Monday, October 21, 2019

Fall Lawn and Tree Reminders

Kari Lewis

Now, as we proceed farther into fall, I wanted to give some reminders regarding fall tree and lawn care.  Proper care of trees now, in the fall, usually reduces winter damage to trees.

Once the trees’ leaves turn color and fall off, the tree is dormant so, it is recommended to water trees once each week until the soil freezes.  This watering after the tree is dormant provides a water reserve for when the tree comes out of dormancy and it will make a big impact in next year’s overall tree health. Remember to water not at the tree trunk, but out at the dripline of the tree to water those feeder roots. 

If you have newly planted trees, it’s important to protect them from winter desiccation.  It’s advised to construct sun barriers for newly planted evergreens on the windward and south side of trees or shrubs to protect them from winds that will dry them out and protect them from intensive reflective winter sun.  These young trees can be protected by wrapping burlap between fence posts or propping a wooden pallet on end.  Deciduous trees (that’s the ones whose leaves turn color) with smooth and dark bark should have trunks wrapped with a tree wrap to reflect the sun, which will reduce sunscald on the bark. 

Regarding lawns, fall is the time to make another fertilizer application or two.  In Montana, it’s recommended to fertilize around Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day.  The final fall fertilizer application should occur after the last mowing of the year, but about four weeks before the soil freezes.  The fall fertilizer applications are key fertilizing times, as your lawn will green up much faster in the spring if it receives this October fertilizer application. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Living frugally to retire early - is that possible?
by Wendy Wedum, Pondera County Extension

The past couple of years I’ve been participating in a book club with MSU and North Dakota Extension Agents.  It is fun to get the perspectives from others during our weekly chats and to learn new information that I might not have read about myself.

This year’s book is How to Retire the Cheapskate Way by Jeff Yeager. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to share the tips he’s learned from other frugal savers and his own experiences along with the comments from other experts in the field of financial management.

From a former colleague, Jeff learned about the "Cheapskate’s Hierarchy of Moolah Management." It has four steps.  Today we’ll start with step number one.

Step One: Reduce your dependency on money as much as possible, thereby reducing your need for great cash flow. He says, "Cheapskates place the highest priority on spending less…not earning more."  Do you know anyone who has gotten a raise and still seems to be living paycheck to paycheck?

In step one it is important to place the highest priority on spending less, not earning more; there are three parts to step one:

First, identify your needs and your wants. Try to reduce your routine living expense needs to be no more than 50% of your income and allocate no more than 20% of your income to your wants or extras. Then put the remaining 30% into savings.  Take small steps to live within your means and whenever you can live below your means.  One suggestion is to make setting aside money for your savings part of your spending plan.

Second, establish a permanent standard of living and refuse to let your living expenses grow as your income grows during your working years.  As you income grows, put the extra income into your savings account or increase your contributions to a 401k or if you need to make a major purchase, save up for half or more of the total cost to reduce payment amounts for a loan. 

Third, avoid as much debt as possible and when you do take on debt, work on paying that off as quickly as possible.  Doing so will save you money in less interest paid and it helps people to avoid things like foreclosure and bankruptcy.  Pay ahead on house or car loans by adding extra payments to the principal.  If you have several credit cards with balances and loans to pay off, check out Utah State University's PowerPay - a free program to make a 'personalize, self-directed debt elimination program'.  

See the Resources below for more information.
MSU Extension has MontGuides to help with the budgeting.  
Track'n Your Savings Goals

If you want all the details, get a copy of Yeager's Book:  How to Retire the Cheapskate Way - The Ultimate Cheapskate's Guide to a Better, Earlier, Happier Retirement by Jeff Yeager, 2013.

Utah State University Extension "PowerPay"

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Haying or Grazing Alfalfa and Cereal Forages

With a few decent days in the weather forecast, there’s interest in getting back into the fields and either haying or grazing what’s left of the alfalfa or cereal forages.  With the snow and weather we’ve had this fall, there’s definitely a few things to be aware of.  Today we’ll talk first about alfalfa and then then cereal grains.

Proper fall management of alfalfa is important to ensure that there are enough carbohydrate reserves heading into winter.  The healthier the stand, the less chance of winter injury or winterkill occurring.  Once the plant has experienced a killing frost and gone dormant, it safe for the plant to be harvested or grazed as carbohydrate reserves are no longer needed for regrowth this fall. 
If grazing alfalfa, there is increased concern for bloat immediately following a killing frost.  The general recommendation is to wait at least three to five days after a killing frost before considering grazing.  Livestock should be moved onto the field in the late morning or early afternoon after they’ve grazed another pasture so they’re not going onto the field with an empty stomach and then tanking up on alfalfa, potentially causing bloat.  Another option would be to feed some dry hay before turning onto the alfalfa field to lessen the risk of bloat in animals unaccustomed to alfalfa.

Regardless of whether you are harvesting the alfalfa by grazing it or swathing it, always leave enough stubble to increase snow capture for the winter.  Snow cover helps prevent ice sheeting and protects against temperature fluctuations.  If plants are exposed to warm temperatures through the winter, that can cause a break in dormancy and the plant will begin using carbohydrate reserves too early, leading to increased risk of winter injury or winterkill. 

Now, how about any cereal forages left out there – forages such as oats, barley, or other grain hays?  Any time a plant is stressed, whether it be from drought, frost, hail damage, etc., the potential for nitrate accumulation rises, and cereal forages are especially prone to nitrate accumulation.  Thus, with the snowstorms we’ve had, I would suspect there’s potential for nitrate accumulation in some of those plants as snowstorms would certainly count as an environmental stressor. 

Nitrates are typically highest in the lowest one-third of the plant stems, so cutting or grazing above that portion will reduce the chance of excessive nitrate ingestion.  If grazing, be sure to not overgraze but leave plenty of stubble behind and if swathing, consider raising the header slightly to cut higher up the plant.

If planning to graze a pasture of cereal forages, turn cattle in during the afternoon after they’ve had a full feed.  I would certainly recommend a nitrate test before grazing cereal forages.  Extension offices can offer a ‘quick test’ or a sample can be sent to a lab for analysis within a few days.  It’s important to know if nitrates are present and as depending on the nitrate level, poor performance, abortions in bred livestock, and death can occur.  If there is nitrate present, the effects could potentially be mitigated by also feeding some grass hay along with the field that is to be grazed. 
Further resources:
Fall Consideration of Alfalfa

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Choosing a Crop Variety

Kari Lewis

This week, Montana State University announced the release of two new winter wheat varieties from their Foundation Seed Program.  The Bobcat and Flathead varieties will be released this fall to produce registered and certified seed through certified growers across Montana and then should be available for purchase by the public between the 2020 and 2021 growing seasons. 
Ray and Fourosix, which were announced last spring, are now available for the public.  Ray is MSU’s  new forage variety and FourOsix is the new grain variety.  Both are resistant to stripe rust.  Ray is an awnless livestock forage variety that is intended to replace Willow Creek as it is bred for dual use as a forage and cereal grain crop with a much higher seed yield than Willow Creek. 
Ray, an awnless forage variety set to
replace Willow Creek Winter Wheat,
growing in July, 2019 on a research
plot north of Cut Bank.  Photo by
Kari Lewis.

Fourosix is intended to replace the Yellowstone variety which has been well known for it’s high yield and milling and baking qualities, but FourOsix is has a higher test weight and grain protein than Yellowstone.    

As many producers are making planting decisions this fall and next spring, I wanted to remind folks of the tremendous amount of data that our local MSU Extension research stations have available on numerous varieties.  Locally, we have the WesternTriangle Ag Research Center, just east of the Valier exit, and also the NorthernAg Research Center at Havre.  In addition to the on-station trials, off-station trails are completed as well.  For example, the Western Ag Research Center has plots at Choteau, north of Cut Bank, near Devon, and near the Knees in Choteau County.  These stations conduct trials on to determine which wheat varieties best fit our local environment.  This data is also compiled with the other research centers at Kalispell, Moccasin, Bozeman, Huntley, Sidney, and Willison, ND for statewide data. 

For each wheat variety, their reports list grain yield, test weight, heading dates, plant height, sawfly cutting percentage, and protein percent.  You can then narrow in on which traits are especially important to your farm and select the right variety for you.  There's variety data for winter wheat, spring wheat, durum wheat, barley, canola, and pulse crops.  

If you have any questions on locating these reports or variety trial testing, please be sure to contact the research center or your local Extension office.

Research plots managed by the Western Triangle Ag Research
Center out of Conrad that are conducted north of Cut Bank for
local Glacier county data.  Photo by Kari Lewis.

John Miller (WTRAC agronomist), pictured in the white cap
conducts the variety trials for WTRAC and is happy to share data
and experiences with local producers at field days.  Photo by
Kari Lewis.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Fall Home Projects

Kari Lewis

Fall is a great time to knock out some projects before winter hits, and it’s even better if those projects   Here’s some projects you may want to tackle in the next couple of months:
will help save on your upcoming utility bills!
·         Yard and Lawn care – For a medium maintenance lawn, we recommend a fertilizer application at Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day.  These fall applications really help with early spring green up.  Of course, be sure to clean flower beds and gardens out as well to prevent any pests or diseases from overwintering.  You can also spread mulch around any perennials to help insulate them this winter. 
·         Replacing windows – Upgrading to more efficient windows can help reduce that winter utility bill big time.
·         Exterior painting – A fresh coat of paint helps protect buildings from the weather and sooner is better than later to start painting.  Many paints aren’t recommended to be applied if temperatures are less than 45 to 50 degrees, so be sure to get on those painting projects soon!
·         Roof repair – Any leaks should be repaired now, and it’s also a good time to make sure gutters are cleaned and can drain easily. 
·         Seal gaps and add insulation – It may be time to replace the weather-stripping around your doors or windows, install a new exterior door to help prevent drafts, or even seal up gaps in the foundation to help weather-proof your home and ensure no mice are able to move in for winter. 
·         Furnace tune up – Changing filters on a furnace and/or a regular tune up this fall may help prevent issues this winter when it’s 30 below.  Take a few minutes now to make sure everything is in working order and filters and changed out.
·         Install a programmable thermostat – Programmable thermostats are a great cost saving tool that keeps energy usage down while you’re away from home.  If you turn the heat down 5 degrees at night and 10 degrees during the day when no one is home, your energy bill can easily be cut by 5 to 20%. 
·         Winterize faucets and sprinklers – If you have an underground sprinkler system, it will need to be blown out before winter to ensure it remains in good condition for next year.

So, with a long 3-day weekend coming up, there just may be a few of these projects to knock out now that you’ll be grateful to have done come winter! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Don't overlook water quality and quantity!

Kari Lewis
Of all the nutrients livestock require, what is the most important, but often an overlooked nutrient? 
Water is the most important nutrient for livestock production.
Photo by Kari Lewis.
Water!  Water needs are influenced by environmental temperature, class of livestock, and weight.  As temperature increases, so do water needs.  Lactating livestock require more water than nonlactating livestock and larger animals require more water as well.

On a day like today when the temperatures hit 90 degrees, a growing animal or lactating cow needs 2 gallons of water per 100 pounds of body weight.  So, that 1,400-pound cow will need 28 gallons of water/day, while her 500-pound calf will need 10 gallons, meaning that cow/calf pair needs close to 40 gallons of water today! 
This time of year, water can become stagnant in ponds and reservoirs, providing an ideal environment for the growth of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, which can be toxic to livestock.  Symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning are diarrhea, vomiting, lack of coordination, labored breathing, seizures, convulsions, and possibly death.  Other water quality issues can include high or low pH, excessive levels of sulfates which can cause a reduction in copper availability to livestock, hydrogen sulfide, iron, or magnesium which can cause an ‘off flavor’ and reduce water consumption.  Water with high nitrate concentrations can also be toxic, especially if consumed with foraged with high nitrate concentrations. 
Ideal drinking water temperature for livestock is between 40- and 65-degrees F.  In a research study, steers that had access to cool drinking water gained .3 to .4 pounds more per day than those drinking warm water. 
Research has also found that cattle prefer drinking out of a tank versus a pond or reservoir.  This is likely due to clean water from a tank versus the sediment that is churned up when they wade out into the water for a drink.  Research in Alberta showed a 23% increase in weight gains for yearling steers over 71 days whose drinking water was well water versus the steers who drank out of dugout.  A follow up study also confirmed the impact on cows, and a lesser impact on calves. 
If you suspect an issue with water quality, please stop by your local extension office for a water test kit.  Water can be collected and then sent to a lab for analysis.  If your ponds or reservoirs are low, it may be time to consider alternative water sources.  Remember, water is the most important nutrient for livestock production and is needed for regulation of body temperature, growth, digestion, reproduction, metabolism, joint lubrication, excretion, etc.  It’s critical to maintain a clean, fresh water supply to maintain health and performance of livestock. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Black Henbane, Beware!

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

Last week I received a phone call here at the Extension office about a weed identification question.  The plant turned out to be black henbane.  As I’m learning about black henbane and recognizing that MSU Extension has a MontGuide publication on it, I thought I would share some information on it this week so if it crops up in other areas, people might recognize it.

Black henbane is a native to Europe and northern Africa.  It has been reported in Montana since 1881 and as of 2010 had been reported in at least 42 counties, being listed as a county noxious weed in multiple counties.  It grows well in a variety of conditions and soils.  The plant itself is an annual or biennial and grows from 1 to 6 feet tall.  The plants I saw north of town were probably in the 4-foot range.  The stems of the mature plant are erect, leafy and thick and branch out widely.  The leaves can be large, up to six inches wide and eight inches long and the foliage is covered in fine, sticky hairs.  The plants, when flowering, exhibit a brownish-yellow flower.  After flowering, two rows of inch long, pineapple-shaped fruit appear.  Each of these fruit capsules contain black, pitted seeds, to the tune of 10,000 to 500,000 seeds per plant. 
Photo courtesy of Utah State University Extension
Photo courtesy of Montana State University Extension
All parts of black henbane are poisonous to humans and livestock.  Livestock will generally avoid it because of its foul odor and bitter taste.  So, what can be done to control it?  However you manage it, the objective should be to prevent seed production.  Black henbane seeds can remain viable in the soil for a period of five years though, so careful attention needs to be paid to keeping plants under control for several consecutive growing seasons. 

The most effect method of control is prevention.  If it does become established, persistent management using a combination of control measures will give the best control.  Cultivation prior to seed production or pulling or digging isolated plants or small infestations prior to seed production can be effective means of controlling the plant.  These methods may have to be repeated over several years to control plants emerging from the existing seed bank. 
There are several herbicides that are listed for providing control of black henbane, including those with the active ingredients dicamba, picloram, metsulfuron or a metsulfuron and chlorsulfuron mixture.  Please remember to read and follow label instructions and continue to monitor the area after applications for any regrowth or new plants coming up.