In the Garden

Great gardening tips from Nicole Stoner…

Plants and Pests with Nicole

This time of year our gardens are really growing well, but in some cases so are the problems. I thought I would take some time to describe some common problems we are seeing in the garden currently.

Poor production

In unfavorable weather, we don’t see reduced or stalled out fruit production on our vegetable plants. Some of our plants have no fruits developing at all while others have fruits on the plant that simply won’t ripen. When it gets so hot and it stays that way for many days in a row, that is not optimal conditions for production. When our days get hotter than 85 degrees Fahrenheit and our night’s stay warmer than 70 degrees, tomato production slows and can even stop altogether until conditions improve. Pollen can even become sterile in very hot conditions. There is nothing you can do for poor production due to heat, except to…

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Easing into the New School Year

While there are still a couple weeks of summer left for most youth, the start of school is quickly approaching.  One of my colleagues, Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator serving Dodge County provided some great tips on routine and the important role that has in getting children off to a smooth start. 

First, Routine Matters!  Family routines are different from the family schedule…and probably more important. What’s the difference? Schedules tell you exactly when something is going to happen. Routines, on the other hand, consist of the regular actions that occur for a specific event each time it occurs, such as bedtime, getting ready to go somewhere, or dinner time. When we put routines in place for our families, it brings a sense of security that children really need. When kids know what to expect, and know what’s expected of them, their behavior will also improve.

Many times, routines happen naturally in our lives. We go through the same ritual as we get ready for bed, for instance, because certain things just must be done before we go to bed. Other times, routines will have to be learned. Having the kids help set the table, sitting down to dinner together as a family, and then everyone clearing the table as dinner is finished would be a family routine that most of us would have to learn. There are certain event routines that normally benefit every family. Bedtime, morning routines, getting ready to go somewhere, homework, and mealtimes are included in this list.

It’s impossible for someone else to tell you exactly what these routines should be. Every family is different. What works for one may not work for another. We can offer some suggestions to give you an idea of what a routine would consist of. But ultimately, you must create your own family routines with your own family.

Bedtime routines are very important to children. It will help them feel more comfortable as they go to sleep, so they will fall asleep sooner, get a better night’s sleep, and stay in their own beds all night. The important thing is that the routines are pretty much the same each night. You can change up the song or story, for example, but make sure that you sing a song or tell a story each night, if that is your routine.

During the summer, our family gets out of routine, but starts getting back into a routine prior to school starting.

Morning routines can vary greatly among families, and even from child to child within one family because of differing schedules. A family with both school-aged children and toddlers, for example, might have one routine with the older kids and another with the younger ones who don’t wake up until after the older ones are gone to school. A family with a stay-at-home parent will most likely have a different routine than families that have two parents working outside the home. When you do things in the same order each time, it will become habit for your family. Children will know what’s expected of them next. It will save time and frustration for the whole family!

Getting ready to go somewhere can be a chaotic experience if expectations are not set ahead of time. Give your kids a time frame to get ready and make sure they do not have to be rushed. That will cause someone to have a meltdown every time! Try this routine… Tell the kids that they have five minutes to finish what they are doing, and then it will be time to get ready to go. When the five minutes is up, announce that you are setting the timer for 30 minutes (timers are a mom’s best friend!). Have everything the kids will need set out for them-clothes, socks, shoes and gather anything they need to take with them. Give a prize to everyone that gets completely ready before the timer goes off-it could be something as simple as a sticker.

The word “homework” usually evokes feelings of dread for both students and parents. A lot of times, the process of doing homework involves parents yelling at kids to “Get your homework done!”, and kids finding anything and everything else they can to do rather than the homework. When they finally do sit down to do it, there is a lot of whining that takes place, and parents are too busy doing other things to sit down with their kids and make sure the homework gets done correctly. Why not turn homework time into a time of bonding with your child through a new family routine?

Here is an example. Have a set time that homework occurs every day. It could be before dinner, after dinner, before bath-whatever works for your family. Try not to make it as soon as they get home from school. They’ve been in school all day and need a break! Do homework in the same location every day. Make sure it is as free from distractions as possible (not in front of the TV!). A table or desk is best. It gives them room to spread out and work. It also provides a level of comfort because that is the way they are used to working at school. Give kids a five-minute warning that homework time is about to begin (good “timer moment”). Use this time to check out the homework before the kids do. Make sure you have the supplies they will need available before you have the child sit down to begin. It’s a good idea to keep a “homework box” that holds common supplies needed for homework. When it’s time to begin, have the child(ren) sit down and explain what they are expected to do. As they do the work, make sure you are available to answer questions. When they are done, check over their work and make sure it’s complete. Have them put supplies back in the “homework box” and homework in their backpacks, ready to take back to school. The key to a pleasant homework experience is an involved parent!

Engage kids by having them set the table so it’s a family effort getting ready for meals.

Family routines at mealtimes provide bonding and communication time. Dinner is a great time to learn a new family routine! As you are cooking, have kids set the table and do other age-appropriate tasks. Once dinner is ready, have everyone sit down together (not in front of the TV!). Use this time to talk to each other about your day. Stay positive-no arguing! After dinner, everyone clears the table together. Depending on the age of your kids, you might even have them load dishes into the dishwasher. Make it work for your family!

Hopefully some of these tips will get your family off to a great start for the school year.

(Source: Lisa Poppe, Nebraska Extension Educator)


Collaboration and Teamwork

After wrapping up another county fair and head back into other extension programming, it’s good to reflect on the county fair experience as this is one of the capstone experiences for 4-H youth. This marks my sixteenth year in Extension which is hard to imagine! As we pivoted to a pandemic-style fair last year, there were lots of things learned.  First – we can change and adapt. In fact, some changes made last year carried through to this year. Secondly – I am still amazed and blessed to have so many excellent and caring volunteers to make the fair a positive experience for our youth. Finally – the countless hours spent preparing ahead of time allows for a much smoother week during the fair. I’d like to give a lot of credit to the entire staff of Fillmore and Clay Counties. Weeks before the fair, data is entered into the computer system, stall assignments are created, awards ordered, reminders sent to exhibitors about completing quality assurance, registration deadlines, etc.

Without the collaboration of staff, fair would not occur. Also, there is a lot of time spent from volunteers such as Council members and superintendents. From helping with winter/spring weigh-ins to helping answer questions and attend meetings, volunteers are engaged year-round to make the program the best it can be.

An article adapted from Belgrad, W., Fisher, K., & Rayner, S. (1995) best summarizes that “collaboration and teamwork require a mix of interpersonal, problem-solving, and communication skills needed for a group to work together towards a common goal.” The best teams I have worked with put their own agenda aside and work towards the greater good for the team. This article also provides tips for how to develop a collaborative team environment. There are five themes that must be present.

My daughter showing her calf.

The first is trust. Being honest with the team helps each other develop respect within a team. Give team members the benefit of the doubt and work to eliminate conflicts of interest. Secondly is to clarify roles. When each team member knows their key roles, they can perform more effectively and can figure out ways to help each other. Next, it is important to communicate openly and effectively. Work to clear up misunderstandings quickly and accurately. Its best to over-communicate, rather than not communicate. Learn to be a good listener and recognize team member efforts. Fourth, is to appreciate diversity of ideas. Be open-minded and evaluate each new idea and remember that it is okay to disagree with one another but learn how to reach consensus. Often, much is learned from those who differ from you.  Finally, balance the team’s focus. Regularly review and evaluate effectiveness of the team. Assign team members specific tasks to evaluate and provide praise to other team members for achieving results.

I would certainly like to take some time this week to thank the entire Clay and Fillmore County staff for the hours of time spent. Without the entire staff working together, fair would be miserable.  Also, I’d like to thank the 4-H Council members who have so freely given of their time to make the fair a success. Of course, livestock superintendents put in a large amount of time during the fair with check-in, the show, loading animals, etc. Special thanks to the fair board for their support of the 4-H program and the countless hours they spend setting up for events, etc. Businesses and financial donors help provide youth with incentives for their projects. There are so many other individuals and businesses who are helpful and do things without any recognition and to all of you, thank you! 

Congratulations Clay and Fillmore County 4-H and FFA members on a great county fair!

Source: Belgrad, W., Fisher, K., & Rayner, S. (1995). Tips for Teams: a Ready Reference for Solving Common Team Problems. McGraw-Hill: New York.


Sportsmanship & Youth Development

Here is my annual article as a reminder on what it means to exhibit true sportsmanship and remember the main purpose of the 4-H program – positive youth development. This year’s Nebraska 4-H theme has been, “I belong”. This is something we strive to ensure youth who participate in a Nebraska Extension program truly feel is that they are welcomed and have a sense of belonging. Let’s look at other ways to ensure the 4-H youth development program creates a positive experience for our youth.

Webster’s Third International Dictionary defines sportsmanship as “conduct becoming to an individual involving fair and honest competition, courteous relations and graceful acceptance of results”.  Sportsmanship starts with parents teaching their youth how to accept a win or a loss, although in the 4-H youth development program, even if the youth receive a red ribbon, nothing is lost if some basic knowledge and skills were gained. Too often in our society we focus on the tangible results of a ribbon or trophy and don’t think about the process that youth went through to achieve the end results and what was learned from that process.         

My daughter McKenzie has increased in her self-confidence in leading cattle.

I often use the example that as a youth, I’ll never forget receiving a red ribbon for a market heifer; I was disappointed, but will never forget my dad asking me, what the judge said in the comments.  After we talked it over, I realized his reasoning and was able to understand the type of animal I should select the following year. That was a lesson I’ll never forget.  My parents instilled the value of hard work into my sister and I and any animal we showed we bought with our own money to build a small cow/calf herd, or they came from our own herd. We rarely had the award-winning animal and were extremely excited to even receive a purple ribbon. The learning that occurred, memories and fun we had were just as valuable than if we would have received a trophy or plaque.

For these reasons, it is really rewarding to work with youth who are happy with any ribbon placing- white, red, blue or purple. It really is just one person’s opinion on one day!

The 4-H Program focuses on providing positive youth development and developing young people as future leaders. A ribbon or plaque placing does not achieve this; rather it is the process, skills and effort that went into the project.  It is also important to mention that the entire 4-H program extends beyond the county fair and is done through educational workshops, career portfolios, leadership experiences and much more and is a year-round program.

Positive Youth Development

Meredith has been learning responsibility with her bucket calves.

National 4-H reminds us that there are four critical components of a successful learning experience which include a sense of belonging, independence, mastery and generosity. During county fair and all 4-H programming, it is important that youth experience these.


Youth need to know they are cared about by others and feel a sense of connection to others in the group. As the facilitator, it is important to provide youth the opportunity to feel physically and emotionally safe while actively participating in a group. Create a safe and inclusive environment and foster a positive relationship with youth learners. Use discussion questions that encourage youth to learn from each other, synthesize and use ideas collaboratively.


Youth need to know that they can influence people and events through decision-making and action. They learn to better understand themselves and become independent thinkers. Throughout each curriculum, youth are given opportunities to develop and reflect upon thoughts and responses to the challenges, explorations, and investigations. Youth begin to understand that they can act as change agents with confidence and competence because of their learning.


To develop self-confidence youth, need to feel and believe they are capable, and they must experience success at solving problems and meeting challenges. Youth need a breadth and depth of topics that allow them to pursue their own interests. Introduce youth to expert knowledge and guide them toward their own sense of mastery and accomplishment.


Youth need to feel their lives have meaning and purpose. Throughout each curriculum, youth are encouraged to broaden their perspectives, find relevance in the topic area, and bring ideas back to their community.

Adapted from 4-H Essential Elements of 4-H Youth Development, Dr. Cathann Kress, 2004.


Helping Others

One of the things I love about rural communities is the amount of help and support given when people go through difficult times. I can attest to that, on several occasions. For example, when my mom had her stroke in 2011, neighbors, coworkers and friends stepped up to provide support, send cards and helped when I was needing to make trips to visit her. Also in 2011, 2012 and 2014, I was laid up with ankle surgery and very blessed that many people in the community helped watch my girls, made meals for our family, and showed many other acts of kindness.  A quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of my favorites, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Last year, I was so humbled that we were able to find creative solutions for our youth to still have a county fair and showcase their projects. The 4-H Councils, 4-H superintendents, FFA advisors and county fair board/ag societies all pitched in to help Nebraska Extension staff navigate through unprecedented times. One of the biggest things learned in 2020 is that we can change and find creative solutions to circumstances beyond our control. In 2021, county fairs will be able to be celebrated by more and continue as a key social event in the county, but one thing that won’t change is that our youth will be able to compete and continue learning life skills.

A part of the 4-H pledge is to “pledge one’s hands to larger service” and “heart to greater loyalty”. These are the values we try to instill in our 4-H youth. It is great to see youth helping each other during 4-H workshops and programs and friendships being made. There is research that shows how helping others has benefits for themselves. A professor, Thomas G. Plante from Santa Clara University, and adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University has found that his students who attend a spring break trip working with people in poor and marginalized areas managed stress better than those who did not attend trips. He believes the research finding is due to a matter of perspective. Additionally, when helping others, you generally experience more empathy, compassion, and solidarity with others as well.

As we approach county fair season, it is important to remind adults, as well as youth of 4-H’s core values of helping others with our hands. It might improve their stress management abilities and make for a smoother fair for all involved. Rather than seeking out problems, remember the 4-H pledge and help others. You’ll likely be happier and create a better experience for everyone around you. So, instead of only worrying about your exhibits or animals or trying to get others in trouble, consider helping a fellow exhibitor and fill one’s bucket with water or call that person and tell them their animal is running low on water. If an exhibitor is struggling to know where to check-in their static exhibit, offer to help them.

By practicing these small acts of kindness, you might be surprised how much less stressed you and those around you will be. I am certainly appreciative of 4-H parents who are able to help out my daughters when I am busy with my job. “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.”  If we practice these principles, we can make a positive difference in the lives of others.

County Fair Schedules

You can find the events for the Clay and Fillmore County Fairs on each extension website or social media. Locally, go to fillmore.unl.edu or clay.unl.edu.     



Mosquitoes are a huge irritation in the summer months. Mosquitoes are a type of insect that is in the same order as flies, which means they are closely related to flies and gnats, which all tend to bother us. Mosquitoes are also vectors of many different diseases. Because of these factors, we need to do what we can to eliminate the problem and reduce mosquito populations.

The best way to avoid any pathogens transmitted by mosquitoes is to prevent being bitten. Like any pest management program, IPM is the strategy that works best to prevent mosquito bites at home in the yard. Sanitation is a must to eliminate breeding sites and harborage locations of mosquitoes. Female mosquitoes lay eggs on the surface of standing water and the larvae (“wigglers”) require water to survive before pupation. Removal of stagnant water in a variety of containers such as flowerpots, buckets, gutters, pool covers, used tires, and dog bowls will break the mosquito life cycle. A general rule is to dump any water that has been standing for more than five days.

Culex mosquitoes are active biters in the evening, so it is important to wear long sleeves and pants or permethrin-treated clothing when outdoors between dusk and dawn. The effective insect repellents applied to skin include those with the active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, or the oil of lemon eucalyptus.

As far as chemical control, Mosquito Dunks contain the active ingredient bacterium, Bacillus thurengiensis israelensis (Bti), which is toxic to mosquito larvae when consumed, but non-toxic to humans, pets, pollinators, fish, and other wildlife. They are sold in hardware stores and will dissolve in standing water such as water troughs, fishponds, rain barrels, and birdbaths. They are effective immediately and can last for a month. (We have mosquito dunks in our Extension office free from Public Health Solutions.)

It is not recommended to use foggers or adulticide treatments by homeowners. These treatments are not effective for more than a couple of days and should only be used a few days ahead of a large outdoor get-together if necessary.

It is best to utilize IPM to reduce your exposure to mosquitoes because they spread many diseases including West Nile Virus and the Zika virus. Most people who get West Nile Virus have no symptoms or have flu-like symptoms. However, from 2001 to 2009 1,100 deaths in the U.S. were attributed to West Nile Virus. Most of the deaths occurred in people ages 65 and older.

Information for this article came from Nicole Stoner, Drs. Jody Green and Jonathan Larson, Nebraska Extension Educators.


Weed Management Field Day

Growers, crop consultants and educators are encouraged to attend Nebraska Extension’s Weed Management Field Day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 23, 2021, at the South-Central Agricultural Laboratory near Clay Center.

The field day will include on-site demonstrations of new technology and new herbicides for corn, soybean, sorghum, and sweet corn. An early morning tour will focus on weed management in soybean and sorghum followed by a tour of weed management in field corn and sweet corn. Field experiments will provide information for weed control options with various herbicide programs.

“Several new herbicides and technologies are coming to the market, including Enlist Corn and Soybean, XtendFlex Soybean, iGrowth and INZEN sorghum” said Extension Weed Management Specialist Amit Jhala. 

Three Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) Continuing Education Units are available in the integrated pest management category.

There is no cost to attend the field day, but participants are asked to preregister at http://agronomy.unl.edu/fieldday.

The South-Central Agricultural Laboratory is five miles west of the intersection of Highways 14 and 6, or 13 miles east of Hastings on Highway 6. GPS coordinates for the field day site are 40.57539, -98.13776.

Source: Amit Jhala, Extension Weed Management Specialist


Youth Crop Scouting Competition – Connecting Youth with Crops

Looking for a fun club project? Want to unite your club members? Running out of ideas for club meetings?  If you answered, “yes” to any of these questions, help is on the way!  Nebraska Extension is pleased to present the 8th annual Crop Scouting Competition for Nebraska youth. Youth interested in crops can learn about crop growth & development and basic crop scouting principles. 

Don’t know a lot about crops?  Ask a local agronomist to assist by providing a short lesson on crop production. You can have the agronomist meet with youth a little during each meeting or outside of the meeting. This is one way to engage those youth interested in crops. 

This contest will be held at the Eastern Nebraska Research & Extension Center near Mead, Nebraska on August 3, 2021. The event will include both indoor and outdoor events. Teams of junior high and high school students (those completing 5-12th grades) from across Nebraska are invited to participate. This event is limited to the first ten teams who sign-up! 

Clubs or other organizations may enter a team composed of three to five participants. An adult team leader must accompany each team of students. Team leaders could be FFA advisors, crop consultants, extension staff, coop employees, etc. 

Top-scoring teams win prizes: $500 for first, $250 for second, $100 for third place. Top two teams will be eligible for regional competition held virtually this year.

Teams will be expected to know the basics of scouting corn and soybean fields. This includes crop staging; looking for patterns of crop injury; disease, insect and weed seedling identification; etc. Other topics many include but are not limited to, pesticide safety, nutrient disorders, and herbicide injury. 

More information about the crop scouting competition and instructions on how to register a team are available online at cropwatch.unl.edu/youth. Register at: https://go.unl.edu/cropscoutingreg

Teams must be registered by July 15. This program is sponsored by Nebraska Independent Crop Consultant Association, Ward Laboratories and Nebraska Extension.


Inspiring Rich Conversations Through Questions

With the school year complete, hopefully an opportunity to spend more time with your child exists. Reconnect and reflect on the school year and plan for the summer. Recently I read an article written by two of my colleagues, Sarah Roberts and Jackie Steffen, Learning Child Extension Educators that I thought provided great tips on how to inspire conversations with your child by asking powerful questions which I’ve included in this week’s column.  

School is out! Engage in rich conservations with your children this summer.

Questions are powerful tools, and they encourage children to think at a higher level. The types of questions you ask young children can affect the quality of your conversation with them. Some questions only elicit rote answers and, therefore, will not spark a meaningful conversation or connection. Others encourage thought-provoking conversations and ideas. Having intentional and meaningful conversations with young children is critical to providing an atmosphere of emotional security. Engaging with and listening to children help them to feel valued and respected. They learn to feel safe talking with you and sharing thoughts and feelings that may be otherwise difficult to discuss.

Here Are Some Ways to Inspire Rich Conversations:

  • Try to ask more open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with one word. Instead of asking, “How was your day?” consider rephrasing and saying, “Tell me about the favorite parts of your day.”
  • Distractions are all around us. Take time to fully engage with young children and practice active listening in a one-on-one environment. That means removing electronics and getting down on their level. Giving children your full attention demonstrates that you respect them and what they have to say.
  • Make conversations a habit. The time of day that works best is different for everyone. Some might be able to connect deeply on the “to and from” activity/school commutes, others at bedtime or maybe around the table. Take notice of when your child feels the most comfortable opening up to you.
  • Do your homework. If your child is in school and you have access to daily announcements, lesson plans or newsletters, use that information to help spark conversations. Children can fail to mention exciting events unintentionally. They may be surprised with some pieces of information that you know about their day.
  • Finally, remember that conversations are a two-way street. If you ask too many questions, children can feel like they are being drilled. Do not just ask questions; open up and talk about YOUR day. Being authentic and modeling good communication with other adults in their school or home will encourage children to join in on conversations. Asking higher-level questions takes practice and time. Think about what information you want to share with your child and what you would like to know from them. Be genuine. If it is tough to talk to them, don’t worry. It is important to start practicing conversation skills, especially when children are young. Have fun and keep a sense of humor and wonder. Children will follow your lead. Here are a Few Open-Ended Questions to Get You Started
  • If you were the family chef, what would you make today for breakfast (lunch, dinner)? Why?
  • If you could do anything today, what would it be?
  • What was your favorite part about the holidays this year?
  • This year has been hard for lots of people. Is there anything positive you experienced? What things do you wish you could change?
  • If you could ask me anything (teachers or parents), what would it be?

References: “Big Questions for Young Minds: Extending Children’s Thinking by Janis Strasser and Lisa Mufson Bresson


Celebrate Beef Month

As we enter the spring and summer months, nothing smells better than a delicious, juicy hamburger or steak on the grill and being able to barbecue outside with friends and family. It’s no surprise then that May is National Beef Month!  The beef industry is especially important to Nebraska’s economy. In fact, according to the USDA National Ag Statistics Service, Nebraska is the #1 commercial red meat production state in the United States (February 2021). So, why is Nebraska, the beef state?  It has a unique mix of natural resources and according to the Nebraska Beef Council, cattle turn grass from 24 million acres of rangeland and pasture, more than one half of Nebraska’s land mass, into protein and many other products for humans. Land that is grazed allows more people to be fed than otherwise possible and more than one billion bushels of corn are produced in Nebraska, of which 40% is fed to livestock in the state.

Nebraska’s farms and ranches utilize 45.2 million acres of the state’s total land area – that is 91% of the land! There are nearly 23 million acres of rangeland and pastureland in Nebraska – half of which are in the Sandhills. Here is another fun fact – January 2012 data shows that cattle outnumber Nebraskans nearly 4 to 1.

Photo by Gonzalo Guzman on Pexels.com

Now that I have explained how and why the beef industry is important to Nebraska, let’s explore the health benefits of beef. Beef is a good source of zinc, iron and protein and there are 29 cuts of beef that meet the government labeling guidelines for being lean. In fact, a 3-ounce cooked serving of lean beef (which is about the size of a deck of cards) provides 10 essential nutrients and about half of the daily value of protein in about 170 calories. According to recent research from Purdue University, the cuts of beef considered lean can be included as a part of a heart-healthy diet to support cardiovascular health and has consistently demonstrated that the nutrients in beef promote health through life.

If you would like more information on beef production, you can view our Nebraska Extension website beef.unl.edu. Our Extension experts have a variety of articles from beef nutrition to reproduction to lease information. If you would like recipes or tips for preparing beef, you can also check out Nebraska Extension’s food.unl.edu website. There are some great tips on saving money when purchasing beef and links to the Nebraska Beef Council website which has great recipes as well.

Enjoy some beef today!