August 2015

Life Outside the City Limits

Fall Management Tips for Smooth Brome
By Steve Tonn, Nebraska Extension Livestock Educator

Image of horse in pastureSince brome is a cool season grass, it has the ability to provide us with fall production.  As a "rule of thumb", brome will provide 70-75% of its annual production in the spring and 25-30% in the fall with proper management.  While this fall production is not enough to make haying an economical option, it does provide good grazing during the late fall and early winter.  If there is adequate moisture and cooling temperatures in September, the fall grazing can be from mid September to mid November.

Fall Stocking Rates
Stocking rates are just as important for fall grazing as in the spring.  Since there will only be about 1000 pounds of forage produced per acre, we need to calculate the stocking rate so that no more than 500 pounds per acre will be grazed.  A horse on an all grass diet will consume about 1.5 to 2 percent of its body weight per day.  This example would be that a 1100 pound horse should be allowed at least 2 acres for 40- 50 days of fall grazing.

Fall Fertilization
Fertilization with nitrogen is needed to maximize fall production.  The yield potential will determine the amount of nitrogen that is needed.  25 to 30 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre is the amount that is normally applied in late August or early September.  An example of calculating "actual" nitrogen is: One source of nitrogen is urea, which is 46% nitrogen.  This means that you need to apply about 65 pounds of product per acre to provide 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

Phosphorus is an important nutrient for root development and plant health of the brome.  The only way to determine the phosphorus level of the field and to determine the amount to put on is with a soil test.  The soil sample should represent the top 4 inch layer of the field.  Your local County Extension Office can provide advice on taking a soil sample.  Phosphorus is removed from the field when we remove brome at about 12 pounds per ton of forage removed.  This means that to maintain an adequate level, we should be adding about 25 pounds per year.  If nitrogen is being applied for fall production, the phosphorus should be applied at the same time. 

Potassium is important but is usually not needed because our soils tend to be high in potassium. 

The pH will be analyzed in the soil test.  While brome is not extremely sensitive to pH level, a top dress of 2000 ecc should be considered if the pH level is below 5.6.

Brome is a very good forage but it does require good management for optimum production and utilization.



Musk Thistle Control - Brent Meyer, Lancaster, Nebraska County Weed Superintendent explains the importance and methods of controlling musk thistle. Fall is the best time for control of new plants, so get ready to take on the thistles on your property next month. For more information, refer to Noxious Weeds of Nebraska - Musk Thistle

Tomato Diseases - Nebraska Extension Educator Amy Timmerman shows us a few common tomato diseases, such as early blight, septoria leaf blight, bacterial spot and speck, and talks about strategies for management.

Tomato Problems - Nebraska Extension Educator Sarah Browning shows us different problems that can arise when growing tomatoes and helps us avoid them, including blossom end rot, pollination problems and fruit cracking. 

Irrigation in Nebraska: Past to Present
By Gary Zoubek, Nebraska Extension Educator

Image of Nebraska statue
Sculpture in the Henderson Park called "Water the Lifeblood of Agriculture." It depicts a father and two children setting siphon tubes.

Crop production, irrigation and water management are vital to Nebraska's economy. Producers have long realized that using water resources wisely is important. Current Nebraska Extension programs help irrigators apply water more efficiently. To learn more about one effort, visit The Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Network web site.

Late 1800s
As you drive through Nebraska and see irrigation at work, think about the history of irrigation, improvements that have resulted in producers getting "more crop for the drop," and its economic benefit to the state.
Irrigation ditches were constructed in Nebraska as early as 1856. Initially, Nebraska received all its irrigation water from streams and rivers. These waterways continue to supply water for some of Nebraska's cropland today. What rivers are most important from an irrigation perspective? The Platte, Loup and Republican rivers were, and are, especially important.

Mid 1900s & Irrigation Systems
Since 1940, however, irrigation from wells has increased dramatically. Of Nebraska's eight-million irrigated acres in 1990, about seven-million acres were irrigated from wells, with the rest being irrigated from streams and rivers. Currently, there are approximately 112,123 registered irrigation wells in Nebraska. Much of Nebraska is lying over the Ogallala Aquifer; one of the premier sources of groundwater in the United States and a valuable irrigation endowment for the state of Nebraska.

Irrigation water is distributed in one of three system types; gravity, sprinkler, and trickle or subsurface drip. Gravity systems initially consisted of canals and ditches that were run from rivers or wells to fields. "Cuts" were made down the rows for water to move through.  Problems resulted in uneven water distribution. System design evolved to include flood irritation, siphon tubes, gated pipe, and surge gated pipe systems.

With the development of pressurized city and town water systems, sprinklers were developed to irrigate lawns and gardens. Sprinkler irrigation on a larger scale began with city parks and golf courses, then included irrigation of high-value crops and finally expanded to other agricultural crop. The first spring-activated rotating sprinkler head was developed in 1933. Center pivot systems were developed in Nebraska, and this technology has improved over the last half century. It greatly enhanced water efficiency on land that was previously gravity fed. Thousands of Nebraska's irrigated acres are being converted each year to center pivot systems. In addition, it transformed irrigated agriculture worldwide.

In the late 1940's, Frank Zybach, a wheat farmer in Colorado, joined efforts with E. Trowbridge of Columbus, NE. In 1953-54 they produced 19 pivot systems. They had a difficult time selling the new concept. Bankers wouldn't fund them and producers wouldn't try them. Valley Manufacturing (Valmont Industries) purchased their company in 1954. Over the years, more than 80 companies tried making center pivots. Many were not successful. The book "Flat Water: A History of Nebraska and Its Water" reported that the top five center pivot manufacturers in the country today are located in Nebraska. The top four are Valley at Valley, Zimmatic at Lindsey, Electrogator at Deshler, T-L Irrigation at Hastings, and Lockwood at Gering.

Trickle, or subsurface drip irrigation (sdi) supplies water directly to the crop root-zone via buried polyethylene drip lines and emitters buried below the soil surface typically 13 to 20 inches deep.  Surface evaporation is minimized because the driplines are buried.  When properly managed, SDI irrigation application losses (runoff, Wind drift, soil evaporation and deep percolation) are significantly lower compared to other irrigation systems.

Irrigation has been, and continues to be important for crop production in Nebraska and the resulting economic impact. Irrigation systems and water delivery have become more efficient over time. Nebraska Extension Educators and Specialists have contributed to this effort by conducting unbiased research, and disseminating research-based information to producers, crop consultants, and others involved with Nebraska agriculture.  In 2012, Nebraska's use of irrigation improved the state economy by $11 billion dollars with estimates that every inch of water applied per acre, generates roughly $100 of economic benefit to the state.


Ag Classes Offered in Omaha This Fall
By Connie Fisk, Nebraska Extension Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator

Image of Connie Landis-Fisk teaching a pruning class.
Connie Fisk, Urban Agriculture Program coordinator, inspects raspberry canes at a pruning demo at HOPE Garden in March.

Carpentry, Raising Poultry for Profit, and Organic Food Production are three classes that will be offered by the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) in Omaha this fall. The courses are part of a larger Urban Agriculture Program partnership between NCTA, the Omaha Home for Boys (OHB), and Nebraska Extension.

"The Urban Agriculture Program is designed to support locally-produced food, prepare job-ready agricultural graduates, and foster social and economic development for youth and adults," said Ron Rosati, dean of NCTA, a University of Nebraska ag college based at Curtis, Neb.

Through this unique program, NCTA courses are offered for high school or college credits at the OHB's main campus and their Cooper Memorial Farm.

"NCTA's Omaha courses provide hands-on learning for individuals interested in obtaining skills for employment in the growing urban ag sector or starting their own urban ag enterprise," said Connie Fisk, coordinator of the Urban Agriculture Program.

Students may apply coursework toward a certificate or associate degree. High school students should ask their school counselor about taking NCTA's dual credit course offerings for high school credit. Fall courses begin the week of August 24-29, and require advance application to NCTA at along with class registration.

Image of participants in the OHB carpentry class.
Several youth and staff members of Omaha Home for Boys participated in the carpentry class offered in the Amidon Woodshop spring semester, including CEO Jeff Moran (right). Photo courtesy Mike Watkins, Omaha Home for Boys.

In AEQ 1713 Carpentry, offered Saturday mornings in the wood shop on the main OHB campus, students will learn about materials, tools and techniques for carpentry in an agricultural setting. Students who complete this class will be prepared to take AGR 2103 Building Construction, offered next spring.

Fisk will teach ASI 1752 Raising Poultry for Profit: Small Scale Production on Tuesday evenings at the Cooper Farm Urban Agriculture Center. The course will provide an overview of small-scale poultry production for meat and eggs. Each week's topic will also be available as a Nebraska Extension workshop for those entrepreneurs, 4-H club members, and urban agriculturalists not interested in earning college credit.

Organic Food Production, AGR 2153, taught by Fisk, is offered online so it is accessible to enrolled students anywhere, including the main NCTA campus in Curtis. "It also may appeal to consumers and backyard gardeners," Fisk notes.  The course will provide an introduction to the history, definitions, principles, and practices of organic food production.

For more information about the Urban Agriculture Program or individual courses contact Connie Fisk.

For the latest Urban Agriculture Program activities and announcements, like the Cooper Farm Urban Agriculture Education Center on Facebook.


Patio Planters in August
By John Fech, Nebrasks Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of patio planterPatio planters are one of the most popular features in a landscape – they are compatible for small or large spaces, sunny or shady sites, and cool or hot seasons of the year. 

In August, summertime planters tend to run out of nutrients, as the soil they grow in doesn't hold much.  Fill up their tank with a well-balanced, readily soluble fertilizer.  When shopping for a product, look for one with an analysis in a ratio of 1-1-1.  Typical options would be 21-19-18 or 20-20-20.

Before you fertilize the plants, water them.  Return an hour later to fertilize.  Applying fertilizer to a moist soil will prevent leaf burn, which commonly results from fertilizing plants growing in dry soils.  Use the amount indicated on the directions on a monthly basis, or split the rate in half and fertilize twice a month.  The former requires less labor; the latter provides a bit more control on the growth rate.

With either approach, avoid excessive fertilization.  The cook's temptation to add "just a pinch more" is not helpful with plants.  The usual result of overfertilization is more leaf growth, not more flowers.


Quick, Easy, Nutritious Meals - Sandwiches
By Lisa Franzen-Castle, Nebraska Extension Nutrition Specialist

Image of lunch sandwichSandwiches make quick, easy, and nutritious meals. August is National Sandwich Month, a great time to try a different type of sandwich or have fun inventing a new sandwich for you or to share with family and friends. Check out the following tips on how to experiment with different veggies and fruits, lean meats, whole grains, and sandwich spreads.

Tips for nutritious and delicious sandwiches:
  • Choose whole grains. Vary the taste and texture of sandwiches with whole grains. Grains provide many nutrients vital for health, such as dietary fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. Try out different ways to hold sandwich fillings with pita pockets, bagels, tortillas, and whole wheat or rye breads. 
  • Use food labels. The color of a product isn't always a good indicator of whether it's a whole grain. Bread can be brown due to molasses or other added ingredients. Choose foods with ingredients such as these first on the ingredient list: brown rice, oatmeal, wild rice, whole-grain corn, whole oats, whole rye or whole wheat. Also, check the Nutrition Facts Label and choose products with higher fiber content.
  • Try different fillings. Instead of mixing shredded tuna, turkey, or chicken with mayonnaise, use low-fat plain yogurt. For added flavor and crunch, add chopped onion, celery, and cucumber or pickle. And, to really kick up the flavor, add in herbs or spices such as dill or cumin. Instead of the traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich, try peanut butter and sliced banana.
  • Sandwich spreads. Use different sandwich spreads to kick up the flavor and nutrition. Go easy on spreads such as mayonnaise, margarine, butter, and cream cheese because they add fat and calories and little nutritional value. Instead, try low-fat plain yogurt, different flavors of hummus, mustard or honey mustard, or light dressing.
  • Boost nutrition with tasty toppings. Give your sandwich a nutritious boost by adding vegetables or fruit. Different veggies include spinach, arugula, sliced zucchini, cucumber, green or red peppers, red onion, and grated carrots. Fruits to try on sandwiches include sliced apples, pineapple, and banana.
  • Go lean with protein. Choose lean turkey, roast beef, ham, or low-fat luncheon meats for sandwiches instead of luncheon/deli meats with more fat, such as regular bologna or salami. Processed meats such as hams and luncheon or deli meats have added sodium. Check the ingredient and Nutrition Facts Label to help limit sodium intake.
  • Food safety for sandwiches on the go. Pack and store sandwiches in an insulated tote. Use an ice pack, gel pack, or freeze a juice box, bottled water or the sandwich itself. For best quality, don't freeze sandwiches with mayonnaise, lettuce, or tomatoes; add them right before eating. Use coarse-textured breads that don't get soggy as the sandwich thaws. Frozen juice boxes, water, and sandwiches will thaw by lunch.
Additional Resources & Links:
  • Easy Egg Sandwich Meals. Eggs are designed for quick mealtime solutions. Scrambled eggs are a perennial favorite for good reason. They're quick, easy, and adaptable to several recipes.
  • Make Sandwiches a Meal. With a little planning, you can turn a sandwich into a complete meal. This recipe provides veggies and dairy and is served on whole grain bread. 
  • Freezing Sandwiches. Make your own "fast food" sandwiches for a sack lunch or meal at home, make several sandwiches at once, use "leftovers" or cook extra at a meal for use in tasty and different ways at future meals. 
  • Fruity Tuna Salad Sandwiches. Though this recipe can be made with basic kitchen ingredients, the taste isn't anything like your ordinary tuna salad sandwich. 
  • Wrap it up with Wraps! Wraps are a terrific way to use up odds and ends of meats, vegetables, cheese and so on. The possibilities for combinations are limited only by your imagination. 


  1. Hillan, J., Minton, E., and Bobroff, L. (2015). Healthy Eating: Super Sandwiches. Publication #FCS8699. University of Florida, Cooperative Extension Service.
  2. Grains Group: Tips to help you Eat Whole Grains. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Accessed July 2015.
  3. Grains Group: Health and Nutrition Benefits of Grains. USDA. Accessed July 2015.
  4. Rhode Island Food Safety Education. (2000). Food Safety: Smart Lunches to go. University of Rhode Island, Cooperative Extension. Accessed July 2015.
  5. Protein Foods Group: Tips for Making Wise Choices. USDA. Accessed July 2015.


Back to School Supplies for Preparedness
By Ashley Mueller, Extension Educator & Disaster Education Coordinator

Image of back to school disaster suppliesWhether you believe it or not, it's here. Back to school. A walk through the local retail store confirms it. Aisles are filled with pencils, rulers, and notebooks.

Going back to school is an exciting time. With school supplies available in abundance, it's also the perfect time to make purchases that can help you and your family prepare for a disastrous incident. Consider these supplies:

  • Backpack—a backpack makes for an excellent to-go emergency kit. Find one that meets your and your family's needs: pockets, zippers, and size. You can keep to-go emergency kits in the car, at work, or any other place you go regularly. Pack enough supplies for 24 hours, and include water, high-energy snacks, your emergency contact list, and other items you would need.
  • Index cards—these cards are great for writing notes or keeping track of your emergency kit inventory. Use a card to write contact information for emergency contacts. Put the card in your child's backpack. Be sure to include more than one person's contact information in the event a contact can't be reached.
  • 3-ring notebook—there are a lot of uses for this school supply. Use a notebook to keep all the important information you might need when disaster strikes: emergency contact list, utility providers' information, and emergency kit inventory. You might also consider plastic page dividers with pockets for additional document storage.
  • Pocket or mini first-aid kit—the kit's small size makes it a good supply to include in a child's backpack or your to-go emergency kit. The kit should include bandages and triple antibiotic ointment.

Use this time of year to discuss new routines and communication plans. Update your emergency contact lists, determine a meet-up spot if the family is separated, and refresh the supplies in your standard emergency kit (check expiration labels on food and test batteries). 

Don't have kids in school? There are additional ways you can prepare. Living outside city limits, it might be important for you to know the local school bus route; weather can affect pick up and drop off times. Always be watchful for children loading and unloading the bus.

If you use social media, be sure to find Nebraska Extension – Disasters for the latest information on back to school preparedness tips.

Facebook: Nebraska Extension – Disasters
Pinterest: Nebraska Extension – Disasters
Twitter: @NEExtDisasters


Fascinating Garden Insects
By Justin Evertson, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

Image of velvet ant
Image of velvet ant. Johnny N. Dell, 

While puttering around outside recently, I came across a velvet ant scurrying across the driveway. A velvet ant is actually a type of wasp without wings but it looks very much like a very large furry ant. There's no mistaking this critter as it is mostly orange-red with distinctive black stripes on its abdomen. Wasps and ants are related so it makes sense that certain species might end up looking like each other. Although I had known what a velvet ant looked like, I didn't know much about them so I did a little research (thank goodness for the internet). Wow—what a fascinating creature.

Velvet Ants
It turns out the velvet ant is involved in an interesting bug-eat-bug story involving cicadas and the cicada killer wasp. As summer heats up annual cicadas emerge from the ground in great numbers and start their familiar buzzing in the trees. Female cicada wasps love nothing better than to find cicadas, paralyze them with a sting and then drag them into their underground burrows.  Flying with a cicada is no small feat since the cicada is often twice the body weight of the wasp, which is actually quite large itself, growing up to 2 inches long. Once the cicada is placed in the burrow, the wasp does not intend to eat the cicada herself. Rather she's going to lay an egg on the poor cicada so it can serve as a living food source for the wasp larvae that will soon be hatching.  

In the insect world, what goes around often comes around and in an ironic twist of fate many cicada killer larvae become meals themselves. After a young cicada wasp has fattened up and begins to pupate, an adult female velvet ant will often find the nest and lay an egg on the pupa. Eventually the velvet ant larva will emerge and start eating the developing cicada wasp—the insect equivalent of a MRE (meal ready to eat). When it is ready to become an adult, the velvet ant pupates inside the nest of the wasp where it will spend the winter, eventually emerging the following summer. Velvet ants are not aggressive and they are generally harmless to humans. However they do have a painful sting if handled so leave them alone. In fact the sting is said to be painful enough that it could kill a cow, which is why the wasp is sometimes called a cow killer ant.

Wolf Spiders
Another insect that caught my attention recently is the wolf spider. Actually spiders are not technically insects but are arachnids which are part of the larger arthropod group that includes insects and even crustaceans. Anyhow, wolf spiders can grow as large as a ping pong ball and can cause quite a surprise when they are encountered outside. One I came across under a concrete paver was the size of a tarantula (or so it seemed at the time) and was covered in weird bumps. After I caught my breath and took a closer look, I realized it was a female spider carrying her newborn babies on her back. There were dozens of them. A little research revealed that a female wolf spider is very maternalistic. She carries her egg sac wherever she goes, and then after the eggs hatch, carries her babies around for several days until they can fend for themselves. The kids definitely get better treatment than the father, which quite possibly was eaten by the mother after their courtship (it's a bug-eat-bug world for sure). 

Image of red milkweed beetle
Image of red milkweed beetle. Kansas Department of Agriculture Archive,

A few other intriguing insects that I've encountered this year include:

  • The soldier beetle, also called a leatherwing, looks very much like its lightning bug cousins. It's an important pollinator as an adult (especially on goldenrod) and a voracious predator in the larval stage feeding on grasshopper eggs, aphids and other small insects.
  • The red milkweed beetle with its distinctive black polka dots can afford to be quite colorful since the milkweed makes it distasteful, much like the monarch caterpillar. Its garish coloring signals other creatures not to eat it.
  • The beautiful mourning cloak is one of the few butterflies that can overwinter in northern climates, and can live up to 10 months—one of the longest-lived butterflies around. It's often one of the first flying insects encountered on a warm late-winter day, causing us to say "was that a butterfly already?"

Of course insects can be a bit creepy and some are truly harmful. Who doesn't get a bit freaked out when something unseen is crawling up our leg or down our back? Ticks and mosquitos suck (literally), wasps can sting, house flies are annoying, vine borers ruin cucumbers, Japanese beetles defoliate many trees, the emerald ash borer kills ash trees, head lice destroy family reputations—we could go on and on. But if we stop to take a closer look, we can see how fascinating insects really are:

  • There are more than 1 million different species of insects across the world.
  • Monarch caterpillars shed their skin four times before they become a chrysalis, growing more than 2,700 times their original size.
  • A butterfly has its taste receptors in its feet.
  • Honeybees travel up to 43,000 miles to collect enough nectar to make a pound of honey.
  • A mosquito flaps its wings 500 times a second.
  • Dragonflies can fly up to 50 miles per hour.
  • The earliest fossil insect is about 400 million years old.
  • The praying mantis is the only insect that can look behind its shoulders.
  • A cockroach can live for up to 3 weeks without its head.
  • Termites collectively outweigh humans 10 to 1.

Ultimately the vast majority of insects are beneficial (or benign) and humans could literally not live without them. The famed entomologist E.O. Wilson has said that if insects disappeared, humanity could not last more than a few months and most large animals would soon disappear. Insects do some very important things: they pollinate many of our food crops; they are primary or secondary decomposers recycling organic matter (just imagine if there was nothing recycling animal dung or dead animals); predatory insects help keep pest populations in check; insects are key components of the animal food web (most bird species need insects as food); and finally, insects just help make the world more interesting, which is my favorite reason for admiring them. Insects really are cool.

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


Chlorosis of Trees
By Laurie Stepanek, Nebraska Forest Service

Image of iron chlorosis symptoms in maple tree.
Image of iron chlorosis symptoms in maple tree.

Many gardeners are familiar with chlorosis, a nutrient deficiency that affects the production of chlorophyll, the green pigment found in leaves. The symptoms are fairly easy to recognize: pale green to yellow leaves with green veins. Sometimes the edges of the leaves or spaces between the veins die and turn brown.

Chlorosis is common in pin oak, river birch, silver maple and red maple cultivars and hybrids such as Autumn Blaze, Autumn Flame and October Glory. Other susceptible trees include crabapple, amur maple, sweetgum, baldcypress and white pine.

Cause of Chlorosis
The root cause of chlorosis is a deficiency of certain micronutrients, usually iron or manganese, but solving the problem is complicated since several factors are involved. Chlorotic trees often occur in alkaline soils, which have a pH above 7. Alkalinity renders iron and manganese insoluble, which makes the micronutrients unavailable for root uptake. Simply adding iron or manganese to the soil, therefore, will not correct the problem. Urban areas often have alkaline soils because the better topsoil is removed during construction of buildings and the alkaline subsoil is left behind.

Chlorosis also occurs in compacted, poorly drained soils, and in landscapes where automatic sprinklers run daily or every other day. The low levels of oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide that occur in these water-saturated soils interfere with iron uptake. Lawns heavily fertilized with nitrate and phosphorus may have chlorotic trees as well because an excess of these fertilizers interferes with micronutrient uptake.

Correcting chlorosis begins with good cultural practices: water trees thoroughly but infrequently to allow the soil time to drain and gas exchange to occur; apply woodchip mulches below the canopy of the tree to encourage root growth and soil microbes that aid in nutrient uptake; and use fertilizers sparingly, particularly if the lawn is already being fertilized. Please note: driving nails into trees or burying them in the ground will NOT correct chlorosis.

If a soil test indicates a high pH, consider an application of granular sulfur to lower the pH, which improves micronutrient solubility and root uptake. One method involves core-aerating the area below the canopy of the tree, applying a high rate of sulfur (1 to 4 pounds or more for a 10x10 foot area) and watering it in well to prevent turf burn.

Lowering the pH over a large area may be very difficult to do, especially on clay soils that resist changes in pH. In these situations, small pockets of soil can be altered by combining sulfur with iron sulfate or a micronutrient mix and placing it in holes dug into the ground around the tree.

In areas where soil treatments may be ineffective or impractical, trunk injections may be used. Holes are drilled into the trunk flare, and a liquid micronutrient product containing either iron or manganese is injected into the holes; or the product is delivered to the tree through a needle-like injection tool.  Trunk injections are damaging to the tree and should be performed by a certified arborist who is well-trained in the procedure.

If you are planning to plant new trees, choose ones that are less likely to develop chlorosis such as linden, elm, hackberry, most white oaks, ginkgo and Kentucky coffeetree.

For more information, see the Nebraska Forest Service publication Chlorosis of Trees in Eastern Nebraska.

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


Saving and Storing Garden Seeds
By Sarah Browning, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of tomato seedsHave you ever thought about saving seeds from your own vegetable garden to grow next year?  It can certainly be done and isn't as hard as you might think.  However, before you get started there are a few important things to keep in mind when selecting plants from which to save seeds.

Avoid Hybrid Plants
Many, if not most, of the vegetable seeds and transplants you purchase at the garden store in spring are hybrid plants, developed through the crossing of two distinct parent lines. Hybrid plants are developed for their vigorous nature and improved disease resistance. They often have fruits that are more uniform in size, shape and color, have better storage quality and shipping ability.  For tomatoes, improved shipping ability usually means the tomato flesh is firmer than that found in most heirloom tomatoes. However, hybrid plants do not grow ‘true to type' from seed so aren't good candidates for seed saving.

Choose instead to save seed from open pollinated heirloom plants or naturally occurring plant species like red vein sorrel, Rumex sanguineus, which will grow ‘true to type' from seed each time.

The next consideration is how to collect the seeds? This varies depending on how seeds are produced by the plant- either as dry seeds or wet seeds within a fruit. Harvest seeds from your healthiest, most vigorous plants.

Dry Seeds
Many plants produce seeds in a dry seed head, such as lettuce or dill. To harvest lettuce, allow a few plants to mature and develop flower heads. Let the flower heads mature until seed stalks develop a fluffy dandelion appearance, just before the seeds are completely dried. Seeds will fall off the stalk and be lost if allowed to totally dry on the plant.

To harvest dill, cut the seed stalks when the seeds are fully sized and turning brown.

Bundled the stems together with rubber bands or string. The seed heads can be placed inside a paper bag as they dry to catch any seeds that fall. Hang the bundles to dry in a warm, well-ventilated location. Dry the harvested stalks until the seeds can be shaken or rubbed from the stems.

Wet Seeds
Pick fruit from desirable plants when ripe. Cut fruit and squeeze out the pulp into a container. Add a little water, shake the mixture well, and let the pulp ferment 2-4 days at room temperatures, stirring occasionally.  When seeds settle to the bottom of the container, pour off the pulp at the top of the container. If necessary add more water and let any remaining pulp ferment again. When you have mostly seeds remaining, pour them into a fine sieve. Rinse them well and spread them in a thin layer on a piece of netting or screen, allowing them to dry thoroughly.

Beans and Peas
Allow bean or pea pods to turn brown on the plant. Harvest the pods and dry them for 1-2 weeks. Shell them and they are ready for storage.

Seed Storage
The first rule of seed storage is that after they are harvested and dried, they need a cold, dry environment for storage, ideally around 35° F. Seeds keep for a long time at these temperatures. Dryness is important because if they get moisture, the seeds will swell and sprout, as well as have the risk of rotting.

It's critical to keep seeds dry at all times – while using a seed packet indoors or outdoors, as well as when storing seeds. That's why seed packets should be opened in a dry place; take out just as many as you need. Then reseal the packets, put them back into a dry, airtight container and continue to store them in a cold, but frost-free place.

Where is the ideal storage spot? A shelf in the garage, basement, or laundry room is not a good storage spot; it gets too damp or hot at times during the year. An air-tight container in the refrigerator is a good location. 

For more information on storing seeds, refer to Vegetable Garden Seed Storage and Germination Requirements, NebGuide G2090.


Aster Yellows
By Sarah Browning, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of aster yellows symptoms in coneflower.
Image of aster yellows symptoms in coneflower.

Midsummer gardens are bursting with color from coneflowers, daisies, Rudbeckia, Coreopsis, Cosmos and a host of other flowers.  Sometimes amid all the flowers, you'll find some that are oddly misshapen or haven't developed color properly.  Could be you have a common disease problem called aster yellows.

How Did It Get In My Garden?
Aster yellows is caused by a phytoplasma, which is a bacteria-like organism that lacks the typical cell wall found in bacteria. Phytoplasmas are microscopic so can't be seen without a microscope. They are transmitted from plant to plant primarily through the feeding of the aster or six-spotted leafhopper.

Infected plants do not always die, so the disease is able to survive winter inside infected plants. Over 300 kinds of plants in 48 plant families are susceptible to aster yellows, including many common annual and perennial flowers, vegetables, field crops and weeds.

In spring, leafhoppers feed on the new growth of infected plants; the phytoplasma then reproduces itself in the insect's digestive system. For as long as the insect lives, it can transmit the disease to healthy plants as it feeds.

Susceptible Plants
Perennial weeds often serve as a winter host for the disease, including dandelion, thistle, ragweed, plantain, milkweed, birdsfoot trefoil, amaranth, violet, and wild sunflower.

Garden ornamentals often affected by aster yellows include coneflower (Echinacea), Coreopsis, Cosmos, daisies, aster, black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), chrysanthemum, gaillardia, marigold, stawflower, sunflower, Zinnia, and many more.

Susceptible vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, lettuce, parsley, pea, potato, pumpkin, radish, spinach, squash and tomato.

Symptoms of Aster Yellows
Vein clearing, or loss of green pigment within the veins, is often the first symptom but is subtle enough to be difficult to spot by most gardeners.

More obvious symptoms can be seen in the odd growth of infected plants. Infected plants are often yellowish in color. Plants are usually stunted, producing stiff bushy growth with short internodes and many secondary shoots. This bushy growth is caused by growth of buds that would normally be dormant. Other plants may show abnormally tall spindly growth.

Deformed flowers are one of the easiest symptoms to spot.  Flowers often do not develop their proper color, with entire flowers or a portion of them remaining green. Flowers many be doubled, with what looks like two flower heads fused together. Or abnormal green growth may develop out of the flower head, or replace the flower head. Flowers may also be small or lopsided.

Faciation of stems can also occur; an abnormal type of plant growth, resulting in the development of peculiarly flattened, broad stems with many vegetative and flower buds arranged randomly. It may appear as if several stems have fused together, with stems having short, swollen clumps of distorted shoots.

Carrots can be severely affected by aster yellows. Foliage of infected plants grows in a tight upright bunch. The inner leaves are yellow and stunted, while the outer leaves may be rusty red to reddish purple. The roots are bitter tasting and stunted, covered with hundreds of tiny, hair-like roots.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for infected plants. If you suspect a plant is infected by aster yellows, it should be removed from the garden to prevent further spread. Eliminate weeds around your garden that could serve as an overwintering host.

For more information on aster yellows, including a more complete listing of susceptible plants, refer to Aster Yellows, University of Illinois.