Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Interesting Email

A Gibson County resident sent me an email today expounding upon some issues with the drought.  My responses are included.  Would you respond differently?  I do not claim to be a medical health expert.  I do claim to enjoy swimming in ponds.

"This may be out of your area of expertise but ever since that news story about the gal out hiking in Colorado with the gash fell into a stream or stagnant water (not sure which report was correct) and contracted rare flesh eating bacteria, my attitude toward my own pond and my habit of swimming there from time to time has changed.  I even talked with my doctor's nurse practioner about it and she mentioned that the same thing had happened in Kentucky which did not ease my concern."

"In this drought, no doubt the water does become more stagnant because the rains which cause our ponds to refresh is not happening.;  We are running aerators.  However, we are also using the water to water plants including tomatoes which we then eat.  We also get the water on us when we irrigate because we are using hoses and pumps that sometimes accidentally spray on us.  How concerned should we be about pond water in extreme drought?  You have any sources on that.  Should people be swimming in ponds when we know the water has not been refreshed by rain on regular basis?  I have not been."

As far as necrotizing fasciitis is concerned, lakes and ponds are not the only source. An open wound that comes into contact with any surface on which the bacteria exists (usually a moist surface) is a potential source of infection. Although water quality of ponds may be lessened by the lack of rainfall, your aerators will relieve the stagnation. The relative safety of pond water remains the same whether rain has occurred recently or not. I would not worry about watering your plants with pond water in the slightest. Similarly, the occasional contact with pond water should not be of concern either. Swimming always creates the potential for scraping feet on debris in the pond or other minor abrasions. If concerned about bacteria, either avoid swimming or shower immediately upon finishing your swim.

"I read what Larry Caplan wrote and plant to reprint his advice in the newsletter.  I have been soaking my landscaped areas about once a week with pond water.  I have a Redbud that is dropping its leaves and has created seed pods.  It looks like it would in October.  I think it has gone dormant and not died because of the seedpods so I am continuing to water it.  I have another tree that is turning orange and will be going dormant I assume.  Maybe you have some advice for us about this."

"I have started watering trees that might be at risk but I have too many trees to do this for all of them.  Most of my large trees in front of my house are still looking ok.  We have some kind of well in front of our house my Dad put in but I do not know if it is a cistern or a well.  We just know that a couple years ago during a 2-month dry spell we were going to pump all the water out and could not.  Water was running in the bottom from somewhere.  The well is about 20 feet deep.  Anyway, it still has water and we are thinking about using it for irrigation too."

For watering your trees, the middle-aged trees stand the best chance of survival without irrigation. Large old trees require more water to maintain their size and structure, while very young trees require more water to devote to growth. The large old trees that may be affected this year will likely not show symptoms for a year or two, while unirrigated young trees may wilt and die before the year is out. I would irrigate those trees that just cannot be lived without, while letting as many as you can try to survive without additional water.

The old well or cistern could be used for irrigation.  It likely contains some contaminants that would preclude you from drinking the water, but not from using it to water plants.  In your area, that well might be accessing the water table and refilling itself on its own.

"Oh, one other thing.  There is a gal (name omitted).  She told us that she is picking tomatoes green and letting them ripen on the porch because they are cooking at the green stage in the field.  This is not my experience in a small garden.  My tomatoes are slowly ripening on the vine.  However, a field would be hotter.  If you have any advice regarding tomatoes, it might also be helpful."

Vine-ripened tomatoes are reported to have a better taste, but picking earlier and ripening indoors is a legitimate option.  There should be little heat differential between your garden and a larger one, unless black plastic is used as a bed in one garden and not in the other.  While they could be "cooking in the field," or rotting green on the vine, your friend may be having a bigger problem with blossom end rot.  Virtually all tomato calls I have received this year have been about Blossom End Rot:  http://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/BP/BP-13.html.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Drought in the Yard - A Summary

The Purdue Yard and Garden News has a new article related to the extreme drought we are experiencing (https://ag.purdue.edu/agcomm/Pages/NewsYGarchive.aspx).  Highlights are:

- Watch new plantings most for signs of drought injury

- Blossom end rot of tomato has been seen around Gibson County.  This is caused by infrequent watering.

- Proper mulching can conserve moisture in the landscape or garden.

- Water by soaking the soil thoroughly in one application.  This will likely require a few minutes of water applied to each area, rather than a fast, shallow application.

- Drought can be a primary cause of plant death that appears to be caused by other problems:  insects or woodpeckers, namely.  Many plant problems that appear to be insect-related only allowed the insects to feed due to the stress of drought conditions.

- The damage that occurs to landscapes now may not manifest itself this season.  The bumper crop of fruit on fruit trees this year may be the tree's last attempt to reproduce before dying back significantly or completely next year.  Likewise, buds that form this year can affect next year's growth on many landscape plants.

- Dormant yards can become dead grasses if left unwatered too long.  Apply 0.5 inches of water every 2 to 4 weeks to keep dormant lawns from becoming dead lawns.

- The best time to water is in the morning, before 8 AM.

- Leftover water from other household activities can be used sparingly as a last resort on non-edible crops.  Detergents and soaps can leave a salt buildup in the soil if used too frequently.

Greater than 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures over the next few days will likely cause drought symptoms to exacerbate, especially with the relatively low humidities we can expect to experience.  Provide yourself plenty of water before watering plants, and keep in mind the potential for heat-related illnesses in humans, as well as plants.  For the complete article referenced here, go to https://ag.purdue.edu/agcomm/Pages/NewsYGarchive.aspx.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Drought Information

The newest update of the USDA Drought Monitor has placed Gibson County in a severe drought status.  This means, essentially, that the state climate office and regional climate center find stream flows, soil moisture, precipitation, and other indices of available moisture to be between 6 and 10 per cent of normal conditions. Crop losses in yields are now measurable, and the possibility for hydrologic water shortages is imminent.  As of June 7, the Climate Prediction Center released a prediction of drought persistence for our area through the end of August.  Let us examine some of the potential outcomes and real outcomes of the severe drought in this area.

Homeowners at the current time should consider retiring the lawnmower until conditions improve.  Causing additional stress by mowing while grass is dormant will encourage weeds to outcompete the grass for resources once the drought breaks.  For the time being, irrigated lawns may still be mowed, but those individuals using city water should ensure that no water use restrictions have been put in place concerning landscape irrigation.  The Indiana Department of Homeland Security currently does not report a burn ban in place for Gibson County, but individuals should be using extra caution when attempting to burn due to the excessively dry conditions.  If any landscape features, such as trees, shrubs, lawns, or flowers, wish to be kept viable throughout the foreseeable future, irrigation is advisable.  With the exception of trees, non-irrigated plants showing signs of drought stress should be watered.  Trees tend to mask drought symptoms during a single season and show symptoms in following years.  Therefore, all trees wishing to be retained should receive supplemental water.  The amount of supplemental water to apply should be 1 to 1.5 inches of water at the root zone, applied once every two weeks.  Turf is the exception to this recommendation.  Aaron Patton, Purdue Extension Turfgrass Specialist, recommends that dormant, or already brown, grass be kept dormant but alive with a half-inch of water applied every 2 to 4 weeks.  Actively growing grass can be kept active with at least one inch of water applied each week.  Plants should be watered early in the morning, if possible, to provide ample moisture during the day and minimize evaporation.

Field crops are responding to the drought in disheartening ways.  The leaf curl of corn has continued.  Bob Nielsen, Purdue Extension Corn Specialist, states that the crop predicts row number on the ear of corn to the seventh leaf stage, and the drought can reduce this row number by 2 to 4 rows.  The major impact of drought on yield may be pollination.  Hot and dry weather during tasseling of the corn plant, likely to occur in the next week or so in Gibson County, greatly affects pollen viability of the plant and the need for coinciding silking, or the formation of silks on the corn ear to receive pollen.  Drought can affect the timing of the production of these reproductive structures, thus reducing yields by, potentially, 40 to 50 per cent.  You may also notice this year that corn plants are smaller overall, a drought effect that may allow weed pressure later in the season to have a negative effect on yield.

Soybeans are more resilient in the face of drought.  Much research confirms that yield losses of soybean crops are generally less, as a percentage, than those of their corn neighbors when exposed to droughts of the same nature and length.  However, soybean are affected by drought.  Plant height is currently being impacted, as many earlier planted soybeans are currently in their reproductive growth stages, despite having only four or five mature leaves.  The bean pods of these plants may end up fewer in number and with fewer soybeans inside the pods than in a wetter year.  Other field crops, including forages and melons, are experiencing similar effects unless irrigated.  Hay availability in the area may become an issue in the near future with severe drought conditions, as hay-making ability is reduced while hay demand increases.

More field crop drought information is available at the Chat 'N' Chew Cafe (http://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/cafe/drought/index.html).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Risk of Spring Freeze?

The Cooperative Weather Observing Station in Princeton has provided 30 year climate normals that can describe our current risk of frost injury. Princeton temperatures record a final freeze of 28 degrees Fahrenheit or less to occur during March 21-31, on average. The strength of this prediction is lessened due to the stations in Evansville and Vincennes both recording final hard freeze dates in the April 1-10 range. The last average date of a 32 degree Fahrenheit freeze is more uniform across the region, with Mt. Vernon, Evansville, and Princeton all recording their average final freeze during April 1-10. According to this data, our likelihood of damaging frost decreases greatly after April 10.

The earliest date of the final spring freeze in this area has been prior to March 10 at times over the last 30 years. The possibility that this year will have the distinction of a final spring freeze date of March 10 exists. The National Climactic Data Center compiles information and releases probability maps of spring freezes. The time period after which we have a 10% or less chance of seeing 28 degrees is April 15. For a 10% or less chance of seeing 32 degrees, that date looks closer to May 1. If we should receive a frost or freeze in the next couple of weeks, the time period over which we experience the cold temperatures will also play a role of high importance.

Freezing temperatures experienced briefly and without frost will do much less damage than a hard frost with temperatures of less than 28 degrees Fahrenheit extended over several hours. At this point, risks must be evaluated against rewards. The potential for a longer growing season may benefit your garden or fields if you plant soon (or have already planted), but the potential for a freeze or frost damage must also be considered.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Farm Winter Workshops

Gibson County has a winter workshop series that is now fabled to have started before 1960.
If anyone can remember the originating year of the workshops, please call the extension office at 385-3491, and let Hans know. After at least 52 years, the workshops remain a well-attended, highly informational and social opportunity for farmers in southwestern Indiana.

The 2012 workshops begin on January 9th at 7 p.m. with Dr. Bret Marsh, state veterinarian for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH), presenting “Hot Topics from the Indiana State BOAH.” The last year presented livestock producers with yet another bovine TB scare and the adoption of standards for animal care, among other BOAH activities. All livestock producers are encouraged to attend this unique opportunity to hear from the state regulatory and monitoring agency for livestock.

The following 7 p.m. workshop, on January 16th, is a Pesticide Applicator Recertification Program featuring Valerie Clingerman, county educator and former graduate student of Purdue Weed Specialist Bill Johnson, discussing the increasing finds of herbicide-resistant weed species. This workshop prefaces a February 29 Weed Management seminar in Vincennes co-sponsored by Purdue Extension and Monsanto. This workshop also will be held the same day as the Nuts and Bolts of Farm Estate and Succession Planning Workshop at the Posey County Fairgrounds (9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.). Last year’s most well-attended Farm Winter Workshop covered similar topics and would be a good supplement for any individuals interested in passing the farm on to the next generation.

The third workshop in the series starts at 7 p.m. on January 23rd with the annual Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) updates. Both governmental units have substantial information and changes to impart, both in programming efforts and agency focus.

The next workshop on January 30th at 7:00 p.m. features Bob Nielsen and Shaun Casteel, Purdue corn and soybean specialists. The presentation title “Agronomic Claims: Fact or Crap?” adequately summarizes the workshop content. The morning of January 31st sees Bob and Shaun travel a little further south for the Area Corn and Soybean Day at the Vanderburgh County Fairgrounds (8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.). This meeting will also be a Pesticide Applicator Recertification Program and will conclude with the ever-pertinent grain marketing panel discussion.

The first February workshop convenes an industry research panel with representatives from major agronomic companies describing current and future R&D developments in the agriculture industry. With 2,4-D and dicamba tolerant soybean on the horizon, are the days of glyphosate use limited? Find out at 7 p.m. on February 6th.

Canola has not been grown in Gibson County for about a generation. That is, canola was not until 2011. Chuck Mansfield, leader of the National Winter Canola Variety Trials in Vincennes, Dan Dorney of Baker Seeds, LLC, and Brian Calvbeck will be discussing the potential benefits and drawbacks of getting back into canola production or starting anew on February 13th at 7 p.m.

The penultimate workshop on February 20th brings Chris Hurt, Purdue Economist, back down to Gibson County at 7 p.m. for the Grain Marketing Outlook in 2012. Dr. Hurt is a perennial favorite, and his insight is reinforced by considerable research.

The series-ending banquet will begin at 6:30 p.m. on February 27th. Dr. Kiersten Wise will be speaking on the validity of fungicide use in corn and soybean, as well as recent research in matching fungicide selection in wheat with the disease present. This presentation will be a Pesticide Applicator Recertification Program.

If there are any questions about the programs, please call Hans Schmitz at the Purdue Extension office at 385-3491 or Richard Ritter at Gibson Southern High School at 753-3011. Also, if you have any program ideas that need to be covered in future years, call the numbers above, and let them know.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Protecting the Farm from Zombies

I wrote this up for the local papers a few weeks back; but, just in case you missed it...

What a year for disasters. From the La Nina-induced cool winter to the severe storms that seemed to be a nightly occurrence in the spring to the intense heat during the crucial tasseling time for the corn crop, the weather has been rather unusual in this area, not to mention other parts of the world. Perhaps the only type of disaster not experienced in this area of the state this year has been an earthquake. Some readers, the author is confident, are now asking themselves, “But, Author, what about zombie invasions?” To that, the author would reply, “Good point. That kind of disaster, although completely fictional, is precisely the kind of disaster the agricultural community needs to be preparing for now, because preparation for that kind of disaster also helps prepare farmers for real dangers.”
The Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) strives to prepare farmers in agrosecurity and emergency management techniques. Although no specific mention of zombies tends to be made in their resources, talks with Purdue Extension Agrosecurity Team member and Warrick County ANR Extension Educator Amanda Bailey offers quite a few good tips that can help deal with disasters such as a zombie attack. The three main things that farmers can do to protect themselves now are to develop a flood management plan, to inform local fire authorities of chemical and highly combustible compounds on the farm, and to keep and communicate written emergency management plans for employees.
In the event of a zombie invasion, levies provide manmade earthen barriers that authorities can use as strategic points with which to engage zombie hordes. Unfortunately, the increased activity can weaken levies and create potential flooding hazards in our area. Therefore, farmers need to plan for the worst and establish areas where livestock, chemicals, and waste can remain safe in the event of a severe flood. Confined Animal Feeding Operations are already required to have liquid manure storage structures that can contain runoff from a 25-year, 24-hour flood. A twenty-five year flood has a 4% chance of occurring in any one year, so these farmers are relatively well-protected from contaminating crucial well water, as city water systems are likely to be shut off or unreliable in the event of a sustained zombie attack. Relocating animals may be necessary in the event of a major flood. The County Emergency Management Plan considers the need to relocate livestock in the event of a disaster situation. If you are unsure of how to coordinate such an effort on your farm, or want more information on the process, contact the Purdue Extension office or the Emergency Management Agency’s office (Terry Hedges in Gibson County at 386-9630). On-farm storage of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals is required to be self-containing in the event of a leak, which also serves as a way to prevent runoff in a flood. However, on-farm chemicals need to be the main point of consideration in the event of a fire.
Everyone has heard the story a thousand times. A stray pack of zombies find an old farmhouse, chaos ensues, and any number of circumstances from a firefight to a gasoline-doused, flaming undead creature starts an uncontrollable blaze. The very real hazard on the farm is that this kind of blaze can start in the proximity of combustible chemicals or gasoline tanks. Every farmer needs to work with his or her local fire station to identify areas on the farm where combustible or hazardous chemicals are stored, to both extinguish a fire more expediently, as well as protect the farmer and firefighters in the process. The fire station should have a record of your farm’s areas of concern. Invite the fire department to the farm for a safety inspection to identify and reduce the number of hazardous areas.
Now, the farmer has accomplished the above steps and feels more confident of damage mitigation in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Meanwhile, the farmer’s employees have no knowledge of his efforts and are no more prepared for mindless shambling walkers than before. For this reason, the farmer needs to commit to writing a detailed and farm-specific emergency management plan and store the plan with his farm records. He or she also must ensure that employees read the plan and know of its location at all times. Not only does a written plan provide guidance, it also serves as an operating standard with which to hold and evaluate employees. After all, the worst action a farmer can take in the event of a zombie invasion is to attempt to hire the zombies and put them to work. Ironically and inevitably, the zombie employee fails to show consideration for simple farm safety, and farm emergencies increase as a result.
Although the threat of a zombie attack is non-existent, fires, floods, and other disasters are very real, and some climatologists claim weather-related extreme events are on the rise. In the best outcome, emergency planning measures are implemented but never used. In the most dire circumstances, those measures can prevent an extreme economic loss, or even the loss of life itself.

Have a great year's end!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Heavy Metal and Trees

I don't put rock bands above scat singing at times to make rhymes. Dana Carvey's "Chopping Broccoli" is a good case study in that. Therefore, I was surprised to learn that Mastodon's new single "Curl of the Burl" actually has validity as a saying.

I suppose I should know what a burl is, being in this position and all. However, "burl" is a seldom-used word, as "knot" is a far more familiar synonym. An atypical tree outgrowth, rounded in appearance is the best definition for "burl" I can find. So, I guess not all knots are burls, but all burls are knots.

It feels good to learn something new, but I am afraid it is a bit of trivia I may never have the pleasure to recite again. I guess "that's just the curl of the burl."