Life Outside the City Limits
- Managing a Sewage Lagoon During Drought
- National Invasive Species Awareness Week, March 3-8
- North American Invasive Plant Ecology Short Course, June 25-27
- Make Your Weed Control Plans Now for 2013
- Frequently Asked Garden Questions for March
- Pruning Fruit Trees
- Activated Carbon Filters Are Not All The Same
- Owning a Dairy Cow or Goat
- Fire Prevention on the Acreage, Farm & Ranch
By Vaughn Hammond, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator
One of my fondest memories as a kid, spending most of my summers on my grandparent's farm, was the garden and orchard that was the center of every meal. As I visited other farms in the neighborhood they too had fruit trees and gardens with a wide variety of offerings but one common thread among them all was rhubarb. Everybody had several rhubarb plants which were used to make pies, cakes, crisps and my favorite-Rabarbergrod or rhubarb pudding, a traditional Danish dessert.
History of Rhubarb
Rhubarb has been cultivated for thousands of years for both medicinal and culinary uses. The Chinese wrote about the medicinal uses of rhubarb 2,700 years ago and it was a very valuable trade good along the Silk Road as it moved west from eastern Asia. Rhubarb finally found its way into Europe in the 14th century. Only the wealthiest could afford rhubarb as its value was equated to the value of diamonds, emeralds and silk.
As rhubarb cultivation took a hold and became widespread in Europe its uses grew from medicinal to culinary in the early 1800's. From 1800 through 1850 the British developed a taste for rhubarb using it in a variety of dishes including wine. The enchantment between the English and rhubarb during this period was known as "Rhubarb Mania". Rhubarb Mania moved to the United States with European immigrants and rhubarb mania took a hold in the United States from 1850 through the early 1900's peaking in the 1930's. After World War II rhubarb's popularity diminished greatly. Once again, according to some, we are realizing a Rhubarb Renaissance as rhubarb's popularity is on the rise. According to a 2012 National Public Radio survey Strawberry-Rhubarb pie was the second most popular pie narrowly losing out to apple pie.
Rhubarb is confusing to many people-is it a fruit or is it a vegetable? Its primary use is for dessert purposes and who uses a vegetable in pies and desserts? Rhubarb is actually classified as a vegetable. It is a cool season, perennial grown for its leafstalk or petiole. Avoid the leaf itself as it contains high levels of oxalic acid and is toxic if consumed.
Rhubarb thrives in the Midwestern climate and conditions. The plant prefers a slightly acidic soil in the pH range of 6.0 to 6.8 but is forgiving if the pH conditions move slightly higher into the more neutral range of 7.0 to 7.5. It grows profusely in a fertile, high in organic matter soils with good water drainage. Rhubarb can become a very large plant, up to 3-4 foot across and up to 3 ft. tall. All of this growth arises from a crown that has many buds or nodes from where the leaves arise.
Dormant crowns are planted in the early spring. Later in the spring potted rhubarb plants may be available. Dormant crowns are planted in soil worked to 10 to 12 inches deep. Adding compost or well-rotted manure will help elevate the soils organic matter level. The addition of organic matter will help increase the water holding capacity of the soil and provide a low level of nutrients. The crown containing several buds from which the leaves arise, is placed no more than 2 inches below the soil surface. Allow one square yard of space for each plant. Top dress with a ½ cup of 5-10-10 fertilizer. Water the newly planted crown immediately after planting. Once the leaves begin to emerge mulch with 3 to 4 inches of straw or other organic mulch to help conserve soil moisture and act as a barrier to weed development. Remove flower stalks as they appear so the plants energy is directed toward establishment and leaf development. As the season progresses into mid-season, a second ½ cup of fertilizer should be applied to promote continued growth.
Rhubarb is a fast developer with very large leaves. Supplemental irrigation may be required throughout the growing season, especially during times of high temperatures. Leaves will readily wilt during periods of high heat and if the plants are not watered will go into heat induced summer dormancy. Once temperatures begin to cool the leaves will redevelop upon which time irrigation needs to be re-established as well as another ½ cup of 5-10-10 fertilizer applied around the plant.
During the first year of plant establishment harvest should be avoided to allow the plant the maximum growth. The second year only a few leaf stalks are harvested to again allow for strong plant establishment. During the third year, harvest can begin in May and continue through June or until the stalks size begins to become more slender; an indicator that the plant needs a rest and harvest should cease. At no time should more than one third of the leaf stalks be harvested in order to maintain the overall health and vigor of the plant. Harvest should take place as soon as the leaf begins to unfurl as the flavor and quality is at its best during this time frame. Stalks should either be pulled from the crown or cut with a knife near the crown. When pulling the leaf stalk grasp the stalk near the base to avoid breaking the stalk and leaving excess stalk for rot to establish itself.
As a rhubarb plant begins to age its productivity diminishes. After 5 to 6 years, rhubarb benefits for a rejuvenating crown division. In the early spring prior to bud break dig the dormant crown up. Using a sharp knife, divide the crown into pieces containing 1 to 3 buds and plant. Smaller root pieces without buds can be combined together and planted. In this case allow for addition time for development.
A properly maintained rhubarb planting can provide an abundance or stalks for many years. Paying attention to planting, mulching, irrigation, fertilization and a balanced harvest will ensure a healthy planting for years to come.
Soon purple martin scouts will be in Nebraska, looking for suitable nest boxes. Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Extension, shares information about purple martins and housing that will increase your chances of attracting these aerial acrobats.
Many of us are puzzled about how last year's hot temperatures and drought will affect the landscape. Sarah Browning, University of Nebraska Extension, gives some ideas on how to identify and manage damage to our yards this spring.
Managing a Sewage Lagoon During Drought
By Tom Dorn, UNL Extension Agriculture Educator
A question received this year from an acreage homeowner asked, "My sewage lagoon ran dry in the summer of 2012. What can I do so it won't happen again in 2013?"
In response to the question, UNL Extension Agriculture Educator Tom Dorn, with input from the UNL Onsite Wastewater Team, responds as follows.
Average summertime evaporation from the surface of a small pond or sewage lagoon is in the range of 1/3 of an inch per day. If the lagoon is 25 feet square, the surface area of the lagoon would be 625 square feet. It would take an average daily inflow of 125 gallons per day of wastewater plus precipitation to maintain the water depth in a 625-square foot lagoon at the normal water level.
The estimates I have found indicate the average family of four uses 250 to 300 gallons of water a day for household use, not counting watering the lawn and garden. This amount of water coming into a lagoon would be sufficient to keep the water at an adequate depth to function correctly under normal climate conditions. However, 2012 was an unusually hot and dry year with less relative humidity, which resulted in higher evaporation rates.
The average annual rainfall in Lancaster County since 2007 has been 27.62 inches. The rainfall in the last 12-month period was 18.24 inches, which is 9.38 inches less than this average. The combination of reduced rainfall and hotter air temperatures in 2012 resulted in low water levels in lagoons last year.
If the drought continues into 2013, two remedies for low lagoon water depth are:
- Run water into the lagoon, in addition to what is used in normal household activity, to keep the wastewater level at a minimum depth of 2 feet. Nebraska regulations require that lagoons have wastewater at a depth of 2 to 5 feet to keep biological processes working properly. Keep in mind that additional water usage has the potential to stress your water well.
- Contact a certified professional for additional information as the problem may be specific to your system and water use.
National Invasive Species Awareness Week, March 3-8
By Nicole Stoner, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator
March 3-8 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week. Invasive species are not native to our ecosystem and their introduction can cause damage economically, or damage to the ecosystem, as well as human health problems. In the United States there are many invasive species, which includes plants, insects, fungi, bacteria, viruses, mites, or nematodes.
Some invasive plant species in Nebraska include Russian Olive, Crown Vetch and St. John's Wort. Invasive plants are allowed on properties as there are no regulations associated with invasive species, but they should be monitored and planted only in areas where they cannot spread easily.
All states have a noxious weed list that includes invasive weeds. In Nebraska, plants are designated as "noxious weeds" by the Nebraska Weed Control Association. These weeds must be controlled if they are found on your property in accordance with state law.
Nebraska's 10 noxious weeds include the following plants. You can find pictures, and more information for each on the NDA Noxious Weed Program website.
- Canada thistle,
- Musk thistle,
- Plumeless thistle,
- Purple loosestrife,
- Leafy Spurge,
- Spotted knapweed,
- Diffuse knapweed,
- and Japanese knotweed.
Canada, musk, and plumeless thistle are all biennial plants, meaning that they live for 2 years. Their first year of life is as a low-growing rosette; the second year they grow one tall flower stalk. After the flowers develop, seed is released then the original plants die. Canada thistle has smaller, lighter pink flowers. Musk thistle and plumeless thistle are two very similar thistles. These both have a large deep purple to pink colored flower, that is about the same size. Musk thistle has spines on each of the lobes of the leaves and it has a length of stalk that is spineless just below the flower head in contrast to plumeless thistle.
Phragmites, purple loosestrife, and Japanese knotweed can take over areas surrounding waterways, and restrict the flow of rivers and streams in a very short period of time. Phragmites is a very tall grass with a panicle of seeds on the top. They are easy to identify by their yellow-green coloration contrasting with the blue-green color of many other tall, water grasses. Purple loosestrife is a herbaceous perennial plant that has a beautiful purple flower spike and long, slender, pointed leaves with a heart-shaped base. Japanese knotweed is the newest noxious weed to Nebraska. It has hollow stems, white fleece-like flowers, and reddish stems. Purple loosestrife and Japanese knotweed were originally landscape plants but have become escaped invasives around waterways.
Saltcedar is a small tree that did a lot of damage when Lake McConaughy receded. This tree is a light-green color with many tiny lavender flowers produced in loose panicles. It doesn't have leaves, it has scales similar to a juniper. This tree is controlled very easily by flooding.
Leafy spurge is a small perennial that has small oblong leaves, and milky sap when it is broken or cut. The flowers on leafy spurge are green, tiny and very non-descript. What people usually think are flowers on this plant are actually yellow bracts, or modified leaves.
Spotted and diffuse knapweed are usually lumped together as they are very similar plants. Both are biennial plants like the thistles. They have compound, daisy-like, flowers that are finely dissected and are usually white, pink or purple. They also have bracts beneath the flowers.
If you see any of these plants in your landscape or on your property you need to control them. If you are unsure about identification of these plants, bring a sample to your local UNL Extension office for correct identification. Control can often be accomplished by repeatedly mowing, grazing, or chemical treatments.
North American Invasive Plant Ecology Short Course, June 25-27
By Steve Young, UNL Extension Weed Ecologist
The third annual North American Invasive Plant Ecology and Management Short Course (NAIPSC) will be held June 25-27 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln West Central Research & Extension Center in North Platte, NE. The NAIPSC is three days of intense instruction and learning for those interested in the basics of invasive plant ecology and management. CEU and graduate student credits are available.
The format of the NAIPSC includes a wide variety of venues and settings to engage participants in learning and applying the course material. Over a dozen instructors with expertise in restoration, GPS/GIS applications, plant identification, and many other topics related to invasive plants have been invited from all across the US. The presentations, hands-on workshops, site visits and instructor-led discussion sessions will allow for participants to interact with instructors on issues or challenges they might be addressing related to invasive plants.
For the 2013 NAIPSC, a special session has been planned on the topic of biocontrol for invasive plant species and will include hands-on activities and presentations by experts that routinely work with biocontrol agents.
Organizers of the 2013 NAIPSC have announced the availability of funds in the form of scholarships from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to help participants from Nebraska attend at a reduced cost. The scholarships will be available on a first come, first served basis. If you are a land owner, work for a state or national agency, are a weed superintendent or teacher, we encourage you to contact us. Registration is open until capacity has been reached. Deadline is May 1, 2013.
For more information on registration, visit the NAIPSC website.
Make Your Weed Control Plans Now For 2013
By Brent Meyer, Lancaster County Weed Superintendent
Now is a great time to evaluate you weed control efforts from last year and make a plan for next growing season. If you took notes last year this is a good time to look them over to see what worked and what can be improved. If you didn't write things down, I hope you have a good memory, but I would suggest starting this year by keeping a log on your weed control activities. It will only take a few minutes and will save you time next year. A good log book will help you remember what you did, how much chemical was used and did it work?
Things to keep track of could include:
- Weed Species
- Date & time of application
- Wind direction & temperature
- Location of weed problems
- Pesticide used and rate of application
- Type of sprayer used
- Amounts of herbicide / surfactant put in the sprayer
- Follow up results - one week after application, two weeks, and end of season
Perennial weeds like leafy spurge, Canada thistle, purple loosestrife and phragmites are very persistent and will require follow up treatments. It is important to know what you did last year so you know how to make adjustments and plan your attack for this year. Sometimes just the time of day you sprayed will make a difference in the results. For example: Studies show that glyphosate (Round up) sprayed in the early part of the day can have better results than if sprayed in the heat of the day.
A great resource for information on what herbicide to use, rates, timing and estimated cost is the 2013 Guide for Weed Management available from UNL Extension.
Contact the Weed Control Office at 402-441-7817 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for help in developing a control plan that's right for your situation.
Frequently Asked Garden Questions for March
By John Fech, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator
Q. How important is it to rotate garden crops?
A. Very important. Certain fungi and insects tend to locate themselves in the same garden locations year after year. Moving tomatoes to a new site each year helps to cut down on the pests.
Q. What are some obscure veggies that are worth trying?
A. Leeks, a sweet, mild onion type plant that has many uses. Radicchio, is a type of chicory, makes a nice salad green for variety. Florence fennel, has a mild anise flavor, and is good raw or in cooking.
Q. What type of strawberry produces the most fruit?
A. June-bearing strawberries, by far. Keeping the runners pruned and the plants in full sun will produce even more berries.
Q. Can I use the seeds from last year's annuals to plant this year?
A. Yes and No. Yes, you can plant them, but they may or may not produce plants identical to those grown in 2012. The more the plant has been hybridized, the less likely it is to produce identical plants in subsequent years.
Q. Why is compost so useful?
A. Many reasons. It has the magical quality of improving soil drainage, and retaining essential soil moisture, adding nutrients to the soil, improving soil structure, and in increasing the ease of rooting of garden plants growing in it.
Pruning Fruit Trees
By John Fech, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator
March is pruning month! Many plants in your landscape are pruned in March, with fruit trees standing out. Each species of tree -apple, pear, peach, plum, cherry- has it's own specific guidelines, but some common themes are present in all.
Light is necessary to produce high quality fruit. Fruit trees produce many more branches than are necessary, and so some must be removed to allow enough light to enter the tree canopy. Remove limbs that closely parallel each other, occupying roughly the same space. Crossing limbs are always a problem, in that the rubbing creates wounds that will allow diseases and insects easy access.
While the tree has no leaves, it is easy to see broken or diseased branches in the tree. Remove these to increase the productivity of the remaining ones. In general, branches should be attached to the trunk at a 45 to 60 degree angle. Remove branches that do not have this angle of attachment. Branches growing downward or back towards the center of the tree will produce few or low quality fruits, so they are expendable as well.
Activated Carbon Filters Are Not All The Same
By Sharon Skipton, UNL Extension Water Quality Educator
Activated carbon (AC) water treatment units are becoming more common in homes today. Many refrigerators that dispense water and ice have AC units built into the water line. In addition, AC units may be used at the kitchen sink to improve the taste and odor of water, or to remove potentially harmful chemicals.
Contaminate Removal by Activated Carbon Filters
Contaminants such as benzene, chlorobenzenes, trichloroethylene, carbon tetrachloride, methylene chloride, and vinyl chloride in drinking water may pose health risks if they are present in quantities above the EPA Health Advisory Level (HAL). Pesticides, such as Atrazine, also can pose a health risk if present in quantities above EPA guidelines. AC filtration can effectively reduce the amount of some of these organic chemicals as well as certain harmless taste- and odor-producing compounds.
In addition, lead from water pipes and solder may be present in water from the tap. AC filtration can reduce lead in drinking water, though another filter medium is commonly used in addition to AC for this purpose. Only very specialized AC filters effectively adsorb heavy metals.
Radon, a radioactive decay product of natural uranium that has been related to lung cancer, can be found in some Nebraska groundwater. Radon gas also can be removed by AC filtration, though removal rates for different types of AC equipment have not been established.
AC filters WILL NOT remove microbial contaminants (such as bacteria and viruses), calcium and magnesium (hard water minerals), fluoride, nitrate, and many other compounds.
Selecting an AC Filter
Different types of carbon and carbon filters remove different contaminants and no one type of carbon removes all contaminants at maximum efficiency. Therefore, the water should be tested first to determine what substances are present and in what quantities.
The medium for an AC filter can be one of many carbon-based materials, but is typically petroleum coke, bituminous coal, lignite, wood products, coconut shells, or peanut shells. The carbon medium is "activated" by subjecting it to steam and high temperature (2,300°F) without oxygen. This activation produces carbon with many small pores and, therefore, a very high surface area.
In some cases, the carbon also may be processed by an acid wash or coated with a compound to enhance the removal of specific contaminants. It is then crushed to produce a granular or pulverized carbon product. This creates small particles with more surface area available for compounds to adsorb to, which results in greater contaminant removal.
The source of the carbon and the activation method determine the effectiveness of removal for specific contaminants. For example, the carbon that most effectively removes lead may be obtained from a different source and activation method than the carbon that most effectively removes Atrazine.
The length of contact time between the water and the carbon - which is determined by the rate of water flow - also affects contaminant adsorption. Greater contact time can allow for greater adsorption of contaminant. Also, the amount of carbon in the filter affects contaminant removal. For instance, less carbon is generally required to remove taste and odor-producing compounds than to remove organic chemicals.
While AC filters are relatively simply water treatment devices, selecting the best unit for a given situation is not so simple. To further complicate selection, federal, state, or local laws do not regulate activated carbon filtration systems. The industry is self-regulated.
The NSF (formerly known as the National Sanitation Foundation) and the Water Quality Association (WQA) evaluate performance, construction, advertising, and operation manual information. The NSF program establishes performance standards that must be met for endorsement and certification. The WQA program uses the same NSF standards and provides equivalent American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited product certifications. WQA-certified products carry the Water Quality Association Gold Seal. Though these certifications and validations should not be the only criteria for choosing an AC system, they are helpful to ensure effectiveness of the system.
Owning a Dairy Cow or Goat
By Steve Tonn, UNL Extension Livestock Educator
A family milk cow on your small acreage can help teach children responsibility, supplement the household food budget and provide a sense of self-dependency. But it also requires a commitment by the owner to milk the cow two times a day every day, rain or shine, for 9-10 months of the year. A single milk cow can be milked by hand or with a small mechanical milker.
It is possible for a good producing cow to provide milk for the family, and also raise a calf if managed correctly.
Buying a family cow is an important decision because once it has been purchased, you've committed yourself to its care twice a day, 365 days per year. Two excellent resources to help you with your decision are:
- Owning a Dairy Cow or Goat, Oregon State University
- Buying and Feeding the Family Milk Cow, Utah State University Cooperative Extension
According to the Nebraska Forest Service, 2012 was a bad year for wildland fires. Over 501,950 acres of land in Nebraska burned as a result of 1,503 fires statewide. More acres of land were affected in 2012, than all the acreage affected by fires from 2001-2011 combined. In and around Lancaster County alone, 158 fires occurred.
A fire in a rural area is far more serious than a fire in a town or city where the fire department and fire-fighting resources are readily available. The most effective fire prevention device yet invented is YOUR attitude. With a positive fire prevention attitude, and by following the prevention measures suggested here, you can enjoy your country home with confidence.
Around the Home
Each year fire damages or destroys many homes that could have been saved if simple precautions had been taken before the fire struck. It's the little things that count.
- Treat wood roofing material with a fire-retardant material.
- Remove tree limbs that hang over your roof.
- Remove all leaves and clutter from house gutters.
- Mow your yard regularly to reduce flammable vegetation, and remove all debris piles.
- Stack firewood at least 30 feet away from your home and other structures.
- Install a spark arrester on your chimney. Inspect chimneys each year and keep them in good repair.
- If burn barrels are allowed, place the barrel in an area cleared of flammable materials at least 10 feet around the barrel.
- Cover your burn barrel with a top screen made of 1Ã¢ÂÂ4" wire mesh.
- Fuel storage tanks (LP Gas, welding gas, oxygen cylinders, gasoline, diesel, etc.) should be located at least 30 feet from buildings and at least 10 feet from any combustibles. They should be securely fastened to firm, non-combustible supports and resting on a solid foundation.
- Check lightning protection and grounding.
- Check TV antenna stability and grounding.
- Have electrical wiring and fuse boxes inspected. Replace worn or damaged wiring and use only fuses approved for the wiring.
- Make certain stoves and heaters are installed in accordance with local and state fire codes.
Checking for and fixing fire hazards before starting work each day will reduce the chance of costly equipment fires. Look for:?
- any build up of plant residue around the engine, exhaust system, belts and chains;
- damaged exhaust system components;
- worn or badly frayed drive belts;?
- broken or exposed electrical wiring;?
- the odor of burning electrical wiring;?
- worn or mis-aligned moving parts, which can indicate the lack of lubricant; and
- signs of leaking fluids, oil and fuel.
Flammable liquids, such as gasoline, diesel, oils, and solvents, are frequently used on farms and acreages. Most liquids of this type are stored in garage, shop or maintenance areas, which also contain many sources of ignition. Extreme caution must be taken with these products.
- Flammable liquids should be stored in a designated area away from all sources of heat, such as welders, grinders, heaters, electric motors and hot engines.
- Flammable liquids should be stored in Underwriter Laboratories (UL) approved containers. Plastic milk jugs, pop bottles, glass jars, and coffee cans are not approved containers.
- Use flammable liquids in well-ventilated areas. Vapors from these liquids can travel great distances to an ignition source.
Always use caution when fueling equipment. The few seconds saved are insignificant when compared to the loss of expensive machinery, or the weeks, even months, spent in a hospital due to carelessness.
- Never refuel equipment with the engine running.
- Allow hot engines to cool for 15 minutes before refueling.
- Extinguish all open flames and smoking materials before refueling.
- If fuel spills on an engine, wipe away any excess and allow the fumes to dissipate.
History shows that as long as man has been farming, he has used fire as a tool to clear fields. Unfortunately, each year thousands of acres and millions of dollars are lost to careless burning practices.
- Check local, county or state laws on open burning. Always obtain a permit to burn from the local fire department. Be sure to notify the fire department when you start burning.
- Be aware of the weather conditions and be flexible. If weather conditions are unfavorable or forecast to be unfavorable, postpone burning to a later date.
- Be aware of your surroundings and other combustibles. Protect buildings and fences.
- Build a fire break to contain a fire in the area to be burned.
- Keep firefighting tools, such as rakes, shovels and garden hoses, close at hand, for small fires. Discs, plows and large sprayers are needed for large fires. Have plenty of help.
- Remember, fires can grow extremely fast. A small fire can rapidly become a raging wildfire with a gust of wind. If a fire appears to be getting away, call your fire department immediately. Never leave a fire unattended.
Livestock and Fire
While livestock are not normally considered a fire hazard, the environment in which they are placed can contain many fire hazards in the form of tools and equipment.
- Secure heat lamps to a solid object that will not fall into bedding materials if bumped.
- Use non-combustible bedding, such as dry sand instead of straw, when using heat lamps.
- If it is necessary to use extension cords for heat lamps or portable heaters, make sure the wire size is sufficient for the electrical load.
- Keep all electrical wiring out of areas that can be accessed by livestock. Prevent damage to wiring insulation by using conduit to protect the wire from livestock chewing or rubbing.
- Install electric fencers properly, with sufficient clearance from combustibles.
- Look for fire hazards every day. When you find a fire hazard, repair it or get rid of it.
- Good housekeeping is good fire prevention. A clean, orderly work place and well-kept equipment and tools are less likely to produce fire.
- Fire extinguishers should be placed in areas where they are readily accessible. Check fire extinguishers monthly, making certain they are properly charged.
- Don't sacrifice your or your family's safety and livelihood by being careless with fire.
In Case of Fire
When a fire is discovered, call the fire department at once. DO NOT attempt to fight the fire yourself. Remember, any delay in the arrival of the fire department can be disastrous.
Keep the fire department's telephone number posted prominently near the telephone. Keep directions to your farm or acreage near the phone to aid visitors or individuals who are not familiar with your area.
For additional information, visit the Nebraska Forest Service website or review these publications.
- Living with Fire: A Homeowner's Guide
- Building a Top Screen for a Burn Barrel
- County Living at It's Best