Monday, December 23, 2019

Merry Christmas!  Hopefully you will be enjoying a delicious Christmas dinner soon.  The holidays typically bring some great food and those leftovers can easily fill up the fridge. The key is to safely store and use those leftovers, and today we’ll offer a few tips on that topic. 

First, food storage.  After food has been served, leftovers should be placed in clean, small, shallow containers, three inches or less in height, and covered completely.  Leftover food should be placed in the refrigerator within two hours or less.  Containers should be spread out in the refrigerator to allow air flow and promote rapid, even cooling of the food.  Food should not be refrigerated or frozen in large, deep containers as the food in the center remains warm for a longer time which can cause harmful bacteria to grow.  If you’re short on fridge space, use a cooler with ice packs or cubed ice to keep leftovers at a temperature of 40 degrees or less. 

When reheating leftovers, food should be reheated on the stove, in the oven, or in the microwave until it reaches 165 degrees.  Slow cookers are not recommended for reheating leftovers. 

Plan ahead for using those leftovers.  If you’re having a Christmas ham, plan for omelets, casseroles,
Plan to use holiday leftovers, whether its
turkey sliders or scrambled eggs and ham!
sandwiches, or a pizza, for example.  Leftover turkey can become a base for a turkey pot pie, turkey noodle soup, turkey wild rice soup, turkey enchiladas, etc. – it can easily be substituted for chicken in many recipes.  Leftovers can quickly grow tiresome, so another good option is to freeze them.  For example, dice up that ham and freeze in small Ziploc bags so that a serving can be pulled out in the morning and added to scrambled eggs. 

So, how long can you safely keep refrigerated leftovers?  Generally, leftovers should be used within four days but specifically the guidelines are as follows:

Those delicious salads should be
eaten within three to five days.
  • Soups and stews - 3 to 4 days
  • Gravy and meat broth - 2 to 2 days
  • Cooked meat, meat dishes, casseroles - 3 to 4 days
  • Opened package of deli meats - 3 to 5 days
  • Pasta and potato salads - 3 to 5 days·       

Now, I’m sure there’s lots of folks out there right now saying, “Oh, I eat leftovers way older than that and I’ve always been fine!”  Could be, but please remember that adults ages 65 and older, children younger than 5 years, pregnant women, and people whose immune systems are weakened due to illness or medical treatment are most at risk for foodborne illnesses.  So, while you may be able to handle that week-old turkey, Grandma, your pregnant wife, or your three-year-old son may not be able to. 

So, keep those hot foods hot and those cold foods cold, and quickly refrigerate leftovers!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Give a lasting gift to your farmer, rancher, or farm/ranch spouse this Christmas!

We’re just one week away from Christmas! If you’re still trying to decide what to get that farmer,
rancher, or farm/ranch spouse in your life, let me suggest a registration to the 2020 Montana’s Next Generation Conference, which will be January 31 – February 1 in Shelby. Currently, registration is at the ‘Early Bird Rate’ of just $25/individual/day or $40/couple/day so you can save some money on gift giving too!

Here’s 5 reasons why a Next Generation conference registration would be a great gift!

· The meals! Anyone who has attended the conference in the past has often remarked that the food alone is worth going for. TLC Catering of Shelby will be doing the food which will include pulled pork and the fixings for the Friday lunch, a delicious roast beef dinner Friday night, and wonderful soups and sandwiches for the Saturday lunch along with all the snacks you can eat in between! Saturday night, each participant will get a $10 meal voucher to use at numerous participating Shelby restaurants.

· Your gift has the potential to have a long-lasting impact. What if after attending Kristen Juras and Sarah Hamlen’s workshop, ‘Planning for Health Care after Retirement’ workshop your parents or in-laws develop a plan for their healthcare? What if after attending Jane Wolery’s Mending FENCES workshop, your family is able to sit down and have a productive and respectful conversation about communication expectations? What if after attending Korey Fauque’ s Reducing Inputs through Regenerative Ag your operation is able to try one or two new tools that will save time and money on the farm or ranch? A gift of the Next Generation conference is not one that will be put in the closet to collect dust, it has the potential to make a great impact on families! There are 36 workshops offered on Saturday, and there’s truly something for everyone!

· Pesticide points! 2020 is the end of the pesticide cycle for our region, which means applicators need their 6 recertification credits by the end of 2020. There will be 5 workshops with pesticide points at the Next Generation conference, on both crop and range related topics.

·Networking – The conference provides an opportunity to network with industry professionals and other producers. Where else, can you ask questions of accountants and lawyers for just $25/day?

· The gift of family – The conference truly has something for everyone, regardless of age. Whether it’s a beginning producer, someone who’s been farming or ranching for 20 years, or someone nearing retirement, there are workshops for everyone! There is also babysitting provided on both days for just $15/child, so the whole family can come!

If you are interested in providing a friend or family member with a registration to Montana’s Next Generation Conference, you can register online at If you call our office at 406-873-2239, we would be happy to mail or email a gift certificate that you can give to your recipient. Another added bonus - everyone who purchases a conference registration by January 10 will be entered in two drawings, one for a free registration and one for a free hotel room during the conference!

This Christmas, give a gift that won’t sit on the shelf collecting dust, give a gift of Montana’s Next Generation conference that can provide a lasting impact.

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.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Making this summer matter

Kari Lewis

Do you want to make this summer matter for your family? One simple routine that can have profound effects on kids’ academic success and health is eating together as a family. In reading an article from the American College of Pediatricians, teens who have dinner with their families seven times a week are almost 40% likelier to say they receive mostly A’s and B’s in school compared to teens who have dinner with their families just two or less times/week. Children ages 9 to 14 who have more regular dinners with their families are 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating and 24% more likely to eat healthier foods.

The article also shared that teens who have less than 3 family dinners per week are 2.5x more likely to use marijuana, twice as likely to use alcohol, and four times more likely to use tobacco. In addition, they are more likely to experience depression and more likely to engage in dangerous activities.

So, knowing the importance of family meals, how do families make it possible when family members are heading in multiple directions? Here’s a few tips:

· Eating together as a family is the main thing. Family meals can mean family breakfasts or a simple
Family meals don't have to be a five course meal, they can be breakfasts or even
sandwiches on the back of a pickup too!  Photo by Kari Lewis.
dinner of sandwiches or grilled hot dogs, it doesn’t have to mean a five-course meal.

· At the beginning of the week, spend a few minutes to jot on a calendar everyone’s activities and plan a few nights when there can be a dinner as a family. Ask your kids if there is anything they would like to try for dinner and involve them in the meal planning. Meal planning will also help with grocery shopping as well!

· Allow kids to pick out fruits and vegetables in the grocery store. To help make the right choice the easy choice, give them two equally good options. For example, instead of asking what they want for a snack, ask if you should get apples or bananas, both good options. They are still involved in the decision making and picking out healthy items.

· Involve the kids in the process of family mealtimes. Kids can help set the table, prepare a salad, shuck corn on the cob, mix ingredients, and clean up afterwards. In fact, you may even pick one night a week when it’s the kids’ responsibility to choose the menu and cook. This is great training and helps the entire family take ownership of the family meal.

Summer is a great time to work on making a dinnertime routine to carry over into the school year. Teens with frequent family dinners are one and half times more likely to have an excellent relationship with their mother and twice as likely to have an excellent relationship with their family and siblings, so if you desire peace and harmony in the family, eating together is a great place to start!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Water Hardness Wreaking Havoc with Pesticide Applications?

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

At a time of the season when there are plenty of times when spraying is an ongoing practice, let’s take a couple of minutes to talk about something that might make your pesticide applications less effective: water hardness.
According to an MSU Extension MontGuide titled, “Pesticide Performance and Water Quality,” the term water ‘hardness’ refers to presence of metals with a positive charge of more than 1, such as calcium, magnesium, and iron.  Total hardness is measured in parts per million (ppm) or in grains per gallon and labs typically report results in terms of calcium for simplicity, even though other metals are making up part of the hardness.  One grain (per gallon) equals 17.1 ppm.

These cations, or positively charged elements, can further reduce the effectiveness of weak acid pesticides, especially if the pH of the water is above the ideal range, which is so often true in our area.  The effect happens because of the pesticide dissociating into positively and negatively charged parts and the elements, such as calcium, magnesium and iron in the water, binding with the negatively charged portion of the pesticide.  This results in molecules that either can’t be absorbed by the target pest, enter at a slower rate, or form insoluble salts.  Hardness can range anywhere from 0 to over 800 ppm.  Water with a hardness between 0 and 114 ppm is considered soft, 114-342 ppm, moderately hard, 342-800, hard, and anything above 800 ppm is considered extremely hard.
Consider the following guidelines regarding hard water:

•Always read and follow precautions regarding hardness on the pesticide product label.
•Weak acid pesticides such as clopyralid, 2,4-D amine, glyphosate and dicamba may lose efficacy if hardness exceeds 150 ppm, especially if pH is greater than 7.0.

•2,4-D amine formulations can be totally deactivated if the hardness is greater than 600 ppm.

•Many other herbicides will lose efficacy if hardness is greater than 400 ppm, if iron is present.
Hardness can be reduced with the addition of dry ammonium sulfate at 8.5 to 17.5 lbs. per 100 gallons of water, or liquid fertilizers (such as 28 percent N, 32 percent N, or 10-34-0) at a rate of 1.25 – 2.5 percent per 100 gallons.  It works by reducing the pH and also through sulfate combining with hard water cations.  Performance might be enhanced further by the addition of a non-ionic surfactant.

If you have questions regarding your water hardness, please consider visiting with your local county Extension office about water testing options.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Avoid a Bummer Summer and Grill Foods Safely

by Wendy Wedum, MSU Extension Pondera County 

Today is the first World Food Safety Day. It was adopted by the United Nations last December.  Food Safety is everyone’s responsibility from how food is grown to how it is processed to delivery and how we each handle food at home.

Last week I talked about getting your grill ready for the summer and today I’m going to talk about food safety practices to make sure you can avoid food borne illnesses and not have a bummer summer.
Grilled food is hard to beat for family meals, camping, tailgating and more. It is also important to avoid any unwelcome guests such as bacteria that cause food borne illness. 

Start these simple food safety rules:
It is important to keep everything clean.  Wash hands before and after handling raw meats because harmful bacteria may be present in raw meat and poultry and the raw juices can contaminate cooked or ready to eat food. Have plenty of clean utensils, serving dishes and cutting boards ready for moving raw meats to the grill and clean plates to put the cooked foods on for serving.

It is important store ready to eat foods separately from raw meats.  Ready to eat foods are usually not cooked or reheated and raw meat juices can contaminate them. Examples of ready to eat foods include salads, side dishes, fried chicken and raw fruit or vegetables.

On the grill, meat needs to be cooked to a safe internal temperature to destroy bacteria. Use a food thermometer to check. The correct internal temperature for Poultry is 165°F, ground meat is 160°F, steaks, chops and roasts are 145°F. Remember to let steaks, burgers and chicken pieces rest 3-5 minutes before eating.  Roasts or a whole chicken may need 10-15 minutes to rest.  Resting helps finish the cooking process and lets the juices be reabsorbed for tender and juicy meat.

As you plan and prepare summer barbecues, remember to keep in mind loved ones who are most at risk for food borne illness. This includes children under 9 years old and adults over 65 years, pregnant women and nursing mothers, and people with weakened immune systems from chronic or short-term illness.

They are the why we keep things clean, why we separate raw and ready to eat foods, why we cook raw food to proper internal temperatures and why we keep all foods at safe temperatures.  Be sure to not take chances with your family’s or friends’ health. Keep hot foods hot, cold foods cold and when in doubt, throw it out.

For more information you can call me at 271-4054 or your own local Extension office. 

World Food Safety Day: 
Five Keys to Safer Food:
Summer Food Safety:

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Montana, watch out for Palmer Amaranth!

Kari Lewis

Last week I had the opportunity as part of our MSU Extension Ag Agent update to visit the North Dakota State University Extension research center at Williston, ND. One of the topics covered was palmer amaranth. Palmer amaranth is a type of pigweed that originated in the desert region of the southwestern US and has since spread all across the US with the exception of Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

Rich Zollinger, a retired NDSU Extension Weed Scientist said the following about the weed: “Palmer amaranth’s prolonged emergence period, rapid growth rate, prolific seed production, and propensity to evolve herbicide resistance quickly makes this the most pernicious, noxious, and serious weed threat that North Dakota farmers have ever faced.”

Palmer amaranth is a competitive and aggressive weed that can grow 2 to 3 inches per day in optimum conditions. Palmer amaranth can easily reach 6 to 8 feet tall, has tremendously thick stalks, and produces up to 1 million seeds per plant! It emerges throughout the growing season and is very prone to herbicide resistance. Palmer amaranth has been reported to reduce yields up to 91 percent in corn and 79 percent in soybeans.

In Nebraska where there’s issues with herbicide resistant Palmer Amaranth, it’s estimated to cost $145/acre to control the weed in soybean fields. Therefore, its absolutely critical to remain diligent in scouting for this weed.

Palmer amaranth resembles redroot pigweed, smooth pigweed, and waterhemp. However, Palmer amaranth has no hair on the plant, the petioles (or leaf stem) are longer than the leaf, the leaves are diamond or oval-shaped, and there’s spiny bracts on the female plants.

Palmer amaranth can be spread in multiple ways. It arrived in North Dakota numerous different ways – a custom combine that came up from the south, a combine purchased from Ohio, a railroad car, in millet seed, in sunflower screenings, etc. If using custom cutters for harvesting this summer, it is absolutely critical that they clean out their machinery prior to harvesting between operations.

If while out scouting your fields you suspect palmer amaranth, please bring a sample into your local MSU Extension office for identification. There is also some great resources on palmer amaranth available at

Thanks to NDSU Extension for the tour and information!

Alicia Harstad with a Palmer Amaranth Plant
Stutsman County Extension agent Alicia Harstad with a
Palmer Amaranth plant (NDSU Photo)

Friday, May 24, 2019

Prepare your Gas Grill before busting out the burgers!

by Wendy Wedum, Pondera County Extension

Winter seems to finally be making it’s exit and I’ve been thinking more about outdoor cooking.  Even if you enjoy your gas grill year round, it never hurts to give your grill a good spring cleaning.  So before I light my gas grill for the first time, there are a few things that I want to do to make sure my grilling season is safe.  Here are four tips to help you have a great season of outdoor cooking.

Let’s look at Safety First.  On gas grills remember to check the hose from your propane tank to the burners.  Make sure it is intact and clean.  If there is any build up from cooking residues, get this cleaned off.  Also check the hose for holes or any signs of being torn.  Then consider doing a leak test on the propane tank to check the regulator, valves and hose connections.  Simply coat the parts with soapy water and then turn on the gas to pressurize the system.  Look for bubbles which show escaping gas. If you have any bubbles, tighten the connections and try again.  If there are still bubbles it is time to replace the hose or the tank.

Second, if you didn’t clean your grill before winter or you enjoyed a January barbecue, it is a good idea to clean out the grill before the summer season.  For a gas grill take out the grates and give everything a good scrub.  A wire brush or a putty knife can remove much of the accumulated grease on uncoated steel or iron.  Wash surfaces with soap, rinse really well and dry thoroughly.  If the cooking grates are rusty, it’s time to replace them.

Third check the grease trap, you know, it’s that thing under the cooking area of the grill.  Replace the grease container with a new one.  Consider adding a lining of heavy aluminum foil which will make cleaning the grease trap easier to do next year.

Finally, give your gas grill a test run.  Light it up and let it burn for a few minutes.  Look at each of the burners to make sure they are holding the flame and there are no leaks or irregular flames.  Use a metal paper clip to unclog blocked grill tubes after the burner has cooled.  The flame should be blue on the bottom and yellow on top.  If the flame is all yellow, check the propane tank to make sure it is full and has enough pressure. You can also disconnect and reconnect everything for a better seal.  If that does not work, it might be time to get new burners.

Thanks for visiting the Northcentral Montana MSU Extension Blog. You can also call me at 271-4054 for more information.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Begin management now for improved Knapweed control

Kari Lewis   

The purple flowers of spotted knapweed may not be showing quite yet, but most knapweed plants throughout the county are actively growing at this time.  ‘Skeletons’ of last year’s knapweed plants, the dried-out stem and flower seed heads, are a tell-tale sign of where knapweed grew last year.  Upon closer examination of the skeleton, the current year’s growth (rosette) can typically be identified.  Rosette leaves of spotted knapweed are indented or divided about halfway to the midrib.  Rosettes first initiate growth in mid-spring, plants then bolt (or produce their flowering stem) in early summer and by mid-summer the purple blooms are typically seen. 

Controlling knapweed while in the rosette stage is much
more effective than waiting until flowers appear.  Photo by Kari Lewis.

                Spotted knapweed is a Montana noxious weed that greatly decreases land productivity, forage production, and property values.  Now, while knapweed is in the rosette stage, is the time to begin spotted knapweed control.
                Regular and careful hand pulling can control spotted knapweed.  Knapweed regrowth occurs from the crowns, so the entire crown portion of the plant must be removed.  Plants can be pulled most effectively when the soil is moist.  Plants should be bagged and disposed of in a manner to prevent seed dispersal which would exacerbate the spread of knapweed.  Knapweed plants produce from 500 to 4,000 seeds per plant and seeds can be viable for up to eight years, so proper disposal of plants is critical. 
                Mowing is most effective in areas where there are healthy perennial grasses that will respond to mowing with renewed growth.  If the plant community is dominated by forbs or annual grasses, mowing may open up the plant community to further weed infestations and increase knapweed density.  Mowing early in the season can prevent seed production and lower the plant’s carbohydrate reserves.
'Skeleton's from last year's knpaweed
plants are a tell-tale sign of where to find
the current year's rosettes. 
Photo by Kari Lewis.
                Herbicides labeled for spotted or diffuse knapweed application during the rosette stage include those with the following active ingredients: Aminopyralid (Milestone), Clopyralid + 2,4D (Curtail), Picloram (Tordon 22K), or Triclopyr + clopyralid (Redeem R&P).  The herbicide 2,4-D can be applied at the early stage of bolting.  The MSU Extension publication, ‘Biology, Ecology, and Management of Montana Knapweeds’ includes herbicide application rates as well.
                Another tool in the toolbox for controlling knapweed includes biocontrols.  Biocontrols are insects that naturally feed on the knapweed plants, decreasing the plant density, plant height, and over time, plant population.  Biocontrols work best in large, dense infestations.  The Glacier County Extension Office will again be coordinating a bulk order of biocontrols.  Orders for the Larinus minutus/obtusus (Knapweed Seed head weevil) will be due June 7 ($50/carton) and orders for the Cyphocleonus Achates (Knapweed Root Weevil) will be due July 26 ($90/carton).  Shipping will be free to the Glacier County Extension Office and with the purchase of five cartons of a biocontrol species, there will be one free carton added.  Order forms are available at the Glacier County Extension webpage or by contacting the Glacier County Extension Office at (406) 873-2239.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Sparking Onions in the Microwave

by Wendy Wedum, Pondera County Extension

One of the fun things about being an Extension Agent and providing education are the many learning opportunities I get when people ask us questions.  It is fun because we often get all kinds of different questions.  The learning opportunity comes when I do not know the answer and need to do some research to learn the answer.

For example, last week a woman came into the office and asked, “Why do my onions spark in the microwave?”  She explained that her husband likes to have onions on his burgers and that she cuts them up and partially cooks them in the microwave first – this is where the sparking comes from.

I am familiar with peas, corn or beans bursting in the microwave from water that goes from a liquid to steam when the food is heated, but the issue with the onions causing sparks was a new one.

A search showed there are a couple possibilities why onions and other foods will spark in the microwave.  First, since all plants absorb water and nutrients from the soil, there is a strong chance that there are also small bits of dissolved minerals and metals in the veggies such as iron, potassium and copper.  According to the US Department of Agriculture, root vegetables are very good at storing these metallic nutrients.

Second, it could also be related to how the onion was cut up.  If the pieces are irregular or unevenly sized pieces, the smaller pieces are more likely cook more quickly and burn than larger pieces.  The other thing that happens are all the pointy cut edges or leafy edges of plants such as kale make opportunities for a spark to form. 

There are ways to reduce the amount of sparking.  Instead of cutting the vegetables into small pieces, leave them as large as possible and cut them after the cooking.  For the onion, cook whole slices.  This lowers the number of angular edges.  If cutting vegetables, then cut into uniform sizes – this prevents the pieces that are too small from cooking too fast.

Another method is to arrange the food evenly on the plate or in the bowl.  A small amount of liquid could be added or put a light covering over the food.  Then stir, turn or rotate the food halfway through the cooking time.  This helps even out the cooking and will reduce cold spots.

Link to Safely Microwaving Foods:
Link to article on sparking foods: 

Remember to Like and Follow Montana State University Extension Pondera County's Facebook page:   

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Determining Your Tomato Type

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

As an undergraduate, I took some sort of course (I forget what exactly) where we spent considerable time in a greenhouse setting.  During part of that time we had the opportunity to start tomatoes from seeds, and I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to plant approximately 200 tomato seeds.  It’s obvious now that I wasn’t thinking of the long-term and the fact that I had then to transplant a great deal of those plants as well as they grew.  It was a lesson learned and we had a lot of tomatoes to plant in our small section of the student housing garden that summer.

When looking at growing tomatoes, a question has been posed to me about what the difference is between a determinate and an indeterminate tomato.  I’ll just say upfront that in our environment, our tomatoes, whether determinate or indeterminate, are going to act in a determinate fashion.  Determinate cultivars of tomatoes are those that grow to a couple of feet in height, stop, flower and set fruit.  Indeterminate cultivars grow through the season, sometimes making up to 15 feet of vine growth.  I think of those large plants that grow in greenhouse settings.  Indeterminate cultivars set fruit as they go and continue to produce up to frost.  That’s why I said that those two types effectively operate as determinate in our environment, as frost and cold temperatures are the limiting factors.  The fruit of indeterminate varieties also ripen over an extended period of time. 
Illustration courtesy of UC ANR.
Speaking from a MontGuide publication that is available to the public, determinate types form compact plants that may not need to be supported.  You might choose to have a support them anyway, as both types usually benefit from some kind of support.  Indeterminate types trail along the ground if they are not supported.  The plant foliage keeps the soil cool and moist and can delay fruit ripening.  Supporting your plants will help fruit ripen earlier. 

Whether you have determinate or indeterminate cultivars, set them in the garden after the danger of frost is passed.  For us, I would count on after Memorial Day.  Having cloches around them, such as the walls of water, can protect them further from chilly night-time temperatures to a certain extent, and can also protect against wind damage.  Other tools, such as plastic milk jugs or old tires could also accomplish the same tasks for the most part.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Pesticide Applications- Water Quality

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

It is not uncommon, according to an MSU Extension MontGuide, for Montana applicators to use water sources with pH levels higher than 8.0 and/or hardness ratings greater than 150 ppm.  This poor water quality can affect pesticide product performance, and as a result, product application rates often being raised, resulting in unnecessary losses in revenue.

In trying to work with water pH, remember that most insecticides, fungicides and herbicides are weakly acidic; that is when they are placed in water with a higher pH, over 7, they undergo degradation.  You can test your water with a litmus strip, or a pH meter.  Keep in mind that the pH of your water can vary with time and should be reassessed periodically.  Commercial buffers are available that can lower the pH of a spray solution for those weakly acidic pesticides.
Hardness, or hard water, refers to the presence of metals with a positive charge of more than 1, such as calcium, magnesium and iron.  The effect of water hardness is the further reduction of the effectiveness of weak acid pesticides, especially with a high pH water.  Hardness can be reduced with the addition of dry ammonium sulfate at 8.5 to 17.5 lbs./100 gallons of water, or liquid fertilizers, such as a 10-34-0 at a rate of 1.25 to 2.5% per 100 gallons.  Performance might be further enhanced by the addition of a non-ionic surfactant.

Turbidity can also affect pesticide performance.  This is simply the haziness of a liquid caused by suspended particles, such as soil and organic matter.  Applicators can test water turbidity by dropping a quarter into a five-gallon bucket filled with water.  If the water is too cloudy to see the quarter, seek an alternative source of water for spray mixtures.
If you have questions about your water quality, I would encourage you to contact your local county Extension office for more information, or for a copy of the MontGuide, titled, “Pesticide Performance and Water Quality.”

Monday, April 29, 2019

Podcasts and Windshield Time

          Spring is here and it is time to get out in the field. It is no doubt that some of you will be seeing a lot of windshield time while seeding your spring crops. For this extension minute, I wanted to suggest some podcasts to help keep your mind going while you’re stuck in the tractor seat.
A podcast is a series of digital audio episodes that a user can download and listen. Podcasts have been around since 2004 but they have seemed to have really gained traction in the last few years with smartphones. Podcasts can typically last anywhere from five minutes to an hour, but it depends on the podcast and your attention span. With our sporadic cell phone service in the area, it is quite helpful to download podcasts on your phone or tablet devices then the episode will be available for offline use.
The best thing about podcasts are that there is one for everybody. There are sports, pop culture, lifestyle, business and technology, or just general stories available for free. There are millions of podcasts out there and new ones being born every day. I listen to my podcasts on the Apple Podcast App, which is free on the iPhone but you can also get podcasts on Spotify, Soundcloud, and Google Play on Android phones.
Now I would like to suggest a few podcasts. These are just a few that I enjoy listening to and I hope you might too! Two are agriculture podcasts and two are some of my favorites that I listen to almost daily.
Talking Lane: Lane Nordlund from the Montana Ag Network TV has a podcast called Talking Lane. On this thirty minute podcast, Lane interviews some notable ag producers in Montana and he talks about current ag issues and policies. This podcast is great for learning about local agriculture trends.
AgricultureToday: Agriculture Today is a daily podcast that comes out of the Extension services at Kansas State. In this thirty minute podcast, Eric Atkinson shares current affairs in Ag and market updates from K-State economists. If you are looking for a Montana State Extension podcast, keep looking towards the future. Our own, Mat Walter out of Teton county has received a grant so he can begin a Montana State Extension podcast. I will keep you updated on when that comes out!
How I BuiltThis: How I built this is hosted by Guy Raz from NPR. In this podcast, Guy dives into the stories behind some of the world’s best known companies and weaves a narrative journey about innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists and the movements they built. These episodes are typically forty five minutes to an hour. Some of the companies have been big names like Instagram, Airbnb, Lyft, and Stitch Fix.
Stuff YouShould Know: Stuff you should know is my personal favorite podcast. SYSK releases episodes daily on the Apple Podcast App.  Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark research a random topic anywhere from yo-yo's to the Loch Ness Monster to the Pony Express. These podcasts typically last around forty five minutes to an hour but they also have, what are known as “short stuff” episodes that are around twelve minutes long. I think I enjoy this podcast the most because it will be very helpful for when I’m on jeopardy some day!
Now that I’ve given you some tips on how to get started listening to podcasts, I hope you have an excellent seeding season and enjoy your windshield time. Also, if you come across any awesome podcasts that I didn’t mention, be sure to let me know!