Celebrate Apples
By Lisa Franzen-Castle, UNL Extension Nutrition Specialist

Image of applesApples are one of the most popular fruits in the United States (US). Thirty-six states grow apples commercially. October is National Apple Month!  National Apple Month is the only national, generic apple promotion in the US. Originally founded in 1904 as National Apple Week, it was expanded to the entire month of October. Apples come in all shades of red, green and yellow. Apple varieties range in size from a little bigger than a cherry, to as large as a grapefruit. Check out the following information on apple facts and ways to eat them in safe and delicious ways.

Tips for eating apples in safe and delicious ways:

  • Apple varieties and uses. There are about 2,500 varieties grown in the US. Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Fuji and Granny Smith are available year round. Apples are great as a snack or cut up in a fresh salad. Apples vary from sweet to tart. Many varieties are also great for making a range of cooked products. Apples typically used in baking include Braeburn, Gala, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, and Honey Gold. Apples used in pies include Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Jonagold, Jonathan, and Granny Smith.
  • Apple nutrition facts. Apples are fat, cholesterol, and sodium free and a good source of fiber and vitamin C. It's a good idea to eat apples with their skin. Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin. Eating the skin also increases insoluble fiber content. One medium 2-1/2 inch apple, fresh, raw, and with skin has approximately 81 calories. Nutritional value will vary slightly depending on variety and size.
  • Preparing and serving produce safely. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you should wash raw fruits and vegetables very well before you peel, cut, eat or cook with them. Wash your hands with hot soapy water before and after preparing food. Do not wash produce with soaps or detergents, this may leave residue on produce that is not safe to consume. Use clean, potable cold water to wash items. After washing, dry with a clean paper towel. This can remove more bacteria. Don't forget that homegrown, farmers market, and grocery store fruits and vegetables should all be well washed.
  • Prevent cut fruit from turning brown. Keep cut fruits, such as apples, from turning brown by coating them with an acidic juice such as lemon, orange or pineapple juice. Or use a commercial anti-darkening preparation with fruits, such as Fruit-Fresh®, and follow the manufacturer's directions. Another method is to mix them with acidic fruits like oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and other citrus fruit or pineapple. Prepare the acidic fruit(s) first. Then, cut the other fruits, mixing them with the acidic fruit(s) as you prepare them.
Recipes Ideas with Apples!

Yogurt Dip for Apples

  • Ingredients: 1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1 apple, sliced. Makes 1/2 cup dip.
  • Directions: Combine yogurt, cinnamon and vanilla extract in small bowl. Dunk apple slices and enjoy! 

Apple Yogurt Smoothie

  • Ingredients: 2 cups low-fat vanilla yogurt, 1 granny smith apple, cored, peeled and diced, ½ cup orange juice, ½ cup ice, and 2 Tablespoons honey.
  • Directions: Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Mix until smooth. Pour into 2 glasses. If desired, garnish with sliced almonds, julienne mint and ½ teaspoon honey. 

Additional Resources & Links

  • Tray-freezing Apple Slices for Multiple Uses.  Got an abundance of apples? If you'd like to freeze them, but you're not sure how you'll use them later, try "tray freezing" them as individual slices -- you can even leave the skins on. Tray frozen apples work best in cooked apple dishes. 
  • Apples Anytime! Recipe Collection. Following are 4 recipes so you can enjoy versatile apples anytime in your meals from salad to side dish to dessert! 
  • Apple Products.This brochure from UNL Extension and Buy Fresh, Buy Local includes recipes and instructions for Pear-Apple Jam, Applesauce, Apple preserves, and Crabapple Jelly.
  • Canning & Freezing Apples. This brochure from UNL Extension and Buy Fresh, Buy Local includes instructions on freezing apples, canning sliced apples, and syrups for canning fruit.

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Get Your Dehydrator On
By Nancy Urbanec, UNL Extension Nutrition Educator

Image of tomatoes on drying rack
Tomatoes on drying rack. Image by Nancy Urbanec, UNL Extension.

One of the oldest methods of preserving is drying. Many people use dehydrating foods as an alternative to canning and freezing or as a complement to these methods. Drying food is simple, safe and easy to learn. With electric dehydrators; fruits, vegetables, herbs and seeds can be dried all year round. Dried foods are lightweight, take up little space and do not require refrigeration.

When food is dried properly, they can't support the growth of spoilage organisms: bacteria, yeasts, and molds can only live in foods that have a certain amount of moisture. Fruits have about 80 percent and vegetables have almost 90 percent of their water removed, creating an environment that is detrimental to bacteria, mold and yeast.

Naturally occurring enzymes in vegetables speed up the deterioration of foods, including changes in color, texture and flavor. Although the temperatures in dehydrating are high enough to inactivate these enzymes, it is not high enough to destroy them. Steam blanching your vegetables before dehydrating them helps destroy the enzymes, hence setting the color and flavor of the produce and it also softens tissues so that water is more readily released during the drying process. Vegetables steam blanched before drying also require less soaking before eating.

Image of dried tomatoes
Dried tomatoes. Image by Nancy Urbanec, UNL Extension.

Dipping is a common pretreatment for fruits to prevent oxidation. Oxidation causes fruits to turn brown and lose some Vitamin A and C when exposed to oxygen. Antioxidants, such as, lemon or lime juice, ascorbic acid or a blend of ascorbic acid and citric acids can be used to prevent oxidation.

Temperature plays a key role in the drying process. If the drying temperature is too high, food can harden; meaning that the outside tissue hardens trapping the moisture inside. This can cause the food to mold in storage. In general, vegetables are dried at 125°F, fruits at 135°F, and seeds at 90°F to 100°F.

The length of time needed to dry produce will depend on the size of the pieces being dried, humidity and the amount of air circulation. Thinner slices and smaller pieces will dry more quickly than larger, thicker pieces or whole produce. Because of these variables vegetables may take as little as 4 hours or up to 14 hours to dry. Fruits may take 6 to 48 hours to dry.

Dried food can be susceptible to insect contamination and moisture reabsorption and must be properly packaged and stored. Once the dried produce is cooled, pack it into clean, dry insect proof containers. Vacuum packaging, clean dry canning jars, plastic containers with tight fitting lids or plastic freezer bags can be used to store dried produce. Packaging dried produce into the amount needed will prevent excess air and moisture from being introduced, and cutting shelf life of dried product.  Dried foods will hold better in cool, dry, dark storage environment. Dried produce can be stored for 1 year at 60°F, 6 months at 80°F.

For more information on drying foods check out the University of Nebraska Food Preservation Drying website.  

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"Winterizing" Trees
By Eric Berg, Nebraska Forest Service

Spring and summer have come and gone and you may be looking at your landscape with despair because you didn't accomplish what you intended with tree care. But fall is actually the ideal time to give trees extra tender loving care and prepare them (and related woody plants) for the five to six months of winter ahead.

This seasonal period of winter dormancy is dramatic and often misunderstood. A common myth is that trees, because of leaf drop, are shutting down and essentially going to sleep for the winter. In many ways, trees are actually going through a period of growth and vigor. From September through December, trees experience some of their most dramatic growth as twigs, branches and roots begin collecting and storing the critical food reserves needed for the next growing season. Much of this growth occurs below ground, unseen and unnoticed, but it's of critical importance to the tree and the coming spring growing season.

Winter can be difficult for both evergreen and deciduous plants. With potential temperature fluctuations of 50 degrees on any given day, water loss from cold, drying winds and subzero temperatures, Nebraska's trees face a harsh environment every winter. The food reserves stored during the fall must be carefully conserved for the coming needs of spring and regrowth.  What can you do to help your trees better prepare for and withstand the Nebraska winter ahead of us? A few key activities in fall can pay great dividends for the next growing season and create a more vigorous and structurally sound tree.

Top 10 Fall Tree Care Activities

  1. Identify. Make a list of your trees' needs and potential health issues. This is a proactive way to approach plant health care before problems arise. It also helps prioritize your efforts.
  2. Consult. Know and understand your limits with pruning and tree care. Consult with a certified arborist who can identify and manage needs for large and mature trees. A listing of certified arborists is available online through the Nebraska Arborists Association or the International Society of Arboriculture.
  3. Mulch. Spread a 4 to 6-inch layer of organic wood chip mulch around the base of trees. Take the mulch to the edge of the dripline on smaller trees or as far as you can for larger trees. A 6 to 8-foot mulched diameter is ideal for most trees. Do not pile mulch against the stem of the tree, which can cause long-term damage and even death.
  4. Aerate. Aerate soils if they are compacted or poorly drained. Avoid getting too close to trees and damaging tree roots.
  5. Prune and remove. Correct or remove structural faults and any visible dead wood. Focus on making smaller cuts to minimize wounding and exposed heartwood. Remove damaged and declining twigs and branches with a proper pruning cut to a healthy lateral branch.
  6. Protect. Use paper tree wrap on young, recently planted trees that have not developed protective bark. Use tree tubes or tree guards to protect young trees from mechanical and animal damage. Winter damage from deer, rabbits and squirrels can be severe on young trees, so this protection can pay big dividends.
  7. Water. Watering may be needed during a dry fall and winter, especially for newly planted or newly established trees. Following the recent drought, "newly established" can mean anything planted within the last 10 years.
  8. Fertilize. Do not fertilize  unless your soils have a known nutrient deficiency. Fertilizing trees unnecessarily can actually harm trees by promoting vegetative growth that attracts insects and by altering the normal growth of the tree canopy.
  9. Plant. While fall is a great time to take care of existing trees, it is also a great time to plant new trees and prepare for future generations. Even after the first hard freeze, growing conditions are ideal for newly planted trees and excellent root growth. Trees planted in fall get a jump-start for spring regrowth.
  10. Recycle. There's nothing worse than taking a fall drive through the neighborhood and seeing house after house with bagged leaves at the curb ready for pickup.  It's like bagging up money and setting it curbside. Leaves and yard debris are excellent sources of nutrients and a necessary component for healthy, "living" soils. Recycle, reuse and repurpose by using this debris for mulching, double grinding with a mulching mower or filling up the compost pile.

Trees provide enormous social, economic and environmental benefits. A short time invested in fall tree care can yield large returns next spring. See you at the leaf pile!  More tree care resources at nfs.unl.edu/tree-care.

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

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Fall Blooms
By Karma Larsen, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

In the middle of summer, we can begin to take color for granted. Blossoms in gardens and containers are made even brighter by harsh sunlight. There can be so much color in the landscape that even the brightest flower will hardly draw our glance. In fall, the sunlight is less intense, flowers have faded from summer's heat and summer's colorful annuals have begun to decline. Fall is a time for more subtle beauty, a time to slow down our pace and pay more attention to the slow but steady seasonal changes.

The fall foliage of trees and shrubs will add their own bright colors, but there are many perennials that bloom into autumn; some will bloom so late in the season that we're more likely to notice them from inside than outdoors.

Fall Blooming Shrubs
For shrubs, there's blue mist spirea with soft blue flowers on silvery foliage, rose-of-Sharon with its bright hollyhock blossoms, an abundance of roses still in bloom and the subtle, yellow-to-copper blossoms of witchhazel.

Fall Blooming Ornamentals
One of the few fall-blooming bulbs is Colchium. It's too late to plant for this year, but it's a great addition to any garden, offering low-lying color when we least expect it. Plumbago is one of the few groundcovers that bloom in fall. The bright blue blossoms are dramatic against green foliage, which will turn to purple and red later in the season. Perennial geraniums also are low-lying and many of them will bloom into fall, including the popular hybrid Rozanne.

Asters are some of the most-loved fall flowers, and there's a range of colors and heights for any garden. New England asters, among the tallest, are best combined with other grasses or perennials to hold them upright. They work well with Boltonia, another member of the aster family with airy white flowers. Other back-of-the-border perennials for fall are goldenrod (‘Fireworks' is one of the most delicate), Agastache, pitcher sage, Gaura, coneflower, anemone and Rudbeckia.

Mums or chrysanthemums are fall standards. Clara Curtis is a particular beauty in this group; it's somewhat looser in habit and has soft pink blossoms that are more natural in appearance than most mums. Sedums really shine in the fall and they also come in a range of sizes and colors, with foliage and blossoms that persist through winter.

Phlox may not be thought of as a fall-bloomer but Phlox paniculata ‘Laura' can bloom from July into October. Other lesser-known fall-blooming perennials are monkshood, turtlehead and toad lily. The blossoms of toad lily are complex in appearance and look somewhat like a small orchid. They are arranged all along the arching stems and tend to come into bloom just as gardeners have given up on the garden.

In Lincoln there are many good places to see a variety of perennials, including the Strolling Gardens (east of Sunken Gardens) and University of Nebraska gardens at city and east campus. To see these and other fall-blooming perennials, go to: www.pinterest.com/nearboretum/fall-blooming-perennials.

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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Planting Spring Flowering Bulbs
By John Fech, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of grape hyacinthFor color in the spring, you've got to plant in the fall.  Unfortunately, here's a common scenario that we see all too often: novice gardeners drive around town noticing landscapes in April, green with envy because they are jealous over all the flowering spring bulbs they see.  Of course, it's too late to plant them then.  You must plant them now.

Daffodils, tulips, crocus, and hyacinths are the most common ones planted for spring color.  Soil preparation is the key to success.  Dig the holes the depth recommended on the labels given to you by the garden center, but in general:

  • Tulips, 8 to 10 inches deep
  • Daffodils, 6 to 8 inches deep
  • Hyacinths, 4-6 inches deep
  • Crocus, 2-3 inches deep.

Work in liberal amounts of compost.  If the area has produced poor results in the past, try adding a bit of bone meal or blood meal and commercial bulb fertilizer.

For an interesting effect, try a foreground planting of grape hyacinth.  It's vivid purple hue will dazzle visitors as they make their way to your front door.  Mass the bulbs; plant them in large numbers (10-25 or so) in one area to create a desirable result.  A few here and there just don't cut it.

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Lead in Drinking Water Part II: Test Results and Management Options
By Sharon Skipton , UNL Extension Water Quality Educator

Image of twin baby girls.
Young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning.

Continued from last month's article on sources, health effects, and testing.

Test Results
You can consider the EPA regulations for public water supplies as a guideline in assessing the risk associated with your water supply. Public drinking water standards established by EPA fall into different categories, including action levels. An action level is the concentration of a contaminant in water which, if exceeded in a specified percentage of water samples tested, triggers actions which a public water system must follow.

EPA has established an enforceable lead concentration action level for public water supplies. The lead action level is 15 micrograms per liter (µg/l) which can also be expressed as 15 parts per billion (ppb). This amount is equivalent to 0.015 milligrams per liter (mg/l) which can also be expressed as 0.015 parts per million (ppm). If lead concentrations are found to be above 15 ppb in your private drinking water you might voluntarily consider EPA guidelines, and try to reduce the lead concentration in the water, taking into account health risks, costs, and benefits.

Options
If water tests indicate lead is present in drinking water and testing determines the source is household plumbing, you should first try to identify and eliminate the lead source. If it is neither possible nor cost-effective to eliminate the lead source, a second option is to flush the water system before using the water for drinking or cooking.

Image of infants
Lead in drinking water is not the predominant source of lead poisoning, but it can increase total lead exposure, particularly the exposure of infants who drink baby formulas and juices mixed with water.

Flushing the system involves disposing the water that has sat motionless in the plumbing system, in contact with lead-containing components, for an extended period of time. Anytime the water has not been used for several hours, run the water until it becomes as cold as it will get. This could take as little as thirty seconds or longer than five minutes, depending on the system. Each faucet must be flushed individually before using the water for drinking or cooking. In addition, avoid cooking with or consuming water from hot-water taps. Hot water dissolves lead more readily than cold water.

If water tests indicate the presence of lead, and the source was determined to be beyond the household plumbing, again the first course of action is to identify and eliminate the source, if possible. Have the well and the pump checked for potential lead sources. A licensed water well contractor may be able to help determine if any of the well components are a source of lead contamination.

In addition to identifying potential lead sources, consider the corrosivity factor. One practice that may increase corrosion is the grounding of electrical equipment (including telephones) to water pipes. Electric current traveling through the ground wire accelerates the corrosion of lead in the pipes. In this case, consult a qualified electrician.

If not possible or cost-effective to eliminate the source of lead in drinking water, consider water treatment or an alternative drinking water source.

Several treatment methods are suitable for removing lead from drinking water, including reverse osmosis, distillation, and carbon filters specially designed to remove lead. Typically these methods are used to treat water at only one faucet. Reverse osmosis units can remove approximately 85 percent of the lead from water. Distillation can remove approximately 99 percent. Simply boiling water does not remove lead; instead, it will concentrate the lead as the water evaporates, leaving lead in a smaller amount of water. A water softener can be used to pretreat water for either a reverse osmosis or distillation unit when water is excessively hard. Low flow rates are required when using lead-selective carbon filters. Typically they have flow controllers which limit the system to 0.25 to 0.5 gallons per minute.

Summary
Lead rarely occurs naturally in drinking water. It is more common for lead contamination to occur at some point in the water delivery system. Too much lead in the human body can cause serious health issues. Young children, infants, and fetuses are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. To determine the presence of lead in drinking water and its possible source, a specific procedure must be used to collect samples and a certified laboratory should be used for testing. Management of a private drinking water well for lead is a decision made by the well owner and/or water user. A water test is the only way to determine the lead concentration. If drinking water exceeds the EPA lead standard for public water supplies of 15 ppb, steps can be taken voluntarily to reduce the risk. Options include removing the lead source, managing the water supply used for drinking and cooking by flushing water with high lead concentrations from the water system, using water treatment equipment, or using an alternative water source. Options selected must be based on the specific situation. 

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Is Your Dog Prepared for the Winter?

Image of Irish Setter playing in snowThe winter season is approaching. Days are getting shorter, nights are getting longer and the temperature is falling. Although most dogs (especially northern breeds and other double-coated dogs) can tolerate cold weather better than us, we still need to take some precautions to guarantee their comfort during the cold season.

Below are some tips to help your dog throughout the winter.

Reinforce Housebreaking Training
Sometimes in the winter dogs make messes in the house instead of asking permission to go outside. Because of the cold and snow, many dogs, especially toy breeds, "forget" their training. If you are a pet owner with this problem, re-emphasize house-breaking training by taking your dog outside frequently; if possible, first thing in the morning, last thing at night and once in between. Do not wait for your dog to ask permission.

Provide Cold Protection
If you are taking your animal for a walk, make sure your dog is protected against the cold and snow. Smooth-coated dogs might begin to chill when the temperature is below 45° F. If you observe your animal shivering, consider providing him with a dog coat. Salt or other chemicals are frequently used for de-icing roads and sidewalks during this time of the year. These de-icers can cause your dog's paw pads to become sore and even crack. Therefore, it is a good idea to wash your dog's feet with warm water to remove any residues and to dry them well after walks.

As a general rule, outdoor dogs become adapted to the climates they live in. Make sure you provide adequate food, water and shelter so they can get along well in the cold.

Provide a well-insulated doghouse. The house needs to be clean, dry, and small enough to hold the dog's body heat but provide enough space for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down effortlessly. Protect the house from wind, insulate the floor from the frozen ground, and place it in a sunny location.

Do not use blankets and linens as bedding because they trap moisture and become uncomfortable. Clean hay or straw is a better choice for bedding. Smell the hay to make sure it is not moldy, it should smell like dried grass clippings.

If the temperature is extremely cold or you observe your animal shivering, take additional precautions to make sure your animal is comfortable and will not end up with hypothermia (body temperature below the normal temperature) or frostbite (the death of tissue in the extremities). In extreme weather it may be necessary to bring your animal indoors.

Watch Their Diet
Dogs require more to eat during cold weather to help keep their bodies warm. Also, increased eating is an instinctive behavior of survival adding an extra layer of fat in their bodies to better insulate and protect them against the cold.

An indoor dog does not need extra food because they tend to exercise less and they don't have to worry about environment temperatures. Outdoor dogs may receive some extra food but be careful, otherwise they will need an exercise and diet regimen to slim their waist when spring rolls around. 

Dogs need fresh water available to them all day. Twice daily watering isn't enough. If your dog lives outside, consider using a heated water bowl.

Source: UNL Veterinary Extension

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Fall is Ideal for Soil Amendment
By Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of garden soil
Good soil is the key to successful plant growth. Fall is a great time to improve soil quality with soil amendments. Image by Chiot's Run, Flickr.com.

Soil is the key to successful plant growth, but often times existing landscape & garden soil is less than ideal, being too compacted, too heavy, too porous (sandy) or too alkaline. Fall is a great time to consider the current quality of your garden and landscape soil, and take steps to improve it if necessary.

Soil amendments can help with many common landscape problems by improving soil's water-holding capacity, increasing soil drainage, increasing nutrient levels and modifying pH level. A soil amendment is any material mixed into the soil to change one of these characteristics- compared to mulch that is applied on top of the soil. Mulches are used to moderate the soil temperature, prevent weed growth and reduce soil moisture evaporation.

Organic vs. Inorganic Amendments
There are two broad categories of soil amendments- organic and inorganic. Organic amendments come from something that was once living like leaves, wood chips, wood ash, grass clippings and peat moss. Compost is also an organic soil amendment, consisting of decomposed leaves, grass clippings, etc.

Inorganic amendments originate from inanimate sources, that may have been processed further by man. Common inorganic amendments include vermiculite, perlite, sulfur, lime and sand. Vermiculite and perlite are often found in potting soil mixes.

Adjusting Soil pH
Sulfur is used on alkaline soils to lower soil pH to a ideal range for plant growth, typically pH 6-7. Soil pH is measured using a logarithmic scale, so pH 7 is ten times more alkaline than pH 6. Below pH 5.5 or above 7.5, soil modification may be necessary to grow pH sensitive plants such as pin oak, river birch, rhododendrons or azaleas, because soil pH directly influences the availability of many nutrients. Many eastern Nebraska soils that have not been farmed are naturally pH 7.5 or above.

Elemental sulfur or aluminum sulfate are the products most commonly used to lower soil pH, however, large amounts of sulfur are required to make even a small change. For example, a loam soil with pH 7.5 requires 15-20 pounds of elemental sulfur per 1000 sq.ft. to reach soil pH 6.5. Modified soil will revert in time to it's original pH level, so it is often better to use pH adaptable plants in your landscape than to use plants with more strict pH requirements.

Lime is used on acidic soil to raise pH. Land that has been farmed may be pH 5.5 or below, and could benefit from the addition of lime. Always base your addition of sulfur or lime on soil test recommendations, rather adding products on a hunch. Soil pH adjustments are best done in the fall, to allow time for the soil chemistry to change before planting begins again in spring.

However, not all soil amendments are recommended for Nebraska soils. For example, wood ashes are high in salt and pH, something most alkaline Nebraska soils don't need, and sand added to heavy Nebraska clay soil creates a texture similar to concrete. Gypsum is another soil amendment commonly discussed by homeowners to "sweeten" soil or lower soil pH, but in fact it does neither and is seldom a helpful amendment for Nebraska soils. Gypsum should only be used on soil with high levels of salt, where is can bind with the salt molecules and aid in moving them out of the soil profile.

Benefits of Soil Organic Matter
Organic matter supplied by organic amendments improves soil growing conditions in the landscape and garden. Adding organic matter to the soil increases pore space, creating a lighter soil that drains more quickly, allows better oxygen penetration for root growth, and is physically easier for roots to grow in than heavy compacted soil. Organic matter also increases water retention by sandy soils, thus reducing the frequency of watering required. Finally, as organic material breaks down, it provides nutrients for plant growth. Many Nebraska soils are low in organic matter, often less that 5%. For a vegetable garden 15% organic matter is ideal for optimum root development and vegetable production. However, it will take several years of soil amendment with organic matter to reach this level.

More information on soil amendments for Nebraska gardens.

Fertilizers for Vegetables in Home Gardens, University of Nebraska- Lincoln Extension
This NebGuide discusses how to manage soil and nutrients when growing vegetables, including soil testing, soil pH, organic matter and the use of commercial fertilizers.

Garden Compost, University of Nebraska- Lincoln Extension
This NebGuide discusses the advantages of compost, compostable materials, creating and maintaining a compost pile, and uses for compost in the landscape.

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Low Stress Livestock Handling For People and Livestock
By Steve Tonn, UNL Extension Livestock Educator

Image of cattleWith fall and winter approaching, we will have more opportunities to work with our livestock in a more confined setting.  Handling livestock can sometimes be stressful for both people and the animals.  A lot depends on our attitude, methods, and our understanding of how an animal behaves.  Trying to load a balky horse into a trailer, gathering or herding animals in a pasture, or trying to pen or catch animals for treatment can all be stressful situations and even unsafe at times for all involved.  But to reduce this stress on the owner and livestock try using low stress livestock handling methods.

The best way to handle livestock is to work in harmony with their natural behavior.  Livestock see the world differently than we do.  Because they are prey animals, their eyes are shaped differently and are located on the sides of their heads.  Livestock have excellent peripheral vision.  They have excellent distant vision, though they may have difficulty judging distances.  Animals like to see the person who is working with them.  Livestock also have blind spots where they can't see.  A blind spot for horses and cattle is directly behind them.  That is why it is extremely important not to approach a horse or cattle from the rear without the animal knowing you are there.  They may kick out in a defensive or protective manner and injure the unsuspecting person.

Livestock have a keen sense of hearing and also a good memory.  Loud voices and yelling can scare animals more than clanging gates and chains.  Animals may not be able to pinpoint where the loud noises are coming from but they are very disturbing to them.  All loud noises can frighten animals, even if we understand that the noise should not be an issue.  Livestock have long memories.  If they are handled roughly in the past they will be more difficult to handle and stress more easily.  Try to make an animal's first experience with a new place, piece of equipment or person a favorable one.  An initial experience that is averse can create a permanent fear memory in that animal.

A good livestock handler understands two key principals:  flight zone (the "bubble" around an animal that, if invaded, will cause the animal to move away) and the point of balance (the point, usually around the front shoulder, at which pressure in front of that point will cause the animal to stop or backup, and vice versa).  When an owner is at the edge of the flight zone and properly balanced, only slight movements are needed to control the animals in a low-stress manner.  To make an animal speed up, walk against their direction of travel: to make them slow down, walk with them.  As you pass the point of balance, notice how each animal responds to your movement and position.  This concept is evident when many times it is easier to lead an animal by the halter if we are walking beside them near the shoulder rather than being ahead of them and trying to pull on the halter to get them to go forward.

A thorough understanding of the behavior of the animals we are working with is the first step towards developing and effective method of handling livestock.  A good livestock handler is calm and patient.  The golden rule of low-stress handling is slow and quiet resulting in less stress for you and your animals.

Try to use low stress handling methods every time you work with our animals.  The idea is to start with low stress handling from birth and throughout the animal's life.  It will be good for them and for you too.

There are many excellent resources on low stress livestock handling methods.  Web sites, books, DVDs, are readily available and provide good information for using low stress handling methods for domesticated and wild animals. Contact Steve Tonn at 402-426-9455 for additional information or a list of resources.

Sources:  Low Stress Livestock Handling, Steve Cote, NRCS; Low Stress Stockmanship, Ryan Reuter and Kent Shankles, Noble Foundation; Efficient Handling of Meat Goats, Susan Schoenian, University of Maryland; Sheep 201 A Beginner's Guide to Raising Sheep, Susan Schoenian, University of Maryland; Low Stress Cattle Handling: The Basics, Ben Barlett and Janice Swanson, Michigan State University; Low Stress Cattle Handling, Heather Larson, South Dakota State University; Horse Vision-- eXtension Horse, Ashely Griffin, University of Kentucky; Temple Grandin's top livestock tips, Nebraska Farmer, October 2010.

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