May 2011

Life Outside the City Limits

May Newsletter Header Collage of Images

Keys to Success - Drip Irrigation, Compost and Mulch
By John Fech, UNL Extension Educator

If you're contemplating a veggie venture on your acreage this year, remember the basics of irrigation, soil improvements and weed control.

All plants utilize water for growth and development. Because water is a precious resource, it's wise to design the plot to meet the needs of the veggies, but with conservation in mind. The most effective way to accomplish both goals is through the use of drip irrigation. This technique places a small amount of water at the base of the growing plants instead of the rows between plants where it can encourage weed growth or the air where it can evaporate and be lost.

Image of Drip Irrigation in Strawberries

Image of Drip Irrigation in Onions
Drip irrigation saves water, money and time. Photo Credit: John C. Fech, UNL

Soil Improvements
Many of the soils in the Midwest are not well suited for growing veggies due to one or more deficiencies. Conduct a soil test to determine which factors - pH, N, P, K, soluble salts, micronutrients - are not in healthy ranges and modify the soil accordingly.

One of the most common deficiencies is a lack of organic matter and low microbial activity. Both of these problems can be greatly improved through incorporation of liberal amounts of compost.  

Image of Compost Pile

Another name for compost is black gold.
Photo Credit: John C. Fech, UNL

Mulch Image

Mulch suppresses weed growth and retains valuable soil moisture.
Photo credit: John C. Fech, UNL

Weed Control
Soil scientists estimate that the average cubic foot of soil contains between 10,000 and 40,000 weed seeds! Suppress weed seed germination through application of mulch - wood chips, ground corncobs, straw, grass clippings, etc. A 2 inch layer will suffice for most veggie crops. A word of caution: the "woodier" that the mulch material is, the more nitrogen it will take from the soil during the normal conversion of carbon to humus. If fresh wood mulch is used, add nitrogen in light but frequent applications to make up for this loss.

Grassy Weeds in Strawberries

Weeds can rob the soil of nutrients, moisture and space for the desirable plants.
Photo credit: John C. Fech, UNL

Henbit Weeds

Weed seedlings are inevitable; suppress them with mulch.
Photo credit: John C. Fech, UNL

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Winter and the snows are now behind us! As we look toward spring and summer, here are some timely shows on safe foods, pastures, rain gardens, and safe pesticide storage.

Planning a graduation celebration? Nancy Urbanec, UNL Extension tells how to handle foods safely for crowds.


Sara Ellicott, UNL Extension, describes some legumes, and warm and cool season grasses used for pasture in Nebraska.


Rain gardens are a great way to deal with stormwater, as well as beautify your yard, according to Bobbi Holm, UNL Extension.


Pierce Hansen, UNL Extension has 10 tips for safe pesticide storage to reduce risk to people and the environment.

Resources for Horse Owners
By Sara Ellicott, UNL Extension Educator

Image of a FoalThere are some excellent resources for horse owners who want to learn how to manage the increasing costs of owning a horse. Kathy Anderson, UNL Extension Equine Specialist, planned a series of webinars for producers this past winter. For those of you who missed the opportunity to join these live, but still have an interest in this valuable information, the webinars have been archived, so you can click on the link to watch the entire presentation.

Topics covered during the webinar series were:

Each of these are timely topics to horse owners, and provides great information and resources about management, particularly during some challenging times.

To view the list of webinars, click here.

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Growing Asparagus in the Home Garden
By Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator

Asparagus Spears ImageAsparagus is a well-loved spring vegetable, offering one of the earliest signs for winter's end and the beginning of a new growing season. It's not difficult to grow and once established can be harvested for many years. Plantings may be productive for 15 years or more with proper establishment and care.

Site Selection & Preparation
Because asparagus is one of the few perennial plants found in the vegetable garden and will be growing on the same site for many years, choose a location in the garden carefully. Asparagus grows well on almost any soil, as long as it is deep, well drained and preferably has a soil pH range of 6.5-7.5. Water logged soils will lead to root rot, and since mature plant root systems are at least 6 feet deep, also avoid sites with shallow water tables. Pick a site at the side or end of the vegetable garden, where plants won't be disturbed by tilling and to avoid shading shorter vegetables during the growing season.

It's worthwhile to take the time to prepare the soil deeply and amend with organic matter, which will increase the water holding capacity of sandy soils and improve water drainage in heavy soil. Till or spade 3 to 4 inches of compost into the soil at a depth of 8 to 10 inches. At the same time, incorporate 2 lbs. per 100 sq. ft. of a general purpose fertilizer, such as 10-10-10 or 12-12-12.

Finally, weed control is a common problem in the asparagus bed. Be sure to kill all perennial weeds in the area before planting. Mulch, plus pre- and post emergent herbicides can be used for long term weed control in years to come.

Plant Selection
Asparagus is planted from crowns, which are one-year old dormant root systems. Choose a male cultivar, such as 'Jersey Supreme', 'Jersey Giant' or 'UC 157', for the highest yield. Female cultivars like 'Mary Washington', 'Martha Washington', or 'Purple Passion' will fewer, thicker stems and a lower total yield due to energy diverted to seed production. Plus seedling asparagus plants can become a weed problem when using female cultivars.

Don't plant until the soil is at least 50 degrees. When the time is right for planting, dig a trench approximately 6 inches deep and 12 to 18 inches wide. Space rows 4 to 5 feet apart. Spread 1 lb. of triple super phosphate (0-46-0) per 50 feet of row in the bottom of each trench. Place the crowns bud side up in the trench about 1½ feet apart, spreading the roots out across the trench.

Traditionally, the crowns are then covered with 2 inches of soil. When new shoots emerge, 2 additional inches are added being careful to keep some of the new growth exposed. This process is repeated until the soil is filled to the top of the trench. While most people still plant asparagus this way, new studies have shown that this is not necessary and the planting trench can be completely filled with soil after planting. Either way, do not compact the soil over the crowns.

Water the new planting thoroughly. Once established, asparagus is quite drought tolerant, but additional irrigation may be needed during the establishment year based on this summer's rainfall.

Do not harvest any spears from your asparagus plants during the first year. Plants may be harvested lightly, for about 3 weeks, during the second year. Harvest when the spears are 6 to 10 inches above the ground but before the heads open, by cutting or snapping the spears off at the soil line.

The third year plants may be harvested for 6 to 8 weeks. Stop harvesting anytime the majority of spears are less than 3/8" diameter.

Asparagus Weed Control

Controlling weeds in a home or acreage asparagus planting can be difficult, but it is a necessary step toward maintaining a high-yielding planting. Since asparagus is a perennial crop, it's not possible for home gardeners to till or plow the planting area to eliminate weeds. However, there are several other techniques that can help to successfully control problem weeds.

Asparagus overwinters each year as a dormant crown of roots, with all the summer's foliage and stems dying back to the crown. If planted correctly, the crown is initially located approximately 6-8 inches deep in the soil, but it will grow each year enlarging in both width and height; meaning that an asparagus crown can expand upward in the soil profile over time. It's important to keep this depth in mind and the fact that no living growth remains above ground during the dormant season as we look various methods of control.

Mechanical Control
In small plantings, mechanical removal of weeds can be accomplished by hoeing. This is easy to do in early spring, before new spears begin to emerge, without danger of damage to the plants. In larger plantings very shallow tilling, only about 3 to 4 inches deep, will help eliminate weeds in early spring before new growth begins.

Cultural Control
Mulch, in conjunction with hoeing or tilling, helps maintain your weed control. Apply 3 to 4 inches of an organic mulch, such as wood chips, grass clippings, compost or clean straw. It will prevent germination of new weeds, minimize soil temperature fluctuations in summer and help preserve soil moisture.

Herbicidal Weed Control
Applications of a pre-emergent herbicide can be used to control annual weeds, like crabgrass and foxtail, in the asparagus planting. One product, which has the added benefit of being organic, is corn gluten meal and can be found in Preen Vegetable Garden Weed Preventer, as well as other products. Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of corn processing and contains 10% nitrogen, along with its pre-emergent properties. Apply it every four weeks at labeled rates throughout the asparagus planting, but be careful not to apply it to other areas of the vegetable garden where you will be planting seeds.

Post emergent weed control can be achieved with glyphosate and paraquat, both non-selective herbicides with no soil residual activity that can be used in asparagus. Glyphosate is systemic and works best at controlling perennial weeds. It can be broadcast over the entire planting area in early spring before new asparagus grown emerges or after the last harvest. Snap all spears 1/2 inch below the soil line, so no spears are above ground, then overspray the planting area.

Paraquat is a contact, non-systemic herbicide that kills the growing shoots of weeds. It works best for controlling newly emerging annual weeds in early spring before your asparagus has started to grow.

When using herbicide, always read and follow the label directions for personal protective equipment and application rates.  Pay special attention to the pre-harvest interval, or the amount of time you must wait after a pesticide application before harvesting again.

Do Not Use Salt!
An old recommendation for asparagus weed control involved the application of salt, by pouring the salty water from an ice cream maker on the asparagus patch. This provided some weed control because asparagus is deep-rooted and has a higher sodium tolerance than some common weeds. However, salt quickly destroys soil structure resulting in pour water penetration in the soil and will eventually kill the asparagus, too, or move out into nearby sections of your vegetable garden and kill other less salt tolerant vegetables.

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Feeding Newly Baled Hay to Horses
By Kathy Anderson, UNL Extension Horse Specialist

Horse Eating HayAny hay that has been properly cured and dried before being baled should be stable and can be fed as soon as needed. There are no nutritional advantages to storing hay for weeks or months prior to use. Hay actually loses some of its nutritional value when stored for long periods of time.

If a nutrient analysis is to be done on the hay, it is suggested to wait about 17 days after baled before the samples are taken. Depending on the moisture content of the hay, it may "sweat" and a more accurate analysis can be obtained after this 17-day period. It is more important to be assured the hay was "put up" correctly. One of the most critical factors of field-cured hay--hay that is left out in the field to dry after is has been cut--are weather conditions that may influence the hay quality. Rain and excessive sunlight reduce the quality of hay by reducing the nutrient content. The ideal moisture content of hay when baled is 12 to 18 percent moisture. Excessive moisture due to rain can cause the hay to mold when it is baled.

Curing and handling conditions can have a negative effect on hay quality. Rain can cause leaf loss and can pull nutrients from plants during curing. Sunlight can lower hay quality by bleaching and lowering Vitamin A content. Raking dry, brittle hay can cause excessive leaf loss. Raking while the hay is still moist (about 40 percent moisture) and baling before it is too dry (below 15 percent moisture) will help reduce leaf losses. Hay baled at higher moisture levels will heat up and bind nutrients making them unavailable for horses to digest. Under extreme heating, the hay will change from a rich green color, indicative of proper curing, to a brownish shade. High moisture content (above 20 percent) may be associated with mold and appears within the bale as a white/gray color with an associated musty odor. Moldy hay should never be fed to horses!

The quality of hay is of utmost importance for it to be best utilized by horses. Quality can be considered good if the horses consuming the hay are performing as desired. Stage of maturity when harvested is the primary factor affecting the quality of hay. As forages mature, the fiber and lignin content increases and protein and digestibility decrease. Ideally hay should be harvested at an early growth stage with a high ratio of leaves to stems: Limited blooms (in legume hays) and seed heads (grasses) should be present and stems should be soft, pliable and flexible. First cutting hay is generally high in nutritional value if harvested at the proper time and does not contain excessive amounts of weeds. Putting the hay up at the proper time without getting rained on after cutting is more of a concern. Hay analysis has shown that early-cut hay results in high-quality feed and superior performance.

Therefore, hay may be fed as soon following harvesting as needed. The more important factors are to be assured the hay was put up at the correct stage of maturity with no or minimal weathering, thus providing superior quality hay for your horse.


Grain Storage Tips for Horse Owners
By Kathy Anderson, UNL Extension Horse Specialist

Image of Feed BucketsWhat are your goals?  (ensuring freshness, dryness; keeping out rodents; keeping out greedy ponies; etc.)

There are several reasons why good grain storage is vitally important to horse owners. Properly stored grain will reduce contamination, lower wasting of feed and improve the feed value. One of the most important factors in grain storage is to prevent spoilage particularly by moisture control. Other factors to address when choosing a method to store grain should include proper ventilation of the feed; ideally a cool, uniform temperature with low humidity; protection of the feed from direct sunlight, moisture, rodents, insects, mites, and particularly horses and other livestock. The storage container should be clean and easy to clean and also be in a convenient location for feeding and filling.

What types of containers work well?

The type of container will depend a lot on the number of horses being fed from it. The container needs to be closed, inaccessible to rodents, horses, and bugs, and dry. If only a few horses are fed, galvanized cans with tight lids (trash cans) are a good choice. They are easily filled, dry and difficult for mice and other rodents to access. Plastic containers, paper sacks and even wood can be eaten through by some determined rodents.

When large numbers of horses are fed, galvanized bulk bins are one of the preferred methods. Use of bulk bins can reduce feed cost, are handy to use and excellent storage facilities. However, feed should still be used in a timely manner as may still spoil and mold over time.

How long can different types of grain (or processed feeds) be safely stored?

Duration of storage of feeds will be highly variable depending on the type of feed and weather conditions. Feed often stores longer in cooler periods than in the heat of the summer. Whole grains will store longer than processed grains. However, most horse feeds are generally cracked, rolled, or processed in some other way. Most feeds will maintain palatability, freshness and nutrient value if used within a few months. Longer storage periods will tend to reduce the nutrient value, the feed will become stale, and horses will not consume it as readily.
And, any other useful information you can think of!

Horse owners should realize that at times, investing in an improved method of grain storage will pay off in the future. There is more cost associated with installing a bulk bin, however with the feed cost savings, the bin will pay for itself over time.

Good grain storage can help to reduce feed cost as well as make feeding a more simple and quicker chore.

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Cost of Pumping Water for Domestic & Acreage Needs
By Tom Dorn, UNL Extension Educator

Old Well ImageWe occasionally are asked by rural residents, "How much does it cost to pump water with our domestic well?" I will show the calculations necessary to compute the electricity consumption. Note: This discussion is for electricity cost only and does not include an estimate of depreciation and repairs resulting from use of the pumping equipment.

The horsepower and therefore the electricity required to pump water depends on four factors:

  1. The distance the water must be lifted from the pumping water level in the well to the soil surface. (Lift component)
  2. The pressure in the distribution system. (Pressure component).
  3. The volume of water pumped per minute, gallons per minute (GPM)
  4. The efficiency of the pump and motor.

Note: The lift component and the pressure component combine to make up the total head the pump is working against. Head is expressed in feet. Each PSI of system pressure the pump must produce is equivalent to lifting water an extra 2.31 feet.

Total head (ft) = lift (ft) +System pressure ( PSI) x 2.31 ft/PSI

Lets look at the example of a domestic well pumping 10 gallons per minute while lifting water from 125 feet pumping depth, and producing 45 PSI pressure in the distribution system.

Water Horsepower (the useful work imparted to the water) is computed as follows:

Water Horsepower (WHP) = GPM x Total Head (ft) / 3960
WHP = 10 GPM x (125 ft + 45 x 2.31) /3960
WHP = 10 x (125 + 289 ) / 3960
WHP = 10 x 414 / 3960
WHP = 1.05

If we assume the pump is 75% efficient, the motor driving the pump must produce 1.05/0.75 = 1.4 horsepower to drive the pump. Assuming the single phase (220 volt) motor is 70% efficient, the pump motor consumes 1.07 kWh of electricity for each horsepower-hour. Therefore, we would expect this pump to use 1.07 kWh/hp x 1.4hp = 1.5 kW-h for each hour of operation.

A family of four will use about 250 gallons of water per day (91,250 gallons per year) for domestic uses.
This pump would have to run 9,125 minutes or 152 hours a year to supply domestic uses. Total annual electrical use for domestic use is 152 hours x 1.5 kWh/hour = 228 kWh. At $0.09 per kWh the cost for pumping water for the household would be $20.52.

If the family also irrigates a 10,000 square foot (0.23 acre) lawn an average of 0.75 inch per week from May 1 through September 30, add 102,750 gallons of water for the lawn, making the total water used on the acreage 194,000 gallons per year. The electrical cost would be 323 hours x 1.5 kWh/hour = 485 kWh x $0.09 per kWh = $43.65.

One of the questions I get on occasion concerns what a landowner should charge for pumping drinking water for cattle on pasture.
In the summer months, cows nursing a calf require about 22 gallons of water per day. Each cow therefore will drink about 22 x 31 = 680 gallons of water per month.

The pump described above would need to run 68 minutes = 1.13 hours per month to pump the water needs of each nursing cow. The electricity usage therefore would be 1.74 kWh x 1.13 hours = 2 kWh per nursing cow per month. At $0.09 per kWh the electricity cost would be about $0.18 per month.


Control Noxious Weeds This Spring
By John Wilson, UNL Extension Educator

Fall is the best time to control some noxious weeds, but we should not neglect our opportunities this spring. Besides, many weeds require consecutive treatments in fall and spring to get them down to manageable levels. I am very familiar with these noxious weeds because I have personally dealt with all three of these on my acreage.

I will touch on each of our three major noxious weeds. I will go in the normal order we would control these in the spring, earliest to latest, which also happens to be from the easiest to hardest to control.

The timing of control I mention on each of these might vary a week or more earlier or later, depending on the weather. Early spring, move up the control time... later spring, move it back. The optimum treatment timing will also vary with your location. These dates are based on my location in eastern Nebraska, just north of Omaha. As you go further north or west, the timing will be later.

Canada Thistle Image

Canada Thistle

Leafy Spurge Image

Leafy Spurge

Musk Thistle Image

Musk Thistle

Images from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture Noxious Weed Program


Musk Thistle
This noxious weed may be easiest of the three to control in the spring... but we can't wait too long! Musk thistles formed a rosette, much like a big dandelion, last summer and fall. It continues to grow in this form this spring. In early May it bolts, or sends up a flower stalk, and is much more difficult to control.

When we have good growing conditions, adequate soil moisture and warm days, musk thistle rosettes are fairly easy to control with several different herbicides. Once they bolt, many of these herbicides will not give adequate control and the ones that will give some control are more expensive.

If we waited too long and they've started to flower, a hoe or shovel is your best method of control, but it is important to clip those flowers to prevent them from going to seed. If you cut off a plant and can see the distinct purple color in the flower, even if it isn't fully open, some seeds will mature on the dead plant and perpetuate your battle with this weed.

Leafy spurge
Our normal timing of spring control is in mid-May when the spurge buds or starts to bloom. It has a distinct yellow flower on an upright stem. Often some of our wild mustards are confused with leafy spurge. The easiest way to distinguish between the two is to break the stem or leaves. Leafy spurge has a milky sap (like a milkweed) while mustards do not have this kind of sap.

In spring, you should treat leafy spurge just as the tops start to turn yellow. This weed generally grows in patches and you should spray 20 to 30 feet beyond any plants you see to get those coming up from the roots. This perennial weed has an extensive root system and you may need to come back a couple of weeks after your initial application to treat the weeds that escaped.

Canada Thistle
This perennial problem weed would be the last one we would normally control in the spring. Unlike other thistles, we want to wait until flower buds form which typically occurs in mid- to late June. Getting good coverage with our sprayer is the biggest challenge because grass may be as tall or taller than the thistles. As with leafy spurge, Canada thistle is usually found in dense patches and it is important to spray beyond the edges of the patches.

Even though it is earlier than we normally recommend, I can tell you from personal experience that you can get good control earlier in the spring if the Canada thistle are in CRP. I burned off my grass in April and then sprayed the thistles when they greened up in mid-May. This is about a month earlier than we normally would treat them, but I think the control was just as good with better coverage before the grass got tall. I still needed to go back and spot treat those that I missed later in the summer.

There are two important things to remember when trying to control these noxious weeds...
First- fall is the best time to control them when plants are sending nutrients to the roots for growth the following spring. Treatments then will move the herbicides to the roots and give us better control. 

However, if we have these weeds this spring, that means we missed controlling them last fall or we didn't get complete control. We need to treat them now rather than waiting until fall. Then we should come back in the fall and control the ones we missed or that came up from seed over the summer.

Second- none of these weeds can be completely controlled with a single application of any herbicide. One of the reasons they are classified as "noxious weeds" is because of the difficulty of control. Even if we control all the top growth of any of these weeds, there will likely be some that come up from seeds or roots.

Again from personal experience, I've dealt with all three of these weeds on my place. By keeping after them each year, I've reduced the area they infest from over 100 acres to less than a couple acres... but you can be sure I'll be out there with my backpack sprayer this spring treating those little patches that keep coming back.

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By Vaughn Hammond, UNL Extension Educator - Specialty Crops

Tomato ImageNow that we are approaching an end to the time that we will have to worry about spring frosts we can start too safely plan for the planting of the warm season garden crops. The most popular vegetable that gardeners plant is the tomato. According to a recent survey conducted by the National Gardening Association, 86% of home gardeners grow tomatoes.

Cultivar Selection
Choosing a variety of tomato to plant can be difficult. There are dozens of varieties available in seed catalogs and garden centers. Tomatoes come in several, shapes, colors, sizes, growth habits and have varying resistance to many diseases. Two of the primary considerations to take into account when choosing a tomato variety is the growth habit and disease resistance.

Tomatoes fall within 2 different categories when considering growth habit, determinate and indeterminate. Determinate varieties height is dictated by the onset of flower buds at the terminal point of growth stopping an increase in height. Determinate varieties have the majority of the fruit ripening during a shorter window of time making them attractive to gardeners that process the fruit. The growth habit of determinate tomatoes makes them a perfect choice if they are going to be planted in a container. Indeterminate varieties continue to grow as the flower buds develop and will grow and produce flowers and fruit up to the time that frost kills them. These varieties perform best when supported during growth through the use of a tomato cage or staking.

Tomatoes are susceptible to a variety of diseases that affect both the foliage and fruit. Choosing a variety that exhibits resistances to a particular disease or group a diseases can result in the reduced use of pesticides needed to control those diseases. Disease resistance in a particular variety can be found in the description of the variety found in a seed catalog or in the case of transplant the disease resistance is indicated on the identification tag. Disease resistance is typically indicated by an initial that represents the disease. Fusarium resistance is indicated by F, nematode resistance-N, Tobacco mosaic virus-T, Verticillium-V. Some varieties are resistant to a single disease while others are resistant to multiple diseases.

When planting tomatoes, the days until harvest generally indicates the number of days from planting a transplant in the garden to the harvest of the first ripe fruit. Days to harvest varies according to variety with the shortest being ready for harvest in 45 days and stretching to as long as 80 or more days for some of the later ripening varieties.

Tomatoes can also be categorized according to color, size as in extra large or cherry (small), shape and use. Paste tomatoes are fleshy and contain less juice making them easier to process.

Recently, heirloom tomatoes have regained popularity. These varieties are tomatoes of the past that lost their popularity through time. These older varieties tend to be indeterminate types with limited if any disease resistance. Many of these varieties have unique color schemes and taste and provide for something new and different in the garden.


Striped German Tomato Image

'Striped German' is an heirloom tomato that ripens to bicolor red and yellow.
Image from Sarah Browning, UNL Extenion

Plant tomatoes after the last spring frost as they are very susceptible to cold damage early in the gardening season. Tomato plants should be planted at least as deep as the container that they in or even a little bit deeper as roots will develop along the stem once they are planted.
Staked plants and determinate varieties should be planted from 24 to 30 inches apart while indeterminate varieties that are allowed to sprawl will need 48 inched between plants. Allow 24 to 36 inches between rows.

Tomatoes benefit from a starter fertilizer applied at planting and then approximately a tablespoon of 10-10-10 applied around and away from the base of the plant once fruit set has taken place. Repeat the application 3-4 weeks later. Make sure that the fertilizer is watered in.

Tomatoes are not a drought tolerant plant and need watering. Tomatoes respond best to less frequent, deep watering as compared to more frequent shallow water applications. Drip or trickle irrigation is preferred over water applied via a sprinkler. Wetting the foliage through the use of a sprinkler can result in an increase in disease. If a sprinkler is used for irrigation, water early in the day to promote quick drying of the foliage to reduce disease. Mulching tomatoes helps retain moisture and reduces the need for supplemental watering.

Some popular varieties:

Early Girl 54 days; determinate, resistance-V.
Mountain Spring 65 days; determinate, resistance-V,F
Celebrity 70 days: determinate, resistance-V, F, N, T
Better Boy 72 days; indeterminate, resistance-V, F, N
Beef Master 81 days; indeterminate, resistance-V, F, N
Roma 75 days; determinate, resistance-V, F

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