Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Choosing the Best Christmas Tree

Cassie Homan, Horticulture Agent

Christmas is just around the corner! Now is a perfect time to pick out your fresh cut Christmas Tree. Fresh cut trees are such a fun tradition and will have your house smelling like the holidays all season long. If you have never chosen a real Christmas Tree here are some great tips on what to look for.

When selecting a tree, look for these signs that the tree might be too far gone:
  • Needles are a dull, grayish-green color
  • Needles feel stiff and brittle
  • Needles pull easily off tree
  • Needles fail to ooze pitch (sticky substance) when broken apart and squeezed
Once you have your tree home, recut the trunk about one inch above the original cut. This will open up clogged, water-conducting tissues. Immediately place the trunk in warm water.

Locate the tree in as cool a spot as possible. Avoid areas near fireplaces, wood-burning stoves and heat ducts as the heat will result in excess water loss. Make sure the reservoir stays filled. If the reservoir loses enough water that the bottom of the trunk is exposed, the trunk will need to be recut. Adding aspirin, copper pennies, pop, sugar and bleach to the water reservoir have not been shown to prolong the life of a tree.

If you choose a living Christmas tree, be sure to dig the planting hole before the ground freezes. Mulch the hole and backfill soil to keep them from freezing. Live trees should not be kept inside for more than three days. Longer periods may cause them to lose dormancy resulting in severe injury when planted outside. You may wish to tag the tree at the nursery and then pick it up a couple days before Christmas. After Christmas, move the tree to an unheated garage for several days to acclimatize it to outside temperatures. After planting, water well and leave some mulch in place to prevent the soil water from freezing and becoming unavailable for plant uptake.

After the holidays, many municipalities allow old Christmas trees to be placed curbside. Trees are then collected and ground up for mulch or burned. If you miss the designated date, or your trash collector doesn't accept trees, there are several options to prolong the useful life of the tree.

Sinking your Christmas tree in a pond is an easy way to improve fish habitat and fishing. The tree serves as little coral reef, in that the branches provide substrate for water plants to grow, and cover for minnows and other forms of small aquatic life. Larger fish are drawn by the shade and the presence of prey. How do you sink a tree? Tie the base to a cinder block with a short, stout rope, and toss it in. Just be sure to get permission from the pond owner first.

You can also use the little tree around the landscape. This requires clipping off all of the branches then using the boughs to add extra insulation around semi-hardy perennials or to trees and shrubs that were recently planted. The leftover trunk may be used as a garden stake next spring.

Another common use is to simply cut the tree up for wood. Let it dry for a few weeks, and you will have some easy lighting firewood. Just beware that most conifer species tend to spark and pop more than hardwoods, as resin pockets in the wood make tiny explosions. This can delight the youngsters, but for safety's sake, keep an eye on the fire when burning Christmas tree logs!

Have some fun this holiday season by choosing a fresh cut tree. If you would like more details about caring for Christmas trees contact Cassie Homan, Post Rock District Horticulture Agent, at (785)738-3597 or by email at choman@ksu.edu.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tips and guidelines for using crop residue for your cow herd!

Sandra L. Wick, Crop Production Agent

Kansas has an abundance of crop residue available for grazing in late fall and winter. However, the location of fields in relation to cattle, the lack of shelter or appropriate fencing, and water availability often prevent grazing of many fields. Despite these limitations, crop residue grazing has become an integral part of many cattle operations, primarily as a feed resource for maintaining the breeding herd during winter or putting weight on cull cows.

Weather can be the most important factor in successfully grazing crop residue. Snow cover can reduce or eliminate access to crop residue. Mud may make grazing difficult and may result in decreased performance and greater waste of forage due to trampling. Corn stalk fields grazed shortly after harvest are higher in nutrient content than fields grazed 60 days after harvest. This indicates that there is some weathering loss of nutrients. The greatest nutrient loss appears in the husk and leaf and the loss is primarily a loss in energy content.

Cows grazing corn stalks will consume 25 to 30 percent of the available residue in 30 to 100 days, depending on stocking rate. This can leave enough material to prevent soil erosion. Cattle will select and eat the grain first, followed by the husk and leaf, and finally the cob and stalk. Also, as the stocking rate (number of cows per acre) is increased, the nutrient content of the remaining residue declines much quicker because the grain and husk are being removed at a much faster rate.

Salt, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin A supplements are recommended for all cattle grazing dormant winter range and crop residues. These supplements can be supplied free-choice to the cattle.

As long as cattle have grain to select in a cornstalk field, they will consume a diet that is probably above 7 percent crude protein and as high as 70 percent TDN. This will exceed the protein and energy needs of an 1100-pound cow in mid-gestation. Spring calving cows are at mid-to-late gestation during fall and early winter; therefore, their nutrient requirements match well with a crop residue grazing program.

Lactating cows, such as fall calving cows grazing crop residue, need to be managed carefully. As long as lactating cows have grain to select in the field, their energy needs should be met. If the breed type has a high milk potential, protein supplementation is necessary even if the cattle have grain to eat.

The question that always arises, is the concern with compaction as a management component.  Grazing livestock can cause soil compaction, but generally the compaction is shallow and temporary. Soil moisture and soil type are the two main factors which affect the severity of the compaction. Moist soils with significant clay content are most prone to compaction and are often referred to as “tight” soils. Completely saturated soils or dry soils do not compact. The winter freeze/thaw and spring tillage will eliminate most compaction created by livestock.

On average, the energy and protein in the leaves of milo stubble appear adequate for cows in mid-to- late gestation, but not for heifers in late gestation.  Monitor body condition of mature, gestating cows grazing milo stubble. If they appear to be losing condition, supplement protein. Because of the milo grain’s hard outer coat, it is not utilized as well as corn grain by the cow, but cows can still experience acidosis (founder in milo fields that have excess milo heads left in the field after harvest).  The table provides nutrient values of corn and milo stalks.

K-State Research and Extension has an excellent (free of charge) resource, “KSU Forage Notebook” available. This is an extensive resource for managing a wide variety of forages with topics such as grasses/legumes, management guidelines, summer annual forages along with musk thistle control and grazing corn residue, just to name a few.  This is available online or at any of our Post Rock Extension District Offices.

If you have further questions on grazing crop residue, contact Sandra at any Post Rock Extension District Office in Beloit, Lincoln, Mankato, Osborne or Smith Center.

Post Rock Extension District of K-State Research and Extension serves Jewell, Lincoln, Mitchell, Osborne, and Smith counties. Sandra may be contacted at swick@ksu.edu  or by calling Smith Center, 282-6823, Beloit 738-3597, Lincoln 524-4432, Mankato 378-3174, or Osborne 346-2521.  Join us on Facebook at “Post Rock Extension” along with our blog site at “postrockextension.blogspot.com.  Also remember our website is www.postrock.ksu.edu and my twitter account is @PRDcrops.