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!