Rawlins County

Month: March 2015

Pre-Emergence for Flower Beds

Q: You talked last week on crabgrass preventers in lawns, are there pre-emergence products for my flower beds too?

A: Yes!  There are some pre-emergence herbicides approved for flower beds and several “best practices” that keep weeds at bay.  Often mulch does a good enough job in perennial flower beds to prevent weeds but sometimes the mulch needs a little help.  In annual beds, judicious hoeing will keep weeds down until the foliage forms a canopy that prevents weed germination.  However, a lack of time may have you considering an easier way than hoeing or pulling weeds that come through mulch.   Pre-emergence herbicides can help though you should not expect 100% control.

Pre-emergence herbicides do not keep the weed seed from germinating but kill the young plant as it starts to grow.  It is necessary to water these products in (1/4 inch of water) so that the young weed root will contact the herbicide.  Be aware that most of these products are more effective on grassy weeds such as crabgrass rather than broadleaves such as dandelions or spurge.

These herbicides often have no effect on existing plants, so they must be applied before the weed seed germinates. Additionally, preventers do not last forever once applied to the soil. Microorganisms and natural processes begin to gradually break them down soon after they are applied.  However, all should last long enough so that you get canopy cover before the herbicide wears off.

Read the label for information on when to apply the product.  Also, be sure the ornamental plants within the bed area are on the label before purchasing the product.  The two most commonly available products are Dimension (dithopyr), labeled as  Hi-Yield Turf & Ornamental Weed and Grass Stopper or Bonide Crabgrass & Weed Preventer; and Treflan (trifluralin), labeled as Hi-Yield Herbicide Granules Weed and Grass Preventer, Miracle Gro Garden Weed Preventer or Preen Weed Preventer.

Conventional Ovens

Q: Help!  I have recently purchased a convection oven and am unsure how to modify my recipes from conventional oven cooking.

A: Convection ovens have been around since the 1950s and were first used in professional kitchens before they made it to the home. Though pricier than conventional ovens, convection ovens have their many benefits.  Conventional ovens (sometimes called radiant or thermal ovens) cook food by filling the interior cavity of the oven with hot air.  With convection ovens, a fan is placed inside the oven to circulate the air.  When hot air is blowing onto food, as opposed to merely surrounding it, the food tends to cook more quickly. A short version of the scientific explanation for this is that moving air speeds up the rate of heat transference that naturally occurs when air of two different temperatures converges. To help understand this, consider wind chill: When cold air blows against you on a blustery winter day, you feel colder more quickly than you do on a windless day of the same temperature.

Cooking with convection requires some modifications in time, temperature and equipment.  Foods are typically cooked in three quarters of the time in relation to cooking in a conventional oven.  This acceleration is related to a higher quality in convection baked foods.  The butter in a pie crust or a croissant releases its steam quickly, creating flaky layers. The skin of a roasting chicken renders its fat and browns more quickly, so the meat cooks faster and stays juicier. The sugars in roasting vegetables and potatoes begin caramelizing sooner, creating crisp edges, moist interiors and deep flavors.

Convection cooking, with hot air moving all around the oven, can eliminate hot and cool spots for more even cooking.  This makes it possible to cook multiple racks of cookies, etc. without some getting done more quickly than others. Using pans with lower sides is best to allow the circulated heat to move about the oven cavity.The temperature in a convection oven will run about twenty five degrees hotter than a conventional oven set to the same temperature.

When purchasing a new stove, it is important to note that not all convection ovens are “true convection.”  The most efficient convection ovens blow heated air into the oven cavity. This means they have a third heating element (in addition to the usual top and bottom elements in a radiant oven) located near or around the fan in the back of the oven. This element heats the air to a uniform temperature before it enters the oven cavity.  The appliance industry generally calls this type of oven “true convection,” “third-element convection,” or “European convection” so these are the terms to look for when shopping. Convection ovens without a third heating element generally cook less evenly.  You’ll find most “true convection” ovens in built-in wall ovens or slide-in ranges, not countertop models. Full-size ovens generally have better circulation and ventilation and they may include a filtering system. Also, ovens are becoming so highly specialized that true convection is only the beginning. Most ovens are designed to let you turn convection on and off as you please.  To best bake soft dishes such as delicate pies or breads, it is a good idea to look for a “gentle bake” option that diffuses air circulation.oven

Lease Rate

Q: What is the current lease rate for pasture and is it projected to increase in the near future?

A: Before I start down a road that ends with all county residents upset with my answer, let me qualify a couple things!  First, pasture rent is ninety percent tradition, with only about ten percent rooted in economics.  Unfortunately, this leaves a lot open for interpretation.

First, let’s talk rate of return for grass owners.  One acre of grass is worth roughly eight hundred dollars.  As a landowner, ask yourself the question “What rate of return am I expecting on this long term investment?”  Is it two percent?  Two and a half percent?  Pasture rents have remained the same for over ten years at around fourteen to fifteen dollars per acre.  A two percent return puts rates at sixteen dollars per acre, while a two and a half percent return bumps the rent pricing up to twenty dollars.

A land owner can get some twenty five dollars per acre rent, but what will the management and care of the pasture look like in the end?  Also, there is the tradeoff between who pays for the fence and water well maintenance?  Usually the materials are on the land owner and the labor is on the tenant.  It is NOT a simple matter and each lease should have all these details taken into consideration when the price is established.  That’s why it’s hard to answer the question, “How much should pasture lease be in Rawlins County?”

Let’s reframe the “per acre” mentality.  Landowners see consistent revenue (say, fifteen dollars per acre), while cattle producers cost fluctuates.  Cattle producers concern lies with the grass capacity, “How many acres will it take to support my cow calf pair per season?”  Using this mentality, it can be argued that grass which can be stocked more heavily be worth a higher price.  On average, pasture rent runs one hundred and sixty dollars per pair.

Drought and feed prices have beaten producers for a number of years and they have finally caught a break in 2014.  However, grass owners need to see some of that return as well.  Significant disaster payments were provided this year, with these payments going to cattle owner.   It is because they had their cows on grass that they received this payment.  Noting that it is the cattle owner that assumes the majority of the risk, what is considered a fair amount to supplement pasture rent in 2014?  Five dollars per acre?  If cattle producers do not supplement their pasture rents with a one-time payment, will landowners bump pasture rent prices?  Looking into the future, will landowners bring prices down as quickly as they bring them up?  The price of beef will go down eventually and we must try to avoid inflating rent prices that we cannot maintain into the future.

As with so many things, what is equitable and what is fair are not necessarily the same thing.  As landowners and producers, we are all in this together.  An equitable relationship provides that all parties share in the risk, gains, and losses, proportional to what they have invested.

Cold Temps Effecting Wheat Crop

wheat cropQ: How are our recent cold temperatures going to affect the wheat crop?

A: K-State Agronomist Jeanne Falk-Jones addressed this question in an article last week, allowing us the opportunity for a “guest answer.”

We have had good growing conditions for the wheat, basically since drilling this fall.  The wheat has had the opportunity to put on lush top growth because of the extended period of warm temperatures.  Because of the lush wheat, there is concern with the cold temperatures through the end of the week.

Usually I think through several questions, when wondering if the wheat is going to be negatively affected by the cold temperatures.  They include these three:

1. Has the wheat had the opportunity to harden off to prepare for the cold conditions?

2. How well established is the root growth?

3. How well protected is the crown area of the plant?

First, I think the hardening off of the wheat is a definitely a concern.  When we go from T-shirt weather and barely freezing overnight lows to staying below freezing for a predicted 96 hours, the wheat hasn’t really had a chance to harden off.

So what is hardening off?  Hardening off is the process of plants becoming more acclimated to colder temperatures.  It can also mean that individual plant cells accumulate more solutes that can lower their freezing point, much like antifreeze in your pickups’s radiator.  Cells in the crown area are the most important part of the plant for getting acclimated to the cold temperatures.  The crown is the growing point of the wheat plant and is currently under the soil being insulated from the cold temperatures.

For the root systems, it is important to know that top growth of the wheat plant is not always telling the whole story of the root system.  It is a good idea to dig up a couple plants and look at their root systems.   Plants that have a good crown root system (roots coming off the crown and not the seed) and two or more tillers will tolerate the cold better.  If plants have a few secondary roots and no tillers, they are more susceptible to winterkill and desiccation of leaves, especially if the soil remains dry.

And finally, when looking at your wheat, pay attention to the location of the crown of the wheat plant.  If wheat was planted between 1.5 and 2 inches deep and the seed slot was closed well with soil, the crown should be protected from the cold temperatures.  Trouble can arise when the crown of the wheat plant is set shallower in the soil.  This can be caused by shallower planting, the wheat plant emerging through a thick layer of residue or the seed slot not being completely closed.

It is also important to note the soil temperature at the crown area.  Based on information on freezing temperatures for wheat, winterkill is possible if the temperatures in the crown area (approx. 1 inch below the soil surface) fall into the single digits.  Any type of insulation will help buffer the cold temperatures – residue, snow, and even just soil moisture in the crown area.

Toast the New Year with Safe Eggnog!

eggnogQ: It’s Christmas and Rawlins County residents are home with their families instead of asking questions to the Extension office!  So here are a couple holiday food tips to help everyone get through the holidays!

A: Homemade eggnog is a tradition during the holiday season.  But each year this creamy drink causes many cases of Salmonella.  The ingredient responsible?  Usually raw or undercooked eggs.  To prevent this ingredient from causing harmful infections, you may try replacing the raw eggs with pasteurized eggs or egg substitute.  Another option is to make a cooked egg base by gently cooking the eggs and half of the milk to 160 degrees F.  Chill and add remaining ingredients.  A safe, friendly eggnog recipe for all to share:


1 quart 2% milk

6 eggs

¼ tsp salt

½ cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Ground nutmeg

Heat milk in a large saucepan until hot.  (Don’t boil or scald.)  While milk is heating, beat together eggs and salt in a large bowl, gradually adding the sugar.  Gradually add the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture while stirring continually.  Transfer the mixture back to the large saucepan and cook on medium-low heat.  Stir constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens and just coats a spoon.

Check with a food thermometer to ensure the temperature reaches 160 F.  Stir in vanilla.  Cool quickly by setting pan in a bowl of ice or cold water and stirring for about ten minutes.  Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, several hours or overnight.  Pour into a bowl or pitcher.  Fold in whipped cream.  Dust with ground nutmeg and enjoy.

Oat Month!

oatsJanuary is Oat Month!!

Q: I am in search of a healthier breakfast alternative for my kids than sugary cereal (one they will actually eat), any suggestions?

A:  Oats are purchased more often in January than any other time of year.  Oats (Avena sativa) have a sweet flavor that makes them a favorite for breakfast cereals, making them the number one breakfast food and number three on the satiety index measuring fullness and satisfaction. Unique among the most widely-eaten grains, oats almost never have their bran and germ removed in processing. So if you see oats or oat flour on the label, relax: you’re virtually guaranteed to be getting whole grain.

In the U.S., most oats are steamed and flattened to produce rolled oats, sold as “old-fashioned” or regular oats, quick oats and instant oats.  The more they are steamed and flattened, the faster they cook (e.g. quick oats) and the softer they become.  Steel-cut oats are chewier and nuttier.  When cooked, they are called porridge. 

Oats helps lower LDL cholesterol and can help lower blood pressure.  The soluble fiber helps control blood sugar to reduce type-2 diabetes.  Containing more than twenty unique polyphenols called avenanthramides, oats have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-itching activity.



Radon Test=HIGH

Q: I tested my house for radon and the results were high.  Is this something I need to address now?  How do I got about radon mitigation in my home?

A:  Radon is an odorless radioactive gas that results from the breakdown of uranium from soil and rock beneath and around foundations, ground water wells and some building materials.  Radon is an unusual air pollutant because it has a natural source and it’s radioactive. Radon can leak into your house through the basement or crawl space or through well water.  Some building materials such as natural stone or rock can emit radon.  People can’t see, smell, or taste radon and exposure provides no warning symptoms. Humans’ only known reaction is cell damage that can lead to lung cancer.  Scientists are more certain about radon risks than risks from most other cancer causing substances. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, causing 15,000-22,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Smoking combined with radon exposure is an especially dangerous health risk.

The EPA estimates that one in four Kansas homes has dangerous levels of radon.  That’s much worse than the national average of one in 15, but better than the averages in Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska.  It is important to test your home or any new home for radon.  Levels above 4 picocuries per liter should be mitigated as soon as possible.

The quickest way to test is with short-term tests. Because radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test is less likely than a long-term test to tell you your year-round average radon level. If you need results quickly, however, a short-term test followed by a second short-term test may be used to decide whether to fix your home.

The average indoor radon level is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L, and about 0.4 pCi/L of radon is normally found in the outside air. The U.S. Congress has set a long-term goal that indoor radon levels be no more than outdoor levels. While this goal is not yet technologically achievable in all cases, most homes today can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below.  EPA believes that any radon exposure carries some risk – no level of radon is safe. Radon levels below 4 pCi/L pose some risk, but you can reduce your risk of lung cancer by lowering your radon level.

K-State Research and Extension offers in home testing kits for $5.  Radon mitigation usually costs about the same as a good-quality washing machine. Typically, it combines sealing house leaks with installing an under-house system of pipes and venting fans.  For more information, or to find a certified mitigation contractor, please visit www.kansasradonprogram.org.

Ashes In My Garden

Q: I have heard that wood ashes can be beneficial in gardens, so I have been dumping the ashes from my fireplace into my garden.  How do I know when I have applied enough?

A: Applying a layer of wood ashes to a garden area would be beneficial if you lived on the eastern part of the country, but it is not a recommended practice for northwest Kansas soils.  The main benefit of wood ash is to raise the soil pH (making it less acidic or more alkaline).  Soil pH is a measure of acidity on a 14 point scale, with 7 being neutral.  Below 7 is acidic and above is alkaline.  Most of the soil in Rawlins county falls between 7.5-8 pH range, meaning it is very alkaline already.

Soil pH extremes make nutrients unavailable for plants.  Most plants tend to thrive in slightly acidic soils (pH 6-7).  However, it is important to know the pH preference of whatever you are planting.  For example, asparagus is an alkaline loving plant and will grow in soils with a pH up to 8.

Sulfur or other materials may be used on alkaline soils to reduce soil pH to the desired level.  Sulfur is available for purchase from garden stores in both powder and pelletized forms.  In regions with acidic soils, lime is added to raise the soil pH.  Wood ash contains roughly twenty five to forty five percent calcium carbonate (a common liming agent).  Adding ash may do more harm than good, particularly since wood ashes change the soil pH much more quickly than most liming products.

The moral of the story is: If your soil pH is 6.5-7 or above, do not add wood ash.  ashes in garden