Jan 2013

Life Outside the City Limits

Collage of January 2013 Images

So You're Considering an Orchard
By Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Are you thinking about planting a couple apple trees next spring, so that you can harvest your own fruit in a couple years? Growing blemish-free, grocery store-like fruits is a lot of work, and a goal that most home orchardists never achieve, so don't be fooled into thinking that growing fruits is easy. Fruits are one of the most difficult types of plants to grow well.

There are important considerations you should explore about home orchards before starting, beginning with the amount of work the orchard will require. Carefully consider how much time you are willing to devote to maintaining your plantings. Then if you decide to move forward, realize that serious planning, careful plant selection, and a lot of work will be needed to get your plants established and producing tasty fruit.

Site Selection
Effects of many pest problems can be reduced if several things are considered prior to buying and planting fruit trees.

One of the most important factors for success is selection of a site suitable for growing fruits. Fruits generally prefer full sunlight, at least 6 hours of direct sun each day, and moist but well-drained soil, having a pH of 6.0-6.5. Avoid low spots in the landscape, where cold air collects and frost occurs most frequently.

Image of dwarf apple tree


Image of a dwarf apple tree with a support system.

North facing slopes, due to their greater exposure to cold north winds and reduced sun exposure caused by the low sun angle in winter and spring, help to delay spring flower development, and minimize the effects of late spring frosts on flower buds. This makes north facing slopes a good option for frost sensitive fruits. South facing slopes have the opposite effect, and are a good planting site for late spring blooming apples and pears. East and west facing slopes have intermediate effects.

During drought years, be sure new plantings are located near a water source. If drought conditions are severe, consider waiting to plant your orchard in future years after dry conditions have passed.

If site and environmental conditions are not ideal for establishing and growing fruits, plants will be stressed resulting in greater susceptibility to pest and disease problems. Additionally, fruit quality will likely be poor when plants begin producing.

Image of fallen apple tree

Tree failure may result from extra heavy fruit load on a  tree with a low-vigor root system.

Plant Selection
Which is better- standard, semi-dwarf, or dwarf sized trees? In most cases, semi-dwarf or dwarf trees are easiest for the home orchardist to maintain and harvest. Dwarf trees range in height from 5-10 feet tall, semi-dwarf trees from 8-15 feet tall, and standard trees mature at about 20 feet tall. A new type of plant is the ultra-dwarf, which tops out at 3-4 feet tall.

Most fruit trees are grafted, and the rootstock used will determine the tree's ultimate height. The rootstock can also affect disease resistance or susceptibility; tolerance to winter cold, drought and wet soil; earliness or lateness of fruit bearing; and vigor of the tree's root system. Semi-dwarf, dwarf and ultra-dwarf trees may require staking for additional support, due to heavy fruit loads the tree may not be able to physically support.

Next, select fruit cultivars that are disease resistant. The term "cultivar" is a contraction of the words "cultivated variety", and refers to any type of plant that was created through human manipulation. Almost all the plants grown in the home orchard are cultivars, not naturally occurring plant species. Make sure your plant selections are hardy in your zone; check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map if you're not sure of your zone.  For more information on selecting fruits, refer to the following publications.

Does your fruit require a pollinator? Generally speaking, those trees that are self-incompatible, requiring a separate pollinator include apples, include most pears & plums, and sweet cherries. Tree fruits that are self-fruitful include tart cherries and most peaches, apricots, and nectarines. However, having a second pollinator tree in place, even with self-fruitful trees, can increase overall pollination and maximize yield.

Purchasing Plants
Large is not always better; a tree 3-4 feet in height is much easier to establish than a taller tree. Furthermore, most fruit trees should be cut-back to a 2-3 foot height when planted, and the new growth trained. Planting a smaller tree also reduces stress on the root system during the establishment years, allowing the tree to become better established more quickly.

When purchasing plants, buy from a reputable supplier with high quality plants, and make sure all plants are disease and insect free. Mail order plants should be inspected when they arrive to make sure the roots have not been allowed to become dry.

Caring for New Plantings
Regular maintenance of your fruit plantings is required to keep them growing vigorously and keep pests at bay. Here is a short list of the tasks required by the home orchard. Before planting, consider how much time you want to spend maintaining your home orchard.

  • Maintain a grass and weed-free area around each plant. Plants should be mulched with 3 inches of wood chips after planting. Maintain this mulch ring throughout the plant's life, to eliminate lawn mower damage and minimize grass competition around the base of the trunk.
  • Water plantings when your orchard receives less than 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Apply water deeply, moistening the top 18-24 inches of the soil, approximately twice a month, but the amount of water plants need and the frequency of applications will vary based on weather conditions. Consider installing a drip irrigation system with each new planting to make watering easier.
  • Fruit trees need to be properly trained and annually pruned so that sunlight can penetrate through the tree. Pruning should also be done to remove damaged and diseased wood and to stimulate new growth.
  • Inspect trees for developing insect and disease problems, and control as necessary. Removing all mummified fruits that remain in the tree following harvest will help to reduce disease pressure the following year.
  • Fertilize to maintain proper tree growth. The goal of fertilization is to produce adequate tree growth to support a quality fruit crop, not to produce excessive tree growth.

Disease and Insect Control
Disease and insect pests are one of the main obstacles in growing home fruits. The extent of disease or insect injury varies greatly from year to year depending primarily on environmental conditions, and cultivar pest resistance. In some years it may be possible to grow acceptable fruit without the use of pesticides, but in most years a few well-timed insecticide and fungicide sprays are needed.

Conditions favoring disease development or insect occurrence varies for each particular disease or insect. However, in general, warm, rainy or damp conditions are very conducive for the development of tree fruit diseases.

Even under exactly the same site and environmental conditions, certain fruits are more likely to have problems than are others. Stone fruits, nectarine, peach, cherry & plum, generally require more care than pome fruits, apple and pear. A spectrum of tree fruits, from those requiring the most care, to those requiring the least, is nectarine, peach, cherry, plum, apple, and pear.

There are specific times of the year when each pest can most easily be controlled. Plan to apply fungicide and/or insecticide at the right time of year for each pest that is a problem in your planting. For more information on common pests of the home orchard, refer to Fruit Spray Schedules for the Homeowner, University of Missouri Extension.




Happy New Year! And what better way to spend the winter months than on planning and preparing for spring and summer! This month features information on health and hygiene, electric fencing, and bees.

Sarah Browning, University of Nebraska - Extension tells of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) regarding health and hygiene.


Electric fencing can be useful for temporary pastures or rotational grazing for your animals. Jan Hygnstrom explains the materials and considerations when setting up temporary fencing.


Erin Ingram, University of Nebraska, tells of some basics and benefits for those thinking of keeping bees. 


Another video by Erin Ingram was one of three finalists in the 2012 Entomology Society of America's YouTube contest. Erin and filmmaker Andrew Ivanhoe cover some simple ways to care for native bees and other pollinators by enhancing their food selection and defending their habitats. 

Plant with Winter Interest in Mind
By John Fech, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

One of the best things about an acreage is having the room to try a variety of plants in the landscape. At this time of the year, plants that offer the appeal of color or texture are welcome in the traditional Nebraska winter landscape.

Collage of plants with winter interest
Collage of plants with winter interest
From left to right, and top to bottom- Holly (Ilex x meserveae), Birch bark (Betula nigra), Concolor fir needles (Abies concolor), Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea),cascade juniper (Juniperus horizontalis), 'Emerald Gaiety' Euonymus (Euonymus fortunei).

Though they may struggle in severe winters, evergreen shrubs such as boxwood or 'Emerald Gaity' Euonymous offset the drab, usually brown colors of traditional landscape plants, with green or green and white foliage. Evergreen trees such as spruce, white fir, and pines provide color appeal as well.

Actually, one of the foundational principles that landscape designers are taught early on in their careers is to incorporate at least one evergreen or winter interest plant into every design they create. In this way, their clients will reap the benefits of a finished product multi-season appeal.

For a spin on a traditional display, try a cascading or rug juniper instead of the common upright shrub. Again, it's a great way to embrace the tried and true concept of Right Plant, Right Place.



Learn to Develop Your Small Farm Business
By Warren Kittler, Community CROPS Farm Program Manager

Do you have a small farm dream? Are you interested in taking your love of gardening to a farmers' market stall? Do you already have a small farm, but you could use some fresh ideas to increase your profitability?

The Growing Farmers Workshops is designed for you. This workshop series will help you plan a successful small farm business, and you will get connected to resources to make your plans a reality. The Community CROPS Growing Farmers Workshops cover topics such as:

Image of 2012 CROPs Farmers

2012 workshop participants
visit Robinette Farms in Martell


  • Crop Planning
  • Organic Certification
  • Business Planning
  • Field Management
  • Community Supported Agriculture
  • Managing Risk
  • Marketing
  • and much more!

This workshop series includes five tours of small farms in the Lincoln area, and workshop panels will connect you with people and organizations who will support your business. Though this workshop is focused on vegetable production, the skills are easily transferable to any small farm business, from fruit to livestock to value-added products.

The classes begin on January 19, and the registration deadline is January 15. Cost is $350 per person or $500 per farm. To register, please visit the CROPS website: www.communitycrops.org/farm If you have any questions, please email Warren at warren@communitycrops.org.



Winter Livestock Care
By Steve Tonn, UNL Livestock Educator

Image of cattle in snowRain, sleet, snow, ice, freezing temperatures - winter can be a real struggle for four legged animals. Most livestock are well adapted to cold weather, but sick, elderly, or young animals and those under unusual stress are more susceptible.

Most livestock can handle wind chills about 20°F without much stress. But, to stay healthy, they need a dry place to escape cold rains, wet snow, and wind.

While natural protection and windbreaks may be adequate, three sided sheds opening away from prevailing winds are best. Allow enough room for livestock to lie down safely without being trampled or smothered. The larger the animal the more room they will need. Good, clean, dry bedding insulates livestock from the cold ground, which draws away body heat.

Food & Water
Feeding good quality hay or alfalfa to ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas) and horses is effective for body heat production during cold weather. Body heat is generated when these animals are digesting these feedstuffs. During cold weather, animals will need to eat more to maintain their body condition.

One of the most important considerations for winter feeding is adequate water. Water is essential for digestion, which produces heat in fiber breakdown. Do not assume that livestock can meet their water needs by eating snow - to get enough water, eating snow would take most of their feeding time. Ingesting large quantities of snow also reduces the core body temperature.

Water above 40°F is ideal to ensure good consumption. Automatic water units are best; if that is not possible, be sure to provide water several times a day. In freezing temperatures, you will need to break ice or provide fresh water periodically if you don't have a tank heater.

Image of sheep in snowy pastureMud
All too often, where there are animals in the winter, there is mud. Feeding in muddy locations increases the amount of feed wastage. Mud makes foot and hoof diseases more likely. Livestock walking on frozen muddy ground are more susceptible to foot and leg injuries. With good management and planning, the negative environmental and animal health aspects of mud can be minimized.

The best winter practice is to make sure that your livestock is in good condition before cold weather hits. Addressing the nutritional, environmental and health needs of livestock in the winter will help to ensure optimal animal welfare and performance.

For more information checkout the following resources:



Small Scale Poultry Housing
By Phillip Clauer, Virginia Cooperative Extension Poultry Specialist

Image of chickenSmall scale poultry coops seem to be built in almost every possible shape and size. Those building a new coop often ask for plans for the perfect chicken coop. However, few plans for small poultry houses are available. Many existing buildings can easily be adapted to accommodate poultry. Poultry housing can be as crude or elaborate as you wish to build as long as you provide the following:

1. Protection: A good poultry house protects the birds from the elements (weather), predators, injury and theft.

Poultry require a dry, draft-free house. This can be accomplished by building a relatively draft free house with windows and/or doors which can be opened for ventilation when necessary. Build the coop on high, well-drained areas. This prevents prolonged dampness and water saturation of the floor of the coop and outside runs. Face the front of the coop, the windows and outside run to the south which allows the sun to warm and dry the coop and soil. Allowing an adequate level of space per bird also helps keep the humidity level in the coop to a minimum.

Keeping poultry totally confined to together with fence and covered runs are your best protection from predators. If you are building a new facility, consider laying a concrete floor, and start the wall with one or two concrete blocks. This prevents rodents, snakes, and predators from digging under the walls and the floors. Windows and doors must be securely covered with heavy-gauge mesh wire or screening when opened.

With outside runs, bury the wire along the pen border at least 12" deep, and toe the fence outward about 6 inches. This stops most predators from digging under the fence. Animals always dig at the base of a fence. By toeing the fence outward and burying it, the predator digs down right into more fencing. Some people run electric fencing around the outside of their pens 4" off the ground about one foot from the main fence to discourage predators. If your outside runs are not predator-proof, you need to lock up your poultry before dark.

To prevent problems with hawks and owls, cover your outside runs with mesh wire or netting. A good ground cover of millet, broomcorn, sorghum or other tall leafy vegetation also provides cover for the birds to hide under. Many times a 3-4 ft. grid over the pen constructed of boiling twine will give excellent protection from flying predators.

To protect the birds from theft, lock your building and pens securely whenever you are not home. Have your neighbors watch for visitors while you are away. Some people actually have burglar alarms in their bird coops. A protective dog kept near your coop usually works well to discourage predators and unwanted visitors.

Build your poultry house to prevent possible injury to your birds. Remove any loose or ragged wire, nails, or other sharp-edged objects from the coop. Eliminate all areas other than perches where the birds could perch more than 4 feet above the floor. Remove perching areas such as window sills, nest box tops, or electric cords whenever possible. These extra measures could eliminate any injury to you or your birds and may prevent damage to the coop, as well.




Follow Title 124 Setbacks If Planning Additions or Improvements
By Sharon Skipton, UNL Extension Water Quality Educator, and Jan Hygnstrom, Extension Project Manager

Acreage residents often spend winter months thinking about, and making plans for future improvements and additions to their property. As plans are made, it is important to remember required setback distances to the septic system.

Title 124 Setback Requirement Changes
Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Title 124, "Rules and Regulations for the Design, Operation, and Maintenance of Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems" addresses septic system design, location, installation, and maintenance. Minimum distances between various features and the septic tank and drainfield, called setback distances, are required to protect the environment and human health. Amendments to Title 124 were approved and took effect August 11, 2012. Some of those changes involve setback distances.

Image of contractor locating septic drain field

Certified professional probing to locate septic drainfield.

A typical septic system includes a septic tank and a drainfield. The system design must also include a reserve area where a new drainfield could be installed if the original drainfield were to fail. There may be old septic systems in Nebraska that were designed and installed before reserve areas were required. Even though it wasn't required, it would be a good idea to voluntarily identify a reserve area for an older system in case a replacement is ever needed.

Preliminary treatment of wastewater occurs in the septic tank. Effluent flows from the tank to the drainfield, where it moves into the soil. Final treatment occurs in the soil below the drainfield. The treated wastewater is recycled into the environment, usually to groundwater.

For the system to work properly and be accessible for maintenance, no structures can be added directly over the septic tank or over the existing or reserve drainfield area. This includes sidewalks, patios, driveways, garages, storage buildings, etc. In addition, the following minimum setback distances must be maintained.

Any new surface water structure such as a pond must be at least 50 feet from the tank and drainfield as well as drainfield reserve areas.

All new wells, including those for household use, livestock, irrigation, heat pumps, etc. must be at least 50 feet from the tank and 100 feet from both drainfield areas.

Impermeable surfaces or covers such as parking areas, driveways, sidewalks, patios, etc. must be at least 5 feet from the tank and both drainfield areas.

If adding on to living quarters in a home, the basement foundation or a slab-on-grade foundation where any portion of your living quarters will be lower in elevation than the septic system must remain at least 15 feet from the tank and 30 feet from drainfield areas. If the foundation will be slab-on-grade where living quarters will be higher in elevation than the septic system, distances of 10 feet from the tank and 20 feet from the drainfield areas must be maintained.

If a new shed or garage is in the future, the slab-on-grade foundation for a building that won't be used as living quarters must be at least 7 feet from the tank and 10 feet from the drainfield areas. If an in-ground swimming pool is on the wish list, it must remain at least 15 feet from the tank and 30 feet from both drainfield areas. If the pool will be above-ground, but will be lower in elevation than the septic system, the 15-foot and 30-foot setbacks mentioned above are required. If the above-ground pool will be higher in elevation than the septic system, setbacks are reduced to 10 feet from the tank and 20 feet from drainfield areas.

The minimum required setbacks are designed to protect your family's health. Greater setback distances provide even greater protection. As home additions and improvements are considered, check to be sure all required setbacks will be met.



"Recipe for Healthier Living with Food & Fitness" Webinar Series, Begins February 5th
By Lisa Franzen-Castle, UNL Extension Nutrition Specialist

Image of women exercising in poolFinding the right ingredients for staying fit and healthy can be challenging, which foods to eat more of, which to eat less of? How much physical activity is required and what kind?

Helping Nebraskans find that recipe for success is the goal of a seven-week program sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension beginning in February. "Recipe for Healthier Living with Food & Fitness" is a series of weekly interactive sessions to be broadcast on the World Wide Web on Tuesdays in February and March.

Participants can watch the classes live, or as recorded presentations anytime their schedules allow. They can participate from home, organize their own groups, or join groups that will be participating at some Extension offices around the state. Registration starts now and will continue until January 22.

"Recipe for Healthier Living with Food & Fitness" is designed to help build skills that adults need for healthy living. Participants will learn about goal setting and tools for tracking progress, healthier beverages and snacks, fitting in fiber, the real scoop on sugar, becoming sodium savvy, facts about fat, meal planning, and how to be more physically active.

"You can take the class alone; get together with co-workers or friends; or a combination of both, depending on your schedule," said Lisa Franzen-Castle, UNL Extension Nutrition Specialist. "It is a great worksite wellness class that can be taken over the noon hour."

"Recipe for Healthier Living with Food & Fitness" will consist of weekly webinars each Tuesday from noon until 1 p.m. CST for seven weeks (Feb. 5 through March 19, 2013). Recorded sessions will be available for those who want to watch it later at their convenience.

Either way, all that's required is a computer with an internet connection and a web browser, such as Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. The on-line sessions use the Adobe Connect platform, where participants in the live webinars can submit questions to instructors and interact with other participants. There will also be on-line support where participants can post their thoughts and interact with instructors and other participants and have access to handouts, links and additional resources.

There is a fee. Space is limited and after Jan. 22, 2013, the registration fee increases. On-line registration is available at go.unl.edu/healthyliving. Registration forms and a list of Extension offices and other community sites that will host groups can be found at /fnh/food_fitness.

Lisa Franzen-Castle said people who have taken earlier classes have listed some of the benefits they received. Examples:

  • "... educational, engaging and very affordable. It was a great foundation for life-long changes."
  • "I would recommend UNL extension programs to everyone! I have found them very informative as a childcare provider and parent. What I like best is that I can do it from home and don't have to go anywhere to learn more about health, safety and nutrition."
  • "I really liked doing the program on-line. I work from 5:30a.m. til 11:00 p.m. and every other weekend. So when the kids are a sleep at night, is when I do the programs."
  • "Very informative program, and you get the feeling you are one big group going for the same goal."
  • "A great program where you learn how to manage a lifestyle with food and exercise plus meeting some wonderful people who are also participating."
  • "The information was very useful and when the presenters shared their personal ideas, goals and struggles with us, it was great. It just wasn't our little group with our goals and struggles; it was others across the state."

Recipe for Healthier Living with Food & Fitness is a wellness program for adults that is interactive, convenient, and flexible, has lots of variety, and can be a little or a lot depending on what you want.