is an eye-catcher all year long. Also has large, attractive leaves and persistent globe shaped seed clusters.
  • Viburnum. There's a great variety of medium to large shrubs and small trees to choose from in this group. Most have a spring flower (some very fragrant), red to blue fruit, fall leaf color and nice form.
  • Dogwood. Another genus of plants with many options, from shrubs to small trees. All have some or most of the following: spring flower, fruit (white, red or bluish black), fall leaf color and winter stem color.
  • Ornamental grasses. A wide range of textures, subtle colors and seedheads make grasses effective nearly year-round.
  • Sedum. Perennial groundcover and upright versions have attractive foliage in interesting colors that look good throughout the growing season. Most have late summer to fall flowers and  the spent blossoms add winter interest.

Flowers in the landscape are wonderful, but their effect is fleeting. The plant's remaining characteristics (good or bad) are what you will have the rest of the year so it's helpful to factor these traits into plant selection.

Nebraska Statewide Arboretum is a nonprofit that works toward sustainable home and community landscapes through initiatives in education, public gardens and the environment. Plant and landscape resources at http://arboretum.unl.edu.

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Trees Under Trees
By John Fech, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of understory trees in forestMore is better in some cases, and in others it's not.  When it comes to planting trees, more is almost always better.  Potato chips on the other hand, well....not so much.  If your acreage could use a few more, think about one of the most commonly overlooked areas for siting sturdy trees  -  under other ones. 

Be especially mindful of the factors that make up the theme of Right Plant, Right Place when delving into the tree under tree endeavor.  This article will cover the important points to consider.

Replicate Mother Nature
The old adage that you father or mother probably asked you, "You want to go to the store just because your friend wants to go?  What if they jumped off a cliff...would you jump off too?", is a good one to remember and use appropriately even today.  However, it's not necessarily true of sound arboriculture.   One of the main reasons for placing small trees under large ones is that Mother Nature does it.

Small trees can serve the landscape very well when placed under larger specimens.  Again, this is the way that Mother Nature creates landscapes - with understory trees popping up in layers under larger trees.  A healthy, sustainable landscape would normally contain large shade or framing trees, medium sized trees well placed for color and interest, small trees under them for shape, color, texture and form appeal and ground plane plants such as perennials, groundcovers and turfgrasses. Once the layered landscape is developed, it provides beauty as well as for functional comfort and activities.

In addition to using small trees for layering, consider them to accent important features of the landscape.  Because entrance areas are not always obvious in every setting, you may want to highlight building entrances, driveways and important paths by locating small trees nearby.  This helps to focus attention on places where you want people to go or look.

Mother Nature is a good teacher in other tree care areas as well, such as mulching and planting trees from seed.  The "stuff" that falls from trees - seeds, leaves, cones, needles, fruits, bud sheaths - create an excellent natural mulch and should be allowed to accumulate to encourage root growth and expansion.  Likewise, tree seeds that germinate develop healthier root systems than ones that are grown in nurseries for several years.  Natural grown trees develop root systems without pot-induced girdling roots and soil interface problems; in many ways Mother Nature is a good teacher and role model.

Site Analysis
The best place to start with any planting project is with an accurate base map.  The base map provides all necessary information regarding the permanent features of the area to be enhanced, including property lines, easements, building footprints, contours, utility locations, contours and existing plants.  A north arrow and graphic scale must be included to provide reference when communicating the eventual design to customers and to retain accurate space relationships if the finished plan is reduced or enlarged.

The overall design concept of incorporating smaller trees under mature ones will dictate the program.  Program components quite simply are a listing of wants and desires of the stakeholders of a project.  Early on in the design process, they tend to be general.  A typical program statement for these types of enhancements would include such things as minimized turf areas, creation of ornamental beds containing fall color and spring blooms, screening, etc.  Specific plants are chosen at the end of the design process, not the beginning.

The next step is a site inventory/analysis.  This is best performed on site, gathering information, taking notes, and gaining a "sense of place" in the landscape space.  The inventory is first, identification of problem areas as well as the assets of an area.  Use a piece of tracing paper and lay it over the base map.  This provides for accurate note taking and documentation of potential concerns or opportunities for features.  You may want to photograph the area for future reference and comparison.  If the finished design turns out well, you may want to use the before and after photos to sell a job to another customer.  The analysis comes later, an evaluation of the importance of each specific condition.  The soils, neighboring views and existing buildings may be only a slight concern, but the slope and prevailing winds may be major contentions.

A bubble diagram should be drawn after the program is in place, and the site is analyzed.  This will help put the written word into a visual format.  Again, working on tracing paper over the base map, diagram the site according to function.  Traffic flow, high use areas, low use areas, water features, etc are all components which should be drawn in at this point.  Exacting detail is not necessary in a bubble diagram; rather, circles and ovals with a light colored shade will suffice.  Concept drawings are then developed, combining the program considerations with the site analysis information and the original design concept.

Tree Selection Criteria
After the site analysis is complete, consideration of general and specific issues related to the trees under trees concept can begin.  Many issues should be considered not limited to the following.

Shade tolerance - Because the new tree will be located under a taller one, it's a given that partial to heavy shade will be present.  Monitor the site at various times of the day to determine whether light shade, dappled shade or heavy shade characterizes the site.

Size - In many landscapes, the lower branches of mature trees have been limbed up to create an unnatural openness.  While plant selection for trees under trees is not akin to placing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in place, there is a certain element of choosing based on eventual tree size for all specimens involved.  

Root zone allowance - As mentioned before, adequate root zone allowance is crucial to success of the enhanced landscape and should not be overlooked.

Disease Resistance - Due to the canopy effect of the mature trees and possibly the nearby smaller trees, wind speeds through the modified landscape are likely to be lesser than the previous condition.  Be sure that the specimens chosen are resistant to periodic leaf wetness and a variety of foliar pathogens.

Fall Color, Bloom Sequence - One significant point to incorporating smaller trees under larger ones is the opportunity to infuse color and texture into a monochromatic or overly simplistic landscape.

Consider these small trees for use in when the objective is to incorporate trees under trees:

Common & Botanical Name Cultivars Height/Width Shape
Hedge Maple, Acer campestre   25-30'/25-30'  Dense-rounded
Miyabe Maple, Acer miyabei State Street 30'/25'   Upright-oval
Tatarian Maple, Acer tataricum   20'/15' Rounded-spreading
Amur Maple, Acer tataricum ginnala   15'/20' Rounded-spreading
Serviceberry, Amelanchier x grandiflora Autumn Brilliance, Princess, Diana 20'/15' Upright-spreading
American Hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana   25'/25'   Wide-spreading
Redbud, Cercis canadensis   20'/25'   Rounded-spreading
Pagoda Dogwood, Cornus alternifolia   15'/20'  Horizontal
Corneliancherry Dogwood, Cornus mas   20'/15' Oval-rounded
Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn, Crataegus crusgalli cv. inermis   15'/20'   Rounded-spreading
Washington Hawthorn, Crataegus phaenenopyrum   25'20'  Oval-upright
Amur Maackia, Maackia amurensis    25'/25'   Upright-spreading
Crabapple, Malus spp. Adirondack 18'/30' Upright
  Camelot 10'/8'   Rounded
  Donald Wyman 20'/20' Rounded
  Golden Raindrops 20'/15'   Upright-spreading
  Indian Magic 15'/15' Rounded
  Louisa 15'/15'  Weeping
  Prairiefire 20'/20' Upright-rounded
  Red Jewel 18'/12'   Upright-pyramidal
  Sugar Tyme 18'/15' Upright-spreading
  Winter Gem 15'/12'   Upright-spreading
American hornbeam, Ostrya virginiana   30'/20' Pyramidal-rounded
Callery Pear, Pyrus calleryana Chanticleer, Trinity 30'/15'   Rounded
Japanese Tree Lilac, Syringa reticulata Ivory Silk 20'/15' Upright-rounded
Blackhaw viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium   12'/12'   Rounded

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Rain Barrels Are Back in Fashion
By Kelly Feehan, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

With April Showers hopefully around the corner,  some of that valuable rainfall can be collected and temporarily stored in a rain barrel to use for watering container and ornamental plants.  To help make the most of rainfall when it is received, consider installing a rain barrel or two. The newest NebGuide in the UNL Stormwater Series is Rainwater Harvesting with Rain Barrels, providing tips on the effective use of rain barrels which can be purchased commercially or you can assemble your own:

Rainwater Harvesting with Rain Barrels, UNL Extension

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Spring into Pond Management
By Katie Pekarek, UNL Extension Water Quality Educator

Image of ducks on a pondAfter a cold winter, it is exciting to see things "green up." But it is discouraging to see a pond turn into green pea soup.  Ponds are built for swimming, fishing, aesthetics, irrigation, or even to capture stormwater. Although it is all but impossible to manage for all of these activities at once, the pond owner must decide what activity is the most important and make management decisions based on that goal.

Each pond and lake is completely unique.  Two ponds sitting side by side may look completely different, so it is important to understand that many factors affect pond and lake quality such as:

  • water depth,
  • excess nutrients,
  • clarity,
  • temperature,
  • water movement,
  • watershed characteristics,
  • plant growth, and
  • chemical composition.

How Ponds Work
Most Nebraska ponds are man-made.  Ponds need to have good water quality, favorable aquatic habitat, and proper management in order to develop and maintain the goals for use. Given that a pond is properly constructed, good pond management includes:

  • controlling aquatic weeds and algae,
  • controlling terrestrial weeds,
  • controlling nutrient inputs,
  • enhancing food availability for fish,
  • harvesting (controlled) to maintain the balance of predator and prey populations, and
  • preventing situations that may cause fish kills.

Basic Fish Pond Management
Good fishing in farm ponds depends on an understanding of and the ability to follow some basic rules. To properly manage farm ponds for fishing, you should be aware of some simple guidelines:

  1. proper pond construction and watershed management;
  2. fish species selection and stocking;
  3. removal of unwanted and overpopulated species of fish;
  4. harvest and record keeping;
  5. liming and/or fertilization;
  6. evaluation of pond balance; and
  7. weed control.

Looking for more information about Pond and Lake Management?  Attend one of our Pond and Lake Management Workshops in Lancaster County (June 2), Hall County (June 9), Douglas/Sarpy County (June 16), or Seward County (June 23).

For questions about pond management, contact UNL Extension at 402-643-2981 or email kpekarek2@unl.edu.

Next Month: Aquatic Weeds in Your Pond

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Understanding Watersheds
By Bobbi Holm, UNL Stormwater Management Extension Educator

Image of Mississippi watershedWhere does the water from your property go?  I'm betting that as an acreage owner/resident you can answer that question more easily than most urban or suburban residents.  To be honest, it's not always easy to find the nearest creek in the city, because sometimes they're buried in underground pipes or lined with concrete, so we don't think of them as creeks.  So let's say you know the local creek your acreage drains into, do you know how that creek fits in with the network of watersheds in the area?  Watersheds?  What's a watershed? 

A watershed is a drainage basin where the water flows to a particular stream, river, or lake.  Watersheds are bounded by ridges or if not ridges, at least areas of higher ground.  You have probably heard of the Continental Divide that runs down the spine of the Rocky Mountains.  The Continental Divide is just a major ridge dividing watersheds.  Rivers on the east of the divide eventually drain into the Atlantic Ocean.  Rivers on the west of the divide eventually drain into the Pacific.  (The exceptions are rivers in the Great Basin of Nevada and Utah.  Here the water evaporates, soaks into the ground, or flows into lakes which are usually salty.  Watersheds in the Great Basin have no connection to the ocean.)

Your land is actually part of many watersheds that differ in size.  Your local watershed is fairly small but interconnects with a larger watershed that eventually flows into the Missouri River.  All of Nebraska is located in the Missouri River watershed.  And because the Missouri River flows into the Mississippi River, Nebraska is part of the Mississippi River watershed as well - often also called the Mississippi River Basin. 

If you want to get a really good look at your watershed, find a topographic map of your area; the USGS website has downloadable maps that let you see how the branches of creeks and rivers interconnect.  But any detailed map will work.  When you examine all those blue lines, you'll see it's very appropriate that creeks are often called branches.  The pattern of creeks and rivers is much like the branches of a tree.  The tiny twigs join bigger twigs, the bigger twigs join larger branches, and the branches join the trunk.  Small streams flow into larger streams, larger streams flow into rivers, and rivers flow into larger rivers. 

But why are watersheds important?  Because what happens on the land in a watershed affects the quality of water that drains from the watershed.  If the water draining from the watershed is fairly clean, chances are the creek it drains into is fairly clean and the water ecosystem supports healthy plants, fish, frogs, and insects.  If the watershed is eroding badly or sheds runoff polluted with fertilizers or oil, for example, the creek will be polluted and the water ecosystem will suffer.   And it's not just the local creek that's affected.  Remember that your local creek is part of a network of larger streams and rivers, and they can be adversely affected as well.  Small amounts of pollution coming from many creeks can merge into a problem for the river they feed.  For example, if pollution enters Nebraska's Loup River, it can be carried to the Platte River;  from the Platte to the Missouri River ; then to the Mississippi River; and finally to the Gulf of Mexico.  A large dead zone forms in the Gulf each summer because of fertilizers carried by the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers.  The fertilizers stimulate algae growth.  As the algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose, which uses up oxygen needed by aquatic life such as fish, shrimp, and crabs.  This results in a zone of very low dissolved oxygen, or hypoxia, in the near bottom waters, where few things can survive. 

It's important for everyone to help keep the water in their local watershed clean.  It helps not just your own neighborhood; it helps everyone downstream as well.  Farmers practice conservation tillage, use cover crops, and plant stream-side filter strips to reduce erosion and help keep soil on the field and out of the creek.  Using computer controlled application equipment and GIS, it's possible for them to target specific areas with fertilizers in required amounts so that more is used and less is carried away in runoff.  City dwellers can sweep up pesticides and fertilizers from sidewalks and driveways to prevent these pollutants from being washed down the storm drain and into the creek with the next rain.  For the same reason, they should pick up pet waste and sweep up lawn clippings and yard waste.  As an acreage owner/dweller, you may be able to use some of the techniques from the farm and some from the city.  The bottom line is, if you keep the water that runs off your property relatively clean, you benefit because your local stream is healthier, and everybody downstream from you benefits as well. 

Get tips for reducing runoff pollution from your home at Key Tips for Reducing Pollutants.

Online Learning @ UNL's Water Website

For a quick rundown on issues dealing with stormwater, visit the Online Learning page in the Stormwater Management section of UNL's water website.  There you'll find short videos on general stormwater issues, rain gardens, permeable pavement, green roofs, and rain barrels.

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Smoke Alarm Battery Replacement -Lessons Learned
By Ray Nance, Nebraska State Fire Marshall's Office

Image of house fire.March 9th was the official date that Daylight Savings Time began. On this day individuals are urged to change the batteries in their smoke alarms. So if you haven't changed your batteries yet, do it now. 

A dead battery in a smoke alarm is dangerous. Keeping smoke alarms in good working condition can assist in providing the necessary protection that you and your family need. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), "Sixty-two percent of home fire deaths happen in homes with no smoke alarms at all or no smoke alarms that work."

Here are a few tips that can help you avoid the dangers of a home fire.

  1.  Practice FIRE PREVENTION.  Fire prevention is always your primary means of protecting your family. The best fire is the one you prevent.

    Did you know that the same 9 volt battery that powers your smoke alarm can also cause a fire through improper storage/disposal?

    One of the inherent issues with the design of the 9 volt battery is the ability of the battery terminals to simultaneously make contact with a metal object. A shorted battery can result in overheating and fire. Do not store new batteries, or dispose of used batteries in a manner that would allow the battery contacts to touch anything that could result in a short. A simple and inexpensive way to prevent a 9 volt battery from shorting is to place electrical tape over the top of the battery to cover the contacts.
     
  2. Install an adequate number of smoke alarms.  Have working smoke alarms located on each level of your home, outside sleeping areas, and in each bedroom.
     
  3. Make sure smoke alarms are not out dated.  Both battery operated alarms and the alarms which are wired into your household electrical circuit should be replaced at least every ten years. A new battery will not make a bad detector work. (Some alarms are listed by the manufacturer as having an even shorter life expectancy.)
     
  4. Maintain power to your smoke alarms. Replacement of smoke alarm batteries must be done in accordance with the manufacture requirements, only remove a smoke alarm battery when you have a replacement battery to put back in the alarm. . (Use only the brand/model battery listed by the manufacturer for use with your specific smoke alarm. The list of approved batteries will be on the detector near the battery compartment and may also be found on the product information guide that came with the smoke alarm.)
     
  5. When to change batteries.  It is recommended that you change batteries when changing your clocks in the Spring and Fall, or when the low battery alarm on your smoke alarm begins to chirp

You can make a difference. A working smoke alarm never sleeps.

For more information on Smoke Alarms, visit the National Fire Protection Association.

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April is National Garden Month
By Lisa Franzen-Castle, UNL Extension Nutrition Specialist

Image of child with plantGardeners know, and research confirms, that nurturing plants is good for us: attitudes toward health and nutrition improve, kids perform better at school, and community spirit grows. Every April communities, organizations, and individuals nationwide celebrate National Garden Month. Gardening can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors, get physical activity, beautify the community, and grow nutritious fruits and vegetables.

Check out the following benefits and safety tips for gardening:

  • Fruits and vegetables, more matters. Gardens can motivate children to try new fruits and vegetables, and kids are eager to taste the 'fruits' of their labor. Fruits and vegetables are an important source of vitamins and minerals, provide fiber, color and texture, and may reduce disease risk, but few children or adults eat recommended amounts. Gardening with your kids will get them excited about the plants on their plate.
     
  • Be more physically active. Did you know you can burn up to 150 calories by gardening for approximately 30-45 minutes? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest gardening as a way to get some of the 2 ½ hours of recommended weekly activity. If you have been inactive, start out gradually each day, building up time and intensity. Vary your gardening activities to keep it interesting and broaden the benefits.
     
  • Grow a successful garden. The best way to launch a successful garden is to start small and choose varieties that do well in your area. You might start with vegetables your children already enjoy, or try selecting plants around a theme such as a rainbow garden to increase their interest.
     
  • Gear up for gardening with safety. It is important to remember safety when working outdoors. Wear safety goggles, sturdy shoes, and long pants when using lawn mowers or other machinery. Wear gloves to lower the risk for skin irritations, cuts, and certain contaminants and protect your hearing when using loud machinery. Lower your risk for sunburn by wearing long sleeves, wide-brimmed hats, sun shades, and sunscreen.
     
  • Stay hydrated. As the gardening season progresses, it's important to be smart about staying hydrated when temperatures are on the rise. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to replace lost fluids. Sipping throughout the day is better than saving up for meals or breaks.
     
  • Take breaks. Take breaks often and rest in shaded areas so your body's thermostat will have a chance to recover. Stop working if you experience breathlessness or muscle soreness. Signs of heat-related illness include extremely high body temperature, headache, rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea, confusion, or unconsciousness.

Gardening can have a positive impact on your eating habits, physical activity level, and overall well-being. Whether you are a beginner or expert gardener, health and safety are always important. UNL Extension has lots of resources on gardening from the Nebraska Master Gardener Program, urban agriculture, Backyard Farmer, growing herbs, and local foods by the season. For more information, resources, and recipes related to gardening check out: http://food.unl.edu/fnh/april#gardenweek.

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