Friday, September 9, 2022

Taking the Fear out of Home Canning

Lisa Terry, FCS/4-H Glacier County Extension

Last week I visited the Cut Bank Farmer’s market to offer pressure canner testing, answer questions and give out researched-based information on home preservation. I had a wonderful time meeting people in Glacier County and visiting with some of you regarding home canning and preserving. To my surprise, many of those I spoke with stated that they were too afraid to pressure can because of the horror stories they had heard regarding things like exploding canners and cases of botulism in home canned goods. 

While it is great to be cautious since stories like this do exist if you are practicing safe home canning procedures and following the recommended research-based guidelines, you should be able to put your fears to rest. 

Here are a couple of tips to remember when it comes to safely canning at home. First of all, make sure that you have a scientifically tested recipe. Aunt Barbara’s homemade green bean recipe might have been passed down for generations and luckily no one has gotten sick, but you should never use a recipe that has not gone through rigorous research and testing to ensure proper safety protocols are in place.   This means that you must have an up-to-date recipe. Things have changed since Aunt Barbara was home canning, and some varieties of foods don’t have the same acid content or ph value they once had. 

A good example here is tomatoes. For many years, tomatoes were considered a high-acid food. However, tomatoes are fruits; as such, the amount of acid in tomatoes varies dramatically over the growing season. The amount of acid in tomatoes is highest in unripe (green) fruit and reaches the lowest point as the fruit reaches maturity. The amount of acid, and other components like sugars, also varies in fruits based on the climate, the soil, the variety, and other factors. A recent study of 55 types of tomatoes showed a dramatic difference in ph value and acid content. Researchers now know that tomatoes are not consistently high in acid and current canning recommendations require that acid be added to all canned tomato products.   

You can find out more information regarding preserving food safely by visiting the Glacier County Extension office at 1210 East Main or calling us at 406-873-2239 or emailing me at I will once again be at the cut bank farmer’s market today from 3:00 to 6:00 pm testing pressure canner lids and talking to folks about safe home canning. Hope to see you there.

The Importance of Pressure Canner Gauge Testing

Lisa Terry, Glacier County FCS Extension Agent


Home canning season is here, and many of you are gearing up to preserve your foods at home. One of the most important things you can do is have your pressure canner gauge tested. 


A pressure canner is a very important piece of equipment when it comes to home canning and preserving. It is vitally important to ensure that your pressure gauge is working correctly so that you are not jeopardizing your family's safety by exposing them to food-borne illnesses such as botulism.  So, to avoid any issues with the proper function of your pressure canner, you need to have it checked. The USDA recommends having pressure canner gauges tested annually. 

There are two types of pressure canners – the weighted gauge and the dial gauge. The difference is that the weighted gauge rocks or jiggles while it’s under pressure, whereas the dial gauge has a dial that registers the amount of pressure in the canner. Weighted gauges do not need to be tested because unless there has been significant damage to them, they are always accurate if used correctly. Just make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions to know what the correct procedure is when using a weighted gauge pressure canner.

The MSU Glacier County Extension office offers FREE testing of your pressure canner gauges and inspection of the seals and safety plugs! I’m going to be doing pressure canner gauge testing on August 24th at the Cut Bank Farmer’s market.  If you’d like your gauge tested, bring your canner lid to our MSU Extension booth.  You can also call me at 406-873-2239 or email me at If you want your canner gauge tested but cannot attend the Farmer’s Market, stop by the Extension office at 1210 East Main in Cut Bank. 


Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Dandelion Control


Kari Lewis, MSU Extension - Glacier County

It seems it’s the year for dandelions this year!

Dandelions are actually a perennial weed, and if not controlled, each plant's crown and root system will remain alive after the leaves have died in fall. Plants overwinter and begin growing again in early spring. Dandelions blooming in early spring do not result from newly germinated seedlings; but instead they are the result of the previous year's overwintered plants.  Therefore, the ideal time to control the dandelion, since it’s a perennial weed, is the fall.  However, bloom time in early spring, such as now, is the second best of the year for control.  Spring herbicide applications result in a slightly lower rate of kill than fall applications, but they are still worthwhile.

So, for removing those dandelions, there’s a couple options, either hand pulling or herbicide treatment.  If removing the dandelions by hand, you need to make sure to remove the whole root, rather than simply hoe off the top growth.  Any portion of the root left in the ground can sprout at least one new plant.  This mechanical removal is most easily done if the ground is moist, so be sure to get out there soon after a rain for hand pulling.

If there’s too many to hand pull, proper chemical treatment provides effective control.  A reminder that glyphosate (Roundup) is a non-selective herbicide, so will also kill the grass in your lawn.  Instead, 2,4-D is the best choice for dandelion control in lawns, as it only kills the broadleaf type plants, such as dandelion, not the grass.

If you do choose chemical control for your dandelions, here are a few guidelines

·         If there’s only a few weeds, simply spot spray the herbicide.  Apply just enough to wet the leaf and do not apply to the point that the herbicide is dripping off the leaf.

·         Apply the chemical to growing, preferably young weeds.  Don’t apply when the soil moisture is low and weeds are drought-stressed, as the control won’t be as effective.

·         Apply herbicides on a calm, clear day, when temperatures are between 50 and 85 degrees F.  Applying herbicides when the temperatures is over 90 degrees increases the potential for volatilization injury to other plants in the landscape.

·         Don’t apply if rainfall will occur within 24 hours, and avoid applying irrigation to the area for at least 24 hours following an herbicide application as well.  This is so the herbicide isn’t washed off the plant’s foliage.

·         Don’t mow the lawn for 2 days before or after the herbicide application.  This allows sufficient time for the herbicide to be translocated to the plant’s roots. 


As always, read and follow the label directions.  When making liquid herbicide applications, keep children and pets off the lawn until the product has dried or as specified by the label.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Begin Ground Squirrel Control NOW 
Kari Lewis, MSU Extension - Glacier County   

Producers are encouraged to begin
 ground squirrel control now.
Photo by Kari Lewis.

I’ve recently seen a few Richardson ground squirrels out and that’s a good reminder that it’s time to think about control for these pesky pests. The Richardson ground squirrel, which is commonly referred to as a ‘gopher,’ is a medium sized ground squirrel with yellow-tan to gray coloring and typically weighs 11 to 18 ounces.  The Richardson ground squirrel predominately lives east of the Continental Divide of Montana and causes extensive damage in croplands, pastures, and hay fields.  Research has shown hay yields in alfalfa fields infested with ground squirrels have shown a 24% yield reduction.

                Ground squirrels emerge from hibernation between February and April, depending on local weather conditions and elevation.  The first ground squirrels to emerge from hibernation are the males.  The males establish their breeding territories in preparation for the females that emerge from hibernation 10 days to two weeks after the males emerge.  Once the females emerge from hibernation, again, there is a short breeding season and then after a three to four-week gestation period, the females give birth to a single litter in April or May.  Ground squirrels reproduce quite prolifically.  Typically, litters average six to seven ground squirrels per litter, but could have as many as 14 per litter.

                When the ground squirrel young are approximately five weeks of age, they emerge from the burrow and begin feeding on grass, crops, etc.  So, if we assume that the adult males will emerge from hibernation March 15, that would put the females emerging approximately March 25.  After a short breeding season and an approximate four-week gestation period, they would likely have their litter in early May and by the end of May, their 2 to 14 ground squirrel young have joined them in feeding on crops, rangeland, etc. 

            By being prepared to begin control in March and April, there are only the adult males and females to control.  By waiting until May or June to provide control (when the ground squirrel damage is clearly visible), there will be a much, much larger population of ground squirrels to control.  

For managing ground squirrels in large areas, such as on rangeland or cropland, toxicants are commonly used.  Toxicants are poisonous items that are designed to kill the animals that eat them.  Zinc phosphide and diphacinone are two toxicants registered for the control of Richardson’s ground squirrels. 

Zinc phosphide bait is most effective when applied early in the spring, shortly after ground squirrels emerge from hibernation, and before spring green-up.  Zinc phosphide should not be applied if moisture is forecasted within two days of application.  Zinc phosphide may be applied by hand baiting or broadcast baiting.  Broadcast baiting may be used in rangelands, pastures, non-crop areas, orchards and crop areas including barley, wheat and alfalfa. 

Ramik Green is an example of an anticoagulant which is a general use pesticide.  Ramik green must be placed in rat-sized tamper-resistant bait stations.  Stations must be maintained regularly to ensure a constant supply of bait for at least 30 days. 

In large acreages, the use of toxic grain bait may be the most cost-effective control method.  Bait should be applied when the entire squirrel population is active and readily accepting grain.  The breeding period, typically March, is the ideal time to control ground squirrels.  By controlling early, we can eliminate both adults and potential young as well, to help minimize crop damage.  If we wait to control ground squirrels, vegetation begins to green-up and the ground squirrels’ acceptance of grain bait is reduced.

If using a restricted use product, applicators must have a private pesticide applicator’s license prior to purchasing a restricted use product.  Licenses can be obtained through taking the test at your local extension office or attending an upcoming class, such as the one April 26 in Great Falls.  If you have any questions on receiving your private pesticide applicators license, please call your local extension office.


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Tips for reducing fuel usage
Kari Lewis, MSU Extension - Glacier County 

This morning as I drove by the gas station, it looked like fuel prices had gone up $0.20 from just yesterday, ouch!  As we watch prices for seemingly everything rise, it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing we can do.  However, I think it’s important to focus on what we CAN control.  Today, I put together a few ideas for reducing fuel usage. 

First, consider taking advantage of free transportation.  Locally, we have the Northern Transit Interlocal bus service which is a partnership of Toole County Transit, Glacier County Transit, and Pondera County Transit.  This free service provides rides from Shelby, Sunburst, Sweet Grass, Shelby, Conrad, Browning, and Valier to Great Falls, Kalispell, and locations in between.  There is more information on their website,, or by calling 406-873-2207. 

Secondly, for the kids in school, this might be the time for them to start riding the bus again, if they aren’t already!  I’m always amazed at how often we’ll see two or three members of the same family each driving separately to and from school or town.  With a little coordination, some ride sharing could likely happen.

Next, map out your trips strategically – Keep a running list of what is needed where so when you do go out, you can make sure to hit as many stops as possible, in the correct order.  Rather than a trip to Great Falls or Kalispell to ‘stock up,’ I’d encourage you to watch the sales locally and shop here to support our local businesses. 

Lastly, discuss as a family what activities are most important this coming summer.  Will spring mean you carpool to baseball games with another family?  Or will you skip the baseball season to instead do summer golf or swim team?  Changes will likely have to be made, and it’s best to involve everyone in those discussions to prioritize family activities. 

When it comes to saving on fuel:

·         Make sure to properly maintenance your vehicle.  Dirty air filters, old spark plugs, or low fluid levels can lead to poor fuel economy.

·         Check your tire pressures regularly – a single tire underinflated by 2 PSI increases fuel consumption by 1%.

·         Slow down - According to, there’s an average 14 percent decrease in fuel efficiency from 60 to 70 mph and an additional 15.4 percent decrease when going from 70 to 80 mph.  At higher speeds, the vehicle is not only working harder to achieve the extra speed, but it also has to combat additional wind resistance.

·         Avoid over-revving your car – A study published by SAE International found that “aggressive behavior behind the wheel can lower gas mileage in light-duty vehicles by about 10 to 40 percent in stop-and-go traffic and roughly 15 to 30 percent at highway speeds. This can equate to losing about $0.25 to $1 per gallon.”

·         Eliminate any unnecessary weight in your vehicle – As I thought about my car, I don’t think I’ll be unloading the muck boots and coveralls from the trunk yet, but if there’s extra tools in the back of the pickup, maybe that could be unloaded to reduce the weight. 

Again, I’d encourage you to focus on what you CAN control, and maybe choose one or two of today’s tips to put into practice. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Selecting Replacement Heifers

Adriane Good

Many producers have been reducing their herd sizes this year and as you watch trailers full of cows make their way to the auction yard, you may be contemplating exactly which of your heifer calves you should select as replacements and which should be sent down the road with the steer calves.

First of all, there should be some automatic culling reasons no matter the year. If they have a structural fault of any kind, you don’t want them in your herd. Whether that be feet and leg issues, udder or mammary system problems, lack of capacity, or narrow pins, go ahead and put them on the cull list. Another good reason not to keep a heifer is if she had a tough entry to the world. If her dam had calving problems, there’s a good chance her dam will have passed it on to her. In a year like this where feed is short, you may not want to take that risk.

Another thing to think about is the heifer’s birth weight. A birth weight that is not too big and not too small is what you want to shoot for. A heifer calf that had an average birth weight will likely throw calves with average birth weights, which is something to aim for. Too big, and you might run into calving problems. Too small, and you’ll lose precious pounds when you ship.

Looking at the size of your calves may help you make your replacement heifer decisions, but their birth dates are also important. The calves that were born in the first 21 days of your calving cycle are going to mature earlier than the later born calves, which means they’ll get pregnant earlier and calve earlier, helping you to keep the majority of your calves born in that first cycle. These calves were also born to the cows that caught on the first cycle, suggesting that they are the more fertile cows and may pass that on to their daughters.

If you have white faced cows in your herd, it can also be helpful to select the heifers that have pigmentation around their eye. Cows that have white skin around their eyes have a higher risk of pink eye, and in a year where feed is in short supply, it’s just not worth keeping them. Speaking of risk, the heifer calves that are nervous or give you sketchy vibes are also not worth keeping. It can be tough to get rid of those cows and calves with problem dispositions sometimes but adding a hospital bill to your feed bill isn’t a great idea this year.

Other heifers that would be good to keep are those out of your older cows, provided they still meet the previous criteria. If their dams are older and have been part of your herd for a while, the calves will probably have some longevity to them as well.

Finally, you can always look at the genetics of your calves. EPD’s, or expected progeny differences, are the estimated value of your cattle as breeding stock. If the sire and/or the dam of an average calf has good EPD’s, it might be worth keeping the calf as a replacement. Of course, if the calf has a structural fault, EPD’s won’t save it from the cull pen.

Selecting your replacement heifers can be tricky business, especially in years like this. For more information on choosing who in your herd gets to stay and who gets to go on a field trip, contact your local MSU Extension office.

Which of these heifers would you keep and which would you cull?

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Summer jobs for youth

Kari Lewis 

    Last week, I made a road trip to Lewistown for Extension meetings.  Along the way, it seemed every place I stopped at had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign.  With so many places hiring, there are some great opportunities available for youth looking for a summer job and to gain some skills for their resume. 

                For a teen looking for a summer job, the Montana 4-H Clover Communications curriculum provides examples of cover letters, resumes, and job applications and tips for interviewing.  These Career Communications resources are available online or by contacting your local extension office.   There are also examples of common interview questions that are great to prep with prior to an interview.

                What about younger kids who may not be able to apply for a ‘real’ job yet?  Here are a few ideas:

·         Sell bottled water or lemonade.  A 24-pack case of water for $2.50 works out to $0.10/bottle.  If those bottles can be resold at $1/each, that is over $20 in profit on just one case of water. 
·         The Farmer’s Market can be a fantastic place for selling baked goods, crafts, homemade dog treats, or craft kits that kids could assemble themselves.  Offering face painting or making balloon animals there could also be a fantastic side avenue.
·         Open class at the fair – Many fairs have ‘Open Class’ divisions where anyone can enter photography, baked goods, crafts, even Lego creations, etc.  For every ribbon that is awarded, there is cash ‘premium money’ given as well.  Kids can earn money through their Open Class exhibits, so start now! 
·         Resell old stuff – Most kids have unused or unwanted toys, video games, clothes that they’ve outgrown, etc. that they could sell at a garage sale or online. 
·         Yard or house care – There is a demand for lawn mowing, weeding flower beds, cleaning up dog messes after winter, washing windows, etc.
·         Sell farm fresh eggs – I know a few kids who did quite well selling eggs over the years.   The Farm Service Agency does have youth ag loans that can be used for purchasing livestock or equipment.
·         Pet care – Whether its pet sitting while folks are on vacation or dog walking, this can be a great option.
·         Babysitting – Babysitting can be a great summer gig, and the Teton county Extension office even has an upcoming babysitter boot camp, call them at 406-466-2491 for more details. 
·         Upgrade items – If a kid is willing to keep an eye out by the dumpsters or pick up things being given away, they can likely clean up and perhaps paint items to resell. 
·         Teach a skill – whether it is giving lessons to another kid or helping an elderly neighbor set up electronics or a social media account, that can be a possibility.
·         With many summer weddings and reunions going on, a kid willing to organize kid’s activities, or serve, do cleanup or provide a photo booth with Polaroids there could be a great moneymaker. Being an entertainer at a kid’s birthday party or doing face painting or balloon animals work too.

As a parent, you may also choose to pay your kids a set amount for specific chores or even for every book they read.  If you are able, consider matching their earnings to a set amount.  There are many more ideas online of how children and teens can earn money but hopefully this provides a starting place.