URBANA, Ill. - The potential for regionally adapted grains to serve growing local and regional markets is the topic of an upcoming workshop at the University of Illinois. Illinois Extension, along with the departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, Crop Sciences, and Food Science and Human Nutrition will host “Illinois Local Grains and Local Markets” on Sept. 9 in the Monsanto Room of the ACES Library, Information and Alumni Center.
The workshop runs from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., with presentations starting at 8:30 a.m. Speakers include Bill Davison from Illinois Extension, Allison Krill-Brown from the Department of Crop Sciences, Harold Wilken from Janie’s Farm, Frank Kutka from the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, and Julie Dawson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Presentations by Kutka and Dawson will showcase participatory breeding efforts taking place in other regions. This event will be of interest to researchers, breeders in the region, bakers, and brewers who want to source locally produced grains, and farmers interested in conducting trials.
Kutka is a plant breeder and the co-coordinator of the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society Farm Breeding Club. In his current work, he is developing a yellow dent corn that has the ability to prevent cross-pollination with GMO corn. This work builds on approximately 20 years of experience with corn breeding for the organic farming sector.
Dawson is an assistant professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin. Dawson’s background is in organic wheat breeding and participatory research. She has conducted research on value-added grains for regional food systems at Cornell University, and she helped create a participatory wheat breeding program with an association of organic farmer-bakers in France.
A field day will be held on Sept. 10 at Janie’s Farm in Danforth, Illinois. Presentations will be given by Harold and Ross Wilken on their experience with on-farm selection and milling at Janie’s Farm. Fred Kolb and Allison Krill-Brown will speak on U of I efforts to develop wheat varieties suitable for Illinois. A discussion on participatory crop breeding will be led by Frank Kutka.
Lunch will be prepared by chefs from Hendrick House Catering with foods made from locally sourced grains. The cost is $12 for pre-registered participants. A limited number of lunches will be available for $15 for on-site participants.
The Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture Program at the University of Illinois, and the Illinois Organic Growers Association are also co-sponsors for these events. For more information about the workshop, contact Carmen Ugarte at firstname.lastname@example.org or Bill Davison at email@example.com. You may consider participating in one or both events; registration is required for the field day.
Recycled leaves make inexpensive mulch
URBANA, Ill. – Rather than bagging or removing fallen leaves, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Rhonda Ferree suggests using them in your yard.
“The tree leaves that accumulate in and around your landscape represent a valuable natural resource that can be used to provide a good source of organic matter and nutrients for use in your landscape,” Ferree says. “Leaves contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients a plant extracts from the soil and air during the season. Therefore, leaves should be managed and used rather than bagged or burned.”
Ferree says adding a 2-inch layer of leaf mulch adds approximately 150 pounds of nitrogen, 20 pounds of phosphorus, and 65 pounds of potassium per acre. Due to natural soil buffering and breakdown in most soil types, leaf mulch also has no significant effect on soil pH. Even oak leaves, which are acid (4.5 to 4.7 pH) when fresh, break down to be neutral to slightly alkaline.
According to Ferree, there are four basic ways leaves can be managed and used in the landscape.
- A light covering of leaves can be mowed. Simply leave the shredded leaves in place on the lawn. This technique is most effective when a mulching mower is used. In fact, during times of light leaf drop or if there are only a few small trees in your landscape, this technique is probably the most efficient and easiest way to manage leaf accumulation.
- Mulching is a simple and effective way to recycle leaves and improve your landscape. Leaves can be used as a mulch in vegetable gardens, flower beds and around shrubs and trees. Leaves that have been mowed or run through some other type of shredder will decompose faster and are much more likely to remain in place than unshredded leaves. Unshredded leaves also tend to mat together, which can impede water and air infiltration. Ferree uses a chipper/shredder/vacuum to pick up her leaves, which she uses instead of purchased mulch in her landscape beds.
- Leaves can be collected and worked directly into garden and flowerbed soils. A 6- to- 8-inch layer of leaves tilled into a heavy, clay soil will improve aeration and drainage. The same amount tilled into a light, sandy soil, will improve water and nutrient-holding capacity. A recommended strategy for using leaves to improve soil in vegetable gardens and annual planting beds is to collect and work them into the soil during the fall. This allows sufficient time for the leaves to decompose prior to spring planting. Adding a little general purpose fertilizer to the soil after working in the leaves will hasten their decomposition.
- Try composting your leaves. Compost is a dark, crumbly, earth-smelling form of organic matter that has gone through a natural decomposition process. If you have a garden, lawn, trees, shrubs, or even planter boxes or houseplants, you have a use for compost. For additional information composting, visit the University of Illinois Extension website.
Ferree also recommends jumping in the pile of leaves “at least once.”
Benefits of fall core aeration for the lawn
URBANA, Ill. - Although it’s true that core aeration relieves soil compaction in the lawn, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator says coring has several more benefits for the grass plant soil profile, microbial activity in the ground, and thatch management.
“When the soil beneath the lawn is compacted, grass roots grow poorly,” says Richard Hentschel. “They stay nearer to the surface and are more readily affected by droughts. Coring allows the soil to relax and expand into the vacated core. This allows deeper roots. To encourage deeper roots, the core allows more soil oxygen into profile along with water. Both of these promote deeper rooting of your lawn grasses, which allow better disease resistance, for example.”
Another benefit is the lawn’s ability to remain green and actively growing during a brief drought. “If any topdressing is done with quality black dirt or using well-composted organic matter, this material will find its way into the core as well, improving the soil profile,” he says. “Any kind of organic matter will also support the microbial life in the ground, improving the symbiotic relationship between the grass root system and the microbes in the soil. Research shows that if the soil is in good health with teaming microbial activity, it in turn supports good grass growth by providing critical elements to the grass plant.”
According to Hentschel, core aeration can also maintain thatch levels under one-half inch.
“Homeowners hear the word ‘thatch’ and often think the worst,” Hentschel says. “In fact, having some thatch has benefits to the lawn. Thatch acts as insulation protecting the crown of the grass plant from quick changes in the weather, such as a sudden drop in temperature. Thatch also provides a cushion from foot traffic, protecting the grass plant crown from being crushed or damaged. Coring breaks through the thatch layer opening up those opportunities for air and water movement. When the core is ejected by the machine, there is also a plug of soil that is left on the surface. That soil containing those microbes can now begin to break down the thatch layer.”
Hentschel cautions that when the thatch layer is well over one-half inch in depth, using a dethatching machine will often result in the loss of the entire lawn. Coring is a way to recover the lawn without such a drastic measure. “This will not happen in one season and other management activities, such as high rates of fertilizers, should be modified.”
Core aeration alone will benefit the health of the lawn, Hentschel concludes. “Combining topdressing with any re-seeding or over seeding along with regular watering for at least three weeks will really turn the lawn around. Bluegrass lawns have two peak growing cycles in our climate. The greening and rapid growing in the spring is the first one. The second flush or growth is more about the root system expanding and storing food reserves in the cooler temperatures of fall. There is still growth above ground and mowing should continue well into late fall with a sharp mower blade.”
Digging and storing cannas
URBANA, Ill. - Now is the time to devise a plan for digging and storing cannas, says University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Nancy Kreith.
“To successfully overwinter cannas indoors, the bulbs should be dug up after the first light frost has killed the top of the plant,” she explains. “Although technically they are not bulbs, but rhizomes, cannas need to be treated as tender bulbs and must be dug up to survive the winter. Some gardeners have reported success with cannas overwintering in the ground in micro-climates or against south facing walls due to the radiant heat from the building.”
Kreith says the most important thing to do when digging up rhizomes, tubers, or any tender bulb is to be careful not to wound these fleshy underground structures. “Wounds and bruises serve as entry points for diseases, which can cause rotting and loss in storage. This is true for any tropical plant with fleshy underground structures, such as elephant ears and caladiums.”
Kreith suggests following these simple steps to properly overwinter cannas indoors.
Start by cutting back the foliage to 4 to 6 inches above ground in order to see the base of the plant. Dig several inches away from the base of the plant, avoiding the underground structures. Carefully loosen the soil using a spade shovel. Remove the large clump of multiple structures from below the soil level. Separate the clumps and remove most of the soil by hand, and wrap each individual structure in newspaper. Finally, layer them in a crate or large tote with the lid off. This is how they will remain stored until the following spring.
Be sure to monitor the bulbs every month for rotting pieces and pests. If found, remove infected pieces right away, Kreith recommends.
“Often times these structures multiply underground during the growing season,” Kreith explains. “Even though you may have only planted three to five bulbs the past summer, you could have well over that number by the fall. As the structures multiply, plan to incorporate cannas into more parts of your landscape or share them with friends and neighbors.
“As you read through the literature available, other sources will have varied recommendations for storing methods,” Kreith adds. “Some horticulturalists have been successful in overwintering cannas in an unheated garage or shed. Some tend to allow bulbs to cure and dry out for one to three days before storing. Others recommend removing all of the soil once dried and storing in peat moss or sawdust. I prefer to recycle newspaper. It acts as an aid in the curing process. The newspaper serves as a barrier that protects the structures from excess moisture. The main take-home point is to keep bulbs cool, dry, and out of freezing temperatures.”
To get a head start on the growing season, help bulbs emerge while indoors, Kreith says. Once the following spring comes around (about 4 to 6 weeks before the last average frost date) cannas can be planted in containers of professional potting mix. Unwrap the structures and plant them with the pointed side facing up. When using a large container (12 inches in diameter or more) multiple bulbs can be planted in the same pot.
Finally, place them in a sunny window or under artificial lighting and treat them as houseplants. The cannas can be planted outside after the danger of frost has passed.
Kreith has been successful at storing container-grown cannas by bringing in the whole container and storing them in a dark hallway closet. To do this, simply cut back the foliage after a light frost and place the container indoors. Let them remain dormant until the next spring and then put them in a sunny location. “Amazingly, as they receive more sunlight, signs of leaf growth will begin,” she says. “Over the past two years, my cannas have multiplied in the container and leave little to no room for planting other flowers. This container is now devoted solely to cannas, but over time, these structures will need to be divided and thinned out.”
Kreith says cannas are an easy-care tropical plant that provides beautiful foliage and long-lasting blooms. Repeated blooms are encouraged by deadheading spent flowers. “This versatile plant comes in a variety of leaf colors and can range from 1 foot to more than 6 feet tall. For the greatest foliage color and fullest blooms, place cannas in full sun with plenty of water and healthy soil.”
Tip-back and the 2016 corn crop
URBANA, Ill. - Although crop condition reports and yield prospects for the 2016 Illinois corn crop continue to be good, there has been some recent discussion about unfilled ear tips and whether or not this might mean lower yields than the appearance of the crop leads us to believe, says a University of Illinois crop scientist.
Corn ears with kernels missing at the outer end of the ear are often said to have “tip-back.”
“The term is a little obscure, but the idea is that something happened to cause the ear to adjust its kernel number downward so it won’t have as many kernels to fill. That exposes the end of the ear,” says Emerson Nafziger.
The missing kernels can be aborted kernels—ones that were fertilized but stopped developing—or can be kernel initials that weren’t fertilized due to problems with the pollination process. Low sugar levels in the plant before, during, and after pollination are often associated with such loss of kernels.
“Because kernel number is closely related to yield, missing kernels on an ear suggests that yield has been lost,” Nafziger explains. “Drought stress, loss of leaf area to hail or disease, or lack of nitrogen all result in stress that lowers photosynthesis which decreases the sugar supply. So we associate low kernel numbers with stress.
“While low kernels numbers per acre and low yields do go together, it’s important in a year like this to consider the overall condition of the crop and to focus on how many kernels are present before worrying about how many kernels seem to be missing. We often see some amount of tip-back even in good years, and this may have no effect on yield if kernel numbers are still high,” he adds.
As an example, under outstanding pollination conditions in 2014, Nafziger says almost no tip-back was seen; ears were filled out to the very end of the cob. “There was much more tip-back in 2015, but kernel counts per acre and yields were as high in many areas in 2015 as in 2014. While we don’t think that having some tip-back is necessary to show that the ear had ‘extra’ room in case it was needed it, it’s much more common to see some tip-back than to see none. We certainly don’t consider tip-back to be a problem if kernels numbers are high,” he says.
Nafziger adds that what matters for yield is the number of kernels per acre that fill, along with the ability of the crop to fill them completely. “So 34,000 ears each with 16 rows of kernels and 35 kernels per row should produce yields in the vicinity of 220 bushels, even if most cobs have ‘room’ on the end for another 50 or 100 kernels. At high yield levels when all of the nutrients the plant produces go to fill kernels, having more kernels may mean that kernels stay smaller, and yield may not change much,” he says.
Nafziger says he is seeing some signs that kernel numbers in some fields may not be as high as expected. In one field on South Farm near Urbana he found tall plants and green leaves, but ears with fewer than 400 kernels per ear, or yield potential of perhaps 160 bushels per acre. In another field with similar soil planted at the same time with slightly lower population, plants were not quite as tall, stalks were larger in diameter, and ears were more uniform in size. Ears show a small amount of tip-back, but with an average of about 600 kernels per ear, this field should yield 225 bushels per acre or more, he says.
“There are no obvious reasons why similar fields planted at about the same time should have such different kernel numbers and yield potential,” Nafziger explains. “The field with lower yield potential has a number of different hybrids and most seem to show some degree of the same problem, so hybrid doesn’t appear to be the main difference. Both fields emerged well and have had good uniformity and dark green leaves from the beginning.
“Variability in ear size and placement suggests that plant-to-plant competition began early and increased during vegetative growth, eventually showing up as non-uniform ear development and lower kernel numbers. Temperatures in May and June were warm and there was a lot of sunshine. Rainfall both months was near normal, but the latter half of June was dry, which could have meant more underground competition,” he says.
The crop appears to have used a lot of resources to grow the plant, including roots as they grew deeper during dry weather in the weeks before pollination. Uniformly warm air and soil temperatures and rapid growth during that period might have meant some diversion of sugars away from ear growth and kernel set, Nafziger says. “It’s also possible that uptake of water was slightly lower in some soils due to texture or root growth and uptake, and that the crop in such soils experienced a little more stress.
“Although we can’t do anything to change kernel numbers now, it is worthwhile to visit each field to note kernel number and other plant characteristics that can help explain what happened in different fields. While the Illinois corn crop condition overall remains good, some fields may have disappointing kernel numbers even on plants that continue to look very good. Note which hybrids show this, but given that this may be a one-time phenomenon, be cautious about discarding hybrids, especially those that have been top-yielding in the past,” he adds.
Palmer amaranth and non-crop environments
URBANA, Ill. - Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) has garnered much attention recently in both academic discussions and popular press releases, and with good reason, says University of Illinois weed scientist, Aaron Hager.
Among the weedy species of Amaranthus, Palmer amaranth has the fastest growth rate and is the most competitive with the crops common to Midwest agronomic cropping systems, Hager explains. Soybean yield losses approaching 80 percent and corn yield losses exceeding 90 percent have been reported in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
“While most concern focuses on Palmer amaranth in agronomic cropping systems, keep in mind that Palmer amaranth also can become established in non-crop areas,” Hager cautions. “Palmer amaranth populations in non-crop environments obviously do not compete with agronomic crops, but these established plants can produce seeds that ultimately find their way into crop production fields.”
Hager said that crop scientists recently verified the identification of a Palmer amaranth population growing in an area enrolled in the Pollinator Habitat Initiative of the Conservation Reserve Program. The origin of this population remains unknown, but some speculate the forb seed mixture purchased to sow the pollinator area might have been contaminated with Palmer amaranth seed.
“Regardless of how and where a Palmer amaranth population becomes established, it remains critically important to take all appropriate steps to prevent established Palmer amaranth plants from producing seed,” Hager says. “We strongly encourage all who have established pollinator habitats with a purchased forb seed mixture to scout these areas as soon as possible.
“If Palmer amaranth is identified, please take steps to remove these plants before viable seeds are produced on the female plants. Plants should be severed at or below the soil surface and carried out of the field. Severed plants can root at the stem if left on the soil surface, and plants can regenerate from stems severed above the soil surface,” he says.
Manage pests on your favorite trees
URBANA, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Kelly Allsup cautions to watch out for insect pests on favorite landscape trees this late summer and fall. “If you don’t take necessary management actions at the appropriate time, the battle against them may be hard to win,” she says.
Allsup provides the following information:
Tree pests like fall webworm and oystershell scale have some control management practices that can be implemented in late summer and fall.
Fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea) attacks a large number of tree species but especially hickory, ash, birch, walnut, crabapple, apple, elm, maple, oak, and pecan.
There are two generations of the fall webworm in the southern portion of Illinois. The first generation emerges in late June or July and again in August and September. In the northern portion of Illinois, only one generation emerges in August and September. As far as the overall health of the tree, only the first generation is of concern.
Pale green and yellow caterpillars with thick white hair tufts begin to hatch. They feed for several weeks in tents on the tips of the branches. They can skeletonize leaves and even defoliate trees. After six weeks of feeding, they fall to the ground or find a nice crevice in the bark to pupate.
The adults, which are a pristine white moth (with or without black dots) emerge again in August to lay white egg masses on the bottom sides of leaves. Sometimes she lays them on branches or the trunk and they look like dark brown oval knobs. At this time, the most efficient method is to prune out webs of caterpillars, scout for, and remove egg masses.
The Pest Management for the Home Landscape says Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Btk), among other pesticides, can be applied when caterpillars are young and tents are new for the best efficacy. This bacterial pesticide must be ingested to be effective, so open up the tents and spray on leaves inside.
Or, just let nature take its course. According to Michigan State University Extension, there are over 50 species of wasps that parasitize the eggs or caterpillar and over 30 percent of predators will devour these late-season threats.
Oystershell scale (Lepidosaphes ulmi) begins to emerge and attack a large species of trees in early May, especially lilac, ash, privet, beech, and viburnum.
Yellow crawlers emerge to feed causing yellowing, stunted foliage, and branch die back. A second generation of this pest can be controlled when Queen Anne’s lace is blooming in August with an insecticidal soap or a summer spray of petroleum oil. Spraying the crawler stage of this pest is best because they have not yet developed the waxy coating that prevents penetration insecticide. Heavily infested branches can be pruned out as the eggs will overwinter under the dead female’s waxy covering.
Scale are also great attractors of the beneficial insects. If lady beetles and other predators are present, a spray may not be needed.
Ultimately, good tree health is more crucial for tree insect management than any other practice. Good tree management includes watering in times of drought, averting soil compaction, adding mulch ring to prevent weeds, and preventing physical damage by lawnmowers and string trimmers.
Planting a fall vegetable garden
URBANA, Ill. - Planting a vegetable garden doesn’t just happen in the spring. “Many of the vegetables that we grow in the spring can be planted in late summer or early fall,” says University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Ken Johnson.
“By the time summer rolls around many of our cool-season plants that were planted in the spring are past their prime,” says Johnson. “They become tough and bitter and will often bolt, like radishes and spinach. By planting these cool-season crops again, you can extend your gardening season and have fresh produce longer.”
Johnson says there are several other advantages to planting a fall vegetable garden.
“There are often fewer pest and weed problems in the fall compared to the spring. Many vegetables have better quality when they are grown in the fall. Some vegetables develop better flavor when grown in the fall, particularly after they have gone through a frost. Fall gardens often require less time and labor because the soil has already been worked in the spring.”
According to Johnson, vegetables that are typically grown in a fall vegetable garden fall into the semi-hardy and hardy categories. Semi-hardy plants, such as beets, carrots, cauliflower, and lettuce can tolerate light frosts as low as 32 degrees F. Hardy plants, such as broccoli, cabbage, radishes, and spinach can tolerate hard frosts down to 28 degrees F.
“To determine when you should plant your vegetables, you need to determine when your first frost usually occurs,” Johnson says. “For central Illinois it is generally mid-October. Start with that date and count backwards for the number of days it takes the crop to mature. It’s wise to add a week or two for the fall factor because temperatures are getting cooler. Development slows compared to spring when temperatures get warmer.”
Most of the vegetables grown in the fall vegetable garden, Johnson says, can be directly seeded in the garden. Some vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower, are best done as transplants. “Unfortunately, transplants are not easy to find in the summer for these plants, so to make your own, start the seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before you want to plant them in the garden.”
Before planting a fall garden, Johnsons says to clean it. “Remove any crop residues from previous crops and pull any weeds that may be present. Soil can also be tilled and 1 to 1 ½ pounds of an all-purpose fertilizer (per 100 square feet) or composted organic matter can be incorporated. When planting seeds, follow the directions on the seed packets. Make sure to keep the soil moist until the seeds have germinated. Because the seeds are being planted at the end of summer, the soil moisture will need to be monitored closely.”
According to Johnson, a light covering of mulch or even a board can be placed over the seeds to help retain moisture in the soil. If using a board, he says to remove it after the seeds germinate. “Checking the seed packet will give you an idea of how many days it will take for the seeds to germinate. Make sure to check under the board frequently for sprouting seeds. It’s helpful to provide some shade to seedlings in the afternoon while the temperatures are still high and the plants have yet to become well established. After your plants have become established, the maintenance is just like any other garden. Make sure to control weeds and pests if necessary, and water when needed.”
URBANA, Ill. - Just as most flowers are frying or fading, late-blooming perennials take off and steal the show, says Sandra Mason, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
Mason shares a few late-blooming beauties to create a fantastic fall flower garden.
Fall anemones, which include an array of species (Anemone hupehensis, A. x hybrida, A. tomentosa, and A. vitifolia) are reliable late bloomers, according to Mason. Some start blooming in July and continue to bloom into November. Fall anemones prefer moist well-drained soils in a garden shaded from late-afternoon sun. They can take full sun if given plenty of moisture.
Anemones have dark green leaves with two to three inch in diameter flowers held high on delicate wiry stems. Colors range from pure white to pink or purple. Flowers may be single to semi-double or double-petaled. The cultivar Margarete has semi-double flowers of striking pink with yellow centers. At three feet tall, it’s an amiable choice for backgrounds.
The 150-year-old cultivar Honorine Jobert has white single-petaled flowers offering a stunning contrast to the dark green leaves. September Charm has single rose-pink flowers. Robustissima, with mauve-pink flowers, can be too robust in a shady garden. It’s best in full sun where it’s not so vigorous.
Max Vogel and Serenade anemones possess similar pink flowers with yellow, globe-like centers. Both selections have bloom periods of more than two months. Their vigorous growth and strong stalks make them less susceptible to flopping. Max Vogel is about three to four feet tall with an upright, clumped habit. Serenade, at 24 inches tall, could be a good choice as a ground cover.
Asters come in a wide range of colors from white to varying shades of blue, pink, and purple in sizes from two to four feet tall, so do your homework to find the one with your desired characteristics. New England aster is the quintessential late bloomer. Late summer into fall it shows off its myriad of pink to purple flowers, often adorned with butterflies sipping nectar shoulder-to-shoulder as they enjoy each daisy-type flower.
Many asters are native to North America. Most asters prefer full sun and may need a good pinch or shearing of the stems in June to keep plants from getting too lanky. Purple Dome aster has a particularly tidy rounded habit with deep purple flowers.
A few lesser known asters include Heath aster and Calico aster. Heath aster (Aster ericoides) has numerous tiny white, pink or blue flowers similar to baby’s breath on three-foot tall plants.
The Calico aster (Aster lateriflorus var. horizontalis) is almost a shrub. The small white flowers with red centers are borne on many horizontal stems for a stunning midnight show.
The deep yellow flowers of Goldenrods are a sure sign of late summer. One of my favorites is Fireworks (Solidago rugose). As its name implies, the plant erupts into fireworks with tiny sunny yellow flowers on wiry arching stems. It has a shrub-like appearance with its sturdy stems and tight crown.
Many sedums show off in late summer when butterflies appreciate the buffet of pink flowers. Autumn Joy sedum is still a good choice even though it is as common as a porch light. As with many of the late-blooming sedums, Autumn Joy is a very useable height at 12 to 24 inches. Matrona and Maestro are also great cultivars. From early spring to late winter, sedums have an appealing aspect, in bloom or not.