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: 

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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.