Sept 2012

Life Outside the City Limits

Collage of September Images

Harvest the Rain- It's a Precious Resource
By Kelly Feehan, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of rain gardenAs we have experienced this year, rainfall in Nebraska is often more sparse than abundant. Because water is an important resource that needs to be conserved, rainwater harvesting is a growing trend.

Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting
Rainwater harvesting treats rainwater as a resource to be collected rather than a waste product to be conveyed away as quickly as possible. Collected rainwater can be diverted to planted areas such as rain gardens for infiltration or temporarily held in a storage device like a rain barrel or cistern for future use.

Rainwater harvesting maximizes the environmental and landscape value of rainwater. If more rainwater was infiltrated when it is received, this could increase soil moisture and extend the period of time between irrigation. If rainwater were collected and temporarily stored for later use to irrigate ornamental plants, drinking water from taps would be conserved.

Techniques for Harvesting Rainwater
Harvesting or recycling rainwater can be as simple as redirecting downspouts onto planted areas and away from driveways or sidewalks to installing a rain barrel or rain garden. It can be as advanced as installing underground cisterns to capture rainfall from rooftops for reuse in landscape irrigation to installing a permeable driveway or patio so more rain can soak in and less run off.

The old thinking has been to move rainwater off of a property as quickly as possible. The new thinking is to capture and soak it in. While it is important for water to drain away from building foundations, there are few reasons why this important resource cannot be conserved through rainwater harvesting methods and its value maximized in landscapes.

Some rain does soak into lawns and landscape beds but because of impermeable surfaces like paved driveways and compacted soils we often try to grow lawns on, large amounts of rainwater does run off.

For water conservation, rain barrels and cisterns are making a comeback. Rain gardens are becoming the newest landscape feature. Tall berms that shed rain rather than soak in rain are being reduced in size, used to channel water onto planted areas and away from paved areas, or being used as part of rain gardens to capture and soak in rainwater.

Improving soils with organic matter is on the rise. This helps increase infiltration of water into soil reducing the amount that runs off compacted soil. Homeowners may begin to pay more attention to lawn irrigation systems to avoid overwatering which causes soils to remain saturated so rainwater tends to run off rather than soak in.

If interested in learning more about rainwater harvesting, check out one of the newest University of Nebraska - Lincoln Extension NebGuides titled Rainwater Harvesting in Residential-Scale Landscapes (G2148).

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Videos

Videos this month feature spiders, controlling leafy spurge, shrub plantings that tolerate drought, and pumpkins!

Jim Kalisch, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, describes some spiders you might find on your property.

 

Leafy spurge causing problems? John Wilson, UNL Extension, tells us that best control of this noxious weed is during spring and also prior to first frost.

 

John Fech, UNL Extension, shows shrubs that are surviving our summer drought.

 

How do you tell if your pumpkins are ready to harvest? UNL Extension Educator Aaron Nygren talks about picking and storing pumpkins.

Reparing Summer's Damage- Reseeding Your Lawn
By John Fech, UNL Horticulture Extension Educator

Image of turfgrass overseedingIf your lawn is more than 50% dead or dying, then it's time for re-seeding or renovation. Bugs, fungus, drought, compaction - all of these can lead one to start over. In the long run, it may be cheaper to renovate, than to fight a losing battle with the existing one.

Make sure to avoid whatever killed the original lawn in the first place. This is the most important consideration in lawn renovation. If you repeat the events that led to the demise of the original lawn (insufficient watering, failure to control insects, improper mowing, ignoring the water needs of the turf), then you'll be right back where you started next year.

Seeding Considerations
This summer's conditions are creating special challenges for fall seeding.  Most of the state is still extremely dry and many communities are under water use restrictions.  So your options are to 1) seed now, not water, but pray for rain,  2) seed now and try to keep up with the water needs of germinating seedlings through irrigation, 3) apply a dormant seeding in late winter, or 4) wait until spring to seed when (hopefully) rain will have returned. 

One word of caution- don't use the dormant seeding technique on areas of bare or erodible soil, such as slopes, drainage areas, or beneath a downspout. Wind and water erosion in these areas during the winter months can be severe. If your water budget is small, and you can only focus on a few areas for fall seeding then work on the erodible areas first.  All other areas can be dormant seeded, or overseeded in spring.

Steps to Late Summer Seeding

  1. If you need to renovate the entire lawn, start by killing the remaining grass by spraying with RoundUp. Wait for 10-14 days for the herbicide to take effect.

    If you just need to overseed thinned areas, or still have more than 50% good turf, you can skip the RoundUp and just mow the dead or existing grass fairly short.
     
  2. Next, prepare the seedbed by powerraking or aerifing extensively. Rip it up. Make at least 3 passes over the lawn. You need to produce lots of bare soil, so that the seed can make contact with it.
     
  3. After cultivation, use a drop spreader to apply the seed. Rotary spreaders are great for fertilizing, but lousy for seeding. The seed is too light to be spread uniformly by a rotary spreader. Rake the seed slightly afterwards to ensure good seed to soil contact. Use 10 pounds of turf type tall fescue or 2-3 pounds of Kentucky bluegrass per 1,000 sq. ft.
     
  4. If you plan to water, the irrigate the lawn twice a day the first two weeks, once a day the third week, every other day the fourth week and so on to maintain the proper level of moisture. Once the grass plants are up and growing, apply starter fertilizer according to label directions. This will provide for the nutritional needs of the new grass plants.

Dormant Seeding
With a dormant seeding, the area is prepared in fall but the seed is not distributed until after the growing season has ended.  Plan to spread the seed throughout the damaged areas, anytime from mid- to late November through March.  Good seed to soil contact is still important, so after spreading the seed lightly rake it in.  It will lie dormant until triggered by spring warmth and rain to germinate.  Once the new seedlings have germinated, apply a starter fertilizer.  And when the seedlings are well established, typically after three mowings, apply a pre-emergent herbicide for weed control.

Dormant seeding can be done over the top of dead existing grass.  The area does not need to be tilled and regraded for a dormant seeding, unless there are grading issues that need to be addressed. 

Finally, with any reseeding project purchase very high quality seed, and do not use perennial ryegrass in dormant seedings.

Establishing Lawns From Seed, UNL Turgrass iNfo

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Top Ten Fall Landscape Issues
By Nicole Stoner, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of garden tillerAs with most changes of seasons, there are a lot of issues that all need to be addressed at the same time. This week I would like to cover several of those at once. So here is your top ten lawn and garden issues for the fall.

1. Fall gardens can be planted at any time now.  Be sure to figure out the number of days to harvest for your fall vegetables to ensure that you will get a crop from what you are planting. The number of days to harvest is usually listed on the seed packet.  Count backwards from mid- to late October to determine when to plant.  Lettuce seeds take approximately 50 days until harvest so if you plant on September 3, it will take until October 23 for it to mature.  So unless you plan to harvest young plants, either be prepared to provide cold protection or choose something with a shorter number of days to harvest.

2. Cleaning up your summer and fall gardens should be done annually. Leaving the garden uncleaned throughout the winter will provide a good environment for diseases and insects to overwinter. Be sure to pull out all plants at the end of the growing season and if they had a disease problem, do not compost them. You can also apply manure in the fall to improve your soil for next year. Tilling in the fall will make it easier to prepare in the spring. Be sure to cover the bare soil with mulch of some type to reduce the amount of soil lost in our strong winter winds, or plant a winter cover crop.

3. Fall lawn care is critical to the health of your yard. Fall fertilizer is very important for grass health, so plan to make two fall fertilizer applications around Labor Day and Halloween. Overseeding may also be necessary for a lot of lawns this year, due to the drought. We can overseed our lawns after August 20 until the middle of September. The earlier, after August 20 you can reseed, the better it will do in the long run. Be sure to keep your seed moist during the germination process.  However, with the continuation of summer's dry conditions, and many communities under water restrictions, you could also consider waiting until late winter and dormant seeding any damaged areas. 

4. Fall webworm is a common insect we encounter in the fall, as the name implies. This is a group of caterpillars that make their home on the ends of branches of many different types of trees. Their home is a large web that includes some of the leaves on that portion of the branch. There is no reason to try to use a chemical control, because this insect does not cause serious damage, and unless the webbing is broken up beforehand the chemical will not get to the insects.  If you want to get rid of them, use a broom to break up the webbing and knock the caterpillars out of your tree.  With tall trees, a strong jet of water will often break up the webbing.

5. Early fall dormancy is an issue we will have to deal with this year due to this summer's heat and the drought. Many trees, including maples, oaks, and hackberry's, have been turning to their fall coloration and losing leaves early this year. There is nothing that we can do for those trees once they start this process. This is a way for them to try to avoid any more stress this year and to try to save up some energy to get started next spring.

6. Peony and iris foliage really start to look bad by the middle of July.  But do wait to cut the foliage back until they completely turn brown. The leaves need to be left so the plant can photosynthesis and build up sugars for next year's flowers and growth.  Fall is also a good time to divide and replant both of these plants. Remember that Peonies need to be planted at the same depth when you move or divide them. If they are planted too deeply, they will not bloom.

7. Skunk Control. I have been having a lot of complaints about small holes dug shallowly in the yard. These holes are about the size of a half dollar. This is most likely the work of skunks digging for grubs. We can trap skunks with a live trap but cover it with a blanket or tarp. Use cat food as a lure. Captured skunks should be euthanized.

8. Ants are a common problem in the house right now.
Tiny, black ants come into our kitchens in the spring and in the fall. These ants can be controlled fairly well with liquid ant bait stations, place a couple of them in the areas where you are most often finding the ants.

9. Trees can be planted in the fall and in the spring. Trees that are sold balled & burlapped or are in a container, can be planted in the fall, particularly in the months of September and October. Be sure to follow good planting guidelines, and add a ring of mulch around the trunk of the tree.  Check out the "Ten Commandments for Tree Planting" for more information.  But considering the ongoing dry conditions in late summer, this year you might consider waiting until spring for planting when (hopefully) rain will return and make establishment easier.

10. Finally, watering is a major issue this year, and it will continue into the fall and winter.   All trees need about one inch of water per week, so if your area is not receiving that amount of precipitation then trees that are less than five years old should be watered deeply about once a week. Trees that have been planted for more than five years, should be watered once every few weeks. When watering trees, focus on the area under the tree's dripline and a short distance beyond the outer branches.  Soak the soil deeply, 12-24 inches deep, and move your sprinklers around until all sides of the tree have been watered.

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September is National Breakfast Month
By Lisa Franzen-Castle, UNL Extension Nutrition Specialist

Eat Breakfast!For many people breakfast is a low priority or not one at all. If you think you're saving time or cutting out calories to lose weight by skipping breakfast, think again. Making a healthy breakfast a part of your morning can help get you on track to make healthier choices throughout the day, increase your physical activity, and help curb overindulging on convenience foods and overeating at lunch. A healthy breakfast replenishes your body and can have a positive impact on your general health.

Check out these tips on why a healthy breakfast is so important and how to make it happen in the morning.

  • Skipping Breakfast and Weight Gain. Did you know skipping breakfast may increase your chances for weight gain? Skipping breakfast may leave you feeling famished, which leaves the door open for temptations such as candy, chips, and other convenience foods you might find in a vending machine. Eating breakfast can help reduce hunger and help you avoid overeating. When you are at the grocery store try buying portable breakfast items such as fruit, low-fat yogurt, and whole grain breakfast or granola bars.

  • Breakfast and Academic Performance. Research shows skipping breakfast can negatively impact children's academic performance. As children get older they are less and less likely to eat breakfast. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) states that children who eat a healthy breakfast are more apt to have better concentration, be more alert, creative and physically active, miss fewer days of school, and have better problem-solving skills.
     
  • Health Benefits of Breakfast. Did you know eating a healthy breakfast may help you establish health benefits for life? Research shows those who eat breakfast on a regular basis are more likely to have a healthier overall diet. Healthy breakfast options include whole grains (oatmeal, whole grain cereals, breads, muffins, or bagels), low-fat protein (hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, lean slices of poultry, meat, or fish), low-fat dairy (skim or low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt and cheeses), and vegetables and fruits (try fresh or frozen fruits or 100% juices that do not have added sugars).

  • Healthy Breakfast Ideas. Try a small whole wheat bagel with peanut butter, a banana, and a glass of skim or low-fat milk. Another example would be oatmeal cooked with skim or low-fat milk topped with dried or fresh fruit and chopped nuts. You could also eat whole-grain cereal with skim or low-fat milk and some fresh fruit such as strawberries or blueberries. Another idea is a breakfast parfait made with low-fat yogurt, fruit, and low-fat granola. You could also try a breakfast sandwich made with a whole grain English muffin, turkey bacon, and low-fat cheese.

If you are one of the many Americans that skip breakfast, start eating breakfast this month and make it a daily routine. Try adding to or substituting your morning coffee with 100% juice or low-fat milk. Plan ahead to eat breakfast, this means deciding the night before so you will save time in the morning. Start a new routine this month where breakfast is a priority.

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Pushing the Limits- Extend Your Growing Season with a Hotbed or Cold Frame
By Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of coldframeBuilding a cold frame or hot bed enables urban gardeners and small scale vegetable growers to protect young plants from adverse weather in spring and fall, extending their growing season. They are relatively inexpensive, simple structures that function as mini-greenhouses.

Cold Frames
A cold frame is a structure that provides protection for plants from wind, and cold spring or fall temperatures, moderating air temperatures by 5 to 10 degrees or more. Even though the temperature difference is small, there are times when a few degrees can prevent plant death.

It's a great place to "harden off" seedling plants, which is very important as seedlings may be stunted if they are moved directly from the warmth and protection of a greenhouse to the garden. The cold frame provides a transition period for gradual adjustment to the outdoor weather.

Cold tolerant plants, such as Swiss chard, collards or cabbage, can be started in the cold frame and either transplanted into the garden when the weather warms, or grown to maturity within the frame. The soil in a portion of the bed can be replaced with sand, peat moss, or another suitable soil medium for starting sweet potato slips. It can also be used to overwinter semi-hardy plants, stratify seeds, start root cuttings, and force flowering bulbs.

A cold frame has no supplemental heating source, but is passively heated by the sun. Heat is collected when the sun's rays penetrate the sash or lid of the structure, which is made of clear plastic, glass, or fiberglass. Often the lid is a repurposed glass door or window(s).

Additional methods for passive heat storage can also be used, such as buckets or jugs painted black and filled with water that absorb heat during the day and release it at night. Other cold frames are built with a very high back and a steep sloping glass lid, insulated very well along the back and sides, and the plants covered with removable insulation at night or during extremely cold weather to provide extra protection.

Hotbeds
A hotbed differs only in that is has a supplemental heating source. Heat is provided most commonly by organic material, such as manure, or by electric heating cables or mats, but steam or hot water pipes can also be used.

A cold frame can be converted to a hotbed either by adding manure or installing electric heating cables.

  • Heating with manure utilizes the energy generated during decomposition of organic matter, similar to what occurs in a well-constructed compost pile. To convert a cold frame, start by digging a pit to a depth of 2 feet (or more if increased drainage is required) and add 18 inches of fresh, straw-filled horse manure. Cover the manure with 6 inches of good soil. Manure will need to be added each spring and fall to gain heating benefits.
     
  • For an electrically heated bed, dig a pit 8 to 9 inches deep then lay down a thermostatically controlled electric cable in 6 to 8 inch wide loops. Evenly space the loops of cable throughout the pit, but never cross it over itself. Cover the cable with 2 inches of sand or soil, and cover the sand or soil with a sheet of hardware cloth to protect the cable. Finally, cover the hardware cloth with 4 to 6 inches of good soil.

Location
The ideal location for a cold frame is a southern or southeastern exposure with a slight slope to insure good drainage and maximum sun exposure. A sheltered spot with a fence, building, hedge or stack of hay bales to the north will provide protection against winter winds. Just make sure the windbreak protection doesn't shade the cold frame. Sinking the frame into the ground somewhat will also provide protection, using the earth for insulation.

Maintaining good drainage beneath the cold frame is essential to prevent water from accumulating in the soil. If natural drainage is poor, install drainage tile beneath the frame. Or build the frame atop a thick layer of coarse gravel.

Be sure to locate the structure close to a water source, and near an electric outlet if heating cables will be used.

Building a Cold Frame or Hotbed
There is no standard size for a cold frame or hotbed. Size should be determined based on the amount of available space, desired crops, permanency of the structure and the growers need. Do not make the structure too wide for weeding and harvesting; 4 to 5 feet is about as wide as is convenient to reach across.

This Old House provides great directions on building a cold frame.

Management
Ventilation is critical in late winter, early spring, and early fall on clear, sunny days when temperatures rise above 45° F. The sash should be raised partially to prevent the buildup of extreme temperatures inside the frame. Lower or replace the sash early enough in the day to conserve some heat for the evening. In summer, extreme heat and intensive sunlight can damage plants. This can be avoided by shading the structure with lath sashes or old bamboo window blinds.

To reduce disease problems, watering should be done early in the day so that plants dry before dark.

Extra insulation may be needed when a sudden cold snap is expected. A simple method is to throw a mat or blanket, or burlap sacks filled with leaves over the sash at night to protect against freezing. For added insulation, set bales of straw or hay around the outside of the frame.

For more information on cold frame construction and management, check out the following publications.

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Water Testing Laboratories in Nebraska
By Sharon Skipton, UNL Extension Water Quality Educator

Image of water test kitMany Nebraska laboratories offer testing services including water analyses. Government agencies operate some laboratories; others are private commercial laboratories. Some agencies and organizations may offer limited screening tests outside of a laboratory setting.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services administers the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). This includes certification of laboratories to test drinking water samples in Nebraska.

A certified laboratory must use approved testing methods and equipment and meet specific requirements outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A certified laboratory may not be approved to test all potential drinking water contaminants. Laboratories become certified to analyze specific contaminants and a laboratory must meet criteria for each individual analysis for which it wants to be certified.

Regulatory certification provides some assurance that the laboratory can perform water quality analyses within an acceptable range of accuracy, and will provide reliable and accurate results. It is not a guarantee that a specific water sample analysis has been or will be performed accurately. Always use an approved laboratory when you need accurate, reliable test results and any time test results might be used for legal action involving contamination. In this case, the strongest evidence is presented when an independent party collects the sample, documents the correct and appropriate sampling procedure, and delivers the sample to the approved laboratory.

Non-certified laboratories may use the same equipment and procedures as a certified laboratory. Such laboratories may provide accurate analyses, but there is no independent information about the laboratory's ability to obtain reliable results for a particular analysis.

Upon request, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Environmental Laboratory can provide information regarding all laboratories located and certified in Nebraska. For a full and current list of water quality parameters for which each lab has obtained certification, contact the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Drinking Water Laboratory Certification Office at (402) 471-8426 or through e-mail at sandy.irons@nebraska.gov.

Always contact the individual laboratory and discuss the analysis you desire. Ask about test fees, sampling bottles or kits, and sampling instructions. Typically, there is a fee for each contaminant tested; however, some laboratories offer package tests that include testing for a number of contaminants for a specified fee. Many contaminants require special sample containers, preservatives, and sampling procedures. Always follow sampling instructions provided by the laboratory.

Other sources of water testing include water treatment equipment dealers who often provide testing services through contracts with private laboratories or with the use of test kits. You also may purchase do-it-yourself test kits. Tests done in the home, by either a water equipment dealer or yourself, are usually for nuisance contaminants such as hardness and total dissolved solids. In-home demonstrations that cause precipitates to form in water or cause color changes can be dramatic but may not provide useful, accurate information. Some people test for nitrate using do-it-yourself test kits. These will give an idea of nitrate levels. Greater reliability and accuracy can be expected with laboratory testing.

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Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
By Nicole Stoner, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of brown marmorated stink bugA new insect pest that we may begin to see as summer temperatures finally cool down and we go into fall is Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, or BMSB. This insect is a serious problem on many different plants, but we really begin to notice them in the fall when they move into our homes in swarms to overwinter inside, with us.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug is a native of Asia, mainly China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. This invasive insect was brought to Pennsylvania, probably on a wooden crate in 1996, and was not found until 2001 in Allentown, PA. BMSB is a stink bug, with their typical shield-shaped body. It is mottled brown color with white lines on the antennae. It also has alternating spots of white and brown down the sides of the wings. BMSB is about 5/8 inches long. There are many other insects and other stink bugs that look very similar so correct identification is important.  Bring any suspect insects to your local UNL Extension office for correct identification.

BMSB is a horrible pest that feeds on a wide range of plants including vegetables, fruits, field crops, and many ornamental trees, shrubs, and perennials. So basically nothing is safe from this insect, including our homes. Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs will swarm into our homes and on our doors and windows in the fall, just like Multicolored Asian Ladybeetles. Fall and spring are when we may notice these pesky insects most often.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs can cause a great deal of plant damage. They insert their piercing-sucking mouthparts into fruits and vegetables, sucking out the juices. Typically this leaves corky spots or scars on apples or tomatoes. This damage can lead to a reduction in quality, and requires cutting away of damaged fruit sections.

Another very big problem that occurs from Brown Marmorated Stink Bug is that they congregate in our homes in the winter. This insect does not hurt you at all, but large quantities of them are a nuisance to our homes and they can stink, as the name implies. There is not one good method of control for them, it is best to make sure your home is kept sealed up and to use an outdoor insect barrier spray of some sort to combat them before they become a problem. If they do get into your home, the best defense is mostly mechanical, pick them up and throw them away, flush them down the toilet, or vacuum them up. You can use some aerosol sprays in your home if necessary, be sure to follow the label on the spray bottle. If you do get a lot of BMSB in a wall void or somewhere else you cannot reach, do not spray them with an aerosol to kill them, or they will attract other insects that help to decompose dead organisms.

This insect is a new insect pest to North America and was found in Nebraska in September 2010.  At this point, the distribution is not widespread in Nebraska.  If you think you might have found a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, please bring it to your local UNL Extension Office for identification, and so that we can monitor it's spread.

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Reduce Forage/Feed Loss
By Sara Ellicott, UNL Extension Educator

Image of hay feederSince we are experiencing drought conditions here in Nebraska, and over much of the Midwest, as well as other states, our regular feeding practices are needing revised this year. Many producers have had to pull livestock off of pastures because of the dry conditions, or they are supplementing feed to the livestock still out on pasture. Either way, we are in a different mode of operation than a 'normal' year, and feeding expensive feeds to boot.

With all of these factors in mind, it is important to look at the way you are feeding your livestock. Making sure the method of feeding wastes as little as possible is important, and saves money. If you figure that livestock can and will waste a lot of forage if it is fed on the ground, with prices as high as they are today, it only makes sense to protect the hard work and investment that went into producing and/or purchasing hay to feed your livestock.

No matter what type of livestock or pets you have, this applies. If you use the right tools to feed them, it should help minimize wasted feed and money.

Here are a few resources on feed wastage, types of feeders, etc.:

There are additional resources available at your local county Extension office or online through eXtension.

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Weeds Taking Root Beyond the Backyard
By Brent Meyer, Lancaster County Weed Superintendent

Image of goats eating phragmitesRecently CBS Sunday Morning aired a documentary on Weeds Taking Root Beyond the Backyard. I encourage you to click on the link and watch the episode. While they did a great job bringing to light the problems we face with invasive species, I would like to comment on the portion- Goats Eating Phragmites. When I watched the video it made it seem like all I needed to do is get some goats and in six weeks my phragmites would be gone. Anyone who has tried to eradicate their phragmites understands it is more difficult that just running a few goats out there.

This is what was reported in the documentary on August 19, 2012.

New York City hopes Larry Cihanek's goats will have better luck against another weed gone wild, an invasive variety of a reed called phragmites plaguing Freshkills Park, an enormous former landfill on Staten Island the city is restoring.

The experiment: To see if the goats will eat their way through 2 acres of the stuff.
"A goat eats about 20 percent of its body weight a day in weeds, so that's a 65/70-pound goat, so that goat's gonna eat 15 to 20 pounds of food a day," said Cihanek. "We have 20 goats. The objective was to do it in six weeks, and they'll certainly do it in six weeks."

It turns out they love phragmites. Six weeks later, success.


First, let me say Lancaster County Weed Department supports anyone wanting to use bio-control as part of their weed management plan, as long as they understand it is just another tool to use, but bio-control alone will not eliminate the weed problem. It is true that goats, as well as cattle will eat phragmites and do well on it. We have several landowners in Lancaster County that are grazing cattle on phragmites as part of their control efforts. The plan is to graze the area early to hold the plant back and then spray the re-growth in the fall when the plant will be most likely to take the chemical down into its massive root structure.

Goats and sheep have been used throughout Nebraska to help manage leafy spurge for years, so it is not new that they will also eat phragmites. In my experience goats will eat almost anything you put in front of them. While grazing has had some success, it does require a lot of time to move the animals around to the individual patches. However, if continued regularly it can eventually weaken the root system of the plant.

Some things you should know about using livestock to graze phragmites.

  • The animals will eat the plant and will not eliminate the root zone below the ground, so the plant will come back and try to produce seed.
     
  • You will have to fence off the area around the phragmites or leafy spurge to keep the animals in a particular area. This will need to be done several times during the growing season to prevent seed production.
     
  • Goats do not like to get in the water, and typically phragmites grows in and along the edge of water.
     
  • Cattle will not typically eat phragmites if it's in a pasture setting because they can eat grass on good solid ground. Phragmites is usually in a swampy area where it's difficult for a cow to walk, with muck up to their knees, so they avoid the area.

Contact Information
We need everyone's help, so if you would like more information on phragmites or would like to report an infestation contact the Lancaster County Weed Control Office. Email: weeds@lancaster.ne.gov or phone 402-441-7817.

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Harvesting and Storing Pumpkins
By Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of pumpkin in fieldMany crops are ripening earlier this year. Warm early spring temperatures allowed gardeners to plant early, and hot summer conditions favored growth. Pumpkins are no exception, and they pose a special problem since many gardeners want to save them for use at Halloween, which is still over two months away. When harvesting has to take place early, selecting mature pumpkins, curing them properly, and storing them under the right conditions are important so that your Jack o'lanterns will look great in October.

Harvesting
Pumpkins will rot if harvested too young, or if allowed to stay in the field once they are mature and exposed to freezing temperatures. Mature pumpkins should be uniformly colored across the entire fruit- orange, white, gray or blue- depending on the variety you chose to grow. Look for the mature coloration of your variety indicated on the seed packet for a guide to ripeness. Mature pumpkins have hard, shiny shells that can't be easily punctured by a fingernail. Once your pumpkin reaches this stage, it's time for curing.

Curing is a process that causes the pumpkin skin to harden and promotes healing of small wounds in the skin. Most pumpkins have already been cured when you purchase them at the garden center or store, but if you are growing your own then it is important to allow time for curing. Once a pumpkin is mature, cure it by allowing it to remain in the garden during dry, sunny weather, ideally, 80-85° F, for about 7-14 days.

If the weather is turning cold or rainy when your pumpkins reach maturity, harvest and place them in an area with 80-85° F and 80-85% relative humidity for about 10 days. A dry garage or shed works well. If pumpkins must be left in the field longer than desired, hay can be placed under them to prevent contact with damp soil, and rot.

Harvest by cutting fruits away from the vine. Leave a good length of stem for a handle. Trying to harvest by snapping the stems often causes damage to the pumpkin, and pumpkins without handles usually do not store well. But don't pick your pumpkin up by the handle, because it may break off!
Transport pumpkins from the garden with care. If transporting in a vehicle, be sure to surround them with soft material and transport them so that they won't roll around and be damaged.

Cleaning
Washing pumpkins is not required, but it often helps them keep longer. Wipe down or wash the exterior with a dilute bleach solution, about 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water, and allow them to dry thoroughly before placing them in storage. This removes surface bacteria and fungal spores.

Storage
After curing, pumpkins can be kept in cool storage at approximately 50-60° F for 10 weeks or more. 50-70% relative humidity is important to prevent shriveling or dehydration.

Our grandparents used to have root cellars, which were an ideal place for vegetable storage, but most people don't have one these days. Pumpkins can be stored in a cool basement, which in many older homes, may have just the right humidity level. Place pumpkins, not touching each other on a shelf in a cool corner or in a single layer on a pallet up off the floor. In homes with lower humidity, place them in a crate, box or bushel in ventilated plastic bags. Or cover them with a plastic sheet to help retain moisture. Check on the pumpkins periodically to make sure that excess moisture is not accumulating around or beneath them, and to remove any that are beginning to rot.

Saving Seeds
Pumpkin seeds can be saved to plant the following spring. Seeds should be soaked for 24 hours to loosen the adhering pulp, cleaned well and then allowed to dry. Seeds can be stored in a clean, air-tight container in a cool, dry place. This is a fun project for kids because seeds will not always produce an identical pumpkin to those from this year's garden. Pumpkin, melon and squash seeds are a great way to attract cardinals and other birds plus squirrels to feeders during the winter months.

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