Feb 2011

Life Outside the City Limits

February Image Collage

2011 All-America Selections
Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator

When purchasing an AAS winner, you are purchasing a plant that has been rated superior by almost 200 independent trial gardens across the United States. AAS Award winners are tested for several years before selection, resulting in 'tried and true' plants with a history of excellent performance under a multitude of growing conditions. All-America flower and bedding plants award winners for 2011 include "Arizona Apricot" Gaillardia, "Glamour Red" Kale, "Summer Jewel Red" Salvia and "Shangri-La Marina" Viola.


Image of gaillardia

'Arizona Apricot' Gaillardia offers large 3 to 3.5 inch daisy-like flowers, with a rich apricot-colored center and lighter yellow edges. It blooms from early summer into autumn on compact, 12-inch tall plants with bright green foliage. Hardy to Zone 2, 'Arizona Apricot' Gaillardia is a great perennial that makes a statement in mass plantings at the front of an annual or perennial garden. Plants are free flowering throughout the summer, but removing old flowers as they fade will encourage plants to bloom at their peak. Height and width 12".
'Glamour Red' Ornamental Kale is the first All-America Selection of kale in 78 years! It's most unique feature are it's shiny leaves that lack the normal wax found on cabbage and kale leaves. This feature makes the vivid colors of the foliage- medium green and deep pink- stand out in the landscape and out-perform others in it's class. The fringed-leaf flower heads of this Brassica oleracea hybrid, are up to 10 to 12 inches across. It does best in full sun and has good disease tolerance. Although being offered as an annual ornamental for great fall color, 'Glamour Red' is also edible. Glamour Red Kale
Image of Salvia  Salvia 'Summer Jewel Red' was consistently rated "superior" or "above average" by the AAS judges because of its early and generous flower blossoms, continuing from spring to autumn. Additionally, each dwarf and densely branching plant remains a tidy 20 inches tall, even at full maturity. The bright red flower spikes are covered with half inch blooms making it perfect for the bird lover's garden where the bright red color acts as a magnet for hummingbirds. As an added bonus, goldfinches swarm the plant for seeds. Even the leaves add beauty with their finer-textured, dark-green color. 'Summer Jewel Red' blooms approximately two weeks earlier than other cultivars of Salvia coccinea. Expect long season performance and superior holding ability in both wind and rain. This annual is ideal for full sun containers, mixed beds and borders where uniformity is desired.
The final 2011 All-America flower selection is 'Shangri-La Marina' Viola. This winning Viola cornuta is an early-flowering, mounding viola in a vibrant new color. The 6-inch tall plants maintain a low-growing mounding habit. Colorful and prolific 1¼ inch blooms have light blue petals with a velvety dark blue face that is surrounded by a narrow white border. Earlier and showier blooms provide eye-catching flower power. The vigorous frost-tolerant plants provide a solid mat of fall color until covered with snow. Grow in full sun as a low edging in the garden or in hanging baskets and pots. Image of viola 


Along with these four great flower and bedding plants award winners, there are three vegetable winners- a small pumpkin and two cherry tomato cultivars.

'Hijinks' Pumpkin produces small-sized, 6 to 7 pound fruits with deep orange coloration. They have smooth skin and distinctive side grooves giving the fruits a very classy appearance for fall decorations. Plants are high yielding and will be large, so allow plenty of space in the garden for long vines that spread up to 15 feet. Fruits are early maturing, typically about 100 days from sowing. Pumpkins should be planted after danger of frost has past and soil has warmed to a minimum of 60 F. Locate plants in full sun, leaving 10 feet between rows and 2 to 3 feet between plants within the rows. 'Hijinks' shows good powdery mildew resistance. Fruits are easy to remove from the vines and have excellent stem attachment.  Image of pumpkin
Image of tomato  'Lizzano' Tomato is a vigorous semi-determinate tomato cultivar with a low growing, trailing habit excellent for growing in patio containers or hanging baskets. In the garden, plants benefit from some staking despite their compact and uniform growth habit. Plants grow 16 to 20 inches tall with a compact spread of only 20 inches. Expect abundant yields of high-quality, bright red, baby cherry sized fruits. The small 1-inch fruits weigh about 0.4 ounces. 'Lizzano' is the first Late Blight tolerant, cherry-fruited, semi-determinate tomato on the market. Plentiful fruit set and 'Lizzano's' disease resistance allow for continued harvest later into the growing season. High eating quality, yield and a compact plant habit set this cultivar apart from competitors. Harvest begins 105 days from sowing seed or 63 days from transplant.
Finally 'Terenzo' Tomato is a high yielding, red, cherry-fruited 'Tumbler' type of tomato that is a prolific producer on a tidy low-growing, trailing plant. The round fruit is a standard size cherry having an approximate size of 1¼ inches and an average weight of 0.7 ounces. A brix sugar content of 6.0% ensures this is sweet tasting tomato. With a plant height of only 16 to 20 inches, this compact variety is suitable for growing in hanging baskets or containers as a patio type tomato. This very easy-to-grow determinate bush variety requires little maintenance and produces fruits that are more resistant to cracking. 'Terenzo' is loaded with a bountiful harvest of flavorful, easy-to-pick fruits throughout the summer heat. Image of tomato

Look for these great plants this winter in seed catalogues and this spring at your local nursery. Visit the All-America Selections website for more information on these and past winners.




This month, features include bedding plants, radon testing, woody plants for winter interest, and research on potential for winter income through strawberry production. To view a larger image, right click on the video for options.

Kathleen Cue, UNL Extension, will get us geared up for starting bedding plants. 


Becky Versch, UNL Extension has more information on radon in the homes. 


John Fech, UNL Extension, has ten plants that will provide winter interest for your landscape. Think about these for spring planting! 


Ellen Paparozzi, UNL, tells of research on the costs, best cultivars, and management for winter strawberry production. This has potential for supplemental income if you have a greenhouse.

Possible Types of Gardens for the Acreage
John Fech, UNL Extension Educator

Generally, a garden is a plot of ground on your acreage that is defined in a rectangular or circular shape, but it doesn't necessarily have to be filled with vegetables. One of the benefits of living on a large piece of land is that lots of space is available to create a variety of gardens without the limitations of the size of an urban lot.

Following are some of the possibilities. As you read along, think about various locations on your acreage where they might fit.

Herb Garden
Representative Plants - chives, rosemary, parsley, sage, oregano, lavender, basil and mint are the most common. They have gained lots of popularity with increasing interest in decreasing salt from dietary consumption.

Growing Requirements - most are full sun plants; mint, sage and parsley can take a little shade. Deep fertile soils enriched with compost are the best.

Flower or Cutting Garden
Representative Plants - rose, dahlias, liatris, goldenrod, asclepias (if you singe the cut ends of the stems), dwarf blue mist spirea, sunflower, shasta daisy, boltonia, yarrow and coreopsis. Pink turtlehead, beebalm, gaillardia, gaura and rudbeckia are also quite nice in arrangements. The key to success is planning ahead so that something is in bloom at all times.

Growing Requirements - varies by plant; be sure to read care tags closely.

Edible Landscaping
Representative Plants - blueberry, fall bearing raspberry, cabbage, peppers, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, leeks and beets. All of these are well-behaved and won't go spreading hither and yon throughout ornamental beds.

Growing Requirements - Again, it varies by plant, but almost universally, deep fertile soils enriched with compost are the best.

Rain Gardens
Representative Plants - plumbago, turtlehead, liatris, joe-pye weed, lungwort, obedient plant, lobelia, daylily, aster and beardtongue.

Growing Requirements - properly designed, a rain garden can handle just about any set of conditions that nature throws at it; most are full sun and well drained in nature.

Vegetable Garden
Representative Plants - Here's where room to spread is a plus; veggies such as squash, pumpkins, sweet corn, okra and sweet potato are good options.

Growing Requirements - Deep fertile soils enriched with compost are the best.

In addition to the above, consider specialty gardens that you may have visited on a trip to a historic or landmark destination. Re-creating a facsimile thereof is a great way to customize your acreage landscape and make it your own.

Themed Gardens

  • Based on color (example: white garden at Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville-West)
  • Based on species (rose gardens at Memorial Park, Lauritzen Gardens, Haworth Park)
  • Heirloom garden (Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, IA)
  • Native garden
  • Pioneer garden
  • Historic garden, like Jefferson's garden at Monticello
  • Children's garden 
  • Enabling garden (handicapped accessible)
  • Evaluation garden, for testing new plants
  • Demonstration garden


Bedding Essential for Livestock During Winter
Steve Tonn, UNL Extension Educator

We are in the middle of winter and cold temperatures and moist air place extra stress on livestock. Most livestock are well adapted to cold weather but providing some protection from the wind and the wet ground can make it easier for them to battle the elements.

Most livestock can handle wind chills above 20F without much stress. But to stay healthy, they need a dry place to escape the cold rains, snow, and wind. While natural protection and windbreaks may be adequate, three sided sheds opening away from prevailing winds are the best.

Bedding is essential. It has two functions. It insulates the animal from the snow and ice underneath its body, which prevents hypothermia and frostbite, and lowers the animal's nutritional requirements. Bedding also allows the animal to "snuggle" into it and lowers the body surface area exposed to the wind. Bedding can be placed on bare ground or put in sheds. The important thing is to have adequate bedding and to replace it as needed. Straw, corn stalks, poor quality hay can serve as bedding options.

Providing bedding for livestock will help them perform better in the winter, and the same holds true for our pets. Make sure that their outside housing also has adequate bedding to keep them warm on those cold winter nights.



Considerations When Deciding Whether to Raise Chickens
By Monte Stauffer, UNL Extension Educator

Zoning, covenants, and neighbor relations.
Is your property located in an area where there are legal restrictions from the county or your local housing development? Are there neighbors that will be offended by the possible noise, smell, and flies?

Type of Chicken.
There are 3 basic types of chickens. Meat production broilers grow to 6 to 8 pounds in 6-8 weeks of age. Laying hens begin producing eggs between 5 to 6 months of age and produce about 300 eggs per year. Exotic chickens are mainly grown for their bright colored or strange feathers and for exhibition.

You can produce wholesome, grain-fed, home-raised meat for your family or to sell for profit to increase your income. You can produce eggs for your family or sell for a profit. Chicken raising can provide a job for the family to teach youth responsibilities about animal care and respect, and the food production cycle.

Baby chicks need supplemental heat and protection. Older birds can tolerate cold conditions if they have protection from precipitation and wind. Pens must have protection from predators such as cats, dogs, hawks, owls, possums, and raccoons.

Time and/or Labor Supply.
Chickens require regular feeding and watering once or twice a day. There is a big labor requirement when meat birds are processed and marketed.

Monte Stauffer is the UNL Extension Educator serving Douglas and Sarpy counties. He has been raising broiler chickens for four years on his acreage near Gretna. He raises them for both his families' meat consumption and to sell dressed birds to friends and neighbors.



Beef By-Products: Everything But The Moo
Lindsey Chichster, UNL Extension Educator

Cattle by-products are part of many manufactured goods we use every day. Through the use of beef by-products, we use 99% of every animal - everything except the moo! Animal by-products include everything of economic value (other than meat from the carcass) obtained from animals during harvesting (slaughter) and processing. These products are then classified as either edible or inedible products.

Beef carcass by-products are everywhere in our lives, and each of us have some of these common inedible products in our homes: Ceramics, crayons, deodorants, detergents, dog food, glue, linoleum, paper, shaving cream, sports equipment, soaps, textiles, toothpaste, lipsticks, and fabric softeners! We use many of these products daily - and you may have never known they were a beef by-product! Some edible products that have a beef by-product in them may include: margarine and shortening, chewing gum, certain candies, marshmallows, ice cream, canned meats, and gelatin desserts.

It is estimated that the by-products of an animal would be responsible for approximately 10% of the value of the animal. While the value of by-products is relatively small in comparison to the value of the whole animal, by-products are of considerable economic importance to the entire livestock and meat industry.

Industrial oils and lubricants, tallow for tanning, soaps, lipsticks, face and hand creams, some medicines, and ingredients for explosives are all produced from the inedible fats from beef cattle. Fatty acids are used to make automobile tires run cooler and ultimately last longer. Fatty acids are also used in the production of soaps, detergents, wetting agents, insecticides, herbicides, cutting oils, paints, lubricants, and asphalt. Glycerin is used in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, explosives, cosmetics, transparent wrapping materials, paints, and many other products.
Horns, hooves, and bones also supply important by-products: buttons, bone china, piano keys, glues, fertilizers, neat's-foot-oil, paper, wallpaper, sandpaper, combs, toothbrushes, and violin string. Bone charcoal is used in the production of high grade steel ball bearings.

More than 100 drugs derived from beef by-products which have varied and important tasks. By-products can help make childbirth safer, settle an upset stomach, prevent blood clots in the circulatory system, activate a sluggish thyroid, control anemia, assist diabetics, relieve some symptoms of hay fever and asthma, and help babies digest milk. Through the advancements of technology and science, many of the drugs produced from cattle can now be chemically produced in the laboratory. These procedures are generally less expensive than recovery from animal organs.
Beef by-products also aid in the travel - by land, air, and sea. Fats and proteins are used to make auto and jet lubricants, outboard engine oil, high performance greases, and brake fluid. Antifreeze contains glycerol derived from fat, asphalt contains a binding agent from beef fat, biodiesel and biofuels can be refined from fat and can be used in the place of petroleum products.

Besides providing us with the materials to make these by-products, cattle can also enhance the environment. Cattle have a 4-compartment stomach which allows them to consume and digest all types of vegetation, which is indigestible by humans. They can graze on land that cannot be used for anything else because the terrain is too steep or hilly for building houses, and too rocky or dry for growing crops. When cattle graze they reduce the length of the grass; which is very helpful in reducing the spread of wildfires, since there is less material to burn.
As you can see, we use many of these products daily - without even realizing they are a beef by-product.


Nebraska Pond Management
By Bobbie Holm,UNL Extension Educator

If your acreage includes a pond or you would like to construct a pond, you should check out the Nebraska Pond Management Handbook. It is a publication of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, available online. The thirteen-part Nebraska Pond Management Guide Series, also found at this link, contains essentially the same information but is downloadable by specific topic. The website includes a link to order a free copy of the handbook or you can call your nearest Commission office. Some of the topics covered in Nebraska Pond Management are pond construction, stocking, managing a bass/bluegill/catfish pond, managing plants in your pond, and fish kills. Great information to help you enjoy your pond.



In The News - Chromium in Drinking Water
By Sharon Skipton, UNL Extension Educator

Several news reports during the past month have focused on chromium in drinking water, including the fact that it is present in Omaha's drinking water supply. This may have you wondering about your private well water. If so, the following information, taken from fact sheets developed and provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) may help.

Chromium is used in some industrial processes. It is also a naturally occurring element found in some rock, soil, groundwater, and surface water. The most stable forms are Cr-3 (the most stable and an essential nutrient used by our bodies) and Cr-6 (a powerful oxidant.)

The EPA has set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for total chromium in public drinking water at 100 parts per billion (ppb.) This includes all forms of chromium (Cr-3 and Cr-6). The regulation does not require differentiation between Cr-3 and Cr-6. An MCL is the highest level of a contaminant that is allowed in public drinking water. MCLs are enforceable standards that are set as close to a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal as feasible, using the best available treatment technology and taking cost into consideration.

The Metropolitan Utilities District (Omaha) currently monitors on a monthly basis for total chromium. The levels of total chromium vary between less than 1 ppb to 7.1 ppb throughout the year. This level is significantly lower than the MCL of 100 ppb. Nebraska DHHS public water systems director Jack Daniel said none of Nebraska's nearly 1,300 public drinking water systems in 600 communities had chromium levels near the federal standard.

You may wonder, then, what prompted the recent media buzz and the focus on Omaha. On December 20, 2010 the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report on the presence of one form of chromium, Cr-6 (hexavalent chromium), in 35 cities throughout the country including Omaha. The EWG report indicated drinking water in Omaha contained 1.07 ppb of Cr-6 at the time of testing. New science in 2008 showed a link between Cr-6 ingestion and cancer. However, risk assessments of potential health threats from long-term exposure to low levels of Cr-6 in drinking water have not been finalized.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said they are working to address Cr-6 in drinking water. Steps include working with state and local officials to better determine how wide-spread and prevalent Cr-6 is. EPA will offer monitoring and testing technical expertise and assistance to the communities cited in the EWG study with the highest levels of chromium. When the Cr-6 risk assessment is finalized, EPA will determine if new standards need to be established to address potential health risks associated with Cr-6.

If people are concerned, treatment at the tap can be used to reduce chromium levels. NSF International is a nonprofit group that tests water treatment systems. NSF reports that chromium levels can be reduced with reverse osmosis technology. Other, less common technologies are also available. Water treatment equipment should be professionally installed and maintained according to the manufacturer'. instructions.



Perennial Garden Crops - Asparagus, Rhubarb and Horseradish
By Vaughn Hammond, UNL Extension Educator - Specialty Crops

Planning is key when you are thinking about planting perennial garden crops. Asparagus, horseradish and rhubarb can conceivably be in the same area productively for 15 years or longer. Where these crops fit into your property is very important in this long term relationship. Each of the crops require full sun, well drained soil that is high in organic matter and an area that will be dedicated to their long term cultivation.

Asparagus is one of the first harvests of spring. It is a high valued crop and considered a gourmet vegetable. It has long been an acreage staple and you can find remnants of its popularity in ditches and abandoned farmsteads across the Midwest.

Bed preparation is one of the most important aspects of producing an abundant asparagus harvest. Asparagus roots can grow up to 6 feet deep in the soil. Hard pans, shallow soils and high water tables all adversely affect the long term productiveness of asparagus plants.

The bed site should be in full sun and the soil well drained. Asparagus plants respond well to good amounts of organic matter. When preparing the bed incorporate 50- 100 pounds of aged manure and 3-4 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer for each 100 square feet of bed. The soil should be worked and the amendments incorporated as deep as possible within reason.

Asparagus plants will be shipped to you as dormant crowns. The dormant crowns are planted in trenches that should be approximately 6 inches deep for lighter soils and no more than 4 inches deep for heavier soils. Place the dormant crowns in the bottom of the trench and space the crowns 12 to 18 inches apart. In the past it has been recommended that the crowns be covered lightly and as the plants grow, backfilling the trenches gradually. Research has shown that this is not necessary. Backfill the trenches fully after planting but do not firm the soil in. Leave it loose, allowing for the easy emergence of the spears. Keep the soil moist while the new spears emerge. Rows should be 5 feet apart.

It is important to let the asparagus bed establish itself before you begin harvesting spears. Avoid the temptation to harvest any spears for the first year which allows the plant time to become stronger. The second year you can harvest lightly for 3-4 weeks. This allows for continued bed establishment and sets the stage for a long term, productive asparagus bed. Year 3 and beyond the harvest period can be increased to 6-8 weeks depending on the vigor of the bed. Harvest generally begins sometime in April depending on the year. It is important to harvest the spears regularly when they reach 6-8 inches in height. As spears become longer and the fern-like foliage begins to unfurl the stems become very woody. Harvest by cutting or snapping spears off at ground level. Cutting spears off below the ground surface can result in damage to nearby spears that are approaching emergence.

Rhubarb is another perennial vegetable that has a long history of acreage cultivation. It is not as popular as asparagus but a few plants will provide many long, red stalks that can be used in pies, juices and preserves. The stalks are actually the leaf petiole. The leaf itself is toxic and should never be eaten.

As with asparagus, planning is important. Full sun and well drained soil high in organic matter are important for success. A healthy rhubarb plant can become very large so establishing it in an area that it will not be in the way is critical. It is not uncommon for a healthy rhubarb plant to be 3-4 feet across.

Allow at least one square yard at a minimum for each plant. Soil preparation begins by tilling and/or forking the area to a depth of 12-18 inches allowing for easy rooting. Amend the area with compost or composted manure and a cup of 5-10-10 fertilizer for each plant. Rhubarb is most commonly planted as dormant crowns or potted plants. Plant dormant crowns in April when the ground is workable, no deeper than 2-3 inches and press the soil firmly around them and water in. As the crown begins to grow add 3-4 inches of mulch such as straw or compost to help conserve water and control weeds. If planting potted plants, wait until after the last frost in spring to plant. Plant to the depth of the original pot and apply mulch.

It is important to keep the soil moist throughout the growing season. Rhubarb is also a heavy feeder and responds well to an annual fertilizer application of about 1 cup of 5-10-10 in the spring and a follow-up application midsummer. It is especially important for the mid summer application that the plant not be water stressed so make sure it has plenty moisture available to it prior to the fertilizer application.

Plant establishment is again very important in the long term production of rhubarb. Removing the flower stalks as they appear diverts the energy needed for seed production back to the plant. To further establishment, the first harvest should not take place until year 2 and then only a few stalks should be harvested in order for the plant to become well established. After the third year heavier harvests can be taken May through June or until the stalks begin to become slender indicating it is time for the plant to rest and regain some strength. No more than 1/3 to ½ of the plant's stalks should be harvested to leave enough foliage to keep the crown healthy.

Horseradish is characterized as an herb rather than a vegetable. Horseradish was among the first plants that the colonists brought with them from their homeland. Most homesteads included a "patch" of horseradish that was used as a condiment with many meat dishes. By 1840 horseradish had escaped the confines of the garden and grew wild near Boston, Massachusetts.

Home production of horseradish differs greatly from commercial product. Commercially, horseradish is treated as an annual and planted in the early spring and the roots harvested that fall. In a non-commercial setting, horseradish is generally planted in a bed and that bed is maintained for several years.

Horseradish prefers a deep, well drained soil high in organic matter. When preparing the bed work in a 3-4 inch layer of compost or composted manure to a depth of 10-12 inches. If you are using a commercial fertilizer, work in 1 pound of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet of bed.

Propagation takes place using root pieces. Plant the root pieces as soon as the soil conditions will allow in April. Horseradish will easily grow from even the smallest piece of root but for the best results, plant root pieces that are ½ inch in diameter and 8-12 inches long. This will become the Mother root. Plant spacing should be 18-24 inches apart and leave 30 inches between rows. Cover the top of the root with 2-3 inches of soil. Once plant growth begins, mulch the area with 3-4 inches of compost or straw to help control weeds and conserve moisture. The greatest amount of root growth occurs during the late summer and early fall. Measures need to be taken during this critical period to control weeds and provide adequate water for root development.

Fall harvest can begin after the tops have been killed by frost in late October or November. Spring harvest should take place as soon as new growth begins. Harvest can be accomplished in two different manners. First, you can dig the whole plant and harvest all the roots. Save the largest roots to replant the following spring. The second method of harvest is to dig down along side the plant and harvest the roots that have developed off the mother root. The best quality roots are the new younger roots that have developed that year. Roots that are 2 years old and older lose their tenderness and become woody and stringy.