Watch Out for Wildfires
By Ashley Mueller, Nebraska Extension Educator & Disaster Education Coordinator

Image of wildfireAccording to the Nebraska Forest Service, between January 1 and April 15 this year, Nebraska fire departments responded to 237 wildfires across the state. One incident in western Nebraska was caused by a lightning strike; the remaining wildfires were caused by people related to debris or trash burning, equipment, campfires, smoking, fireworks, and other sources.

At present, the National Drought Mitigation Center's U.S. Drought Monitor shows much of the state is experiencing abnormally dry or moderate drought conditions. It's possible drought intensity may change by the release of this article. Wildfire risk is present in dry conditions, and it's important to understand these risks and how to best prepare for a wildfire.

Nature and people, accidentally and purposefully, can start wildfires. The Fire Triangle is an easy way to understand fire factors. Each triangle side represents elements required for the creation and maintenance of any fire: oxygen, heat, and fuel. When there isn't a sufficient amount of one element, the fire is suppressed.

Fuel is any combustible material, and the moisture content determines how easily the fuel will burn. Consider these tips from Firewise to reduce the risk of your home and property becoming fuel for a wildfire:

  • Remove leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches, and decks. This prevents embers from igniting the home.
  • Keep flammable materials, such as firewood stacks and propane tanks, at least 30 feet from your home's foundation and outbuildings, including detached garages. If an item can catch fire, don't let it touch your home.
  • Cut down your lawn and property's grass to reduce the intensity of a fire.
  • Dispose debris and lawn cuttings frequently.

Additionally, do not throw lit cigarettes on the ground or out of a moving vehicle. Never leave a fire unattended. For burning, required permits must be obtained; open burning is under a continuous ban in Nebraska, according to the Nebraska State Fire Marshal.

It's important to know that depending on where you live, your neighbor may conduct a prescribed fire. This type of fire is good because it reintroduces the beneficial effects of fire into an ecosystem, which leads to vegetation and landscapes we want and a reduction in fuel buildup. These fires are controlled, and an appropriate permit is obtained. It is important to talk with your neighbors about their land practices, so you have an understanding of potential fire scenarios.

Regardless, it's important to be watchful for smoke and flames. Be in contact with your neighbors about any fire activity, and when in doubt, call local authorities to report a fire. Check the Nebraska Forest Service's Fire Danger Map to know the most current fire danger risks, and learn more about Living with Fire through their homeowner's guides for eastern Nebraska and western Nebraska.

Sources and For More Information:

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Planting for the Future- Arbor Day 2015
By Nicole Stoner, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of mottled bark on American sycamore.
Image of mottled bark on American sycamore.

This year we celebrated Arbor Day on April 24, 2015 and of course the best way to celebrate Arbor Day is to plant at least one tree. If you don't have room for one in your yard, trees can be donated to parks and schools or you can go to the Arbor Day Foundation and donate a tree to be planted in one of our Nation's forests.

Nebraska didn't always have as many trees in it as it does today, so take some time on Arbor Day to plant a tree to ensure that we have trees for years to come.

Choosing a Tree
Deciding what tree to plant is half of the battle when planting a tree.  There are so many great tree selections that will grow very well in Nebraska. ReTree Nebraska is an affiliate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that focuses on "raising public awareness of the value of trees and reversing the decline and improve the sustainability of community trees and forests". ReTree has been working on a list of great trees for Nebraska, each year adding more trees to that list. The list for 2015 includes Hackberry, Sycamore, Baldcypress, Catalpa, Kentucky Coffeetree, Elm Hybrids, Hackberry, Sugar and Bigtooth Maple, Chinkapin Oak, Bur Oak, English Oak, Shantung Maple, Miyabe Maple, Gambel Oak, Tree Lilac, Concolor Fir, Black Hills Spruce, and Ponderosa Pine. Any of these would be great choices for your yard, but diversity is the key when planting trees. The 2 trees added to the list for 2015 were Hackberry and Sycamore.

Hackberry is a great tree for Nebraska because it is regionally native and adapted to our ever-changing Nebraska environment. The leaves have an uneven base and typically are found with a gall on the leaves due to the Hackberry psyllid. These galls are not harmful to the tree, they are just an aesthetic nuisance. It is a great tree for pollinators as well.

Sycamore is another great tree. Sycamore trees grow very large, up to 100 feet tall with a massive trunk. The leaves on a sycamore tree are tri-lobed and are 4-10 inches long and slightly wider than they are long. Sycamore trees have unique camouflage bark that opens up to a white base.

Correct Planting Practices
Another very important factor that you need to keep in mind when planting trees, would include how to plant a tree correctly to ensure healthy growth. First of all, remove all of the burlap and any other materials from the root ball before planting. Be sure to also remove any tags, twine, or wire from the tree. Remember to remove all the grass and weeds that are within the area you will be planting the tree. Dig a hole that is 2-3 times wider and no deeper than the root ball. Loosen up the sides of the hole. Plant the tree so the root flare is at the soil surface. Do not amend the soil in the hole; backfill with the existing soil. Make sure that the entire root ball is covered with soil to avoid drying out. Add a mulch ring at least two to three feet out from the base of the tree and only 2-3 inches deep.

Staking a tree is not a mandatory practice. If you do have to stake the tree due to high winds, make sure that the tree has plenty of movement to allow it to build stronger roots. Also be sure that the staking material is removed after the first year to avoid the tree being damaged by the staking materials. 

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Epsom Salts and Soil
By Kelly Feehan, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of garden soilNow and then gardeners ask about using Epsom salts in gardens, especially for growing tomatoes. A key point to keep in mind is a soil test should be done before using most soil amendments.

Magnesium Availability
Epsom salts is magnesium sulfate. It is a source of the nutrient magnesium which plants do need. However, magnesium is unlikely to be deficient in Nebraska soils. Magnesium also does not tie up in high pH soils which would make it less available to plants. The availability of nutrients for plant uptake is affected by soil pH. Some nutrients are readily available at an acid pH, others at an alkaline pH.

Magnesium is readily available at a slightly alkaline pH which Nebraska soils tend to have. In highly acid soils common on the east coast, magnesium can become deficient in plants; hence some literature does talk about using Epsom salts as a magnesium source.

The best reason not to use Epsom salts on lawns and gardens in Nebraska is because it is rarely needed. Another good reason not to use Epsom salt is it readily leaches from soil and could pollute water resources.

When the above answer is shared with gardeners, they may ask if Epsom salts will hurt plants if it is not needed.  While magnesium toxicity to plants is rare, it is not impossible. Adding a soil amendment without knowing if it is needed is not a good practice and could be harmful.

Making Decisions About Soil Amendments
Other than organic matter, such as compost, Nebraska Extension recommends that most soil amendments not be used without a soil test recommendation. Even for organic matter, a soil test can be beneficial in determining the current percentage of soil organic matter and which type of organic matter will provide the greatest benefit.

Along with Epsom salts, iron and gypsum are two other amendments asked about. Gypsum is only effective under very specific conditions. Iron is a nutrient that is often needed in Nebraska.

While magnesium does not tie up in alkaline soils, iron does tie up in higher pH soils. An iron deficiency is easy to diagnose. The signs are pale green to yellow leaves with darker green veins. If these signs are noticed, iron can be applied to soils or plants without a soil test. Read and follow label directions as iron will burn plants if misapplied.

Gypsum is sold as an amendment that will loosen hard soil. This is only true in well drained soils high in sodium. If a soil is not high in sodium, then gypsum is an ineffective amendment and may cause other soil issues. A soil test is needed to determine if gypsum, and most other amendments, will provide any benefit. 

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Let the Lawn Games Begin
By Kendall Weyers, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

Image of white clover
White clover was considered desirable in lawns up until the 1950s because of its ability to fix nitrogen and its low height and tendency to spread.

From nutrition to computers, cars to crops, standards around us are ever-changing, evolving as we gain new knowledge and awareness. Improvements are made to make practices more acceptable and appropriate to current conditions. The same is happening with standards for our community landscapes, especially lawns.

Many landowners feel a lush, precisely manicured monoculture of bluegrass or fescue should cover the majority of the landscape. That standard developed during a much different time of ample and cheap supplies of water and fuel, as well as a lack of awareness of the consequences of overreliance on chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.

With today's issues ranging from water quality and availability, noise pollution and air quality to depleted soils and loss of pollinators, it may be worthwhile to re-evaluate lawn standards. Many updated models are being developed. If you are thinking about a change in lawn care practices, consider the following:

Traditional turf with fewer inputs. Traditional turf can perform quite well with fewer inputs than we may have assumed. Instead of fertilizing four times a year, consider fertilizing just once or twice. Instead of setting the sprinklers to run three times a week all season, water once a week only when it's needed. With less fertilizing and watering, mowing frequency should also decrease. Reconsider preventative insecticide and fungicide treatments and just spot-treat weeds (if at all) and use organic treatment options whenever possible.

A more biodiverse, mixed lawn. White clover was considered desirable in lawns up until the 1950s because of its ability to fix nitrogen and its low height and tendency to spread. It also is beneficial to pollinators, an important trait considering their current decline. Adding diversity to a lawn increases its resilience and adaptability in challenging weather extremes. You may want to allow or encourage clover or other plants that can tolerate mowing and co-exist with grass, such as birdsfoot trefoil, poppymallow and dwarf yarrow.

Alternative turfgrasses.  Low-growing native grasses like buffalograss and blue grama are drought-tolerant with limited needs for fertilizer and mowing, making them a great option for a low-maintenance turf. They have limited shade tolerance, however, so they're only useful in areas with plentiful sun.

Non-grass groundcovers. There are many choices of woody or herbaceous low-growing plants that can provide low cover for areas with minimal foot traffic: ajuga, creeping thyme, plumbago and a wide range of sedges and sedums. Some woody options are creeping juniper, vinca, English ivy and wintercreeper.

Larger planting beds. A very direct approach is to simply have larger planting beds and less turf. Larger areas of shrubs, perennials and ornamental grasses allow for a rich diversity of colors and textures that change throughout the seasons. Emphasizing natives often improves water quality, soil health and food sources for pollinators and other wildlife.

Fruit and vegetable garden. Starting or expanding the space in the yard for growing fruits, vegetables and/or nuts is a productive use of a yard. This approach requires more attention than the others, but the effort also has more rewards.

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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5 Shopping Tips for Garden Success
By John Fech, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of plant display at garden center.
Resist the temptation to buy plants in full bloom.  Instead look for those with plenty of unopened buds. 

With spring in full swing, garden centers and big-box stores overflow with colorful bedding plants.  Some gardeners buy a few petunias or geraniums on impulse to color up their yard or window sill.  Others set out with determination and a page-long list of plants to purchase.  No matter which category you fit into, there are some tips to consider when buying flowers for your garden.  Often shoppers buy a plant for its flower color, giving little thought to what amount of light or water it requires.

  1. Take a little time to walk around your yard before embarking on your shopping spree, and note all the flower beds, window boxes, etc. that need a splash of color.  Jot down what type of light each area receives and approximate dimensions.  Also try to envision color schemes, growth habits (cascading, climbing, upright, mounding), and heights that would work well.  A little bit of homework saves wasted time and money at the store.  Make sure you read the plant tag before purchasing, matching the plant's cultural requirements and growth description to your needs.
     
  2. A major mistake most people make as they survey the array of pots and flats is to immediately choose plants in full bloom; most likely these appear to be the largest and healthiest.  Instead, resist the temptation and search for plants just beginning to bud; these perform better in the garden.  With these specimens, the plant's energy is still geared toward the root system and leaves and not for seed production.  As well, hunt down the more compact, fuller plants instead of those with "leggy" stems.  Choose plants with a dark green color and short compacted stems with several good sets of leaves. It doesn't hurt to see a few roots coming out of the bottom of the pot, but avoid plants with masses of roots at the bottom.  Those roots will be destroyed when transplanting and may cause plants to wilt and be slow to establish in the garden.
     
  3. Once you decide which flowers to buy, figure out the quantity you need.  When you know the mature plant size, calculate how many full grown plants would fill the allotted flower bed or planter.
     
  4. Avoid the common tendency of buying a little of this and a few of that.   A large block of one color or species produces a bigger impact and are easier to care for than a hodge-podge of many different varieties.
     
  5. Try something new.  Check out sources of new introductions such as All America Selections, Perennial Plant of the Year, Proven Winners, Great Plants for the Great Plains, or  Plant Select for suggestions.  Choosing plants that are new for 2015 increases the diversity of the specimens in the garden and often introduces new colors and textures to boot.

If you take a little time to think about your flower garden before you shop, and choose healthy, well suited plants before you buy, your garden should grow successfully all season.

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The Importance of Wildness
By Karma Larsen, Nebraska Forest Service

Image of tree in forest"When people connect with nature, it happens somewhere. Almost everyone who cares deeply about the outdoors can identify a particular place where contact occurred. This may have been a wilderness, a national park, or a stretch of unbounded countryside, but more often the place that makes a difference is unspectacular: a vacant lot, a scruffy patch of woods, a weedy field, a stream, a green ravine like Ravenna—or a ditch." The Thunder Tree, Robert Michael Pyle

Few of us have areas of true wilderness nearby. Many of us travel great distances to national parks and forests just to see it and to enter into it, if only for a few days. But as homeowners and landowners we all have the option for less-managed areas within our landscapes.

Why is wildness important? The answers are both objective and subjective and, for many of us, highly personal. From a scientific point of view, wild areas serve as a kind of canary in the coal mine.

  • They offer clues about our natural systems that may be less evident in more managed landscapes. Through them we can more clearly see the impact of human intervention.
  • They filter our air and help remove pollutants from it.
  • Besides providing shelter for wildlife, wild areas provide migration routes and breeding spaces. Large areas of wilderness are important for this, but even small areas can provide needed stops between long distances.
  • By hosting plant and animal life, they contribute to more diverse gene pools.
  • They're important to pollinators, offering valuable "insectaries" that non-native landscapes often fail to support.
  • Though we may not live close to areas of actual wilderness, many of us are connected to them every time we take a drink of water because they often function as watersheds in areas that bring drinking water to towns and cities.
  • The hardiest species of any plant can be found on the extreme edges of their natural occurrence so wild native areas may be able to provide seed source for species more tolerant of drought, cold or other challenges.

From a more personal angle, wild areas offer respite and renewal for everyone from serious hikers and explorers, to occasional visitors, to people who never visit wilderness but take comfort from the fact that it exists. They offer a unique and appropriate sense of place and, in a way that is not easily put into words, rough edges in a landscape make room and space for our own rough edges. They foster freedom and creativity, a reality that is perhaps nowhere more evident than with young children. Given a highly-manicured landscape, imagination and play become similarly managed and constrained. Allowed some loose soil, rough plantings and the freedom to experiment, imaginative play soon follows.

The value of wild areas is commonly documented in personal memoirs and essays. Edwin Way Teale wrote, "I have come to believe that for most of us some lonely spot, some private nook, some glen or streamside-scene has impressed us so deeply that even today its memory recalls a mood of lost enchantment."

Teale wrote that memories of a woodland hilltop near the childhood home of John Merriam, President of the Carnegie Institution, influenced him all his life: "As the years of [Merriam's] life passed, this eminent scientist wrote, the thing that led him on was the endless challenge of the unknown—a challenge that appeared to him first in the form of this dark and distant woods of his boyhood."

And Howard Zahniser, author of the Wilderness Act, wrote: "Without the gadgets, the inventions, the contrivances whereby men have seemed to establish among themselves an independence of nature, without these distractions, to know the wilderness is to know profound humility, to recognize one's littleness, to sense dependence and interdependence, indebtedness, and responsibility."

Areas of wildness are fragile. The benefits they offer extend far beyond their boundaries, but their wellbeing is threatened by things well beyond their edges as well. So let's take it easy on ourselves and loosen up a bit on our too-careful management of the landscapes we oversee. Though few of us manage landscapes that have truly wild areas with forests or wetlands, all of us have small places where we can plant natives, allow habitat to develop and let natural processes have their way. By protecting and preserving wild areas in the small ways we're able, we may well be insuring our own well-being.

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

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So You Want to Buy a Horse?
By Kathy Anderson, Nebraska Extension Horse Specialist

Buying a horse can be both fun and frustrating at the same time. It is important to take time, do your homework and not let emotions take over. One of the most important decisions you will make is determining if this is the right horse for you.

Safety and suitability of horse to rider are the utmost factors to consider to ensure a long, enjoyable experience. No horse or pony is always predictable! A suitable horse should fit your's level of horse skills and be as safe as possible. It's especially important that novice owners not get swept away by the color or visual appeal of a horse that may not be suitable for their skills and interests.

Setting the Budget
Early in your horse hunting, determine a budget and strictly follow it. Sometimes the initial purchase price is within your price range; however, the cost of routine care including feed, housing, foot care and veterinary expenses also must be addressed. Work out a budget to determine if this venture is truly affordable.

The price must stay within your budget. Compare prices of horses from several sources, review current sale averages of breed auctions and talk with knowledgeable horse owners, trainers and brokers in your area to establish an idea of a reasonable price. 

Planning for Use
It's also important to be honest with yourself about what you want to do with your horse. Some plan to compete and show, while others want to trail ride or simply have a horse to ride. Evaluate the intended use in order to determine the appropriate breed, age and price range.

An outstanding show horse may not be suitable for competitive or pleasure trail riding. Likewise, an excellent trail horse may not be very successful in the show ring. Regardless of intended use, it's best if the first horse is already experienced for your specific use. An older horse that already has the skills needed is usually a better choice for a first-time owner or young rider.

A person's horse handling abilities should be carefully and honestly evaluated. Compare the rider's skill level with the experience, ability and disposition of the horse being considered. A novice rider usually is not well suited to a young, inexperienced, or highly spirited horse. An older, calmer horse with considerable experience and patience is generally a better match for young or inexperienced riders. Remember: "Green plus green equals black and blue!"

Recommendations from professionals or knowledgeable horse owners can be very important in locating suitable horses to match one's ability. An inexperienced rider likely will not have a safe or enjoyable experience with an inexperienced horse. If the first horse experience is enjoyable, you or your child will spend more time with the horse and advance more in horsemanship skills than if frustrated with a horse not well suited to the rider's ability. Save the 2- or 3-year-old horse for when you or your child need a greater challenge to spur interest.

Locating A Horse
Locating a suitable first horse can take much time, and patience is very important. Plan to spend considerable time searching and trying out horses. Don't rush into any purchase.

Horses for sale can be found in many ways. Local riding instructors, trainer, professionals or breeders can be very good sources. They usually are familiar with horses in the area, and breeders want to make sure their horses are well represented.

Friends, trustworthy horse owners, 4-H leaders, tack shop owners or the advertising boards at tack shops or feed stores are all good sources. Horses often are advertised on various websites, social media, etc. Also, watch for flyers at stables, events and anything else involving horses. In today's market, many sellers also will provide videotapes for initial preview of horses they have for sale. These can be excellent screening tools.

Trying It Out
No matter how or where you find a potential horse, plan a visit to try it out and take a knowledgeable horseperson along. Observe the horse as much as you can in various situations such as in the stall, while saddling, around other horses, etc. Pay close attention to indicators of its temperament and personality. Watch its eyes, ears and tail for signs of kindness or irritability. Ask the seller to do an initial ride so it can be observed.

Work the horse to demonstrate its intended use. If the horse is a jumper, work it over fences. A pleasure horse should be ridden in an arena or on a trail, or a reining horse should be worked through the maneuvers of a reining pattern.

Next, the horse's potential owner should ride the horse. Follow the owner's instructions to get the horse to perform with the cues to which it is accustomed. A second or third visit may be needed before making the final decision. A more informed buyer will be more willing to make the final purchase and likely will be more satisfied with his or her purchase after the sale. Additionally, sometimes a brief trial period (7-10 days) can be arranged for the prospective buyer.  Check out this short video with tips when looking at a potential horse to purchase at: Buying A Horse: Tips for the On-Farm Visit.

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Fitness Works
By Jamie Goffena, Nebraska Extension Nutrition & Fitness Educator

Image of fitness ball used at desk.
Keeping your balance on a ball uses more muscles than sitting in a chair. Plus it is hard to sit still. It is fun wiggling a bit while you work at a computer.

Staying fit can be hard when work keeps many people molded to an office chair most of the day. Studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle can adversely affect health and may shorten life, according to the National Institute of Health. Periodic movement during the day can reduce that risk. Following are suggestions to work healthier:

  1. Rather than another jolt of a caffeine drink during breaks, find someone to walk with you daily. This helps keep both people accountable and makes break time more enjoyable.
     
  2. Sit on an exercise ball at your desk for part of the day. Try to find one that inflates large enough that your thighs are parallel to the floor with knees at a 90 angle when you sit on it (about 18" above the floor). Keeping your balance on a ball uses more muscles than sitting in a chair. Plus it is hard to sit still. It is fun wiggling a bit while you work at a computer.
     
  3. Stand and move more. If your work involves on-line conferences or trainings via webinars do stretches and exercises while watching the on-line training. You could walk in place too.
     
  4. Use a standing desk. Have a tall table, desk or surface that is at a counter height so you can stand for part of the day working with your laptop. Better yet…
     
  5. Install a walking desk above a treadmill or add a shelf so you can walk while using a laptop. It takes some coordination at first but soon becomes easier.
     
  6. Image of shoulder stretches.
    Do shoulder shrugs, along with stretching the neck, arms, hands, back and legs. All major muscles can be stretched easily and quickly.
    Keep free weights beside your telephone so you can do arm lifts while talking via speaker phone or headset. Hold the weights at your shoulders and lift straight up to strengthen arms. With your arms lifted straight above your shoulders bend them at the elbows so that your hands and weights touch the back of your shoulders and repeat. This strengthens the underarm. A third exercise for the arms would be bicep curls: holding weights with your arms by your sides bend your elbows to raise the lower arms up to your shoulders. Do at least 10 repetitions of each lift.
     
  7. Stretch while on the job to keep muscles limber, improve circulation and relieve stress. Do shoulder shrugs, along with stretching the neck, arms, hands, back and legs. All major muscles can be stretched easily and quickly. Without straining or bouncing, hold each stretch for 10-15 seconds. Follow along with a video "Planting Healthy Seeds."

Find this article on-line at: http://www.nutritionknowhow.org/blog/g/fitness-works/. Scan the QR code for more food and fitness information. 

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Celebrate National Salsa Month!
By Lisa Franzen-Castle, Nebraska Extension Nutrition Specialist

Image of salsaSalsas, Spanish for the word "sauce," are low in calories, full of flavor, and available with a variety of ingredients, from tomatoes, jalapenos and habaneras to mangoes, pineapples, strawberries and even beans. May is National Salsa Month, and the perfect way to celebrate is by experimenting with different salsa recipes. Salsas can be scrambled in eggs, dished as a garnish for chicken and fish and served as an ice cream topping. Salsas are enjoyed for their intense flavors and colors. Check out these tips to make sensational salsas.

Spice up Snacks and Meals with Salsa:
  • Spice up a meal or snack. A combination of tomatoes, onions and peppers can add zest to chips. A mixture of fruit, herbs, onion, and pepper added to meat or fish can add unique flavors to dishes. There are a variety of salsa options for different preferences and dishes such as spicy, hot, sweet, savory, herbal and aromatic. All can make meals tasty without adding lots of calories.
  • Salsa ingredients and preparation tips. Keep cut fruits, such as apples, pears, bananas and peaches, from turning brown by coating them with an acidic juice such as lemon, orange or pineapple juice. Or use a commercial produce protector such as Fruit-Fresh (R), and follow the manufacturer's directions. Cover and refrigerate cut fruit and veggies until ready to serve. Most salsas taste best if refrigerated for about an hour before serving to let flavors blend.
  • Serve salsa safely. Perishable foods like dips, salsas, and cut fruit and vegetables should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. If you will be serving items such as these for a longer period than this, set out a smaller bowl and then replace it with another one when it is empty. Do not add fresh dip or salsa to dip or salsa that has been sitting out. Refrigerate and use up any that has not been served within three to four days of preparation.
  • Salsa canning basics. Canning your own salsa recipe or changing the proportions of ingredients in a tested salsa recipe can be unsafe. The types and amounts of ingredients and preparation methods used are important considerations in how a salsa is canned. Salsas or other tomato-pepper combinations improperly canned have been implicated in more than one outbreak of botulism poisoning. Also, salsa must be processed in a boiling water canner for safety. If you don't have a tested recipe or a boiling water canner, you might try freezing your salsa. Be aware there may be changes in texture and flavor after freezing and thawing. Try freezing a small amount the first time. Herbs and spices may taste better if they are added fresh just before serving.
Salsa is great for snacks and entrées, but it can also be used in desserts and baked goods. The choices are truly endless with the different combinations of fruits, vegetables, and herbs and spices. New to canning or need a refresher course? Check out the Nebraska Extension website's for general canning information.

Salsa Recipe Ideas!

  • Salsa Yogurt Dip
  • Pinto Bean Salsa Dip
    • Ingredients: 1 can (approx. 15 oz.) pinto beans, drained and rinsed or 1-1/2 cups cooked dried beans, 1 cup shredded cheese, 1/2 to 1 cup chunky salsa, 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped onion (optional), and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chili powder or to taste (optional).
    • Directions: Mash beans with a fork. Mix in cheese. Stir in enough salsa until mixture is desired consistency for dipping. Add onion and seasoning as desired. Serve cold or cook, stirring, over medium heat until the cheese melts and the mixture is well blended and hot (about 5 minutes).
    • Source: Delicious Dips Using Common Ingredients 
       
  • Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips
    • Ingredients: 1 cup chopped fresh strawberries or 1 (10 oz.) package frozen strawberries, 1 apple, cored and chopped, 2 kiwi, peeled and chopped, ½ cup crushed pineapple, drained, 2 Tablespoons pineapple juice, 8 (8-inch) flour tortillas, 2 teaspoons water, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and ¾ cup sugar. Makes 8 servings.
    • Directions: Chop strawberries, apple and kiwi. Add drained crushed pineapple and 2 Tablespoons pineapple juice to chopped fruit. Chill. Sprinkle tortillas with water or spray with water. Sprinkle each tortilla with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Cut each tortilla in 8 wedges and place on baking sheet. Bake at 350º for 6 minutes. Cool on rack and store cinnamon chips in an airtight container.
    • Source: Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips
Additional Resources & Links

Sources

  1. UNL Food. (2013). Canning Tomatoes, Tomato Products, and Salsa. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.
  2. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (March, 2013). Tip of the Day: National Salsa Month.
  3. Henneman, A. (2013). Delicious Dips Using Common Ingredients. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.
  4. Andress, E., and D'sa, E. (July, 2005). Preserving Food: Sensational Salsas. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.

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Control Noxious Weeds this Spring
By John Wilson, Nebraska Extension Agronomy Educator

I'm going to talk about noxious weeds a little bit early, as recent rains and warm temperatures may move up the time to control them this year. If you are not ready, you can miss the window when you can most effectively control noxious weeds… in the spring.

Fall is the best time to control noxious weeds, but you should not neglect your opportunities this spring. Besides, many weeds require consecutive treatments, fall and spring, to get them to manageable levels. Here are some tips to help you control these weeds before you get one of those dreaded letters from the weed control superintendent or FSA office. They have no sense of humor!

I will touch on each of our three most common noxious weeds. The timing of control I mention on each of these might vary a week or more earlier or later, depending on the weather. Early spring, move up the control time… later spring, move it back. I will go in the normal order you would control these in the spring, earliest to latest, which also happens to be from the easiest to hardest to control.

Image of Musk thistle.
Image of Musk thistle.

Musk Thistle
This noxious weed may be easiest to control in the spring… but you can't wait too long! Musk thistles formed a rosette, much like a big dandelion, last summer and fall. It continues to grow in this form this spring. Around the first of May it bolts, or sends up a flower stalk, and is much more difficult to control.

Image of Musk thistle in field.
Image of Musk thistle in field.

When you have good growing conditions, adequate soil moisture and warm days, musk thistle rosettes are fairly easy to control with several different herbicides. Once they bolt, many of these herbicides will not give adequate control, and the ones that will give some control are more expensive.

If you waited too long and they started to flower, a hoe or shovel is probably your best method of control. However, it is important to clip and destroy those flowers to prevent them from going to seed. If you cut off a plant and can see the distinct purple color in the flower bud, even if it isn't fully open, some seeds will mature on the dead plant and perpetuate your battle with this weed.

Image of leafy spurge in field.
Image of leafy spurge in field.

Leafy Spurge
The normal time to control leafy spurge in the spring is in mid-May when the spurge forms flower buds or starts to bloom. It has a distinct yellow flower, actually modified leaves that look like petals on a flower, on an upright stem. Wild mustards often are confused with leafy spurge. The easiest way to distinguish between the two is to break the stem or leaves. Leafy spurge will have a milky sap (like a milkweed) while mustards have a clear sap.

Image of leafy spurge, close up.
Image of leafy spurge blooming.

In spring, you should treat leafy spurge just as the tops start to turn yellow. This weed generally grows in patches and you should spray 20 to 30 feet beyond any plants you see to get those coming up from the roots. This perennial has an extensive root system, and you may need to come back a couple of weeks after your initial application to treat the weeds that escaped.

Image of Canada thistle flowers.
Image of Canada thistle flowers.

Canada Thistle
This perennial problem weed would be the last one you would normally control in the spring. Unlike other thistles, you want to wait until flower buds form, which typically occurs in mid to late June. Getting good coverage with your sprayer is the biggest challenge because grass may be as tall or taller than the thistles. As with leafy spurge, Canada thistle is usually found in dense patches, and it is important to spray beyond the edges of the patches.

Even though it is earlier than we normally recommend, I can tell you from personal experience that you can get good control earlier in the spring if the Canada thistle are in CRP. I burned off my grass in April and then sprayed the thistles when they greened up in mid-May. This is about a month earlier than you normally would treat them, but I got just as good control with better coverage before the grass got tall. However, I still needed to go back later in the summer and spot treat those I missed.

Image of Canada thistle in pasture.
Image of Canada thistle in pasture.

There are two important things to remember when trying to control these noxious weeds…

  1. Fall is the best time to control them when the plants are sending nutrients to the roots and storing them for growth the following spring. Treatments then will move the herbicides to the roots and give you better control. However, if you have these weeds this spring, that means you missed controlling them last fall or you didn't get complete control. You need to treat them now rather than waiting until fall. Also treat in the fall and control the ones you missed or that came up from seed over the summer.
  2. None of these weeds can be completely controlled with a single application of any herbicide. One of the reasons they are classified as noxious weeds is because of the difficulty of control. Even if you control all the top growth of any of these weeds, there will likely be some that come up from seeds or roots.

Again from personal experience, I've dealt with all three of these weeds on my place. By keeping after them each year, I've reduced the area they infest from over 100 acres to just isolated patches… but you can be sure I'll be out there with my ATV sprayer this spring treating any noxious weeds I can find. My goal is to someday be able to say I don't have a noxious weed on my place. I think I have a better chance of winning the Powerball, but that won't keep me from trying!

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Leafy Spurge – Best Treatment Options
By Brent Meyer, Lancaster County Weed Superintendent

Leafy spurge is beginning to bloom now and treatment is recommended to keep it from producing seed. If you are tired of treating every spring with poor results we suggest you switch your treatment program to include a fall application. Treat with herbicides at least two weeks prior to a killing frost for best results.  This is the time when the plant is taking down nutrients to help get it through the winter and will carry the herbicide deeper into the root zone.  This is far more effective that just burning off the top growth when treating in the spring.  For proper herbicide rates use Nebraska Extension's Guide for Weed Management and follow the label directions.

Considered one of the most serious perennial weed species, leafy spurge is threatening millions of acres of pasture and rangeland in the western United States.  It is one of the most persistent and difficult to control perennial weeds yet encountered.

Leafy spurge plants are one to two feet high and the stems contain a milky white latex sap.  This colorful plant has greenish yellow bracts that support the actual flowers.  The seed pods break open at maturity, shooting seeds 15 feet or more from the parent plant.  The root systems have numerous pink buds that produce new shoots, and pieces of root as short as one-half inch will give rise to new leafy spurge plants.

Achieving control on a large area of leafy spurge is costly and difficult.  It is advisable to control the small patches before they spread and become a more costly problem.  Leafy spurge is an aggressive plant; therefore a programmed approach achieves best results.  Plan a complete three to four year re-treatment program.  Mark the location with some type of permanent marker such as a T-post so you can find it again next year as the stand begins to weaken.  Whenever an infestation has been controlled, inspect the area every spring and fall for several years to prevent re-infestation by seedlings.

Contact the Weed Control Office at 402-441-7817 or email weeds@lancaster.ne.gov  for help in developing a control plan that's right for your situation.

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Storing an Emergency Water Supply
By Sharon Skipton, Nebraska Extension Water Quality Educator

Image of severe weather.
Power outages due to storms can interrupt your private drinking water supply since you need power for the well pump to work.  An emergency water supply can be very helpful in this situation.

It's that time of year when we can experience severe weather here in Nebraska. Power outages due to storms can interrupt your private drinking water supply since you need power for the well pump to work.  An emergency water supply can be very helpful in this situation.  One option is to purchase bottled water. Another option is to prepare and store water from your daily drinking and cooking supply. While needs will differ, a rule-of-thumb is to store one gallon of water per person per day. Store at least a three-day supply (or three gallons) for each person.

Your current supply of drinking and cooking water is probably suitable for storage. It should be free of bacteria and pathogens. Glass or plastic containers manufactured and used for food or beverage storage or those advertised as food-quality containers will be safe for water storage. Avoid using plastic milk containers if possible, because traces of fat may remain. Wash the containers and lids thoroughly with hot tap water and dish detergent. Rinse thoroughly with hot tap water. Or, wash the containers in a dishwasher.

Since bacteria can be introduced into the water during the collection and storage process, water collected for storage should be treated to inactivate pathogens. Use liquid household chlorine bleach that contains 4 to 6 percent sodium hypochlorite. Use the freshest container of liquid chlorine bleach available, preferably not more than three months old. Add six drops of bleach per gallon of water using a clean uncontaminated medicine dropper. Cap the container and shake to mix the chlorine. Let it stand for 30 minutes. You should be able to smell chlorine after the 30-minute waiting period. If you cannot, add another dose and let the water stand covered another 15 minutes. Cap the containers and label each with the date of preparation.

Store containers in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Store water in plastic containers away from gasoline, kerosene, pesticides, or similar substances because vapors from some of these products can penetrate plastic. Remember, water weighs over eight pounds per gallon, so make sure the shelf or storage area is strong enough to support the weight.

For best quality, use or replace stored water every six months.

For more information, including how to "can" water, see the Nebraska Extension NebGuide "Drinking Water: Storing An Emergency Supply."  Be sure to share this information with friends and family who also have private drinking water wells.

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