What’s red with green, juicy and delicious fresh and can be canned into many popular items? That’s right, tomatoes!  Every year, we receive many questions about tomatoes and if you are like me, you love to canning with them to enjoy all products all year long!  Our regional horticultural expert, Nicole Stoner recently provided me with some information on tomatoes and fall gardening so I’m including this in my weekly column.

food vegetables red tomatoes
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This year the weather has been quite abnormal. We started out with a very cool spring, after that the weather quickly shifted to hot, windy, and stormy. We are seeing quite a bit of problems with tomatoes lately and they all look similar but could be due to a few different problems.

Many people are seeing tomato plants with curling leaves. Most often these curled leaves are at the top of their plants and it is not usually all the plants that a person planted in their garden that are having problems. Sometimes it is just a couple of plants out of 10-12.

Environmental Damage

The stress from the environment can be very harmful to our plants. When the weather quickly shifted to summer this year, it caused wilting from heat and drought stress. Sometimes that environmental stress can cause the leaves of tomato plants to curl upward. Watering can sometimes help this issue, but not always. The plants may need to get over the impacts on their own. With environmental issues, the plant will eventually grow out of the damage.

Another issue caused by the environment is called physiological leaf curl that can develop on tomato plants. This is a physiological issue, meaning it is a growth response in the plant. This response is caused by changes in the environment, usually when weather shifts from spring to summer. Typically, the plant will recover on its own. Correct irrigation can help speed up this process.

Herbicide Injury

Herbicide injury is something that we often see in our plants. Tomatoes are especially sensitive to drift from 2,4-D and Dicamba products. With herbicide drift, curling, cupping, and vein distortion of leaves. The plant will likely grow new leaves that are not affected and look fine. However, it is not advised to eat fruits or vegetables from plants that were hit by herbicide drift, due to the variables regarding the herbicide, there is no way to know when or if they will be safe for consumption.

This year, since we were having such a chilly spring, we were able to spray herbicides later in the season. Then, when the temperatures shifted so quickly and these products were still being used, we had a lot more volatilization of the products making them move to our plants.


There is also a virus known as Beet Curly Top that can also be found in tomatoes. The experts are suggesting that this could be part of the problem as well. The symptoms from this virus are very similar to herbicide injury. As with all virus diseases, there is no cure for the plant. It is best to pull the infected plants as soon as the virus is noticed and destroy them to reduce the chance for spread of the virus.

So, whether your plants are facing herbicide injury or a virus, the best option is to remove the plants. This will reduce the chances of all your plants getting the disease and be safest for your household. If it is an environmental issue, the plants will grow out of it. If you are unsure of the cause, it is best to remove the plants. Be sure to keep them watered as necessary through the summer or early fall to help reduce the problems.

If you have any further questions please contact Nicole Stoner at (402) 223-1384, nstoner2@unl.edu, visit the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu, or like her facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/NicoleStonerHorticulture and follow her on twitter @Nikki_Stoner.


Planting Fall Gardens

Guest Columnist: Nicole Stoner – Extension Educator focused in horticulture

In August we can begin to think about a fall garden. Fall gardens are often more productive than spring gardens, due to the cooler temperatures through the majority of the life of the plants.

My first crop of brussel sprouts this spring

While we have missed the timeline for some of these vegetables, here are the best times to plant a fall garden in our area. For a fall harvest, plant beets August 1-10; carrots August 1-15; Chinese cabbage August 1-20; lettuce August 1-5; mustard August 1-25; radish August 1-20; snap beans August 1-5; spinach August 20- September 15; Swiss chard August 1-20; and turnips August 1-15 (from Backyard Farmer online calendar).

The first frost in Beatrice occurs around October 1-10, on average and is within a week either way for the surrounding counties. The best way to determine when to plant a fall garden is to count backward from the first frost date and compare it to your harvest time listed on the package. You do want to add a fall factor of about 10-14 days to include extra time for development during the cooler temperatures of fall.61818829468__014FC3C2-BB22-4A81-BF8C-7B8E11ADCFA5

If you have any further questions please contact Nicole Stoner at (402) 223-1384, nstoner2@unl.edu, visit the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu, or like her facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/NicoleStonerHorticulture and follow her on twitter @Nikki_Stoner.



One common horticultural pest our office receives questions on is bagworms. Bagworms feed on the foliage of a wide variety of trees and shrubs, but are of most concern for evergreens, especially junipers. Bagworms overwinter as eggs in their bags which are attached to tree branches. The eggs hatch in mid-May to early June. As bagworms grow, leaf fragments are added to bags which often grow to 2 inches in length by the end of the summer. The earliest signs of bagworm injury in evergreens are brown or stressed needles at the tips of branches. Heavy infestations  of older bagworms may completely defoliate a tree or shrub and if severe enough can kill the tree or shrub. Less severe injury will slow growth and stunt plants.

To control bagworms on small trees or small infestations, remove the bags by pulling them off the branches and immersing them in soapy water. If you place the bags next to the tree, the larvae might return to the host plants. If you have bagworms in a windbreak or large tree, insecticides are most effective when applied during early bagworm development. For early season damage, insecticides from mid to late June when bags are less than ½ inch in length are effective. By late August, chemical control is no longer effective as the bagworms have ceased feeding and are enclosed within their bags.

Reduced-risk insecticides to use contain Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and insecticidal soaps are quite effective on young bagworm larvae but may require repeated applications. Additional insecticide options for bagworms include: acephate, bifenthrin, carbaryl, cyfluthrin, malathion or others. As always, be sure to read and follow all label instructions and use all insecticides with caution to avoid exposure to humans, pets, wildlife and other non-target organisms.

For more information, check out Nebraska Extension’s NebGuide on bagworms which can be accessed online through extension.unl.edu website.

Horticulture, Programming

Online Gardening Program

There has been a huge interest in gardening during this time period. For some people, this might be their first time with a garden and for some, we’ve been gardening for years, but are always looking for tips to improve productivity. If you fit into one of those categories, join Nicole Stoner, Gage County Extension Educator, for an online seminar about managing your backyard garden on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM.  To receive the Zoom login, contact Nicole by Friday, May 29, 2020 at nstoner2@unl.edu.

Gardening Online Program Flyer, 2020

Crops, Horticulture, Irrigation, Livestock

Hail Know: Resources To Remember This Growing Season

Screen Shot 2020-05-22 at 2.14.03 PMWhen hail strikes and growers have questions, Nebraska Extension has new resources to answer them at Hail Know located online at cropwatch.unl.edu/hailknow. Videos, infographics, and articles by a team of Extension experts in climate science, agronomy, engineering, agricultural technology, economics, and disaster education have been developed to build upon and expand Extension’s hail-related programs. Hail Know focuses on six key topics: Hail formation and storms; damage assessment; crop insurance and risk management; replanting considerations; managing a recovering crop; and cover crops.

In the aftermath of a hailstorm visit Hail Know for the answers and certainty, you need to make sound, research-based decisions to manage your crop. Hail Know is also on social media. Follow @HailKnowUNL on Twitter at twitter.com/HailKnowUNL and like Hail Know on Facebook at facebook.com/HailKnowUNL for all the latest information and updates.

Hail Know is a section of CropWatch.unl.edu, Nebraska Extension’s crop production and crop pest management website. The development of Hail Know was funded by a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Smith-Lever Special Needs Grant with matching funds from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The column was co-written with Ashley Mueller, Nebraska Extension Disaster Educator. While you cannot prevent hail, you can prepare for and respond quickly when dealing with hail damage to crops. Nebraska Extension is here to help you make informed, timely decisions. Know your crop, know your tech, know your bottom line.

Horticulture, Programming, Youth

Biggest Grower Youth Competition

Nebraska Extension and the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture have launched a new student gardening competition to take place this summer. The Biggest Grower competition offers Nebraska high school students the opportunity to learn how to start their own garden and small growing operation. Students will plant, grow, cultivate, harvest and distribute their own fresh specialty crops in a garden space or in containers. Participants will be placed in virtual teams with one team chosen as The Biggest Grower and each team member will be awarded a $50 Amazon gift card. Additionally, one high school junior or senior will be awarded a College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Department of Agronomy and Horticulture scholarship of $1,000.

The goal of this competition is to help increase awareness in growing food, improve personal wellness and community involvement, explore opportunities in entrepreneurship and expand the availability of specialty crops in fresh food drought areas.  Stacy Adams, an associate professor of practice in agronomy and horticulture and a Nebraska Extension specialist is in charge of the program.3EC4F63F-DE54-490B-92DE-378D19986434_1_105_c.jpeg

This project can expose Nebraska youth to the fundamentals of plant production and demonstrate career opportunities in agriculture. Funding is provided through the Nebraska Specialty Crop Block Grant Program as a means to enhance the competitiveness of non-commodity specialty crops, such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts and ornamentals.

This competition is beneficial for both rural and urban students; growing specialty crops can expand income potential for farmers as well.

The Biggest Grower competition is free to Nebraska high school students entering the ninth through 12th grade this fall 2020. Nebraska Extension and a university horticulture student, who will be a personal garden mentor, will work with each student virtually on a weekly basis. Participants will be randomly placed into 10, statewide virtual teams of 10 gardeners. These teams will compete over the summer to find out which team is The Biggest Grower.

Students can register at https://agronomy.unl.edu/the-biggest-grower.

Each participant will use an existing garden space at their home or they can choose to grow in pots as a container gardener. Competition garden space as a backyard gardener is limited to 80 square feet, maximum. Participants will complete the activities assigned by the garden mentor and will be given a toolkit consisting of a hand spade, weeding tool, seeds and starter plants.

Participants will be asked to participate and complete the following:

  • 10 weekly activities.
  • develop and cultivate specialty crops in their backyard or container garden.
  • record productivity data in the growers’ leaderboard.
  • record the amount of harvest consumed.
  • record the amount distributed.
  • participate in virtual The Biggest Grower Day hosted by the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture on June 26 from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln East Campus.

High school junior and senior participants, who want to be eligible for the scholarship award, will be asked to write a 350 to 500-word essay on how The Biggest Grower competition affected them and their community, or the use of specialty crops in their future. Students must also enroll in one of four majors within the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture in CASNR at Nebraska.

The competition will begin May 25 and end Aug. 7. After all the data is entered and the essays are reviewed, The Biggest Grower team and the scholarship winner will be announced Sept. 4. Complete application guidelines and more information may be found online.

Source: IANR News & Stacy Adams, Associate Professor Nebraska Extension/ Department of Agronomy and Horticulture


Crops, Horticulture, Irrigation, Livestock, Youth

New Year’s Resolutions

If you are like many nearly half of the American population, you probably have a New Year’s Resolution set for 2020, while 38% of Americans absolutely never make New Year’s Resolution according to research by University of Scranton, 2016. A majority of those resolutions are self-improvement or education related resolutions (47%), weight related (38%), money related (34%) or relationship related (31%).  University of Southern California’s John Monterosso who is an expert on psychology and neuroscience of self-control offers insight on how to achieve setting those resolutions.

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Monterosso suggests thinking of a resolution as a special kind of plan and visualizing your future-self. If you have already made that resolution or still working to tweak it, he suggested keeping the following in mind:

  • Failed resolutions are not harmless. Most people don’t like to fail; in fact it hurts our confidence and can actually lead to worse behavior. Keeping this in mind and accepting the fact that one might not have accomplished all that was planned is important. If you get off track, you can always start again and don’t have to wait until a new year.
  • Resolutions work by linking single decisions to a bigger picture. For example, if you have a goal of quitting smoking or eating unhealthy foods and let a craving lead to poor decisions, you might think, “it’s just one cigarette or just one meal of fried foods” which may or may not lead to the continuation of a bad habit. If one takes a resolution seriously, think about the health consequences and the potential “relapse” that could occur.
  • Consider being less ambitious in your resolutions. We tend to be overly confident when making a resolution and think we can change our behavior overnight. While it is good to be confident with your goals, be careful not to make overly ambitious goals. For example, if you plan to work out one hour/day every day of the week and have an already packed life with a career, community obligations and a family, consider starting at 20 minutes/day and work up to more minutes if time allows. Setting a good resolution requires being realistic.
  • Resolutions should not be vague. If you set a resolution of “eating healthier.” What does that mean?  Does it mean drinking 64 oz. of water/day?  Does it mean to include a fruit or vegetable at every meal?  Write down a SMART goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based.
  • The New Year is a fresh start. Setting resolutions/goals at the first of the year helps us “clean the slate” and put past failures away. It gives us a sense of confidence and optimism. Capitalize on that.
  • Even successful resolutions can be mistakes. If you set restrict your diet to the point of starvation or over-exercise to the point of hurting yourself, you must be able to adapt, know yourself and use common sense and wisdom to correct the resolution.

In summary, Monterosso suggests that done correctly, “resolutions play a role in great human achievements.”

Extension’s Help with Resolutions

As stated above, almost half of resolutions made include education or self-improvement. If you need any educational resources or materials on nearly any subject, Extension has resources. Whether it is information on a website, talking with an extension professional, utilizing an app from your smart-phone, attending a face-to-face program, participation in a webinar or many other avenues, Extension works to solve complex problems for clients. If you haven’t been to Extension’s website recently, I encourage you to go to extension.unl.edu. There you will find an abundance of resources on topics such as food, nutrition and health, cropping & water systems, community vitality, community environment, learning child, beef systems and 4-H youth development. Consider attending a program or utilizing a resource to help you achieve a resolution or goal you may have.

For a list of extension programs in the area, visit our website or call our office at (402) 759-3712.


Holiday Greenery and Trees 

Deciding on an artificial versus real Christmas tree is a matter of personal preference. Growing up, we had an artificial tree mostly because my mom’s allergies were very sensitive to the smell of pines and our house was pretty small so having a small tree we knew would fit in our dining room was preferred. We did however one year have a pine tree that we cut out of our windbreak that needed to come down and I remember how big, beautiful and magical it was!  There are pros to cons for both. If you decide to go real, here are some tips to help you.

green christmas tree with string lights
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

Popular Christmas tree species include Frasier Fire, Balsam Fire, Douglas Fir, Scotch Pine, Black Hills Spruce (White Spruce variant) and Eastern White Pine. Firs have a strong and pleasant smell most people enjoy while spruces have a strong odor but many folks do not find it as pleasant. Also look at the needle sizes and branch strength depending on what type of ornaments you will place on the tree. Firs usually have short needles and strong branches, while pines often bend with the weight of heavy ornaments.

Once you make your tree selection, clean it thoroughly from needles lodged among the branches. Make a fresh straight cut across the trunk about an inch from the original cut which will open the stem for water intake. The Nebraska Christmas Tree Growers Association also recommends to keep the water level above the fresh cut; if the water level drops below the fresh cut a seal will form as it does on fresh flowers and a new cut will be necessary.  When purchasing a tree, you can drive to a “Choose and Cut” Tree Farm and pick out your own tree, or many retailers also sell them. Just be sure and find one that is fresh. To locate a “Choose and Cut” tree farm, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s website has a list of locations to choose.

If you don’t want a real tree, you can also make or purchase your own greenery from your own landscape. Nicole Stoner, extension horticulturist wrote a blog on “Holiday Plants” and provided suggestions for using greenery to bring a nice holiday scent inside the home. White pine, juniper, spruce, ivy and holly are all great choices of live greenery for your home this holiday season. You can take these directly from your landscape, just be careful when you prune these decorations off of your living plants. Don’t make all of cuts in the same location and try to make them far enough back in the plant that the other branches cover the cuts. Use a hand pruner to make good cuts that will not harm your tree or shrub. These can then be used in swags or wreaths. Several years ago, I even participated in a workshop that took real branches to make outdoor arrangements in pots when watered well.


Do you have uninvited houseguests?  

You are sitting at home and all of a sudden a little gray rodent with relatively large ears and small black eyes scurries across the room!   It is about 1/2 ounce in weight and if an adult 5 1/2 to 7 1/2 inches long, including its 3 – 4 inch tail.  Of course, you must know by now that I am describing a house mouse.  The house mouse is considered one of the most troublesome and economically important rodents in the United States.  They can cause damage to property and transmit diseases such as salmonellosis and swine dysentery.  You will know you have mice if you see small droppings, fresh gnaw marks and mouse nests made from fine shredded paper or other fibrous material.  They are active mostly at night, but can occasionally be seen during daylight hours.  Mice are excellent climbers and can jump 10 inches from the floor to a flat surface; they can squeeze through openings slightly larger than 1/4 inch in diameter.  They can also survive a 9-foot drop and climb up most vertical surfaces.

brown rat eating food
Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

Exclusion is the most common in the fight against house mice.  Prevent mice from entering buildings by eliminating openings that are 1/4” or larger.  Use sealants or mortar to help fill the gaps.  Spray-in-place foams and steel wool pads will fill the gaps, but they won’t do much to stop mice from entering.  Make sure doors, windows and screens fit tightly.  Cover the edges of doors and windows with metal to prevent gnawing.

Population reduction is the last method for controlling mice.  Traps and baits are two common population reduction methods.  To ensure success with traps, you need to use a sufficient number of traps in areas where mice are living.  Snap traps or multiple-capture traps can be used to capture mice.  Double setting snap traps, placing two traps close to each other, will yield the best results in situations with high activity.  Multi-catch traps can catch several mice at a time without resetting.  Glue boards are another alternative to traps.  These sticky boards catch and hold mice as they try to move throughout the home.  Be sure to use sticky boards in locations where non-target animals or items won’t get stuck in them.  If this does happen, use an oily material, like vegetable or mineral oil, to dissolve the sticky substance.  To make the traps more appealing you can apply a food source such as peanut butter or a chocolate chip melted to the trigger or you can secure a cloth scented with a food source to the traps’ trigger.

Baits are another population reduction method.  Be sure to read and follow all directions on baits.  When choosing baits, consider the location and method of applications and any non-target pets and children.  Choose the type of bait for your specific location and application.  Mice have been known to move pelleted baits without eating them.  Just because you have an empty box, doesn’t mean they have eaten the bait.  Bait stations or bait blocks ensure that the critter actually ate the bait.

Use caution when cleaning up droppings, nests, or mouse remains.   This can help to decrease the potential spread of diseases carried by mice like Hantavirus.  Use protective waterproof gloves and spray the carcass and trap or nest with a household disinfectant or a 10% bleach solution. Use a sealable bag turned inside out to pick up the mouse.  To remove feces or urine, spray the area with a disinfectant until wet and wipe up with a towel, rag or mop.  Don’t use the vacuum or broom to collect dry feces as that can cause the material to go into the air and be inhaled.

For more information on mouse control, refer to NebGuide, Controlling House Mice that can be accessed at http://extensionpubs.unl.edu or through your local extension office.


Insect Invaders

With cool temperatures, pests start seeking shelter for warm places like your house, so this week I’m sharing information on keeping these pests out of your house.

animal biology blur close up
Photo by Johnny Mckane on Pexels.com

Some of the more common nuisance pests include occasional invaders like boxelder bugs, multicolored Asian Lady Beetles, millipedes, and crickets.  These pests don’t do any harm once inside the home; they are just looking for a cozy place to spend the winter. Proper identification of the insect will assure the proper control method.  Boxelder bugs are black and orange true ‘bugs’ that can be found in large numbers around foundations sunning themselves or trying to find their way inside. Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles are the orange ‘ladybugs’ with black spots.  Their distinct smell and ability to bite makes them even more of a nuisance once inside the home.  Millipedes are often misidentified as ‘wire worms.’  These skinny, brown critters have two legs per body segment and will curl up when disturbed.  Crickets hop their way into homes and provide ‘music’ in the night with their chirping.  Commonly it’s the black field cricket that migrates inside, but there are others that follow right behind.

nature insect macro spider
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Wolf spiders may look scary, but they are more bark than bite.  These large, hairy spiders can be found both outdoors and occasionally inside the home.  They are not poisonous nor do they want to disturb people.  They are hunting spiders, so they don’t spin a web or a trap, but prefer to chase down their prey.  They often find their way into homes in the fall following their favorite food source the cricket.

The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has never been more true.  Discouraging occasional invaders from entering the house is going to take a little work, but it will be worth it in the long run.  Start by finding and sealing up any cracks or spaces they could enter through with silicone caulk or expanding foam.  Make sure that window screens are in good repair and that doors are tight fitting.  Also remove any dead plant debris from window wells.

Pests can be discouraged from entering the house in a number of ways.  The most common way is by applying an outdoor perimeter insecticide treatment.  These insecticides are labeled for various pests and often times have residual effects to help protect the house for longer.  Read and follow the label instructions on how and where these products should be applied.  Ideally, try to apply these insecticides out from the foundation about five to ten feet around the perimeter of the home. The insecticides will help to decrease the numbers of pests that make it inside the house, but don’t expect it to stop all of them.

Monitor the home regularly to see what pests have made their way inside.  Glue boards are sticky boards used to catch and hold pests as they try to move throughout the home.  Be sure to use sticky boards in locations where non-target animals, like pets, won’t get stuck in them.  If something other than the target pest does happen to get ‘caught’ in the trap, use an oily material, like vegetable or mineral oil, to dissolve the sticky substance on the trap.  When properly placed, these traps will allow you to see which pests are inside the home and their approximate numbers.

Once pests are found inside the home, there are a few techniques that you can use. The handy broom and dustpan or the vacuum are two techniques; they are also very environmentally friendly and very cost effective.  Be careful when selecting insecticides for use inside the home.  Read and follow instructions carefully as many of these products have to come into contact with the insect themselves and don’t offer much residual protection. With a little prevention and monitoring you can ensure that you are sharing your home with wanted house guests this fall and winter.