Monday, June 29, 2020

4th of July Safety Tips

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

It is hard to believe that the end of this week will be the 4th of July.  With everything we have been through the past few months and our uncertain times even now, it doesn’t feel like the year is halfway gone.  With July 4th falling nicely on a weekend this year, it may lend itself nicely to traveling, camping and other recreational activities.  While, of course, this year we are being constantly encouraged to practice safe social distancing, there are other safety precautions we need to take around this festive weekend.
Image courtesy of Consumer Product Safety Commission
The first safety tip that I can give is the one to be safe around fireworks.  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 180 people go to the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries around the time surrounding July 4th.  Of those, 57% of the injuries are burn-related.  So, let’s put the safety tip out there, and never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.  This is a hard sell and I don’t know what to say about sparklers other than if you choose to let your child have sparklers, that would be an excellent opportunity to teach them about keeping a safe distance away from others when the sparkler is lit.  Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees which is hot enough to melt some metals.  When lighting fireworks, never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse.  Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.  Once they are spent, make sure they are fully extinguished by keeping a bucket of water or a hose handy to douse them completely.  Last, never try and make your own fireworks.  This is how seemingly a large amount of severe injuries and even death occur when I was looking through reports on fireworks.  Leave the firework making to those professionally trained.  Our job is to enjoy their handiwork, not try and duplicate it.

My second tip is concerning food safety.  Whether you are cooking indoors or outdoors, make sure you clean all surfaces, utensils, and hands with soap and water.  When grilling, use separate plates and utensils for raw meat and cooked meat and ready-to-eat foods, like raw vegetables, to avoid cross-contamination.  Cook foods to the right temperature by using a food thermometer.  That’s the only way to know it’s a safe temperature.  Remember, burgers should be cooked to 160°F.  Pork should be cooked to 145°F for medium rare and 160°F for medium, with poultry needing to be cooked to 165°F.  Last, chill raw and prepared foods promptly if not consuming after cooking.  You shouldn’t leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90° F, so if you’re away from home, make sure you bring a cooler to store those leftovers.
Have a safe and enjoyable 4th of July weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Irises to Beautify Your Garden

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

The yard I grew up with was a fenced oasis among the weeds and native plants of southeastern Washington.  I remember a lot of perennial flowers in the yard, but what I remember most were the irises that lined one side of the yard in its length, along with a small patch by the storage shed.  The irises came in yellow, white and purple.  They are largely gone now, part of the cycle of life as my parents simplified the lawn landscape and plants aged and died.  However, my memories of those irises have made that flower a favorite of mine in our garden here too.  
Irises come in all shapes, colors and sizes!
There are several types of iris out there and each person will prefer something different.  For all intents and purposes this week, we’ll divide them up into bearded and beardless.  Your stereotypical iris is a bearded iris.  What does that mean?  The beard is a fuzzy patch at the base of each falls petal.  A falls petal, of which there are three, is the petal that hangs downward.  The other three petals, of which there are also three, stand upright and are called standards.  Locate the falls petal and look at it near the center of the flower.  The beard is usually quite distinct, and you can feel the fuzzy hair-like feature.  A beardless variety lacks this beard completely.  Now, to make life confusing there are crested irises.  These lack beards but instead have a crest located in the same spot as a beard.  It has been described as a ridge or cockscomb. You can see and feel the higher crest but it will not be fuzzy.  That’s all I’ll say about crested irises for the time being.

Note the orangish beard on the iris above. 
With irises in our area either already done blooming, or close to it, how do we manage them the rest of the time?  As soon as bearded irises are done blooming, remove the spent flowers.  You can cut those flower stocks down to the base or where they join the leaves.  Removal of the spent flowers improves the appearance of the plants and prevents seed pod formation.  Bearded irises otherwise require little care during the summer months.  In late fall or early spring, remove the dead iris leaves.  It is important that you don’t cut the leaves back until the fall.  If you cut them back right after they are done blooming you are denying that root system of the nutrients it needs to grow and develop.  It usually takes several weeks for iris leaves to completely die back.  By early fall, the leaves are usually ready to be cut back, according to Utah State University Extension.  Leaves should be cut back to about 6 to 8 inches above the ground.  Then, wait until after the first hard frost.  This will kill off the remaining foliage, at which point you can remove it to the ground. If you can't stand the look of yellowing foliage, you can trim it a little at a time as it turns yellow or fold the leaves back so that the yellow parts are hidden from view.

To close for this week, bearded irises should be divided every three to five years, as the plants quickly become overcrowded and don’t bloom well.  July or August is the best time to dig, divide and transplant bearded irises. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Beware the Creeping Bellflower!

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

When we moved into our home, our yard overwhelmed us.  Honestly, it probably does still overwhelm us but maybe we’re used to it by now.  The previous owners, and I think the owners before them, spent their summers in the garden and yard, making the yard a beautiful thing.  We lead active lives where generally we try and keep up with the weeds and the lawn, yet it will sneak up on us.  That is one benefit of this year and the cancellation of meetings, events, etc.  We have actually done a better than average (for us) job of mowing, fertilizing, weeding and planting.  One weed that has plagued us since we moved in and ever since was mistakenly seen first as a tall, pretty plant with purple, bell-shaped flowers.  After about the first year, it became apparent that it wasn’t just a flower but a rapidly spreading menace, aptly named creeping bellflower.  It appeared to be pulled out easy enough, until we later discovered we weren’t getting the true roots.  Turns out we missed the large, carrot-like rhizomes that bury themselves deep in the soil.  Now, we work diligently to try and contain, if not eradicate, this weed that has become the bane of our garden. 

Photo courtesy of University of Arkansas Extension.
Creeping bellflower is a tough weed and it seems to out-compete anything in your flowerbed.  This plant has two very powerful means of reproduction.  First, as I mentioned before, it has thick, fleshy roots called rhizomes which spread and mat and crowd out other plants.  Secondly, each plant produces about 3,000 seeds in a growing season which remain viable in the soil for many years.  What are our management options, then?
 If nothing else, pick the flowers so they don’t go to seed and throw them away, far, far away from your yard and garden.  If digging them, as we tend to do, loosen the soil and remove as many roots as you can.  Rototilling them is discouraged as every tiny bit of root will result in a new plant.  Persistence each year in weeding is another tool that shouldn’t be overlooked.  We will probably have to continue to remove roots and plants for several years.  After weeding consider applying a thick layer of mulch on top of the soil.  Seeds need light to germinate and a thick layer of mulch will help prevent germination.  However, these roots will sometimes send up leaves even through mulch.  Stay on top of that and remove the leaves as soon as possible.  No leaves mean no photosynthesis and that will weaken the remaining roots in the soil.

Herbicides can help control creeping bellflower but quite often the initial control rate of herbicides containing glyphosate, dicamba, or picloram don’t prove 100% effective and subsequent sprays are even less effective.  2, 4-D appears to have even worse results unfortunately.  According to resources such as the University of Saskatchewan, you will have more success by removing roots, mulching and weeding new growth.
If you do happen to find creeping bellflower in your lawn, the best options are to dig it out and re-seed, or keep it mowed to prevent it from flowering.  Please contact your local county Extension office if you think you have creeping bellflower and you would like to have it confirmed

Friday, June 12, 2020

Pollinator Friendly Gardens

Creating Pollinator Friendly Gardens
Adriane Good, MSU Extension Pondera County

I’m sure most people by now have heard about the recent declines in bee numbers and how worried many people are about the loss of pollinators. A common source of blame for the loss of pollinators is the destruction of their habitat. The good news is, you can help create more habitat for pollinators relatively easily!

Before you go creating pollinator habitat, it’s important to know what qualifies as a pollinator. Many people only think of bees as pollinators, but butterflies, birds, and bats also do the important work of pollination. You can encourage all of these helpful flying creatures to come visit by doing a few things: using integrated pest management, providing food, and providing a place for them to nest.

Using integrated pest management on the nuisance insects on your yard will help keep the pollinators happy. This includes applying insecticides in the early morning or late evening when pollinators aren’t as active and using other non-chemical methods of pest control. This can be as simple as removing food sources for the nuisance bugs or as complicated as finding their native enemies and releasing them.

Pollinators also need a place to nest if they are going to come live in your yard. For most of our native pollinator insects, they live alone instead of in a hive. Most of them like to nest in undisturbed soil or rotting wood. Leaving patches of your garden undisturbed provides a home for those ground nesting pollinators, while leaving some brush piles laying around will provide a place for those that like building nests in wood. Brush piles don’t match the aesthetic of your yard? Instead, you can use untreated wood for your fences and lawn furniture to provide a place for pollinators to live.

And finally, a food source is important. While all flowers provide some sort of pollen and nectar, the ones that have lots of small blooms provide much more. These ones will attract much more pollinators. It’s also important to provide a variety of flowers for the pollinators to sample. You should aim to have flowers blooming all season long, from May to September. Having a variety of early and late bloomers, and a variety of flower sizes and colors will attract the greatest variety of pollinators. You also will want to plant your flowers in groups and make sure you have more than one of each kind. When you think about flowers in native prairie, you rarely see just one solitary buffalo bean, you see several all over the place. This is the way flowers naturally grow and it is better at attracting pollinators. Planting your flowers in drifts of at least 3 of each variety will help keep the pollinators coming back for more.

While a large variety of flowers is important, avoid planting noxious and obnoxious weeds. Some noxious weeds can be quite pretty and probably attract some pollinators, but they spread very quickly and are incredibly difficult to get rid of. Make sure you are checking to make sure you’re not planting something that your neighbors will get quite mad at you for. For this reason, pre-made wildflower packets can be dangerous. If you are planting a wildflower mix, make sure the weed seed percentage is low and the species listed are all acceptable to be grown here. I happen to have some wildflower packets in my office that came from Lake County Conservation District and have all native flower species in them. If you would like one of these packets, feel free to contact our office at 271-4054!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Overcoming Problems in the Garden

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

A lot of gardens are in now, and with a little luck, some good weather and a lot of hard work, people will be rewarded by the fruits of their labors at the end of the season.  With many of those garden plants being broad-leaf vegetables and with many of our other garden plants actively growing and blooming there are occasional problems that pop up. 

Sometimes, when we add amendments, like compost to our soils and gardens, we might see some oddball things start to happen to our plants.  Other times, we might be a little overzealous with our desire to keep broadleaf weeds out of our yards and gardens and spray herbicides far and wide.  At other times, our neighbors or various entities might get a little careless with their use of pesticides, and combined with some wind, you end up the recipient of their pesticide use.  All three of these scenarios result in garden and yard plants exhibiting signs of distress and various growth habits, like twisting, cupping and curling, that otherwise aren’t part of their normal growth patterns. 
Photo courtesy of University of Maryland Extension
With any of these scenarios, there are MSU Extension publications that detail how to overcome these preventable occurrences.  One way to stop herbicide injury from occurring in your garden is to know not only where your compost or garden amendments came from, but what was sprayed on them previous to their coming into your garden.  This is applicable when talking about adding composted manures from someone’s farm.  If the farm sprayed an herbicide on plants before animals ingested plants, it would work its way through the digestive system into the manure.  If enough time hasn’t passed to allow for herbicides to break down in that manure, it will find its way into your garden through the compost.

Photo courtesy of Clemson University
If you or your neighbor have sprayed too heavily, or too close to susceptible plants and your plants are looking poorly, the first step is to be more careful in the future.  If you are unsure what has been sprayed, or how much or when, then I would suggest a couple strategies.  First, if you suspect an herbicide residual exists in your garden, you can try a soil bioassay test.  This sounds daunting but it involves digging some of the soil that is suspected of having herbicide residue, planting it in some small pots, planting some seeds in the pots, and observing.  If you want to see a specific difference, have one of the small pots be a control with soil that you know isn’t suspected of having herbicide residue.  If you don’t see a difference in the plants between the control and other pots, then your plants and soil are ok.  Alternatively, if your plants come up a certain amount and then have a distorted appearance or die, you know that your soil is impacted and you’ll either have to wait a year to plant in that spot or bring in fresh soil.  To help expedite herbicide breakdown, try keeping the soil moist, growing a grass-type crop there, turn the soil to increase aeration and provide non-contaminated organic matter to support soil organisms. 
I know that there is much more to cover on this topic and so I would encourage you to stop by your local county Extension office for the free publications on this topic.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Tick Tock 2020

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

Right now, ticks are out, so it’s a good time to check your clothing and yourself, and your pets if you’ve been out in the tall grass, brush, near streams, etc.  We are most likely going to see the Rocky Mountain wood tick around our area of Montana.  While this tick is gross, like all other ticks, one thing it doesn’t do is in Montana is vector Lyme disease.  However, it can vector other diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Colorado tick fever.  Once again though, the transmission of Rocky Mountain spotted fever is rare in our state as most cases occur in the south Atlantic region of the country.  Colorado tick fever is something that can occur in our state though.  Symptoms of Colorado tick fever occur within a few days and include chills, headaches, fever, muscular ache, and general discomfort.  Unfortunately, that sounds like a lot of different maladies, so please be careful and check for ticks after having been in any tick habitats. 
Photo courtesy of Colorado State University Extension
If you want to try and repel ticks, or keep them out of clothing, there are a couple of recommendations.  First, use a repellent like DEET or picaridin, especially on your pants and socks.  Secondly, and it may look weird, but it works, tuck your pant legs into your socks when possible to create one more barrier to them crawling inside clothing. 
If you do find a tick on you, please listen to this next section carefully.  There are some common folklore tick removal methods such as “backing out of the tick with a burning match” that should not be attempted.  This method is not safe and doesn’t work.  It is important to try to thoroughly remove the tick and the mouthparts.  The tick has mouthparts which are barbed and used for insertion into the skin.  If these break off, it can be a further source of irritation and possibly infection.  Also, the crushing of the mouthparts can allow for disease transmission to occur through the skin if not removed properly.  Place forceps (try to use blunt curved forceps or tweezers) around the tick mouthparts as close to the skin as possible.  Remove the tick with a slow, steady pull away from the skin.  Don’t jerk or twist the tick.  Avoid getting or crushing any tick parts on you.  Disinfect your skin with alcohol and wash your hands with soap and water. 

May your spring and summer be tick free and more enjoyable because of it!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Leafcutter Bees

By Adriane Good, MSU Extension Pondera County

Recently I received a call about a strange mass underneath the siding of a house near Valier. The mass was full of small greenish-brown tubes. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that the mass was a leafcutter bee nest!

Leafcutter bees are great pollinators and helpful to have around your yard. They are essential pollinators for some native plants, and they have been semi-domesticated in some areas to help alfalfa seed production. Next time you venture across the border into Southern Alberta, you might see some small tents in alfalfa fields - those belong to leafcutter bees!

Leafcutter bees are quite small – ranging from 1/5 of an inch to an inch long. They resemble small honeybees with their black and yellow coloring. They do their important job as a pollinator by catching and carrying pollen on the underside of their abdomen. Leafcutter bees like most broadleaf plants, but they have a particular fondness for lilacs, roses, and ash trees.

Leafcutter bees are solitary animals, unlike other insects such as honeybees and ants. Instead of living in colonies and building a nest together, leafcutter bees build nests by themselves and the females do all the work rearing their young. The nests of leafcutter bees contain several small cells that form a tube 4-8 inches long. They make these cells out of leaf cuttings, nectar, and pollen. Once the adult leafcutter bee lays her eggs in the nest, the young bees will stay inside and develop to adulthood, ready to emerge in the next season.

Leafcutter bee nests found under the siding of a house.

You may not notice the bees themselves in your yard, but you may see some evidence of leafcutter bee damage in your plants. To acquire the leaf cuttings for their nests, the leafcutter bees cut out small semi-circles from the leaves of plants. This damage is purely aesthetic and won’t hurt the plant at all. Leafcutter bees are also very non-aggressive, so as long as you aren’t bothering them, they won’t sting you. If they do, no worries, they have a very mild sting. The bees tend to build their nests in soft, rotting wood or other places they have easy access to. Unlike other insects that build their nests in wood, leafcutter bees don’t burrow further into the wood. So, the nest that was found under the siding of a house wasn’t causing any damage!

Evidence of leafcutter bee damage on a lilac.

Leafcutter bees are one of the best insects to have in your yard. If you find a nest in a place where you would not like a nest, remove it and then seal up any cracks you can find, and they probably won’t go back there. If you find some damage on your plants and you want to protect them, you can cover them with cheesecloth or loose netting to prevent the bees from getting to them. If you don’t mind a few holes in your plant’s leaves though, I highly encourage you to let the leafcutter bees roam your yard to continue their important pollination work!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Mythbusters: Epsom Salt and Tomatoes

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

Memorial Day seems to be a traditional time to put out some of tender garden plants in our area, such as tomatoes.  There are always little traditions or ways of planting that are passed down in families or make their way into popular culture.  Some of these are steeped in research-based techniques, while others may be great in areas of the country but not necessarily here.  One method of planting tomatoes that I hadn’t heard until recently was about adding Epsom salts to the hole when planting your tomatoes.  Some people will say that adding Epsom salt prevents blossom end rot in tomatoes.  It’s time to play myth buster and debunk this method of gardening. 
According to a North Dakota State University Extension publication, adding Epsom salt leads to more blossom end rot.  Blossom end rot is caused by a deficiency of calcium, or something that might be more common in our area, infrequent watering.  Typically, we have enough calcium in our garden soils for tomatoes and peppers.  What can happen though is that we get busy during the summer and our watering habits fall by the wayside.  As plants are watered, and then not for periods of time and then watered again, calcium will be deposited only as far as the water gets and then it doesn’t get picked back up again. 

Photo courtesy of Michigan State University Extension
Now, back to the topic of Epsom salt.  Epsom salt contains magnesium sulfate, no calcium at all.  Adding Epsom salt to the soil may create more rot since magnesium and calcium compete for uptake into the plant.  The more magnesium in the soil, the less chance that calcium will be absorbed.

So, what can we do to prevent blossom end rot?  As I mentioned, typically we have enough calcium in the soil, so we don’t focus on the soil in this instance.  Instead, focus on watering.  The uptake of calcium depends on the uptake of water.  Irrigate regularly.  Avoid the extremes of waterlogged soil and droughty soil.  You might consider mulching around your plants to maintain consistent levels of moisture in the soil.
When weeding, consider cultivating shallowly.  Don’t damage the roots of your vines.  We need these roots to absorb calcium.  Also, avoid overfertilizing, especially with ammonium nitrogen fertilizers such as ammonium nitrate and most complete fertilizers such as 10–10–10.  Ammonium competes with calcium for uptake.  Calcium nitrate is a better choice.

Vines should be green but not lush.  Lush vines are more likely to suffer rot since actively growing leaves take calcium from the vine before the fruits get it.  As a general rule, don’t side dress a vine until after its first fruits set.
Calcium sprays might or might not help.  Mix 4 tablespoons of calcium nitrate per gallon of water.  Spray fruits, not leaves, two to three times a week.  The key time is when tomatoes are dime-sized or smaller.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Saving Seeds for Later

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

Let’s look into the future several months and plant a seed of thought in your mind, as it were.  If you’ve started your garden in the last month you may recognize that garden seeds have been a bit more difficult to find this year.  This is in part due to the increased interest in home gardening that people have shown with the COVID-19 pandemic.  If you have managed to get your hands on some seeds, or if you are able to do so in the near future you might be saying to yourself that you’re going to be better prepared next year.  One way you can be better prepared next spring requires some work this fall as you harvest and save your garden seeds.
Most of what I’ll cover this week comes from an MSU MontGuide titled, “Harvesting and Saving Garden Seeds.”  Free copies are available at your local county Extension office or online under the publications link at

The first rule of thumb to saving garden seeds is to be careful about saving seeds of hybrid plants.  Seeds saved from hybrid plants usually will not produce the same plant the following year because most varieties are not self-sustaining.  Offspring of hybrids usually show an unpredictable mixture of characteristics from the grandparent plants instead of being like the parent.  For the sake of this announcement let’s say that your plants are not hybrids. 

Photo courtesy of UMN Extension
Think about later this summer when you are harvesting your garden.  How do you save your garden seeds?  Let’s cover how to save seeds from pods, like beans, peas and crucifers first.  Allow the pods to turn brown and then harvest the pods, dry them for one to two weeks in a warm, dry area and shell them.  Store the seeds in a paper bag in a cool, dry place, under 50°F.  Cruciferous vegetable seeds, like those from cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower may carry diseases, so it is necessary to soak them in water that is at 122°F for 25 minutes for cabbage and 18 minutes for other vegetables.  Afterwards, you can dry and store the seeds as previously described, in something like an envelope. 

For seeds borne from a flowerhead, like lettuce, cut off the seed stalks just before all the seeds are dried.  Dry the harvested seed stalk, shake, or rub the seeds off and store them in an envelope in a cool, dry place. 
Saving the seeds in a fleshy fruit, like a tomato or cucumber is different still.  Pick the fully ripe fruit and first squeeze the pulp, including the seeds into a glass or plastic container.  Add a little water and let the mixture ferment several days at room temperature, stirring occasionally.  Viable seeds will settle out while nonviable seeds will float.  Pour off the pulp and nonviable seeds and spread the viable seeds in a single layer on a paper towel to dry.  You can then store them in an envelope like other saved seeds. 

I would encourage you to contact your local county Extension office for further questions about saving garden seeds, including biennials and herb seeds.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Asian Giant Hornets

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

There has been a lot of talk on social media lately, some in jest, some serious about the topic of “murder” hornets.  While there isn’t a risk here, as far as I know, there is a lot of curiosity and I wanted to put out some fact-based information about the hornets.
First, to be clear about the name, technically, the name of the hornet is the Asian giant hornet.  A hornet is simply a large wasp.  It is unclear where the “murder hornet” moniker came from.  The hornet was first discovered in North America in August 2019 in British Columbia, with other sightings occurring in Washington state in December 2019. 

The Asian giant hornet is the largest hornet species in the world and ranges from 1.5-2 inches long and is native to temperate and tropical Eastern Asia.  They can be distinguished from other similar species by their large size and yellow-orange head.  They only nest in the ground, taking advantage of things like hollow trees or rodent tunnels for their nests.  They have been known to target honeybee hives, particularly in July through November, and with only a small number needed to destroy an entire colony, they represent a large concern to the honeybee industry.  They also feed on other insects for food.
Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Agriculture
While the Asian giant hornet does not usually attack humans, there is, I think, a large amount of concern about them, especially given the heightened sense of awareness that all of us are under due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  So, while the hornet is a potential health concern for us, as their venom is very toxic and they will attack if threatened, please remember that they are not among us at this time.  If you find yourself in a situation where you are being attacked by any bees, be they bees, wasps or hornets, there is some advice to follow.  First, get away from them as quickly as possible.  This doesn’t mean to bolt and panic, losing any common sense of your surroundings in your desire to get away.  I have seen examples of this type of behavior when people interact with bees and it can end badly, especially if one is near a busy street or parking lot.  So, don’t panic.  Bees, wasps, and hornets tend to give a warning before they begin an attack, even though you might not be aware of one.  The best strategy is to run and get far away.  Running in a straight line isn’t the only option.  Weaving around trees and bushes can help elude pursuing bees.  The best bet is to get inside a building or vehicle, if possible. 

Once again, the Asian giant hornet is not known to be in Montana at this time.  However, the public should be aware of potential invasion and notify the Montana Department of Agriculture if they suspect any Asian giant hornet activity.  Feel free to contact your local county Extension office also with further questions regarding this hornet.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Garden Soil Fertility

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

Let’s talk today about a topic that may increasingly be on peoples’ minds as our spring weather cooperates with us: gardens.  While we’re generally not ready for any outdoor plantings yet, it is a good time to be learning about soil fertility and what we can be doing to increase that fertility.  

Let’s talk about soil pH first.  Soil pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and soil water solution.  This measure can be highly influenced by soil parent material.  pH is a logarithmic scale from 1- 14, with 7.0 being neutral. A soil pH less than 7.0 is acidic, while a pH of higher than 7.0 is alkaline, or basic.  Our soils are alkaline for the greater part, seemingly in the range of a pH of 8, dependent on the location.  Our soil pH affects how much, or if our plants can take up nutrients.  If soil pH gets too high or too low, it may make some nutrients immobile, and unavailable for plants.  We can see this as a nutrient deficiency, and it may look like a plant disease.

There are 17 essential elements for plant growth.  They are oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, iron, boron, chlorine, manganese, zinc, copper, molybdenum and nickel.  The focus though rests on three of those elements, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.  

Nitrogen favors vegetative green growth such as leaves and shoots.  Plants typically will use a lot more nitrogen annually compared to the other nutrients.  That makes sense, because nitrogen supports all the vegetative growth, and that’s a lot of the mass our garden plants produce.  Nitrogen also is a highly mobile element, meaning it leaches readily and needs replenishing on a routine basis.  Phosphorus promotes good seed and fruit ripening, maturation while potassium promotes gas exchange, new tissue growth, root and stem development, hardiness, fruit flavor and color.  All three elements can be readily applied, in different forms, depending on the time and season.

Sometimes you’ll want to add nutrients and fertility treatments to your soil and gardening for the current growing season.  You can incorporate compost and manures at the beginning of the season to feed the soil and release throughout the growing season.  You can add synthetic chemical fertilizers for rapid availability soon after.  You can add organically derived nutrients for quick availability as well.  Keep in mind that while in-ground beds have several options for nutrient management, raised beds and especially containers will need some additional nutrients during the growing season.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Tuesday Tips: The Ins and Outs of Joint Tenancy

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

As I mentioned several weeks ago, with all the developments surrounding COVID-19, Dr. Marsha Goetting wanted to be able to continue her estate planning programming in a virtual format.  As a result, MSU Extension has a series of 30-minute webinars on a variety of topics, called Tuesday Tips.  This week’s tip is on the ins and outs of joint tenancy.

Webinars have been broadcast every Tuesday at 11 a.m. and will continue to be through the month of May.  It is suggested that you log on 5 to 10 minutes early each week, so you have time to make sure your sound and video are working properly.

The schedule, including a list of topics, and links to join each webinar, can be found by googling MSU Extension Tuesday tips.  One week ahead of time, the link to join each webinar will be posted next to upcoming topic, along with a link to helpful resources, such as relevant MontGuides.  Once on the schedule page go to the webinar schedule link on the left side of the page and you will also find instructions for joining the webinars using a computer or a smart phone.  If you are unable to attend the live webinars, you can view the recorded versions on the Tuesday Tips website.  However, joining the webinars live will allow you to ask Dr. Goetting questions about the topic in real time.

Back to the topic at hand, the following are several comments overheard at a local cafĂ©: “My property is held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, I don’t need a will.  Right?”  Another comment overheard, “When I remarried, I placed my property in joint tenancy with my new wife.  I can write a will to leave the property to my kids.  Right?”  Last comment, “I added my daughter’s name to my checking account.  That was the right thing to do, Right?” Listen in to hear Marsha’s response.  Hint: she says, “Probably WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!”

To further prepare for the webinar, I would encourage you to check out the MSU Extension MontGuide, titled, “How to Transfer Real Property Owned in a Joint Tenancy or in a Life Estate Without Probate.”  Visit and click on the publications link at the top of the page to download the MontGuide.  You might find questions from reading the publication that Marsha can answer during the webinar on Tuesday!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Coping with Stress as a Family

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

I want to start off by asking a question.  How is your family handling stress right now?  Everyone will answer this question with a different answer depending on their families and current circumstances. It also depends on the day and what each family member might be facing that day in terms of work deadlines, schoolwork and so on.  Yesterday, my boys convinced me to engage them in several outdoor activities.  Between shooting hoops and trying to keep our dog at bay from stealing the basketball and then running all over our yard as we had a Nerf gun war, it is safe to say that I was a bit worn out last night.  I say worn out, but not stressed, because physical activity is one of the ways that we as families can deal with stress in our lives.  

In an MSU Extension publication titled “Family Stress and Coping” which is available free to everyone on the MSU Extension website, under the publications link, there is a section that deals with how to deal with individual stress.  I’m going to say that this could also be titled, how to deal with stress as a family, because we need our families.  

So, first, be realistic.  When feeling overwhelmed don’t try to do too much. Can you ask someone, like a family member, to help you with tasks?  Focus on one thing at a time by making a list of what needs to get done.  Prioritize the list and focus on one task at a time.  This works under our circumstances now too.  Use this list to help delegate tasks to family members.  Just like cleaning our house over the weekend, when we pull together as a family, the chores get done a lot faster than when we have to convince some members to help.  Exercise too because research has found that physical exercise can help in reducing stress.  Try walking the dog or going on a hike or simple family outing.  Just remember your social distancing at this time!  Take breaks for your hobbies by reading a book, playing music, etc.  Try laughing as a family, by watching a movie or playing a game.  Take a break from taking things too seriously.  Maintain a healthy lifestyle by trying to have a balance of work and fun.  Eat well, cut down on caffeine and high sugar foods, and avoid alcohol and drugs.  A balanced diet is more important than ever during stressful times.  Lastly, consider journaling each day.  Sometimes our brains are so full of what needs to be done, how we are feeling about a situation, or fear of not remembering what we need to do, that we become overwhelmed.  Journaling can be helpful to express our emotions and keep track of what needs to be done. 

I hope that these give you some ideas about how you and your family can make it through our trying times stronger than ever. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Montana Ag Producer Stress Resource Clearinghouse

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

In all my years growing up on the farm, I don’t think I ever saw my parents, and especially my dad, stressed about farming.  I don’t know whether it was because he was the ranch manager and not the owner that caused the lack of stress, or the fact that I don’t think he ever stressed about anything.  His was that type of personality that just took events as they came.  I have to say that apparently that characteristic is not one that he passed along to me.  I stress about just about any and everything.  Perhaps, that’s why I gravitate towards an awareness of stress in our lives and how to alleviate or mediate stress.  It is also important to note that stress and mental health are more a part of our vernacular and not a social taboo as they once were.

Two to three weeks back, several MSU Extension specialists announced the beginning of an online “Montana Ag Producer Stress Resource Clearinghouse.”  To me this is a fancy way of saying, it’s a website devoted to helping producers with stress and mental health.  It’s located at or you can google Montana Ag Producer Stress Resource Clearinghouse.  I’ve started to look over the different resources that are on the website and I wanted to describe it a bit to everyone.  In these times of very real uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts each of us and our livelihoods differently and distinctly, it’s nice to know that there are resources out there that are designed to help producers.  That being said, these resources at the website aren’t just for producers.  They can apply to many, if not all of us in our own lives and occupations.  

On the website, there are several topics that are covered.  If you want to know what stress is and how it affects your physical or mental health, or watch a TED Talk about those things, there’s a link for that.  There is a separate link for measuring your stress.  I took this test and no surprise; it came back as moderately stressed.  But, it’s a place to begin and gives you food for thought.  Continuing on, if you want to know how to manage your stress, including self help like knowing what types of foods to be eating to have a healthy diet, or just as importantly, how to help others, follow that specific link.  If you would like more information on mental health and more scholarly resources on that topic there are links to follow there too.  There is a myriad of other resources on the website that I invite you to search through as you have the opportunity.  These are important resources that are worth your time, either as a producer or in other livelihoods and circumstances.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Tuesday Tips Webinar Series: Dying Without a Will

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

With our shelter-in-place order and all of the recent developments surrounding COVID-19, Dr. Marsha Goetting wanted to be able to continue her estate planning programming in a virtual format.  As a result, MSU Extension has planned a series of 30-minute webinars on a variety of topics, called Tuesday Tips.  The first one starts tomorrow, April 7th, at 11 a.m. and is about dying without a will.

This series, hosted by Dr. Marsha Goetting, MSU Extension’s Family Economics Specialist, will focus on a variety of topics such as wills, beneficiaries, trusts, Montana medical savings accounts, and more.  Webinars will be broadcast every Tuesday at 11 a.m., beginning April 7th.  It is suggested that you log on 5 to 10 minutes early each week, so you have time to make sure your sound and video are working properly.

The schedule, including a list of topics, and links to join each webinar, can be found by googling MSU Extension Tuesday tips.  One week ahead of time, the link to join each webinar will be posted next to upcoming topic, along with a link to helpful resources, such as relevant MontGuides.  Once on the schedule page go to the webinar schedule link on the left side of the page and you will also find instructions for joining the webinars using a computer or a smart phone.  If you are unable to attend the live webinars, you can view the recorded versions on the Tuesday Tips website.  However, joining the webinars live will allow you to ask Dr. Goetting questions about the topic in real time.

Resources for the Dying Without a Will presentation include MontGuides such as a Glossary of Estate Planning Terms, Dying Without a Will in Montana, Montana Common Law Marriage and Estate Planning and Estate Planning in Montana: Getting Started.  All of these MontGuides can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website or can be found on Dr. Goettting’s Tuesday Tips website under the April 7th link in the Webinar Schedule tab.  

As a heads-up for next week, the topic on April 14th will be Beneficiaries 101.  It will answer questions like, what’s a POD?  What’s a TOD?  What beneficiary designations can be placed on U.S. Savings Bonds?  Are your beneficiary designations on life insurance, IRAs and other retirement accounts up-to-date?  How can you leave your real property to beneficiaries without it going through a costly probate?

Monday, March 30, 2020

MSU Extension COVID-19 Ag Resources

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

MSU Extension is a great resource for research-based, factual information.  One resource that has become vitally important over the past month has been a section that can be accessed from the website under a heading titled, “MSU COVID-19 Resources for You and Your Family.”  There are different subsections after you click on the link and I would like to share one resource about agriculture.

COVID-19 spreads through relatively close contact but doesn’t survive long outside of the host.  Contacting respiratory droplets from someone sneezing close to you or picking up the virus from handling a doorknob that is contaminated with mucus from an infected person, can spread the disease.  The good news is that coronaviruses can be killed by many disinfectants and normal handwashing procedures, as well as environmental exposure.

For agricultural producers, it’s important to note that there is no current evidence that this outbreak is affecting livestock or any species besides humans.  The recommendations that follow apply to general precautions against introducing or spreading disease on the farm or ranch, which are excellent practices to follow at all times.
Keeping barns and other farm buildings clean is one of the keys 
to reducing potential disease spread.

Be sure your farm and family biosecurity is strong.  Keep all visitors to your farm, wildlife and new livestock out of direct contact with your animals, as well as their feed and water.

Use good management to keep your family’s and your animals’ innate immunity strong.  Good nutrition, housing, ventilation, water and general hygiene will strengthen immune defenses and reduce the chance of serious disease of any kind.

Be a good observer.  Report serious illnesses to your veterinarian as appropriate.  It’s always good to discuss how to best address illnesses on the farm.  Usual occurrences of disease and losses will occur on farms but shouldn’t be confused with more serious disease.

Keep enough resources on hand to be able to manage if backups are needed.  You should have replacements for essential items at the farm, as well as at least two weeks’ worth of supplies.

So, what about cleaning and disinfecting?  The Centers for Disease Control suggests simple environmental cleaning and disinfecting if respiratory disease is present.  These reasonable steps for both in the home and on the farm include cleaning doorknobs, as well as kitchen and bathroom handles and surfaces.  Surfaces should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.  Diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.  Diluted household bleach solutions can be used if appropriate for the surface you are cleaning.  Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation.  Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date.  Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.  Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.  Prepare a bleach solution by mixing 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water. 

Friday, March 13, 2020

Antibiotic Use in Livestock - Does it Cause Antibiotic Resistance in People?

Adriane Good

As I was scrolling through Facebook last week, I saw a very interesting article in the Canadian Cattlemen’s magazine. It was titled ‘Study finds Enterococcus bacteria resistance in people not related to antibiotic use in cattle’. This is a finding of huge importance to the livestock industry, so of course I had to read more.

Dr. Tim McAllister, a researcher at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research and Development Center in Lethbridge, is one of almost two dozen multi-disciplinary scientists in Canada involved in a series of research projects looking at whether antibiotic use in livestock is increasing antibiotic resistance in humans, and if so, what we can do about it. While this is a Canadian research initiative, antibiotic resistance is a global issue, so this research applies here too.

To back up a little bit, antibiotics are used in livestock production in a variety of methods. Livestock producers use antibiotics to treat illness in their animals. Nobody wants to see a sick calf, so ranchers treat those sick calves with antibiotics to bring them back to health, just like we do with people. The use of prophylactic antibiotics is lesser known. In some cases, livestock will be given a dose of antibiotics to prevent disease. This occurs when there is a high risk of animals getting sick. For example, a feedlot might give antibiotics to a group of new calves coming in if they’re looking especially stressed and a little sick. Stressed animals get sick much easier than animals that aren’t stressed, and mixing calves with other calves is a great way to spread disease. Sometimes with stressed cattle, the first sign of illness you see is death, so treating them before you see signs keeps them alive. One of the most commonly used antibiotics in livestock production are ionophores. These are used to treat coccidiosis and modulate the rumen environment in cattle. Altering the rumen environment not only increases feed efficiency, but also decreases the amount of methane cattle produce.

Antibiotics are classified into 4 categories – low importance to human health, medium importance, high importance, and very high importance. In all of livestock production, antibiotics that are of very high human importance are used less than 5% of the time, while they are used 30% of the time in human medicine. Antibiotics that are of low and medium importance to human health make up almost 80% of the antibiotic use in livestock but make up less than 10% of antibiotics used in human medicine. This shows that livestock production is using the lower importance antibiotics that human medicine doesn’t rely on.

Antibiotic use by category of importance. From

Dr. McAllister’s study focused on beef cattle and looked specifically at enterococcus bacteria species found in cattle and humans. They sequenced the genome of these bacteria and found that the species of bacteria that pose a threat to human health are not the same species found in cattle. They also discovered that the genes responsible for antibiotic resistance in the enterococcus bacteria in humans are associated with antibiotics that are not used in beef production. This suggests that antibiotic resistance in humans is caused by antibiotic use in humans, and antibiotic resistance in cattle is the result of antibiotic use in cattle.

Of course, we still can’t be too cautious. Antibiotics are a very important tool for human health, just as they are for livestock health. While this research is encouraging, it’s important that we use antibiotics responsibly in both human health and livestock health. For livestock producers, make sure you’re reading and following the label when giving antibiotics. Having a good veterinary client patient relationship will also help as your vet can help you make sure you have diagnosed problems properly and are treating them with the right product. It’s also a great idea to minimize stress on your animals, keep up to date on vaccinations, ensure adequate nutrition, and use biosecurity practices to minimize the chances of animals getting sick.  

For the original article in Canadian Cattleman's, check out:

For more information on antibiotic use in beef cattle and antibiotic resistance, go to: