August 2011

Life Outside the City Limits

Collage of August images

Do-It-Yourself Water Test Kits and Dip Strips
By Sharon Skipton, UNL Extension Educator

Image of Testing Drinking Water

Image by Rachael Wright, UNL Extension

Do-it-yourself water quality test kits can be found in many local stores that target rural homeowners. A variety of test kits and dip strips are available; each designed to test for a specific water quality parameter or group of parameters. They can be relatively inexpensive, but are they a good option for people with private drinking water wells?

The quality of water from private wells is not currently regulated at the federal level or by Nebraska state government. Therefore, testing your private water supply is not required under state or federal law.

If you want to know the concentration of contaminants in your private water supply, you can voluntarily pursue water testing.

A do-it-yourself test kit might be used for preliminary "screening" for a contaminant. An estimate of the concentration level might be obtained with some of the kits available. However, analysis by an approved laboratory is recommended for an accurate, reliable, and precise measurement.


The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services approves laboratories to conduct tests for drinking water supplies. Approval must be obtained for each specific contaminant, so a laboratory might not be approved to test for all potential drinking water contaminants.

Laboratories not approved to test for a specific contaminant may use the same equipment and procedures as approved laboratories. Such laboratories may provide accurate analysis, but there is no independent information about the laboratory's ability to obtain reliable results.



Image of Water testing strips

Image by Rachael Wright, UNL Extension


This month's features include brown bag tips, flowers for your acreage landscape, maintaining your residential wastewater lagoon, and information on aster yellows.

Nancy Urbanec, UNL Extension, tells of nutritious brown bag lunches that can safely handle the August heat.


Beautiful color is possible even in the late summer or fall landscape. Here are three great plants to consider by Sarah Browning, UNL Extension.


Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Extension, tells how to maintain your residential lagoon, to help keep it functioning for decades.


Aster yellows may make an appearance in some of your plants. Find out how to control its spread from Amy Timmerman, UNL Extension. 

Recognizing and Controlling Lace Bug Damage
By Nicole Haxton, UNL Extension Educator

Image of Oak lacebugs

Image of Oak Lacebugs.
By Jim Kalisch, UNL Extension

Lace bugs have been showing up quite often in eastern Nebraska. They are a pest of many different types of plants and they can do terrible damage if left untreated and the populations get high enough. There are control methods that can be very helpful if you have a problem with these annoying little insects.

Lace bugs are members of the Homoptera order of insects, commonly called the "true bugs". Other members of this order of insects are boxelder bugs, aphids, and cicadas. Lace bugs look like tiny pieces of lace all over your plants, as the name implies. They are flat insects that are about 3 millimeters long. They are typically white with brown or black markings. The adults may be found on your plant, as well as the nymphs and the eggs.

The nymphs are like smaller, darker colored versions of the adults and the eggs are just tiny black specks that may be found on the leaves. Lace bugs are typically found on the underside of the leaves of many plants including oaks, birches, elm, linden, hackberry, chokecherry, hawthorn, cotoneaster, azalea, rhododendron, sycamore, and the asters including chrysanthemum and goldenrod.

Lace bugs, like all insects that are members of the true bug order, have a piercing sucking mouthpart, which is why they are so damaging to our plants. These insects use a straw-like mouthpart to puncture the surface of a leaf and suck out all of the juices as their food source. When they do this they will reduce the amount of energy and food that a plant has to cause it harm. In some cases, the entire plant may be killed from a large population of lace bugs, but this is usually with smaller shrubs and not large trees.

The damage is typically found on the tree or shrub as white to yellow stippling, or speckling, of the upper surface of the leaves. If the problem is severe, the leaves may turn brown and then fall off. Parts of the plant may also die, but usually most of the plant will survive.

If you notice stippling or speckling of your plant's leaves, look on the underside of the leaves for black specks, small black or lace-like insects. If you find that you have lace bugs, you can treat your tree or shrub for this pest. There are two different methods for controlling this pest on your plants. You can either spot spray or use a preventative method.

Lacebug damage on hawthorne

Lacebug Damage on Hawthorne
By Jim Kalisch, UNL Extension

The spot sprays are effective at controlling Lace bugs, you need to make sure that you spray on the underside of the leaves, not just on top. This can be done any time of the growing season that you see the lace bugs. A good spot spray is one containing bifenthrin, carbaryl, cyfluthrin, or permethrin. The most common trade names for these pesticides are seven or eight.

As a preventative method, if you have lace bugs on a particular tree or shrub every year, you may want to apply a systemic insecticide to the tree or shrub in the spring. This systemic insecticide should be applied to the soil around the plant so that it is absorbed through the roots and then it will be distributed throughout the entire plant so that when the lace bugs try to feed on the plant, they will feed on the insecticide and die. A good systemic insecticide is one containing imidacloprid which is found in pesticides with the names of Merit, Gaucho, or Marathon.


Image of turfgrassChoose Your Level of Maintenance
By John Fech, UNL Extension Educator

August is a good time to fully consider the overall maintenance level for your lawn. Many acreage owners want a high-maintenance look, but are only willing to invest a low or medium level of time and money in it. Be honest with yourself. Identify how many hours and dollars you--and your family--are willing to spend on the lawn in a typical week, and base your design and planting decisions accordingly.

A high-maintenance lawn is generally mowed two or three times per week, receives 4 to 5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. per year, and is regularly aerified and dethatched with power equipment. Nitrogen is a key element in encouraging turf growth, and high levels of nitrogen fertilizer make it necessary to mow more often. Pest control is given lots of attention, with regular inspections and both preventative and curative treatments. The lawn is watered as needed to keep the soil moist. In all, a high-maintenance lawn will require an average of 4 or 5 hours for a traditionally sized residential lawn, and 9-10 hours for most acreages per week. Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass are the species best adapted to this high-input regime. They will provide a beautiful emerald green color, with a thick, luxurious appearance, and they are especially durable under hard use.

A medium-maintenance lawn receives the same types of care as one on a more ambitious regimen, but at a reduced level. These lawns are mowed one or two times per week, receive 2 to 3 pounds of nitrogen per year, and are aerified and dethatched as necessary. Pest control is provided on an as-needed basis, if and when problems arise. The lawn is watered to keep the soil moist, except when cutting back to save money or conserve water. On the average, expect to spend 2 or 3 hours per week for residential lawns and 4-6 hours for acreages. This middle-of-the-road approach works well with Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, turf type tall fescue and zoysiagrass. The result should be a lawn that is green and healthy and very functional, with a moderate level of aesthetic appeal.

A low-maintenance lawn is mowed two or three times per month, is treated with about 1 pound of nitrogen per year, and receives soil aeration only if severe problems with drainage arise. In most cases, pest control is nonexistent; if high levels of pests build up, the approach is to simply hope that the grass will eventually regrow and spread into the affected areas. On the average, you'll invest just an hour or two per week on residential lawns and two to three for acreages. Choose from such species as common or unimproved types of Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, zoysiagrass and buffalograss. Because these lawns require minimum amounts of time, cost, and effort to maintain, they are good choices for people who travel regularly or have little interest in yard work.

Consider designing your landscape with lawn areas that differ in maintenance level. The very visible front yard might be high maintenance, the back medium, and the sides low. This is somewhat like combining the best of both worlds, because it still allows you to the freedom to concentrate on that which is most important in your life, such as recreation, family activities or volunteer service.



Image of Cattle & pondK-State Veterinarian Encourages Livestock Producers to Watch for Signs of Anthrax After Flooding
By Mary Lou Peter,
K-State News

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Flooding along the Missouri and other rivers through the central United States is prompting a call for cattle and other livestock producers to watch for signs of the deadly anthrax bacteria once floodwaters recede.

"Cattle producers in areas along the Missouri River should watch for unexplained cattle deaths which might occur as a result of anthrax spores washing down and being consumed by cattle after the floodwaters recede," said K-State Research and Extension veterinarian Larry Hollis. Veterinarians and animal health officials in North Dakota, Minnesota and Canada have issued similar warnings.

"Because the Missouri River is carrying water from the Dakotas where they historically have anthrax just about every summer, anthrax spores may be carried down and end up on flooded Kansas backwater pastures," Hollis said. "Any unexplained cattle deaths should be reported immediately to a veterinarian. The veterinarian may choose to necropsy the carcass to make sure that anthrax is not the cause. Spores of other spore-forming organisms, such as the Clostridial specie that causes blackleg, also can be carried to new areas by floodwaters."

Anthrax, which can affect all mammals, is caused by a spore-forming bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. Animals typically acquire the disease by grazing in areas contaminated by spores.

Cattle, bison, sheep, goats and horses are particularly susceptible. Anthrax spores are hardy and occur naturally in the soil, where they can survive for decades.

Humans can contract anthrax, but it is unusual to find a human case of anthrax linked to an animal outbreak if proper precautions are taken during the handling of affected carcasses, Hollis said.
That's why it is important for livestock owners to be vigilant in watching for the disease, especially in animals grazing in previously-flooded areas.

Death from anthrax can occur in a matter of hours from the time the first symptoms occur, so a seemingly healthy animal may die before anyone notices clinical signs, he said. Animals that are discovered before dying may appear distressed and have difficulty breathing. Hemorrhaging from the mouth, nose and anus is common. Pigs and carnivores are more resistant to the disease, although they may develop swelling in the neck and throat or have gastrointestinal disturbances. Carcasses of animals that die of anthrax decompose rapidly, and rigor mortis is often incomplete or absent.

If a livestock owner suspects anthrax in a live animal, or in the case of a sudden death of unknown cause in previously-flooded areas, he or she should not touch or move the animal. A veterinarian should be called in to investigate the death and determine the proper samples to test for anthrax along with the proper carcass disposal method.

More information about anthrax is available on Kansas State University's National Animal Biosecurity Center website. A fact sheet for cattle producers is available from the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

For more information:
Dr. Larry Hollis
(785) 532-1246

K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.


Take a Stroll in the Pasture
By Steve Tonn, UNL Extension Educator

Image of horse in pastureA long walk on a nice summer evening is hard to beat. Here's an idea, take a stroll through your pasture and evaluate the pasture resources on your acreage or small farm. Invite other family members or friends to join you.

Walk through your pasture and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the predominate type of grass - warm season (bluestem, Indian grass, sideoats grama, etc.) or cool season (smooth brome, fescue, bluegrass, etc.)?
  • Can I identify the plants growing in my pasture?
  • How tall is my grass? Has it been grubbed very short? Is there adequate forage to support my animals?
  • Are there areas that are over grazed?
  • Do the animals prefer certain plants or areas of the pasture over others?
  • What weeds are present and how should I manage them?
  • Are the fences and gates in good condition or are repairs needed?
  • Do I need to supplement my animals to make sure their nutritional needs are being met?
  • Is the soil compacted or plugged because of closely grazed vegetation or animal loafing?
  • Do they have an adequate water supply?
  • Are the animals being bothered by flies or other insects?

Pasture walks can be a valuable assessment tool. Routinely walking your pastures can provide useful information for short-term management decisions about grazing pressure, fertility needs, weed control, forage availability and overall pasture management. For help with getting started with a pasture walk or help with pasture management questions, contact your local University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Office or your local Natural Resources Conservation Service Office.

Summer is a good time to evaluate your pasture and your management practices. So take a nice evening walk in your pasture.


Image of potatoesHarvesting and Storing Garden Vegetables
By Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator

Many gardeners grow extra vegetables and fruits for winter storage, but how can you make your produce store for the longest time possible? First, remember that good produce storage quality begins at harvest.

Harvest Tips
Avoid physical damage during harvest. Most fruits and vegetables are easily bruised if not handled carefully. When harvesting, treat produce as if it were fine china. Tossing fruits and vegetables into baskets or boxes may not leave visible bruises and damage, but decay will begin under the skin. Seemingly sturdy vegetables such as sweet potatoes are actually quite delicate and will not store well if bruised. Any damaged produce should be used as quickly as possible and not placed in winter storage.

Root crops such as beets, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips and turnips can be left in the garden into late fall and early winter. A heavy mulch of straw will help prevent the ground from freezing so the roots can be dug when needed. The mulch will also maintain the quality of the roots, as it will reduce repeated freezing and thawing. Many people prefer the taste of these root crops after they have been frosted because their flavors become sweeter and milder.

When temperatures drop low enough to freeze the ground under the mulch, finish harvesting the roots. Cut off all but one-half inch of the top and store at 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in high humidity to reduce shriveling.

Cleaning Produce
Not all produce should be washed after harvest, including onions, garlic, Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Some produce, however, should be washed and dried before storing, including winter squash and pumpkins, along with green and red tomatoes. Commercial packinghouses use sanitizers in packing line water to kill the fungi, bacteria and yeast that might otherwise cause spoilage. Sodium hypochlorite (liquid laundry bleach, 5.25% concentration) is the most readily available of these sanitizers for home gardeners.

Cool produce before washing, then use water a few degrees warmer than the fruits and vegetables to mix up your solution. This prevents cold wash water from being pulled inside the fruits along with any pathogens in the wash water. Dip produce in a solution of 1 ½ teaspoons of liquid bleach added to each gallon of warm wash water. Do not allow produce to sit in water; a quick dip is sufficient to remove pathogens.

Several vegetables benefit from post-harvest curing. Curing heals or suberizes injuries from harvesting operations. It thickens the skin, reducing moisture loss and affording better protection against insect and microbial invasion. Curing is usually accomplished at an elevated storage temperature and high humidity.

Produce can be cured in home storage areas. Temperature and humidity should be managed as accurately as possible. A space heater in an enclosed area can provide the needed heat for curing. Humidity can be increased by overlaying containers with sheets of plastic.

For specific guidelines on curing garden produce, refer to NebGuide G1264 Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.

Storing Garden Produce
Proper long-term storage of homegrown vegetables and fruits depends primarily on two factors: air temperature in the storage area and humidity levels. Different vegetables or fruits have different storage requirements, although three main storage regimens predominate, including 1) Cool and dry, 2) Cold and dry, and 3) Cold and moist.

Cool and dry storage consists of 50-60° F temperatures and 60% relative humidity. In the home, basements are generally cool and dry making this the easiest storage regimen to achieve. However, in the winter with a furnace and dehumidifier running, the humidity may drop below optimum. If storing vegetables in basements, provide them with some ventilation. Harvested vegetables still "breathe" and require oxygen to maintain high quality. Also, be sure they are protected from rodents. Cool, dry storage is ideal for winter squash and pumpkins.

Cold and dry storage is 32-40° F temperatures and 65% relative humidity. For cold storage items 32° F is ideal, but is difficult to achieve in the home. For every degree above 32° F, expect a shorter storage life of your produce, as much as 25% for every 10°F increase in temperature. Refrigerator conditions are generally cold and dry, so an extra refrigerator is fine for long term storage of garlic and onions.

Cold and moist storage consists of 32-40° F temperatures and 95% humidity. Root cellars provide cold and moist conditions, or try refrigerator storage with the produce in perforated plastic bags. Produce can be placed in perforated plastic bags to increase humidity, however, unperforated plastic bags may result in water condensation inside the bag that leads to the growth of mold and bacteria. Make sure the produce has adequate ventilation or air movement, and if using a root cellar, protect it from rodents. Clean straw, hay and wood shavings may be used for insulation. Cold and moist conditions are best for the storage of beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kohlrabi, parsnips, radishes, rutabagas and turnips.

Apples and pears also store best under cold (30-32° F) and moist (90% humidity) conditions, however, it is best to store apples separately because they give off ethylene gas which speeds the ripening of other produce.

For specific information on the ideal conditions for many common fruits and vegetables, refer to NebGuide G1264 Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.

Image of OnionsPreparing Onions for Winter Storage
One specific example of storage of a vegetable is onions. These can be harvested when the tops have fallen over and begun to dry. Do not bend over the tops during the growing season to force the energy into the bulb. This practice reduces the growth of the onions as they will not be able to translocate sugars to the bulb for storage.

Home gardeners should cure onions after harvest by spreading them in a single layer on screens in the shade or in a well-ventilated garage or shed for one to two weeks or until the tops are completely dry and shriveled. If the bulbs are exposed to full sun, prevent sunscald by allowing their foliage to cover them or by covering them with a light-weight cloth. When the tops are dry, they should be trimmed to one-inch lengths. Leave the onions dry outer skins on; they help reduce bruising and shrinking and act as an insect barrier.

Store onions in shallow boxes, mesh bags or hang them in old nylons in a cold, dry well-ventilated room. The tops may be left untrimmed and braided together. Temperatures close to 32 degrees F. will give the longest storage. Products prone to absorb odors or flavors should not be stored close to onions.


Can I Freeze Bell and Sweet Peppers Raw?
By Alice Henneman, UNL Extension Educator

If you've picked a peck of peppers and have too many to eat, try freezing them. Peppers are one of those foods that can be quickly frozen raw without blanching them first. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), hosted by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, offers these guidelines on freezing bell and sweet peppers raw: Select crisp, tender, green or bright red pods. Wash, cut out stems, cut in half and remove seeds. If desired, cut into 1/2-inch strips or rings. Good for use in uncooked foods because they have a crisper texture, or in cooked foods. Package raw, leaving no headspace. Seal and freeze.

NOTE: To make it easier to remove only the amount of frozen bell or sweet peppers needed at one time, freeze sliced or diced peppers in a single layer on a cookie sheet with sides. Transfer to a "freezer" bag when frozen, excluding as much air as possible from the bag.


Image of TomatoCan Tomatoes Be Frozen Raw?
By Alice Henneman, UNL Extension Educator

Like peppers, tomatoes can be frozen raw. Frozen tomatoes are best used in cooked foods such as soups, sauces and stews as they become mushy when they're thawed. The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers these guidelines for freezing tomatoes:

Select firm, ripe tomatoes with deep red color. Wash and dip in boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen skins. Core and peel. Freeze whole or in pieces. Pack into containers, leaving l-inch headspace. Seal and freeze. Use only for cooking or seasoning as tomatoes will not be solid when thawed.

TIP: Dip just a few tomatoes at a time into the boiling water or the water temperature may be lowered too much to remove the skins without overheating the tomatoes. Place hot tomatoes in a colander and rinse under cold water to make them easier to handle. A knife with a serrated edge works best for cutting tomatoes.