Life Outside the City Limits
Have Your Private Drinking Water Well Assessed for Free
Adapted by Sharon Skipton, Nebraska Extension Water Quality Educator Emeritus, from information provided by Jennifer Wilson, Communitcation Coordinator, PrivateWellClass.org
Our partners in the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) network are ready to assist well owners who want to participate in our program by having an in-person assessment completed using our new private well assessment tool.
With the University of Illinois providing leadership for the project, University of Nebraska Extension Water Quality Educator Sharon Skipton worked in partnership with an expert workgroup from across the nation to develop this assessment tool. The assessment is designed to provide a well owner with a comprehensive evaluation of the possible sources of contamination at or near their well. The tool is designed to be administered by water and environmental health professionals as a service to well owners. RCAP is currently working in roughly half of the states, including parts of Nebraska, to complete 720 free assessments by January 2017.
Why should you participate? The assessment process will help you understand potential risks and vulnerabilities that might impact your drinking water. It considers site conditions, geology, land use practices, well construction, and maintenance to provide you with a list of possible concerns, if any are found. RCAP staff will not be opening your well or sampling from your tap.
Additionally, recommendations will be provided to help you keep your well and family safe from well contamination if you should choose to implement them. Any action you might take related to your well will remain completely voluntary.
To nominate your well for an assessment, send an email to our University of Illinois partner at email@example.com with the following information:
- Well Owner Name
- Well Owner Email
- Well Owner Phone
- Well Location
Please also note that while the assessments are free, they may be limited to certain geographic areas. Submissions will be forwarded to the appropriate RCAP contact upon receipt.
Eat Smart While Travelling
By Caitlin Littrell, UNL Dietetic Intern
Summer is the time of year when a lot of us are packing up the car to go on a road trip with the family or buying a plane ticket to see our friend half way across the country. This often entails eating out, convenience store stops and fast food. Our food choices don’t count though because we’re “on vacation,” right? This type of mentality is what can lead to overindulgence. So how can we eat smart while traveling and avoid bringing home more than just souvenirs and memories? Check out these easy traveling tips to find out!
Pack your own snacks
If you plan on being in the car for a while, go ahead and pack a cooler full of healthy snack options. This can include whole fruit such as apples or bananas, low-fat cheese sticks, baby carrots, whole-wheat crackers or your favorite trail mix. Bring items that are nutrient dense—foods that are high in nutrients, but lower in calories that will help make you feel full longer.
Skip the candy bar and soda when you pit stop for gas
Convenience stores are an easy place to load up on unnecessary calories. You go inside to use the restroom and feel compelled to buy yourself a treat for the road. However, foods offered at convenience stores are typically high in both sugar and fat. Same goes for beverages. It’s important to be mindful of liquid calories. Instead of soda, energy drinks or that iced mocha, opt for beverages such as water, unsweetened tea or other low-calorie options. Grab a bag of pretzels (not the chocolate covered ones) or a container of yogurt to help tide you over until your next meal.
Find the healthy options at the airport
When it comes to air travel, the hub of the airport with its vast array of food choices can be extremely overwhelming. If you know you’re going to have a 3-hour layer over that falls over lunch or dinner, know the healthier options available. Look for a refrigerated section that can offer things like fresh fruit, salad or Greek yogurt. Or better yet, keep your wallet happy by packing your own meal or snack (Yes, you can bring food from home on the plane!). Pick foods high in fiber that will help tide you over until you reach your final destination like a turkey and veggie hummus wrap. For more information regarding packing food for air travel, visit How to Pack Food for Air Travel.
Map out your meals
Just as you planned other aspects of your trip—duration, lodging, sights to see—it’s important to plan meals too. Scout out the area for restaurants you want to try and then see what their menu has to offer. Be prepared when hunger strikes.
Don’t let yourself get hungry
It can be easy to lose track of time while you’re out sight-seeing; before you know it you somehow skipped lunch and now it’s almost dinnertime! Skipping meals and prolonging your eating can lead to over indulgence and binge eating later on. Keep snacks on hand and try not to go more than 3 hours without eating. This will help keep your tummy satisfied through out the day and decrease the likelihood of you making unhealthy impulse food choices because you were starving.
Eating smart while traveling is all about finding that balance and planning ahead so you’re prepared when confronted with temptation while on vacation (or any other time). Know the healthy options that are available, but don’t forget to allow yourself to splurge a little bit every now and then to help satisfy those cravings.
Enjoy this simple yet versatile trail mix recipe that’s perfect to have on hand in the car or to tuck away in your purse or travel bag when you need a quick fix.
Make Your Own Trail Mix
Courtesy of “5 Ways to Make a Healthier Trail Mix with Recipe” By Kayla Colgrove MS,RDN, ACSM-CPT
- 4 cups of whole grain cereal
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup banana chips
- 1 cup almonds
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
- Add all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir to mix.
- Pour ¼ cup trail mix into a snack-size storage bags.
Nutrition Information per Serving: Calories 107, Total fat 5 g, Saturated Fat 1 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 17 g, Total Carbohydrates 17 g, Sugars 9 g, Protein 2 g
This post was reviewed by Jessica Meuleners RD, LMNT and Morgan Hartline MS, RD, LMNT
August Turfgrass Care
By John Fech, Nebraska Extension Educator - Horticulture
In the midst of the summer heat, appropriate turf care techniques can really make a difference in the health of a lawn. Irrigation, turf disease inspection and white grubs are the main influences in terms of overall turf performance.
Irrigation can be one of the most overlooked and misunderstood turfgrass cultural practice, especially in August, as it’s easy to get into a rut of letting the automatic timer determine the frequency and amount of the water applied, not the actual need. Acreage owners who drag hoses and set sprinklers fare better, in that they tend to be more in tune with the existing moisture content of the turf root system, however unless close attention is paid to the run time, efficiency can be just as poor as with the “set it and forget it” in-ground systems.
There are two main keys to success with efficient and even watering in summer – 1. Water to the bottom of the roots and 2. Keep the roots moist, not soggy or dry. In order to accomplish these goals, a little digging to check the depth of the roots and probing the soil with a screwdriver is required, as none of us have x-ray eyes to see the soil 6 inches under the turf shoots and stems.
Irrigation System Monitoring and Repair
Repairs are often needed for both automatic and hose and spigot turf irrigation systems. Leaking valves, cracked supply lines, bent risers, non-turning heads, slopes and changes in landscapes over time make a huge impact on the uniformity of the irrigation water over the turf surface. If you’re curious about how evenly your system is applying water, set out a dozen or so tuna cans and let it run for a half hour. Chances are extremely high there will be more than 25% variance from can to can. To the extent possible, make repairs and adjustments to increase the efficiency of the system.
Scouting Insect and Disease Problems
While the irrigation system is running and you’re waiting for the water to collect in the cans, it’s a good time to do a little scouting for lawn diseases and white grubs. A little tugging and close inspection may reveal the larvae and/or the leaf symptoms of brown patch and Pythium root dysfunction.
August is a prime time to renovate a lawn as well. Rejuvenating a turf is not a simple “spray and pray” routine; an 8 step process is called for:
Step 1: Identify the cause of the turf decline.
Step 2: In early August, kill existing turf and weeds with glyphosate, Avenger (citrus) or Scythe (fatty acids).
Step 3: Have the soil tested.
Step 4: Modify soil as necessary.
Step 5: Cultivate with a roto-tiller, vertical mower or aerator.
Step 6: Overseed with Right Plant, Right Place and rate in mind. Use 2-3 lbs. of Kentucky bluegrass/1000 square feet and 9-10 lbs. turf type tall fescue/1000 square feet
Step 7: After seeding, rake the area to settle the seed and create good seed to soil contact. Keep moist, not soggy or dry with light, frequent waterings.
Step 8: Apply starter fertilizer 2 weeks after grass seedling emergence, water it in.
Onion Harvest and Storage Tips
By Kelly Feehan, Nebraska Extension Educator - Horticulture
Onions are growing to good size. For onions that will be stored into winter, wait to harvest until the green tops naturally fall over and begin to turn yellow or brown. And no matter what, do not break the green tops thinking ripening will be hastened and bulb size increased.
Don't Bend the Onion Stems
There is an old myth that says if the green tops of onions are bent over, all of the plant's energy will go into enlarging the bulb instead of the leaves. There is a major problem with this myth. All of the energy a plant needs comes from photosynthesis that occurs in the green leaves.
Once tops are broken and begin to die, photosynthesis is decreased and bulb development will slow or stop. Another issue with breaking onion tops is it creates a wound, which leads to onions rotting in storage.
For onions that you plan to store, wait until most of the green tops have naturally fallen over and begun to dry before harvesting. Then pull or dig the onions leaving the tops attached. It is okay to leave the onions in the garden for a short time to begin curing as long as the weather is not rainy or extremely hot.
After harvesting, dry or cure the onions in a warm, dry, ventilated location such as a garage or shed. Spread the onions in a single layer on a clean, dry surface to cure. Placing them on a raised screen will increase air circulation around them.
Cure onions for two to three weeks until the onion tops and necks are thoroughly dry and the outer scales are brown and feel dry. Once cured, cut the tops off one inch above the bulbs or leave the tops to braid together for storage.
While trimming or braiding onion tops, inspect bulbs for wounds, thick necks, or signs of decay. Use wounded and thick-necked bulbs as soon as possible rather than storing them. Discard onions showing signs of decay.
To store onions, place them in a mesh bag, old nylon stocking, wire basket, or crate. Air circulation around stored onions is important to prevent decay. Braided onions can be hung from rafters or nails.
Onions store longest if kept in a cool, moderately dry location. Ideal storage temperatures are 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 65 to 70 percent. The closer storage conditions are to ideal, the longer onions can keep. In less than ideal conditions, onions will need to be used sooner.
Inspect stored onions a regular basis. Storage problems encountered include sprouting and rotting. Onions typically sprout if storage temperatures are too warm. Rotting may be a sign of too much moisture or high humidity in storage.
Rotting can also be due to bulbs being infected by rot fungi while still in the garden. A key to reducing infection is to avoid wounding bulbs during tillage and harvesting. And never break the tops of onions over in an attempt to grow larger bulbs. This is a form of wounding that will increase bulb rot, but not bulb size.
Harvesting Garden Vegetables
By Nicole Stoner, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator
I love this time of the year, not because of the extreme heat, but because my garden is beginning to produce large quantities of vegetables for my family to enjoy in our meals and to preserve for the winter months. Sometimes it is hard to determine the best harvest time and use for the vegetables from a garden but here are a few tips to remember.
Tomatoes are a great choice for a vegetable garden. They can be preserved in so many ways to be enjoyed throughout the entire winter. The anticipation for our tomatoes to begin to ripen is difficult, but once they begin, they grow strong. This year we have had to wait a little longer than normal for our tomatoes to begin to produce. Due to the high heat in June, poor pollination occurred.
For harvesting tomatoes, it is best to wait until the tomato is firm and colored correctly for the particular variety you are growing. Make sure you know what you planted to know what color they should be. If the temperatures get too hot, they may soften if left on the vine until they are the correct color, when that occurs, it would be best to pick tomatoes early and allow them to ripen indoors.
Tomatoes stored in the refrigerator can only be stored fresh for 4-10 days. According to Alice Henneman, a Registered Dietician with Nebraska Extension, tomatoes can be frozen raw with or without the skins to be used in cooked recipes for months later. Tomatoes can also be processed into salsa, paste, sauce and juice for storage and use later in the year in other forms.
Zucchini is another great plant for your garden. Zucchini plants are easy to grow and will produce plenty of harvest for a family from only one or two plants. If you planted too many zucchini plants they are easy to store as well. Zucchini should be harvested when the fruit is young and tender, and when your fingernail easily penetrates the rind. Most zucchini should be harvested when they are 1 ½ inches in diameter and 4 to 8 inches in length.
Zucchini is easily missed and they are fast growing vegetables. If you have some zucchini get too large for grilling, slicing or freezing, you can use them for baking. Remove the seeds and shred what is left for use in zucchini bread or muffins. Fresh zucchini can be stored in the fridge for 5-14 days.
Peppers should be harvested when they are firm and full sized. If it is a red, yellow, or orange variety, they need to be left on the plant for an additional 2-3 weeks for coloration to occur. Peppers can be frozen for consumption later in uncooked foods or in cooked foods. Fresh peppers can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 weeks if handled properly.
Cucumbers should be harvested when they have grown to the size that is best for the use and size determined by the variety. If you are using the cucumber for a sweet pickle or for baby dill pickles you would want the cucumbers to be 1 ½ to 2 inches long. If you are using them for regular dill pickles it is best to pick them at 3-4 inches in length. For fresh slicing cucumbers harvest when they are 7 to 9 inches long. It is best to harvest daily and harvest cucumbers before they get too large with large seeds inside. Cucumbers can be used fresh for 10-14 days.
Sources: The harvest information came from the NebGuide: When to Harvest Fruits and Vegetables by Sarah Browning, Lancaster County Extension Educator. The freezing guidelines came from food.unl.edu.
Grow Your Own Pest Control: Creating Habitat for Beneficial Insects
By Sarah Browning, Nebraska Extension Educator - Horticulture
Gardeners encounter many insects in their fruit or vegetable gardens and landscapes, only a few of which are harmful. Many insects actually help us, including three large groups - the pollinators, predators and parasitoids. It’s important gardeners recognize these beneficial insects so they don't mistakenly kill off their garden helpers.
The action of beneficial insects happens at such a small level, hidden from view, their activity is often not visible to landowners or gardeners. One estimate by Cornell University and the Xerces Society of the pest control value of native insects in the United States is $4.49 billion annually for agricultural crops.1 Homeowners can put the action of predatory insects to work on their property by understanding their needs.
Pollinating insects have been in the news a great deal lately, so increasingly gardeners are familiar with many of the wild native bees and flies that function as pollinators in our gardens. But gardeners often know less about the other two groups of beneficial insects – the predators and parasitoids.
Predatory Insects. Predatory insects feed on other insects and can eat large numbers of them. Sometimes the predator is the adult lifestage and sometimes it's the immature. And sometimes both adult and immature are predators. Common predatory insects are listed below.
Adult Food Source
Immature Food Source
Aphids, mealybugs, scales, spider mites, also pollen, nectar and honeydew
Aphids, beetles, insect eggs, mealybugs, scales, small caterpillars, spider mites
Pollen, flower nectar, aphids, mealybugs and other soft-bodied insects
Small caterpillars, grasshopper eggs, other beetles
General feeders on a wide variety of insects and slugs
General feeders on a wide variety of insects and slugs
Nectar, pollen and honeydew. Some adults also feed on small insects.
Voracious predators feeding on a wide range of insects, including small caterpillars, beetles and aphids.
Scale crawlers, aphids and other small soft-bodied insects
Slugs, snails and worms
Minute pirate bugs
Aphids, spider mites, thrips and insect eggs
Aphids, spider mites, thrips and insect eggs
Many other predatory insects are active in our gardens include the following.
- Spiders – crab, jumping, wolf, orb-web, lynx, funnel spiders and daddylonglegs
- True Bugs – assassin, damsel and big-eyed bugs
- Wasps - paper, potter and hunting wasps; hornets and yellow jackets
- Other – mantids, earwigs, ants, predatory mites, and centipedes
Large numbers of beneficial predatory insects can usually be found in areas or on plants with high populations of harmful insects like aphids. When the harmful insects are gone, the predatory insects will leave also. Before applying insecticide in the garden, be sure to identify the target insects first so that beneficial garden helpers are preserved.
Parasitoid Insects. Many wasps and some flies develop as parasites, including Ichneumonid and Braconid wasps, and Tachinid flies. Adult females find a host insect and lay an egg on or in it, which serves as a food source for the developing larvae. Parasitoid insects are small, but highly effective at reducing damaging insect populations.
Gardeners can increase the number of beneficial insects in their landscape by creating habitat to provide additional food, cover and shelter for these insects, allowing them to increase their populations.
A good first step toward enhancing habitat for beneficial insects is to look for unused areas on the edges of your property that can be planted with nectar or pollen producing plants. Fence lines, hedgerows or windbreaks often have open areas not being used, which can be planted to create habitat. Planting a cover crop in the vegetable garden at the end of the season also increases plant diversity and habitat for beneficials. Pastures can be interplanted with wildflowers and orchards can be underplanted with beneficial ground covers.
The publication “Encouraging Beneficial Insects in Your Garden”, Oregon State University Extension, includes a good listing of habitat plants for beneficial insects.
The Xerces Society has developed a Beneficial Insect Habitat Assessment Form to help landowners evaluate their property’s current ability to support beneficial insects and develop land management plans promoting additional habitat development. Established in 1971, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is a non-profit organization focuses on protecting wildlife through conservation of invertebrates and their habitat.
1. John E Losey and Mace Vaughan, “The Economic Value of Ecological Services Provided by Insects,” BioScience 56, no. 4 (January 4, 2006), accessed June 28, 2016, http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/56/4/311.full.
Summer is the Season of Solitary Wasps
By Sarah Browning, Nebraska Extension Educator - Horticulture
Midsummer is the season of solitary wasps. These wasps are called solitary because they do not build large colonies like paper wasps or yellow jackets. They are predators and prey on spiders, crickets, cicadas and other insects. Solitary wasps paralyze their prey and drag it to a burrow. They lay an egg on the paralyzed prey, which hatches into a larva that feeds on the paralyzed insect. Solitary warps are not aggressive and would only sting someone who is foolish enough to handle the live wasp.
While these insects are not a sting hazard, they do frighten some people. The males in particular can be territorial and fly towards your face to discourage you from coming close to their nests, but males lack a stinger so can't sting. Females do have stingers, but prefer to avoid people.
In years with high numbers they may do some aesthetic damage to lawns as they dig their nests. Adult wasps may be found feeding on flower nectar. They do no damage to flowers, so can be ignored.
Three of the most common types of solitary wasps are the cicada killer wasp, steel blue cricket hunter and sand wasps.
Cicada killer wasps are the largest wasp species in Nebraska. They are up to two inches long and boldly marked with yellow stripes on a black body. Females are larger than males.
Cicada killer wasps create underground burrows. These burrows can be found near walks, driveways, and retaining walls and can usually be identified by the presence of fresh soil around the 1/2-inch entrance hole. These wasps can create clusters of nests within a preferred area.
It makes sense that cicada killers are most abundant during midsummer when their prey - cicada, grasshoppers and crickets - are active. Each individual nest is provisioned with 2-3 cicadas for the developing wasp larva to feed on, then sealed. Larvae will develop in the soil until they emerge as adults next summer.
Steel blue cricket hunter is also a large wasp, about 1 to 1 1/4 inch long. Sometimes called thread-waist wasps, this group of insects have a thin structure connecting their thorax and abdomen. Look closely at the steel blue cricket hunter and you'll see their body is a dark steel blue metallic color with dark smoky wings. As their name implies, their larvae are fed primarily with crickets.
The sand wasp is around an inch long. They have large eyes, with black and white striped abdomens. Although they are considered a solitary wasp, several females may join together to create individual nests in the soil and discourage invaders. Backyard sandboxes are a prime nesting location for sand wasps. Their larvae are fed primarily with flies.
Control Is Usually Not Needed
Due to their docile nature and the fact they are beneficial predatory insects, solitary wasps should be tolerated as much as possible. They are active for only a short time in mid to late summer, then will be gone again for another year.
Ground nesting wasps prefer to dig in areas of dry soil. If their nest building is a problem in some areas of your landscape, one way to discourage them is to run a sprinkler where they are trying to nest. You may have to do this a couple times a day to keep the soil moist until they find another location.
If control is desired an application of carbaryl dust (Sevin) or cyflutrhin (Tempo) made directly into the burrow entrances is effective. If you're nervous about approaching the nests, put the carbaryl dust on a shovel and sprinkle it over the holes. Applications should be made at dusk, when the wasps are the least active.
Don't broadcast applications of liquid insecticide over the area where solitary wasps are nesting. This method of application is unlikely to reduce their populations.
Fencing for Livestock
By Monte Stauffer, Nebraska Extension Educator - Livestock
Many acreage owners would like to keep livestock on their acreage such as horses, cattle, sheep, chickens, or goats. Selecting the right fence to keep them contained , avoid injuries, yet not be cost prohibitive can be a real dilemma for the owners. They should consider the following items when selecting the best fence.
- What specie and age of livestock will it be used for?
- Will it be used around a large pasture or in a small confined area used for sorting or doctoring?
- How important is appearance to you in the location you are placing the fence?
- What is the cost of construction and repair?
- Is it safe for the specie you intend to fence in?
- What is the strength and visibility of the fence?
Strands of wire or cable are usually the most economical but lack strength, visibility, and appearance.
Wood is medium in price but high in visibility, maintenance and repairs.
Pipe is strong and visibility but can be costly.
Fiberglass, PVC, or plastic fencing is very nice in appearance, visibility, and strength but is the most costly.
Consulting with a producer that raises the same specie of livestock that you plan to raise will be very helpful in determining the best fence for your use.