About Me

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As an Agriculture Extension Agent for Texas AgriLife Extension Service I have had an opportunity to be involved in just about every aspect of agriculture. From the 5,000 cow dairy to the types of trees to use in a home landscape I have had a chance to learn how the different parts of an agriculture systems work together. Seedless watermelons, drip irrigation, pecan orchard management, fruit crop development, dairy nutrient management, environmental issues confronting agriculture, producer tours, field days, research projects and more have been a part of my life for over 30 years as I lived and breathed agriculture. Since 2004 I have been actively involved in consulting internationally working in Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, and China. I have worked with missionaries and other groups dedicated to alleviating poverty among third world farmers. I lived in the Middle East in 2007-2008 working on a project for the Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University. In this project I was the Chief of Party and Team Leader for a $5.7 Million dollar effort to train Iraqi Extension agents and specialists in all aspects of agriculture.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ammoniating Hay Could Pay

Everyone knows that hay is at a premium but the hay you get is certainly not premium and this why I have had a few questions about ammoniating hay. Treating low quality hay with anhydrous ammonia improves hay quality and value by several means.
1. Ammoniating low quality hay increases digestibility by breaking down hay’s fibrous parts,
2. Ammoniated hay has increased animal intake 15% to 25% which means they do like it,
3. Anhydrous ammonia adds non-protein nitrogen which can be converted by rumen bacteria to protein as ammoniating hay increases crude protein,
4. There is an increase in hay protein and energy which along with increased intake means 35% to 45% increase in energy and protein consumption,
5. Anhydrous ammonia will preserve forage quality,
6. Ammoniating hay increases animal performance.
Ammoniating hay is simply done by covering the bales with black plastic and sealing the edges real good with soil, gravel or even tires. Once covered and sealed, apply the ammonia through hoses under the plastic. The ideal amount is 3% or about 60 lbs of ammonia per ton of hay. Your tank needs to have an accurate gauge so that you don’t over-apply. Apply the ammonia slowly, 1 to 5 minutes per ton, usually works. Keep the bales covered for 15 to 45 days depending on outside temperatures (59 to 86 degrees takes 1 to 4 weeks). When you are ready to feed uncover the bales for 3 days or more before feeding to allow any residual ammonia to escape.
Ammonia is harder to find now but is still available. The cost will knock you over till you understand that it is still the cheapest source of nitrogen. Always, always exercise extreme caution when use anhydrous ammonia because it can injure or even kill you.

Short of Hay?

The winter of 2009-10 is shaping up to be very challenging for Texas cow-calf producers. Limited rainfall this summer resulted in very limited amounts of hay for feeding this winter. It will be at least several months before spring arrives with the hope of good rains and spring green-up. Most producers are currently faced with the question of how to survive this winter on the limited amount of hay that is available. A couple of options may be corn and/or alfalfa. A pound of corn (whole or cracked) can replace approximately 2.25 lbs of average quality bermudagrass hay. This may be an economical substitution for hay when supplies are short and prices are high. Dr. Jason Banta, Beef Cattle Specialist, Overton, Texas, developed several diets using corn and/or alfalfa to help stretch forage supplies. It is recommended to maintain at least 50% of the ration as hay or a similar roughage source. This level should greatly reduce the risk of feeding high starch feeds and also provide adequate fill to reduce management problems due to hungry cattle. It is also important to gradually increase the amount of corn in the ration in order to prevent potential digestive problems. These examples do not guarantee performance of cattle. Actual performance may be higher or lower depending on the given situation and diets should be adjusted according to actual performance. Be sure to evaluate the body condition of the cattle on a regular basis during the feeding period. The costs associated with each diet should be carefully considered prior to making a management decision. These examples only represent a small fraction of the options available to producers; all options should be considered before deciding on the best strategy for a particular operation.
Possible Ingredients:
Average Quality Bermuda Hay: 10% CP; 50% TDN;
Alfalfa Hay: 13% CP; 56% TDN;
Cracked Corn: 9.8% CP; 90% TDN;
Cottonseed Meal: 46.1% CP; 75% TDN
Possible ration combinations for dry pregnant cows fed every day:
1. 15 lbs bermudagrass hay + 5 lbs cracked corn + .25 lbs of cottonseed meal
2. 15 lbs alfalfa (alfalfa has been cheaper in price even than Bermuda!) + 3 lbs cracked corn
Possible ration combinations after calving fed every day:
1. 16 lbs of bermudagrass hay + 5.5 lbs cracked corn + 1 lb cottonseed meal
2. 28 lbs of alfalfa hay

Monday, December 21, 2009

IRS Tax Deductions for Landscape Tree Losses

Unfortunately many people in this area have been affected by severe drought even to the point of losing huge landscape trees. When a devastating drought has hit your property you do lose trees and many people don’t realize that trees add value to property and as such qualify you for a greater loss than you may have thought. The Texas Forest Service (TFS) has provided some reminders for anyone affected by natural disasters and Texas has had its share this year. Although neither TFS nor I are tax experts, just bringing up the subject may help you get some tax relief if you have had a loss.
When it comes to acceptable techniques and methods for valuing landscape tree loss for federal income tax deductions, there are hardly any definitive languages available from the tax law or the rules and criteria by the IRS. Analysis and appraisal of landscaping and real estate is complex and requires professional training and experience. The best course of action or defense a taxpayer can use is to work with a professional (real estate appraisers and professional arborists) and diligently document the value determination in a detailed and accurate manner.
The income tax law for a casualty loss deduction requires that the amount of deduction is limited to the smaller of (1) the decrease in fair market value (FMV) before and after the disaster or (2) the adjusted basis of your property. Salvage sale (this would generally be available for pine trees in East Texas but not here in Williamson County) further reduces the deductions allowed.
One of the most authoritative rulebooks used by the professional arborists is the Guideline for Plant Appraisal, 9th Edition. According to this guide, "variations of Cost Approach (Replacement Cost, Cost of Repair, Cost of Cure) and the Market Approach more closely follow the IRS criteria and standards."
The problem with the cost of restoration/replacement/repair is that this approach can be practically impossible for many cases. For example, the cost of replacing a 60-year-old live oak tree is difficult to estimate, if not impossible. Due to practical reasons, a competent professional appraisal is frequently used in establishing the value of landscape trees for tax purposes.
The Market Approach (comparable sales) used by professional arborists also more closely follows the IRS criteria. However, the comparable sale method is extremely difficult to use when nearby property was also damaged. The Guide cautions that "the Market Approach should be coordinated with qualified, licensed real-estate appraisers." A real-estate appraiser as well as professional arborists may be necessary. Trees and shrubs on a residential property that are destroyed must be appraised together with the real estate. Business property must separately value the trees and the building.”
I hope this helps if you have landscape tree damage. If you want a listing of professional arborists or want to contact the Texas Forest Service just give me a call.

Bell-Williamson Counties Pecan Show Results

Bell-Williamson Counties Pecan Show Results
The Bell-Williamson County Extension Pecan Committees hosted the annual Bell-Williamson Counties Pecan Show this past Thursday, December 3rd, at the Bell County Extension office. This year’s show featured 58 entries, from 16 area growers. Dr. Tommy Thompson, Pecan Research Geneticist with USDA-ARS served as the Pecan Show Judge for this year’s show. Dr. Thompson has over 30 years of breeding work and is responsible for most of the newest pecan varieties.
The Commercial Division features pecan varieties that are typically found in commercial orchards and are sold in the largest quantities to Pecan Shellers. The fact that they are sold commercially does not limit their popularity with homeowners and small growers who either eat the pecan themselves or peddle the pecans in roadside stands. Every year new pecans are added to the Commercial Division list and old ones are moved to the Classic Division or dropped completely for lack of interest.
In the commercial division there were 38 entries in 10 classes. In the Caddo class Ron Leps of Georgetown placed first. In the Cheyenne class Warren Sefcik of Georgetown won the class, Al Endsley of Taylor placed 2nd and Ronny Wells of Belton placed 3rd. Choctaw is a very popular variety in Central Texas noted for its large size and kernel quality. In the Choctaw class Warren Sefcik won 1st, Ken Gerstenberg of Belton won 2nd and Raymond Danek of Georgetown won 3rd. In the Desirable class 1st place went to Warren Sefcik, 2nd to Raymond Danek and 3rd to R.H. Schlieker of Temple. The Kanza class was won by Darwin Karkoska of Granger. The first place Kiowa was shown by Raymond Danek, 2nd place by Darwin Karkoska and 3rd place by Ken Gerstenberg. The Reserve Champion Commercial pecan was won by the 1st place entry in the Oconee class and was shown by Ken Gerstenberg. Second place Oconee went to Warren Sefcik and 3rd place to Raymond Danek. The Mohawk class was won by Dennis and Marilyn Perz and 2nd place went to Ken Gerstenberg. The Pawnee pecan was introduced in the eighties and has since been planted on thousands of acres. The Champion Commercial pecan came from the Pawnee class and was shown by Ray Ponton of Taylor. Second place Pawnee was Ronny Wells of Belton and third was Ed Zucknick of Taylor. The Sioux pecan is known for being a small pecan with a long slender shape. Its size of 60 nuts per pound compared to a Choctaw at 36 makes it seems like a “native” pecan. But when you start to shell a Sioux you realize it is thin shelled and the pecan meat is one of the lightest colors you will find in a pecan. It is high in oil content which makes it a constant favorite in taste tests. This year the Sioux winner was Ron Leps, 2nd place was Ed Zucknick and 3rd place was David Phillips of Little River.
The Classic Division is made up of pecan varieties that are no longer propagated by commercial orchards but are still enjoyed by growers, hobbyists and homeowners. The Classic Division featured 19 entries in 12 classes. In the Brake Class Darwin Karkoska placed 1st. Ed Zucknick placed 1st with his Melrose pecan. In the Nacono class Ken Gerstenberg placed 1st and was this Nacono was named Champion of the Classic Division. R.H. Schlieker placed 2nd in the Nacono class and Darwin Karkoska placed 3rd. The Podsednik pecan is the largest pecan shown with an average of only 29 nuts per pound. It is large but in many years this pecan just won’t fill and ends up being a problem, but not this year! The first place Podsednik was also named Reserve Champion Classic and was shown by David Phillips. Prilop is a native pecan that was propagated, named and trees sold because of its outstanding flavor and size. In this class Ken Gerstenberg had the 1st place entry. In the Shawnee class Raymond Danek placed first and in the Stuart class Jane Danek also placed first. The Variety Seedling class features pecans from trees where only one parent is known. In this class there were five entries, Ronny Wells placed 1st, David Phillips placed 2nd and Ed Zucknick placed 3rd. The Other Variety class is for pecan varieties that do not have a specific class and so all are judged together. The winner of the Other Variety class was David Phillips with an Imperial, David Phillips also placed second with his Aggie variety and Ronny Wells placed 3rd.
The Native Pecan Division consists of pecans grown on trees that are the result of nature planting the trees mostly in pecan bottoms. The genetic background of the trees is unknown but in some cases the pecans can be quite good. In fact many “native” Texans claim that the only good pecan is a native. It is a myth to think that natives have to be small and hard shelled in order to be termed “native”. Many natives are thin shelled and large compared to other native pecans. There have been many years that native pecan entries from the Bell-Williamson pecan show have won the state pecan show. Unfortunately this year the native production was very low and many growers did not enter. This year we had one native so Champion Native honors go to Ed Zucknick of Taylor.
All first place class winners automatically advance to the Regional Pecan Show held in Stephenville on Wednesday, December 9th. The first three placings from each class at the Regional shows advance to the State Pecan Show held each July as a part of the Texas Pecan Growers Annual Meeting. Congratulations to all the winners in this year’s Bell-Williamson Counties Pecan Show!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Thoughts on Growing Olives

I am getting a lot of calls and emails about growing olives. I knew that they would have problems in Williamson County but the only expert is one who lives over 100 miles away! This why i asked Jim Kamas, Extension Fruit Specialist to write this:

Thoughts on Growing Olives

by Jim Kamas----
I frequently receive inquiries about the feasibility of growing olive trees in Texas but to be honest, I am aware of nobody growing olives on a commercial scale that are making the numbers work economically.
Olives are a Mediterranean crop. We have a continental climate not a Mediterranean climate. While deciduous fruit trees set fruit buds in response to a high carbohydrate to nitrogen ratio during the previous summer, olives set flower buds in response to constant diurnal temperature fluctuation during the winter months, typical to those in the Mediterranean region. Across central Texas, we get those conditions about one in seven years, so consistent fruiting does not happen in the Hill Country or South Texas.
Olives are also quite cold sensitive. Most varieties are commonly frozen to the ground with temperatures of 15-16 degrees Fahrenheit. So, when olives are planted far enough north where they receive temps conducive for fruiting, the winter kill. When they are planted far enough south to not winter kill, they do not reliably set fruit buds.
Olive trees frequently start fruiting in the fifth or sixth leaf, but they mature when they are 40 years old. Classical literature suggests that olive groves were only planted during times of extended peace because destroying an enemy's olive grove had repercussions that lasted generations.
Ok, sure there are olive plantings around that have had some fruit, but I believe that are none that are profitable from a strictly production point of view. I find no romance in losing propositions. If people want to plant them for ornamental value or just for aesthetic value, sure, plant them, but I think commercial plantings are not a good idea. The ONLY people making money in the olive business is the people selling olive trees or who are bottling and selling imported oil.
In addition to the above mentioned limitations olive trees are very susceptible to two soil borne pathogens- Post Oak Root Rot (Armallaria mellea) and Cotton Root Rot (Phymatotricum omnivorum). Both of these pathogens are problematic across much of Texas and we have no chemical or biological control agents that have been proven effective in perennial crops.
Sorry for the less than glowing report, but it is my opinion that it is better to know the obstacles up front than after the fact. Now, I am not a popular person among the olive growing community for my position. I am not trying to rain on their parade or suppress the growth of an industry. I had one large olive grower report to me how many gallons of olive oil they pressed this past season. Let’s look at the cash flow statement and see if their revenues service the debt on this investment.
Olives are a beautiful crop and I understand why they are so attractive to so many small farming operators. My only message is to do your scientific and economic homework and make your decisions wisely after due consideration.

The Fall Armyworm - Pest of Pasture, Hayfields and Small Grains, 2009

This is a great factsheet by Dr. Allen Knutson, Extension Entomologist, Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Dallas. I just copied the whole thing so that you have all you need to make decisions.

Two species of armyworms attack forage and field crops in north Texas. The fall armyworm is most abundant during August through early November in north Texas and feeds primarily on Bermuda grass, wheat and rye grass, although it attacks many other crops. The true armyworm is common during April and May when it attacks wheat, rye grass, winter pastures, and seedling corn and sorghum. Both caterpillars can occur in very large numbers, can consume a crop almost overnight, and will move in large masses or Aarmies@ to adjacent fields in search of food. Armyworms attack many different kinds of plants and when food is scarce, they can feed on plants not normally attacked.

The fall armyworm apparently does not overwinter in north Texas. Moths fly north from south Texas each year to re-infest the area. Outbreaks often occur in late summer and fall and follow periods of rain which create favorable conditions for eggs and small larvae to survive. Irrigated fields are also highly attractive to moths for egg laying, especially during drought conditions.

Life Stages of the Fall Armyworm.Eggs. Eggs are laid in masses of up to 50 eggs on the grass leaves and are difficult to find. The eggs are covered with the grey scales from the moth=s body, giving the egg mass a fuzzy appearance. Eggs hatch in 2-3 days.
Caterpillar. Fall armyworms are green, brown or black. A distinct white line between the eyes forms an inverted AY@ pattern on the face. There are four black spots aligned in a square on the top of the 8th segment near the back end of the caterpillar. Armyworms are very small at first, cause little plant damage and as a result infestations often go unnoticed. Larvae feed for 2-3 weeks and full grown larvae are about 1 to 1 2 inches long. Armyworms consume 80% of their total food intake during the last few days of development. Given their immense appetite, great numbers, and marching ability, armyworms can damage entire fields or pastures in a few days. Once the armyworm completes feeding, in tunnels into the soil about an inch and enters the pupal stage.
Pupa. The full grown armyworm tunnels into the soil and transforms to the pupae, an inactive, non-feeding stage. In 7-10 days, the moth emerges from the pupa and repeats the life cycle.
Moth. The fall armyworm moth has a wingspan of about 1 2 inches. The front pair of wings are dark gray with an irregular pattern of light and dark areas. Moths are active at night and common around lights at night. A single female can deposit up to 2000 eggs.
Development from egg to adult requires about 4 weeks during the summer and is longer during cool weather. There are several generations a year. Development ends with cold weather in November.

ManagementThe key to managing fall armyworms is to detect infestations before they have caused economic damage. Fall armyworm larvae feed primarily during the night and during cloudy
weather. During the day, look for armyworms under loose soil and fallen leaves on the ground. The presence of chewed leaves can indicate armyworms are present. Small larvae chew the green layer from the leaves and leave a clearing or Awindow pane@ effect and consume only a small amount of foliage. For this reason, infestations can go unnoticed unless the field is closely inspected.
Once larvae are greater than 3/4 inch, the quantity of leaves they eat increases dramatically. During the final 2-3 days of feeding, armyworms consume 80% of the total foliage consumed during their entire development. For this reason, extensive feeding damage can occur in a few days.
The density of armyworms sufficient to justify insecticide treatment will depend on the stage of crop growth and value of the crop. Seedling plants can tolerate fewer armyworms than established plants. Infestations of 2-3 armyworms per square foot may justify treatment.
Hot, dry weather and natural enemies limit armyworm populations. Insect parasites such as wasps and flies, ground beetles, and other predators help suppress armyworm numbers. Diseases such as insect viruses and fungi can also be important. However, these natural enemies can be overwhelmed when large numbers of migrating moths lay thousands of eggs in a field.
Armyworms often infest fields of volunteer wheat and weedy grasses in ditches and around field margins. Destruction of volunteer wheat and weedy grasses can eliminate these sources of armyworms.

Labeled Insecticides for Armyworm Control in Pastures and Hayfields
Always read and follow all label instructions on pesticide use and restrictions. Information below is provided for educational purposes only. Read current label before use.
Malathion 57% and Malathion ULV. Zero days to harvest or grazing.
Mustang Max (9.6% zeta-cypermethrin). The first pyrethroid insecticide labeled on pastures and hay fields. Applications may be made up to 0 days for forage and hay, 7 days for straw and seed screenings. Labeled for a large number of insect pests, including armyworms, grasshoppers
Tracer. Do not allow cattle to graze until spray has dried. Do not harvest hay or fodder for 3 days after treatment. There is no preharvest interval for forage. Treat when eggs hatch or when larvae are small. Use higher rates for larger larvae.
Sevin 4F, Sevin XLR, Sevin 80S, Generic Carbaryl. When applied to pastures, there is a 14 day waiting period before grazing or harvesting.
Dimilin 2L. Wait one day until harvest. Label does not list a restriction on grazing. To be effective, Dimilin must be applied before larvae reach 2 inch or longer. Will not control larger larvae. Provides residual control for up to 2-3 weeks, as long as forage is not removed from field. Dimilin acts as an insect growth regulator.
Intrepid 2F. Do not harvest hay within 7 days of application. There is no pre-harveest interval for forage. Begin applications when first signs of feeding damage appear. Use higher rates for heavier infestations. Intrepid is an insect growth regulator.
Lannate. Bermudagrass only. Do not apply within 7 days of feeding forage or allowing livestock to graze. Do not apply within 3 days of cutting for hay. Lannate is a highly toxic POISON and all label precautions must be carefully followed. A restricted use pesticide.
Karate. (and other lambda cyhalothrin products) Pasture and rangeland grass, grass grown for
hay and silage and grass grown for seed. Pasture and rangeland grass may be used for used for grazing or cut for forage 0 days after application. Do not cut grass to be dried and harvested for hay until 7 days after the last application.
Labeled Insecticides for Armyworm Control in Wheat and Small Grains include:
Baythroid, carbaryl, Lannate, Lorsban, Mustang Max, methyl parathion, Proxis and Tracer. Refer to label for restrictions on grazing and harvesting treated crops.
Always read and follow pesticide label directions.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stocking Rates: Let Your Cows Tell You!

Dr. Bob Lyons is an Extension Range Specialist based in Uvalde. He has done a lot of research into grazing habits and stocking rates. In a recent program Dr. Lyons showed some really neat information about a research project he conducted on a South Texas ranch. Basically what they did was to put Global Positioning Satellite collars on a herd of cattle at a 2000 acre ranch. These collars signaled back to the researchers exactly where all the cattle were at all times and even plotted if they were grazing (moving) or resting. All of this information could then be plotted out on aerial photos to determine where cattle were spending their time and consequently where they were grazing. This tracking information was then followed up with visual on the ground investigations of what was in an area that was grazed or not grazed.
For instance they found that there was an area of the ranch that the cattle just would not go into but from the aerial photos the ground looked like good grass. When they went to look they found that there was lots of grass, good grass, but there was also a lot of rock. In fact they found that with as little as 30% rock cover cattle will not go into a pasture. They will only use an area about 35% of the time if there is as little as 10% rock cover.
They also took soil survey information and laid it over the aerial photos to plot out grazing patterns by soil type. In this ranch they looked at two soil types, Rumple-Comfort and Comfort-Rock. Cattle consistently preferred Rumple-Comfort to Comfort Rock about 2.5 to 1. This means that cattle were in these areas 2.5 times more because the better soil grew better grass.
In another example a pasture section had no cattle grazing, in fact it showed up as a big hole in a pasture on their photos. When they went to investigate, this particular area was ringed in cedar. Now a cow could certainly get into this pasture area but she wasn’t going to simply because it was “walled” off with cedar.
In another example they found that no cattle had been in a pasture that looked like a “sea of grass.” Even from their pickups they couldn’t figure out why the cattle wouldn’t graze the grass until they got out and started walking. This particular pasture was almost solid threeawn grass species. This is a beautiful looking grass but unfortunately not at all palatable or nutritious and the cattle showed them it wasn’t by not eating it.
It doesn’t take long to understand that even though this ranch was 2000 acres, only a limited amount of it was available for grazing. In Williamson County there is lots of pasture and rangeland but of the over 300,000 acres that could be grazed how much really can be grazed. Use your livestock to show you any barriers to grazing and either fix them or subtract them from your grazing plans.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pond Weeds

This is certainly the time of year that pond weeds are most visible. I usually get a number of calls about all this “junk” on or in our tanks and ponds with the question, “what can I do about it?” Unfortunately there isn’t much we can do about it this time of year but maybe an explanation about the categories of pond weeds and some control measures might be helpful.
The first group of pond weeds are algae including plankton which makes the green color in water, filamentous algae or pond scum, and branched algae which includes chara or muskgrass that looks like underwater hay. This is probably the number one problem in tanks and causes the most aggravation. Pond scum usually begins growing near the bottom or edges of a pond and later floats to the surface where it then looks like a mass of wet, green wool. This type algae is best controlled by pond fertilization back in February. Since it starts at the bottom we can encourage the growth of plankton, which is a good algae, it will shade out the pond scum and keep it from growing. There is nothing worse than a clear pond because plankton is part of the food chain which eventually feeds fish. Chemically we control algae easily with copper or copper complex chemicals.
A second group of weeds are the floating plants. Duckweed is one that we have in abundance in our area and it is a small, floating plant, green in color and about ½ inch across with usually 3 leaves and below the leaves you can see a root. Diquat is a good, relatively inexpensive chemical control or you can rake this plant off the surface.
The third group is submersed plants. These plants are rooted to the bottom but generally don’t have plant parts above the water surface. The most common submersed weed is bushy pondweed which resembles coastal hay growing underwater. Another similar weed is coontail and it too can fill up a pond in short order. Diquat, endothall and floridone are all chemical controls or you may want to check into stocking your tank with triploid grass carp which do an excellent job of long term control of these problem weeds and do not cause a problem with other fish.
The last category includes our emersed weeds which includes all shoreline, marginal and shallow water plants with plant parts that extending above the water line. These include many species but most commonly we are dealing with cattails, willow, rushes, buttonbush, water primrose and frogbit. Most of the emersed weeds are easily controlled with glyphosate products which we commonly call Roundup although Roundup itself is not labeled for aquatic weed control. There are several name brand products that do contain glyphosate and are labeled for aquatics. Another excellent product for emersed weeds is 2,4-D.
Now the last question I usually get when talking about weed control in ponds is, “will it hurt my fish?” The chemicals themselves are harmless to fish but the dead vegetation they leave behind may not be. A lot of decaying vegetation will suck a lot of oxygen from the water and could leave your fish starving for a breath. It is best to control pond weeds a little at a time so that you don’t set yourself up for a problem one morning watching all your fish floating on the surface.

How Many Animals Can I Raise On My Place?

I can’t count the number of times I have been asked this question or better yet, “can you come to my place and tell me how many animals I can raise?” The question I have to ask is how much grass do you have? Of course no one knows or has even asked themselves this important question so let’s look at where we can go to begin the process.

On pages 114 and 115 of the Soil Survey of Williamson County (http://soildatamart.nrcs.usda.gov/Manuscripts/TX491/0/williamson.pdf) there is Table 6 Rangeland Productivity. This table lists every soil type for the county and the potential for annual production depending on the growing conditions. This would assume only range type plants and typical plant compositions are listed in the description of each soil series at the front of the book. A natural question arises, “what about coastal bermudagrass?” Since this assumes that the range plants are not fertilized we would also say that unfertilized coastal bermudagrass would respond similarly or slightly better. If the coastal is fertilized then we can increase the productivity of the plant, generally producing two times as much forage as without fertilizer.

Looking at Table 6 in the Soil Survey we can see for example that a Branyon (BrA or BrB) Blackland soil can produce 7,000 lbs of dry matter in a favorable year, 5,500 in a normal year and 4,000 in an unfavorable year. This would be the amount of forage produced if all the forage was cut and then dried and weighed. So it represents a total harvest for the year. You can find your soil type in the Soil Survey Maps!

Next, according to Range Scientists and Conservationists we can only expect to effectively use or consume 25% of the forage produced commonly known as “harvest efficiency.” 25% is consumed by the animal, 25% is lost to natural disappearance, and 50% is necessary for soil protection and future forage production.

So taking our previous example a Branyon Blackland soil in a normal year at 5,500 pounds of forage and only using 25% then we have 1,375 lbs of forage to consume per acre per year. A standard animal unit is considered to be a mature cow (1,000 lbs.) with or without calf consuming 26 pounds of forage per day (6 goats equals one mature cow). One acre produces 1,375 lbs divided by 26 lbs equals 52.88 days of grazing. 365 days divided by 52.88 equals 6.9 acres per animal unit per year in a normal year on a Branyon Blackland soil.

An Eckrant soil (EaD or EeB) produces only 1400 lbs of forage in a normal year. 25% yields 350 lbs of forage to consume divided by 26 lbs per day equals 13.46 days. 365 divided by 13.46 equals 27.11 acres per animal unit per year.

Extension Weather Station

We have a new weather station at the Williamson County Extension Office in Georgetown. This new addition will serve as a valuable tool for us in Extension and also for farmers and homeowners in the area. An even more valuable tool is the website texaset.tamu.edu, which collects data from this weather station and other stations across the state. By selecting Williamson County on the map and then clicking on Georgetown, the site will give you daily evapotranspiration (inches of water lost from evaporation from the soil and from transpiration from plants), daily maximum and minimum temperatures, relative humidity, solar radiation, rainfall, and wind speeds at 4 am and 4 pm. The website also includes handy tools for calculating irrigation requirements for home lawns, turf and landscapes, and for crops. With each tool, you enter a few factors such as sunlight exposure, turfgrass type, type of crop, etc... and it will give you the water requirements and then you can enter information about your sprinkler system (watering rate in inches/hr) and it will calculate how long and how many times per week to run your sprinkler system.

The website also provides several useful links to other weather, hydrological, and irrigation websites. Again, the website is texaset.tamu.edu

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Nitrates in Forages, Should We Worry?

There has been a lot of worry on the part of livestock producers afraid that their forages may be high in nitrates. A few people have actually tested their hay but most just go on what their neighbor is saying and before you know it everybody has a nitrate problem when maybe only a few really do.
Warm-season annual grasses, such as forage sorghums, sorghum-sudan hybrids (haygrazer types), and the various millets can also accumulate nitrates to a level that is toxic to cattle during periods of dry weather. This list can also include weeds such as careless weed, lambsquarter, nightshades, and johnsongrass but really does not include bermudagrasses. Bermudagrasses are different because the nitrate accumulation would happen in the roots not the stems or leaves. I have never seen bermudagrasses with high nitrate problems. We can possibly also add rolled up corn and sorghum stalks that didn’t produce grain to the list this year.
Dr. Larry Redmon, Extension Forage Specialist sent me this article that I thought might help understand what is going on. Typical nitrate accumulation occurs with excessive N fertilization followed by a period of drought, although toxic levels of nitrates have been observed in warm-season annual grasses with as little as 50 lbs of N/ac under drought conditions. While aboveground plant growth is reduced, nitrate uptake continues to occur and concentrates in the forage tissue. Ruminants are affected because microbes in the rumen are able to convert nitrate to nitrite. Nitrite is then absorbed into the bloodstream where it converts hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the bloodstream, into methemoglobin, which does not carry oxygen. Cattle death is due to asphyxiation.
The total level of nitrate in forage will determine whether or not the forage is safe to feed. Remember: Nitrate levels in hay do not diminish with time! Nitrate levels in silage may be reduced by 50% or more by the ensiling process but may still be excessive for safe feeding. Only a forage analysis for NITRATE (currently $5.00 at the Texas A&M University Soil Testing Lab) will determine whether or not the fresh forage, hay, or silage is safe to feed to livestock. Nitrate levels of 0.5% or 5000 ppm or greater may be dangerous to feed to animals and greater than 1.5% or 15,000 ppm are toxic to most classes of livestock. The official Texas A&M University advisory is to not feed forages that contain greater than 1% or 10,000 ppm nitrate. The more conservative number of 5,000 ppm, however, may be a much safer number to use in actual practice.
Producers using warm-season annual forages or johnsongrass should have their hay crops tested prior to harvesting. Look at the forages carefully. If the forage to be harvested for hay has been under drought stress, there is a good likelihood that it is high in nitrates. If a good precipitation event occurs and plant growth is reinitiated (good green color, no droopy leaves), then the forage may be safe to feed, but a forage analysis for nitrate would still be advisable. DO NOT HARVEST the forage and then test! To do so could wind up costing you time, effort, and money and result in a hay crop that you will not be able to feed. Likewise, cattle should not be pastured on warm-season annual grasses or johnsongrass if conditions are such that nitrate levels could be elevated to a toxic level. Again, only a forage analysis can determine if the forage is safe to graze.
Prussic Acid Can Be A Problem As Well
Certainly prussic acid can be a problem in our sorghum type plants but with the severity of the drought I haven’t really worried about prussic acid causing much of a problem. Most of the sorghums and johnsongrass were basically dead and without moisture they don’t produce prussic acid. After any rains produce new growth then this new growth will be the lushest of the plant and will contain the highest concentrations of prussic acid. I would caution producers to be careful of fields with a lot of johnsongrass or sudan in them after any rains. These will probably contain too much prussic acid to graze but after growing a couple of weeks the doses should come down and be fine.

Pecan Weevil Time Again

It seems like such a very short time ago that we were dealing with pecan weevil problems and here we are again. Pecan producers are always concerned about pecan nut casebearer and rightfully so but for those producers that have pecan weevil problems in their orchard no other insect is as destructive.
The pecan weevil lives in the ground for at least two years before it emerges as an adult. The adult can fly but prefers to walk up the tree from the ground and begins finding nuts. The weevil has a long snout that it uses to puncture the pecan and either feed or lay an egg in the hole. This egg hatches out and the grub or larva feeds inside the nut before boring a hole in the shell and dropping to the ground. The hole you see in so many pecans is the result of the weevil leaving the pecan. The female weevil can feed in a pecan in the water stage but she cannot lay an egg in the pecan until the nut has the gel like substance inside. We are currently going from the water stage to the gel stage in many pecans.
Several things have to be together in order for the weevil to be a problem. First the soil has to be loose enough for the adult pecan weevil to leave the ground. We have had nothing but drought so soils are hard but weevils can emerge through ground cracks. Second be sure and check the pecans to make sure they are in the right stage of development. If the ground is loose or cracked and the pecans are right then lastly make sure you have the pecan weevil. Put out a white cloth under some limbs and then shake the limbs to knock out the weevils. Look for them on the sheet, if you find some then it is time to spray.
There are many sprays for pecan weevil but unfortunately there are no organic sprays. To minimize insecticide use small growers may want to try a trunk spray. Carbaryl commonly known as Sevin is an excellent material since it has a very low toxicity and is easily found. Since most yard trees are very big it is really easier for a homeowner to apply Sevin to the trunk instead of the entire tree. Soak the trunk from the ground to breast high and the weevils will walk up the tree and of course contact the poison. The largest portion of weevils do walk up the trunk so this makes for an easy homeowner or small orchard treatment that is generally quite effective.
Pecan Weevil Facts You May Not Know
The pecan weevil is one of the most destructive pests of pecans. Most people have more problems with it simply because this insect infests nuts we have already taken through the season. There is nothing worse than spending money on a pecan and then seeing an insect eat it and we are right at the time for pecan weevil to be a problem.
Here are just a few facts about pecan weevil you may not know. The death rate in a 2 year cycle for weevil is 66.9-96 percent and for 3 years is 99.6 percent. We lose a lot of pecan weevils before they ever get out of the ground! Males feed on an average of 0.29 nuts per day while females feed on 0.23 nuts per day. We always worry about the number of pecans damaged from feeding but that is very small compared to egg lay in the pecan. Males live on average 21 days while females live 23.8 days. It takes 5 days from ground emergence for a female to start laying eggs. Females lay eggs in an average of 22.7 nuts per female. It doesn’t take too many weevils to mean a lot of damage. For many commercial growers even one weevil is too many. These early emerging weevils can be costly but the late weevils can end up in a sack of saleable pecans which is a real problem.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Trees Don't Die, Do They?

This statement has really amazed me, “I didn’t think my tree would die and since my tree died it must have a contagious disease or insect problem.” Well I guess most folks don’t consider it strange but considering the severe drought it sure seems like lack of water would be blamed first!

First trees do get old and die. We do hear about trees that are hundreds of years old or even some trees recorded to be thousands of years old but generally speaking trees live less than 50 years with some maybe living to be a hundred years old. In this part of Central Texas we do have a few trees that are really old but most have only been around 50 years or less. Williamson County is essentially two very different ecological areas with the west half being Hill Country and the east being Blackland Prairie. Neither region is noted for having old, old trees mostly because of the shallow soils.

Trees die for a variety of reasons but insects and disease are not normally the primary. We do have a problem with Oak Wilt in some species of oaks but outside that we lose trees mostly because of physiological problems typically caused by the environment. One of the primary reasons is shallow soils. As trees get bigger they need more room both in the top and also in the roots. Shallow soils inhibit root growth and if we cant grow roots we cant grow top. We could also add overcrowding to this problem, too many trees in too small a space. Then along comes a once in a lifetime drought and trees simply fall apart. They were cramped and crowded to begin with and now there is a lack of water to both cool the tree, move nutrients and supply plant cells. It is no wonder they die!

Once stressed trees are then more susceptible to all kinds of insect and disease problems. One of the primary causes of oak tree deaths right now is Hypoxylon Canker which can only affect an oak when it is stressed. But I am also seeing hackberry, elm, pecan, magnolia, and cedar die every day simply because it is too dry.

Now back to the Oak Wilt disease which is a severe problem in all of Williamson County and certainly all of the Hill Country. The Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas Forest Service have conducted numerous programs about Oak Wilt and its treatment for area residents. Recently though we offered an intense one day shortcourse on Oak Wilt for our Master Gardeners to certify them as Master Gardener Oak Wilt specialists. Over the last two months we have been directing call to the Extension office about Oak Wilt to these specialists and the public has had nothing but praise for this team. If you think you have Oak Wilt or just want to know more about it call or send an email to the Williamson County Extension Office and you will soon get a response back.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Turf Irrigation: What is the Best Time?

Cities throughout Central Texas are struggling through one of the most devastating droughts in our lifetimes. Agriculture losses are already at $3.6 billion and that does not include the loss in landscape plants and turfgrasses. Cities in this area have two major concerns, number one being the amount of water needed to supply all the people with clean drinking water and number two having enough system capacity to meet the extremely high demand during all these hot days.
Fortunately most cities have enough water, if we conserve, to get us through this hot summer. During cooler times when landscapes don’t need as much water we see both the aquifers and lakes stabilize and who knows maybe we will get some rain soon. The other problem, having enough capacity, is simply of function of when we water our turfgrasses! There is no doubt that most people have learned to water turfgrasses early in the morning so that the grass has time to dry out to prevent diseases. Every city water department can testify to how well we know this by the amount of water used during the 3 AM to 7 AM time period. It seems as if every sprinkler system in the city fires up during this time and the consequent drop in pressure for the city water system frustrates even the best water department managers.
So you may have been notified by your city water department of voluntary changes to your watering schedule. Of course most cities want you to avoid watering in the hottest, windiest times of day, usually 10 AM to 6 PM. But to avoid over taxing the system you may be asked to change your irrigation times to 8 PM at night or 7 AM in the morning or even midnight! Almost everyone who hears of these changes immediately worries that they will cause lawns to get diseases and die or that all the water will evaporate before it hits the ground. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the hot summer time we just don’t have the conditions, night or day, for turfgrass diseases to develop because of irrigation. The grass dries too quickly for disease to develop. And being so hot, even at night, we see very little difference in irrigation evaporation - morning, evening or night. Currently evapotranspiration rates are running around .25 inches of water per day. Looking at the data the real increase in evapotranspiration rates is not the time of day you water but whether there is wind or not. Rates can increase 50% or more with just 10 mph winds!
Next there is some confusion on how much to water? It is really quite simple, all turfgrasses need 1 inch or less of water per week, period! In looking at the area’s soils and knowing the turfgrass water requirements based on evapotranspiration we actually only need ¾ of an inch a week to maintain a beautiful green lawn. The next question is how many minutes do I set my sprinkler system to water ¾ inch. Set out empty tuna cans around your lawn, water until they are nearly 1/2 full and do this twice a week and you will have given your lawn more than enough water to be beautiful!
Now what is the take home message? Just this, follow the city’s water schedule and watch how much water you use and you won’t hurt your landscape but you will help us all get through these tough times.

Lawn Aerification to Help Watering

In this terrible drought it is not unusual to hear people complain that even though they are watering the water just seems to run off. Or when they do irrigate the water just seems to puddle on the soil surface taking forever to move down. Both these problems have to do with water infiltration or movement into soils and with our heavy, clay soils in Central Texas. These soils give us lots of problems with infiltration and when water doesn’t move into our soils our lawns suffer from drought and we ultimately waste water.
Compaction is usually identified as the main culprit to slow water movement into soils. Heavy, clay soils are notorious for developing compaction especially since we are constantly passing heavy mowers over them and having to water so much with sprinklers. It is not unusual to see lawn services using large mowers that support a driver. This weight passing over the soil once or twice a week, especially soil that is wet, forms hard compacted layers that water simply can’t pass through. Next add in sprinklers that come on 3 times a week further compacting soils with water that contains high levels of calcium and it is no wonder why we have trouble watering our landscapes.
Because compaction can be such a problem it is a standard recommendation by Texas A&M turf experts to aerify soils once a year with a core aerifier. What this machine does is take a plug out of the turf opening up a hole for water and oxygen to pass through quickly. Once water is in the hole it moves sideways into the turf root zone for more complete irrigation. Sometimes lawn services will fill the holes with an organic amendment which only helps turf with fertilizer and water movement.
When is the best time to aerify? Usually it is recommended for spring time, just as grasses are greening up. Unfortunately there is no way to get every lawn done then but rest assured aerification yields a benefit no matter when you do it!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Drip Irrigation, Water When the Plants Need It

I am constantly amazed at how few people use drip irrigation for their gardens, shrubs or flower beds. Most people avoid new technology like the plague but drip irrigation has been around for decades and now installation is easier than ever. Remember it’s about water savings but probably more important for this fast paced world it’s labor saving too.
The basic component parts of a drip irrigation system are: water source (well or city), filter, pressure regulator, delivery lines and emitters. The filter is a must if you have a well but not a high priority with city water so that a $5 filter is fine. The pressure regulator allows the lines and emitters to operate at low pressure (10-25 lbs) so that very little water comes out at a time. Depending on the type of emitter, we are talking about 0.5-2 gallons per hour per emitter. The lines are black poly pipe easily joined together with low pressure fittings since we use low water pressure. The emitters can be punched into the poly pipe wherever you have a plant or for vegetable gardens you can use drip irrigation tape that is thin walled and the emitters are already molded into it.
The place to start is with a knowledgeable salesperson. He can help you know what parts to buy and the best material to buy. Once you purchase the parts you simply start at the faucet or hose end with your filter and pressure regulator. The poly pipe is laid to your first plant and an emitter is punched in and the poly pipe goes on to the next plants until all are covered by the system. The poly can be buried in the ground or under mulch for easy repairs. For real labor savings install a timer at the faucet and leave the watering to the system. It’s easy and fun so why not give it a try.
Drought Continues to Linger
A simple drive around Williamson County and you easily tell that we are in a drought. West of I35 the drought has been so long and so severe that we are losing cedar trees along with oaks and cedar elm. Pastures have produced a small hay crop with the potential for more hay cuttings dwindling daily in the heat and wind. On the east side of I35 in the Blackland crops, a majority of the corn acres are all but gone in this hot, dry weather. Some areas have received spotty showers but overall corn is suffering or has died with very little ear production. Sorghum and cotton both are drought tolerant and they are holding their own but without rain soon even they will be gone with little if any production. Most hay producers did get one hay cutting but the yields were down and there has not been any growth for a second hay cutting. Currently hay prices are up and with most of the state still in the drought prices will continue to be high. Add to this that all livestock prices are low and you don’t have a good scenario for livestock producers in 2009. Too expensive to feed and too cheap to sell!
Lastly our landscapes are not without problems as well even though we have irrigation. Most trees and to some extent shrubs are not heavily watered and because of this they are showing extreme stress or death. Lawns have to be watered weekly or they brown quickly and most people report that turf growth has slowed significantly unless watered constantly. If this isn’t enough with the lack of rainfall we can expect to see our four legged friends return in abundance to our landscapes because there just isn’t enough to eat out in the wild. Hunger will help them overcome their fear of humans real quick and a tasty landscape is sure inviting!
So what can we say except Pray for Rain!

Spider Mites on Tomatoes

It didn’t take long for spider mites to attack tomatoes and attack with a passion. I have had a number of calls about tomatoes that are turning yellow and in most cases it is spider mites that are the culprit.
The two spotted spider mite is responsible for most of our tomato problems. They are very small at 1/32 of an inch or less. If you turn over a tomato leaf you will see the webbing characteristic of spider mites and if you look closer you may see the actual mite moving around. Spider mites overwinter as adults and even continue to breed on host plants in mild winters. Spider mite adults lay a clear to yellow egg suspended in a fine web of silk. 6-legged nymphs emerge from the eggs and go through 2 molts before they emerge as 8-legged adults. A generation can last from 5 to 20 days depending on the temperature, the hotter the quicker. When the host plant begins to decline, the mites spin silk threads and use these strands to “fly” or “balloon” in wind to disperse to other plants. This is how they get to your tomatoes in the first place.
Scouting is essential to control. If you see spider mites early you can wash them off with hard streams of water or use an insecticidal soap. Sulphur has long been used as a preventative for mites as well as a fungicide for diseases. Garlic has been promoted but my experience has not been good. Unfortunately most gardeners do not notice infestations until they are severe and control is difficult. The chemical Malathion is labeled and tomatoes can be picked after waiting one day. Other chemicals are much better for killing the mites but unfortunately you must wait anywhere from 3 to 14 days before harvest. I like to recommend that gardeners remove the plants that are infested. This may seem drastic but letting populations explode doesn’t seem healthy either.
Lastly let me add that spider mites love plants that are stressed, especially from water. I was recently running a greenhouse experiment with tomatoes and marigolds. I had many pots of each and I had inadvertently left some of both plants almost outside the area that was sprinkled. This meant that 2 tomato plants and 2 marigold plants were getting just enough water to live but not much else. I then went on vacation for a few days and when I came back the only spider mite infested plants were those stressed for water. To back up my hypothesis, I water my vegetable garden every day for several hours and so far no spider mites!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Brown Patch and Take-All Root Rot Diseases on St. Augustinegrass Lawns

Rhizoctonia Brown Patch and the Take-All Root Rot fungus are common problems on St. Augustinegrass lawns in Texas. The activity of both diseases is influenced by weather conditions and by turfgrass management practices that encourage disease activities. For some reason we have had perfect conditions for both diseases to start the last couple of weeks. Brown Patch is active in fall and spring, but is primarily a problem in the fall. Take-All Root Rot (TARR) disease on St Augustinegrass is becoming more and more familiar to homeowners because in the last decade it has grown to be our number one problem. The TARR disease is also active during the transition seasons when soil temperatures are in the 60 to 65 degree range.
The fungi causing Rhizoctonia blight primarily attacks the base of the leaf blade causing roughly circular patches with symptoms of yellowing and wilting turf to appear. An easy test to determine the presence of this disease is to pull on affected leaf blades in areas of lawns that display symptoms and determine if the leaves are diseased. When Rhizoctonia blight is active, leaf blades can easily be pulled away from the St. Augustinegrass stolons and display a basal rot of the leaf sheath at the point of attachment to the stolons.
Brown patch symptoms usually appear as circular patterns on lawns when night-time temperatures drop below 70 and soil moisture levels are high. Very rarely will brown patch actually kill the affected turfgrass plants. The disease generally only attacks the leaf blades and the stems (stolons) remain green and roots will remain white and active.
The fungi causing Take-All Root Rot initially attacks the root system of the affected turfgrass plants and eventually works its way into the stolons and crown (growing points) of the plant. Symptoms for this disease include: stems (stolons) that pull up from the ground easily, similar to grub damage, brown to black roots, and small dark spots on the stems. Unlike white grubworm damage where roots are cut off by insect chewing, the TARR disease causes roots to remain attached to stolons and become withered and brown.
Unlike Brown patch, the Take-All Root Rot fungi can commonly destroy large areas of turfgrass. Although this disease is primarily active when soil temperatures are cool, effects of the fungus activity can extend into the summer period where turf becomes yellow, thinned and weak growing during the hot periods of the year.
While both of these diseases attack most turfgrasses, they are primarily a problem on St. Augustinegrass. The real key to controlling these two diseases, especially Take-All Root Rot, is to prevent stress in the turfgrass plants. Common stress problems found in turfgrass sites include: Excess shade; Thatch; Soil compaction; Poor drainage; improper use of herbicides; Over fertilization; Excess supplemental irrigation.
Cultural Controls: Aerate to prevent soil compaction problems. Avoid excess stimulation of excess top growth with too much nitrogen fertilizer. Water deeply and infrequently. Use herbicides carefully and sparingly. Provide for good drainage.
Topdressing with peat: For Take-All Root Rot Control, research at the Texas A&M Research Experiment Station in Dallas showed that topdressing at a rate of 1 bale (bag) of peat moss (approximately 3.8 cu. ft.) per 1000 sq. ft. of turf area was sufficient to protect turf for 2 years. The acidity in the peat moss (pH = 4.4) was shown to suppress the fungi causing the take-all root rot.
Fungicide Control: Take All Root Rot (timing of application critical) - Spectracide immunox (contains myclobutanil), Ferti-lome Systemic or Ortho Lawn Disease Control (contains propiconazole). Brown Patch - Turfcide (PCNB), Spectracide immunox, Ferti-lome Systemic or Ortho Lawn Disease Control (Propiconazole), Hi-Yield Maneb (Mancozeb), Green Light Broad Spectrum (Bayleton), Fung-Away
Product names and labels change constantly so be sure to follow all label directions and water in chemicals when label directs.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hypoxylon Canker of Oaks

The Texas Hill Country is known for its beautiful live oak, red oak and even post oak and blackjack oak species. These trees seem to thrive here with little trouble except from people and nature. People affect these trees by building houses, driveways or yards around these fine trees and nature affects them by the drought we are currently in now. Droughts put these trees under significant stress and this stress sets the tree up for the possibility of disease infection. Besides oak wilt we have another problem disease of these oaks called Hypoxylon canker caused by the disease organism Hypoxylon atropunctatum. This disease is found everywhere in abundance but it is not a problem for healthy trees. Stressed trees unfortunately are susceptible to this fungus through wounds and then the disease grows easily in the sapwood. The first symptoms are yellowing and wilting of leaves, and death of top branches of the tree. The fungus is capable of spreading over 3 feet in all directions in a single year from the infection point. Hypoxylon canker is characterized by the large pieces of bark that fall from the tree as it dies because the disease works on the cambium layers that hold the bark in place. Underneath the bark are the fruiting structures of the fungus that are dusty brown spores. These blow from tree to tree to spread the disease further to weak, drought stressed trees.
Before you think all your oaks are going to die please be assured that this disease is not that widespread in our beautiful oaks but it is more of a problem in droughts. Watering all trees but especially oaks in our landscapes a little more this summer will help prevent the stress and consequently the disease.

Where Do Seedless Watermelons Come From?

This past week we had a Vegetable Production Tour around Taylor and Thrall. On this tour we talked about a lot of things including melons and melon production. I have been asked on occasion “Where Do Seedless Watermelons Come From?” and since we are very close to enjoying the first seedless melons of the season I thought we might learn about this great tasting treat.
How do you get seed from a seedless watermelon? Well the process is simple but lengthy taking two generations. First, you need to understand a little about chromosomes, the threadlike bodies that contain genes for development. A regular watermelon has two sets of chromosomes and is called a diploid (di for two). A plant breeder will take a diploid watermelon seed and treat it with a chemical called colchicine. Colchicine will cause the seed to develop a melon with four sets of chromosomes called a tetraploid (tetra for four). This melon is grown out and the seed harvested for the next growing season. This tetraploid seed is planted and begins to grow but the plant is covered with a spun row cover to prevent any pollination so that the plant breeder can pollinate at the right time with a diploid melon variety. These melons will grow and the seed from them will be harvested. The cross of tetraploid plant with a diploid plant results in triploid seed. This plant has three sets of chromosomes and is the “mule” of the watermelon family. This seed when planted will produce a seedless melon meaning it is sterile.
Seedless melons are really a favorite of the urban clientele. They don’t buy grapes with seeds and they don’t like melons with seeds (what do you do with the seeds in a nice restaurant). They are excellent for salad bars and are sold in grocery stores sliced and ready to eat. Seedless watermelon are typically smaller and so fit easily in the refrigerator, another plus for the urban American.
Growing seedless melons are a little different than the typical watermelon. First this seed is very fragile and must be germinated under higher than normal germination temperatures. We will germinate seeds in chambers with 90+ degree temperatures. This forces the seed to quickly germinate and begin to grow versus a cold soil in the field which will slow seed germination enough that most seedless plants won’t make it. Because of its temperamental nature a seedless watermelon is grown as a transplant first and then moved into the field later after getting a good root system established. These seeds cost from 17¢ to 25¢ a piece and growing the actual plant in a pot to be transplanted costs another 10¢ for a total of approximately 32¢ per plant. The germination percentage is low for seedless, around 80%, so that cost can go up even more. It takes about 1500 to 1700 plants per acre or about $450.00 per acre of planted seedless melons, a lot money and still 80 days till harvest.
Seedless have other good traits besides being seedless. They are very productive generally producing more melons than any hybrids if grown properly. They are also disease tolerant plants resisting many of the diseases that other melons quickly die from and seedless are good shippers, holding flavor for a long time.
I mentioned that the seedless is the “mule” of melons, well a watermelon produces both male and female flowers so that we can plant one variety in a field and bees can pollinate with no trouble. A seedless melon produces a male flower that cannot pollinate another melon so to get by this we have to plant seeded melon rows next to the seedless rows to insure good pollination. I have seen mix ups in the field where seedless plants covered 10 solid rows so that the outside two rows were they only ones with melons. Having a pollinator row for seedless is mandatory if you want seedless melons, a fact you should know if you want to try seedless in your garden.

Do You Have Borers or Just a Woodpecker?

The yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), a member of the woodpecker family, is a migratory bird whose summer breeding range includes Texas. The identifying field markings of adult birds are a black crescent on the breast, pale yellow belly, white wing stripe, and a crimson crown. The male also has a crimson chin and throat, distinguishing him from the female whose chin and throat are white.
Although insects make up part of its diet, the sapsucker is better known for its boring of numerous holes in the bark of live trees to obtain sap, the activity from which it derives its name. The yellow-bellied sapsucker is the only member of the woodpecker family to cause this type of injury. More than 250 species of woody plants are known to be attacked. In our area they love our oak species and seem to be particularly fond of red oak and burr oak.
The sapsucker bores neat rows of 1/4-inch holes spaced closely together through the bark of trees along and around portions of the limbs or trunk. As these holes fill with sap the sapsucker uses its brush-like tongue to draw it out. These holes are periodically enlarged and portions of the cambium and inner bark, together with the fresh sap, are eaten.
Puncture wounds and resulting sap flow on branches and trunks of trees are the most obvious symptoms of injury inflicted by the sapsucker.
After repeated attacks on the same area of a tree, large patches of bark may be removed but I seldom see this happen in our area. If this area is girdled, the portion of tree above this point will die. Many small limbs are killed and some- times the trunk is girdled and the whole tree is killed but not often. Sapsucker feeding on shade and ornamental trees leaves unsightly bleeding wounds that attract bees, hornets, and other insects to the sweet, oozing sap.
Early in the spring the sapsucker tests many trees around its selected nesting site by making sample drillings before selecting ones it prefers. These trees, because of quantity or sugar content of the sap, are visited several times a day for the rest of the season and sometimes are used as a food source for several years.
Feeding wounds serve as entry courts for a wide variety of wood decay or stain fungi and bacteria. On high quality hardwoods, sapsucker wounds cause a grade defect called "bird peck" that lowers the value of the trees. Many forest trees are attacked high in the crowns, making light feeding wounds or sample drillings less evident. A condition known as black bark may develop which results from certain fungi colonizing the sap flow and discoloring the bark, and is good evidence that injury exists.
To discourage sapsuckers from feeding on a favorite shade tree, wrap hardware cloth or burlap around the area being tapped or smear a sticky repellent material, such as bird tanglefoot, on the bark. On large acreage or orchards, leave favorite feeding trees of the sapsucker untreated. Birds will concentrate their feeding activities on these favorite trees, which often protects nearby trees from serious injury.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Federal regulations promulgated under its authority prohibit shooting or trapping of sapsuckers. Shooting of this species would be an ineffective control anyway because transient birds tend to replace occasional losses to local sapsucker populations.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pecan Nut Casebearer

This is the time of year when we become concerned about pecan nut casebearer infesting pecan nutlets. Casebearer will overwinter in a hibernaculum or cocoon and then break dormancy to begin the process that gets us to this time of year. We are now seeing the moths emerge from this process and it is these moths that will lay eggs that become the first generation pecan nut casebearer. The way we know when the moths are flying is not because we look for the moths laying eggs but that we have installed moth traps in the trees.
These traps have a pheromone inside the trap that attracts male casebearer moths. We put the traps up in the orchard about a month before we expect to see moths so that we know when the moths begin coming into the orchard. We examine the traps every 2-3 days or 3 times a week and record the number of moths captured and then remove the moths. This record of moth catches help monitor the time moths numbers are highest. Once we capture moths then 7 to 10 days later we should begin to see eggs laid on nutlets. Once eggs are laid it takes 4-5 days to hatch and 1-2 days before they enter the pecan. Scouting is very important to make this program work. This past week I had reports from several commercial growers that they had moth catches in their traps. Following the above schedule we should begin to find eggs on the pecan nutlet about May 8 or 9 and possibly nutlet entry on May 13-15. We look for either eggs or entries till we find 2 or more infested clusters of pecans out of 310, then we spray.

Commercial orchards use chlorpyrifos at 1-2 pints per acre, Confirm, spinosad, Sevin, and Bt for pecan nut casebearer control. Homeowners can use Dipel or Javelin both are organic products with bacillus thuringiensis or Entrust with spinosad which is also labeled organic. Two other products are Sevin or malathion. Follow label directions and be sure to get good coverage, moths tend to work the tree tops as well as the bottom.
Once you know when the casebearer is laying eggs mark your calendar because exactly 6 weeks later you can expect the second generation to show up. Sometimes we don’t treat for the second generation because there just aren’t enough to justify the cost but still scouting is important so that we know. (Thanks to the University of Georgia for great PNC pictures!)

Galls on Oak Trees

I don’t think there is a week goes by that somebody doesn’t call wanting to know what those little balls are on their oak tree how to keep them from killing the tree! How do you tell someone that the damage they see is really not bad at all and in fact these balls are part of the normal eco-system? Well, I can honestly say that most people need more of an explanation than that and here is the answer.
The Mealy Oak Gall has been around as long as the live oak tree. What is a gall, in particular the mealy oak gall? Galls are abnormal swellings of plant tissue that can be caused by insects, bacteria, fungi, mites and nematodes. In our area the galls of most concern are those caused by insects and few by mites. Basically the insect, through many different processes depending on the insect, causes the plant to form or grow tissue that surrounds the insect. As the tissue grows the insect is surrounded and protected within a gall and this gall is the food source for the insect. Once the gall is mature it quits using the plant nutrients but the insect inside will continue to feed through its life stages.
This gall making and insect feeding may sound very harmful to the plant but overall gall-making insects are not considered problems and even some galls are attractive and used in crafts. In the case of the Mealy Oak Gall most people assume that these round galls on the stem are harmful and so want to spray them. Of course it is impossible to get an insecticide to the insect since it lives inside the tree and remember they are not harmful to you or to the tree.
The Mealy Oak Gall is caused by the gall-making cynipid wasp. There are over 1,000 species of gall-making wasps world-wide but in our area this is the primary one. This cynipid wasp has a unique life cycle that includes two generations with one being asexual and one being sexual. The generation we are most concerned with is the asexual when the galls are formed. You can begin seeing them on the stems by late summer and really notice them in late fall. Sometime in January the adults will emerge from these galls and the sexual generation starts but only with a very tiny gall structure.
A second gall-making insect I get lots of calls about is the Oak Apple Gall. This is a really big gall that looks like a green apple on a red oak tree. This gall is basically hollow but if you can imagine as many as a hundred “apples” hanging on your red oak then you understand why people start calling for help. Again this is a harmless pest but the gall makes for really interesting conversation.
Lastly, let me say again that these galls are not a problem. It is not helpful to spray for them or try to inject the tree with some chemical. In fact most gall-making insect populations peak and then begin to disappear. As I said before these galls are just part of the eco-system just like we are!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Agriculture is Big Business in Williamson County

There are not many of the 375,000 people who live in Williamson County who think that agriculture makes a very big economic impact. In fact most people think agriculture is fast phasing out and it won’t be long till agriculture will be gone! Well nothing could be further from the truth and in fact agriculture income is on the rise growing faster than just about any other segment in the county. Now it may not be the same agriculture it was 20 years ago but growing nonetheless.
Let’s look at the numbers and see how much it is growing. First production agriculture or crop and livestock agriculture has seen a jump in income owing mainly to higher prices paid for commodities. In 2008 there were 13,000 acres of wheat with an income of $4,563,000, 92,000 acres of corn with an income of $30,379,000, 32,000 acres of hay with an income of $4,000,000, 16,500 acres of sorghum with an income of $5,220,000 and 19,250acres of cotton with an income of $7,000,000 for total crop sales of over $51,000,000There are nearly 200,000 acres of cropland in the county and depending on the year they can make farmers some good money. Livestock is not as big an enterprise as crops but overall livestock producers sell over $12,000,000 in cows and calves every year. All together our traditional agriculture has grown to sales of over $75 million per year!
Now let’s look at another big part of the agriculture industry in this area. Dr. Marco Palma is the Extension Horticulture Marketing Specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension Service and he puts together all the horticulture sales for the state. Recently he compiled a report for the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association on the growth of horticulture sales in Texas with a breakdown by county. If you take a look at the table below you can easily see why horticulture is a big business in this state. Even in this down year horticulture is one area that has seen huge growth as people stay home and garden.
2007 $1,512,784,904 $3,528,713,498 $8,397,293,419 $13,438,791,821 6.91%
2006 $1,496,345,000 $3,317,146,231 $7,696,608,179 $12,510,099,410 3.24%
2005 $1,585,219,000 $2,945,490,188 $7,574,317,424 $12,105,026,612 13.43%
2004 $1,424,295,000 $2,521,156,402 $6,533,642,507 $10,479,093,909 13.01%
2003 $1,324,625,000 $2,198,716,514 $5,592,864,633 $9,116,206,147 9.06%
2002 $1,341,270,000 $2,059,453,093 $4,889,625,927 $8,290,349,020

Environmental horticulture or the green industry includes production of nurseries, greenhouses, sod, herbs, cut‐flowers, retail garden centers and florists, and landscape and tree services. The environmental horticulture industry, often referred to as the “Green Industry” is one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture in the US. Let’s look at a breakdown of the numbers in 2007 for Texas.
Production/Manufacturing 1,512,784,904
Nursery & Greenhouse 1,313,177,628
Lawn & Garden Equipment Manufacturing 135,890,873
Prefabricated metal buildings (Greenhouses) 63,716,403

Horticultural Services 3,528,713,498
Landscaping Services 3,357,212,338
Landscape Architectural Services 171,501,160

Wholesale & Retail Trade Horticulture Products 8,397,293,419
Flower, Nursery Stock and Florist Supplies Wholesalers 442,554,604
Lawn & Garden Equipment & Supplies Stores 3,036,616,696
Florists 1,002,171,450
Building Material & Supplies Dealers 1,315,941,634
Food & Beverage Stores 302,673,427
General Merchandise Stores 1,588,642,734
Farm & Garden Equipment Wholesalers 708,692,873

Total All Sectors 13,438,791,821

Now the numbers for all the state don’t mean much to us in Williamson County but according to Dr. Palma’s individual county numbers we rank 10th out of all 254 counties in total horticulture sales with a total of $317,995,060. Broken down that is $158,500,000 in wholesale and retail trade and $148,400,000 in horticulture services. The total for all agricultural sales in the county is close to $400 million with horticulture making up a huge portion.
So looking at the numbers a very diverse agriculture industry in Williamson County is by no means fading away but instead is growing every year. The continued urban growth in our area only fuels the growth of this industry insuring a bright and long future for agriculture!!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Budding and Grafting-What Is It?

Most people don’t have a clue what budding or grafting is or if they don’t know why we do it! I can sure understand this since most of the reproduction in the world on the human side is not asexual it is sexual. Wow! How did we go from budding and grafting to SEX? Well in budding and grafting we bypass the typical crossing of a male and a female to produce offspring by either budding or grafting a portion of the plant we want onto the same type of plant. For instance, in pecan trees the nut that is produced can be planted by a squirrel and grow up into a big beautiful pecan tree but the nuts on that tree may not resemble the planted nut at all. This is because the nut was produced by sexual means. The male pollen was produced on another tree and it floated on the wind and fell on the pecan tree flower of another tree. Once on the flower parts, the male and female parts mate and the resulting nut now has the genetics of the male tree crossed with the female tree. As any parent knows our children may or may not be like us! In nature this natural crossing produces what we know as native pecans.
Now in budding and grafting we bypass this uncertainty by taking a bud or a piece of graftwood with buds from a tree we like and transfer these buds onto a tree or rootstock that produces poor quality nuts. This is an asexual method which reproduces exactly the nuts we want. This is also used on all our fruit trees as well as our nut trees. Basically we can use either buds or grafts depending on the tree type, personal preference or tree size. Most nurseries growing small trees use single buds called budding and in orchards we use grafting which is putting a small limb with several buds onto a tree.
Having said all this there are still many people who grow pecans but very few that have ever grafted one! If you are in this category then you won’t want to miss the Pecan Grafting Workshop set for Tuesday, April 21 at the Extension Meeting Room. The real work will start at 7:00 p.m. and will go on till you have perfected your grafting technique. Local pecan growers with years and years of experience will be your teachers and in this hands on workshop you can learn to graft both the inlay bark graft and the four flap graft. Plus if you would like to learn other techniques as well there will be Extension bulletins and experts to discuss how they are done. Also it is our hope to have some pecan graftwood available but supplies are limited in this drought year. If you would like to attend the grafting workshop then call the Extension office at 512/943-3300 to reserve a spot.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fruit Tree Insect and Diseases

I think we can blame the drought for causing another problem, terrible insect pressure especially on our fruit trees. Most if not all fruit trees have made it through the winter, and most have survived the drought, if you watered. They have made it through freezes and most have small fruit, no small miracle for Texas fruit production! Now after making it through all these problems we have one more to add to the list, stink bugs!
Both the brown stink bug and the green stink bug overwinter in grassy areas and under brush or wood. They wait for warm weather to come out and begin looking for energy sources to replace lost body reserves and the plant of choice is fruit. The brown stink bug causes the fruit to deform and the green stink bug causes the fruit to exude a resin or gummy mess that can accumulate on the fruit especially on peaches. Both insects have long snouts that they use to pierce the skin and suck out juices. In the case of the green stink bug this resin attracts wasps and bees so that they get the blame instead of the stink bug. Stink bugs are hard to control especially since they have piercing/sucking mouthparts. Carbaryl or permethrins are two of the most effective inorganic chemicals but for organic growers your only choice is neem oil and its effectiveness is not good
There is one major peach insect that everyone wants to get rid of, the Plum Curculio. This small worm or grub feeds inside the peach mostly near the seed and can cause anyone who has found one a real heartache. This worm or larva is laid by an adult snout beetle, similar in looks to the oak, pecan or cotton weevil. This adult overwinters in the soil at the base of the fruit tree and comes out early with the plums and moves to peaches as plums mature early. The adult female will chew a small hole in the fruit skin and lay eggs just under the surface. The eggs hatch into small larva that feed in the fruit for 2 to 4 weeks and of course this is what causes the problems.
To control this insect sprays have to be made from shucksplit (about the time the fruit is formed) and for two applications at two week intervals and then 30 days before fruit harvest. This last spray is probably the most important since the eggs laid hatch out and the larva are still in the fruit at harvest. Recommended sprays are malathion, carbaryl or permethrin and organic is garlic and citrus oil, and neem oil to repel the adults. There is no insecticide to treat the soil with but keeping old fruit off the ground helps prevent next year’s problems.
Another problem some homeowners have complained about is the gummy mess coming out of fruit tree limbs. This gum or resin is caused by a bacterial canker that has infected the limb. This canker develops in the fall and as the trees break dormancy in the spring, gum is formed by the infection and can break through the bark and flow down the tree limb. Stress in trees is the main culprit and treatments are not effective. Keep damaged wood trimmed out and supply water and nutrients to promote tree health.

Zinc is Essential for Pecans

In the Texas Pecan Handbook, John Begnaud, Extension Horticulturalist writes that, “Over 40 years of pecan zinc research confirms that the pecan tree is a poor accumulator and transporter of zinc, especially when grown in high pH soils.” Any commercial pecan grower in the state can testify that this statement is true and none of them will miss a zinc spray unless it rains. Unfortunately many new growers and perhaps some in the business a long time forget how important zinc is in pecan growth.
What does zinc do? Well zinc is necessary for the production of natural plant hormones that induce cell elongation and cell division or better said overall plant growth. In our high pH soils we can have lots of zinc but little of it is available to the tree and so we see deficiency symptoms such as small, narrow leaves. These leaves are usually on thin shoots with very short internodes. When you only have small leaves and possibly less leaves then you don’t produce pecans or a smaller crop than expected. Continual zinc deficiencies can result in bunchy terminal growth and even some canopy die-back. Dr. George Ray McEachern, pecan specialist, describes zinc deficiencies as small leaves that curve, leaf edges waxy, leaves with dark interveinal discoloration, shoots growing in thick bunches with some dead some alive.
Now what do we mean by zinc applications? In the many research trials that have been done the only effective and efficient way to get zinc into a pecan tree is foliar applications. Over the years soil injections, tree injections and fertilizer applications have all been tried but still foliar applications are the best. Unfortunately our high pH soils very quickly make and soil applications of zinc bound up and unavailable. Tree injections move zinc to existing growth but since zinc is immobile in the plant the new growth doesn’t get the benefit. This unique set of circumstances forces growers to make repeated foliar applications to new growth to ensure adequate zinc uptake in pecan leaves.
Another aspect of the zinc research in pecans is the best formulations for zinc uptake. To date three compounds have been the most effective, zinc sulphate, zinc nitrate and NZN. Of these three the most widely used is zinc sulphate probably because it is just as effective as the other two but is cheaper. Another part of this research has shown that the effectiveness of zinc uptake is enhanced by the addition of liquid nitrogen in the tank. It doesn’t take much zinc or liquid nitrogen, only 2 lbs of zinc sulphate and 1 quart of liquid N per 100 gallons of water. For homeowners there are numerous products on nursery shelves for zinc applications and all work well. Use a hose-end sprayer to reach tree tops.
Now the hard part is getting the trees sprayed on a timely basis. Remember that zinc is not translocated so a grower needs to make regular sprays during the spring flush. The first spray should be at green tip or what we call budbreak, then 1-2 weeks later followed by another 1-2 weeks later or with casebearer insect sprays and then one more 2-3 weeks later. Pecan growth is fairly mature by mid-June so that sprays can be discontinued on all but young trees which should be sprayed until August.
Of all the things you can do to a pecan tree to help make pecans there is probably nothing more important than zinc sprays and now is the time to get started!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Master Gardener Class Signup Underway

It has been a busy late winter and early spring! The Williamson County Master Gardeners have to be some of the busiest, most fun people on the planet and yet just mention another gardening project and a they are off again. In just the past few months local Master Gardeners have propagated and transferred into one gallon pots over 2000 perennial plants. These plants are part of their annual fundraising effort for all their many projects including the Junior Master Gardener program in local schools. They have given numerous educational programs to local garden clubs, civic clubs, schools and churches. They sponsored four educational seminars at the Georgetown Home and Garden Show while hosting their annual plant sale and giving out educational materials. They have put in many educational gardens at several local schools with still more to install and they have been teaching school children about gardening while doing it. They have had several great programs for their membership to continue their gardening education and now they are in the midst of starting several new projects while maintaining the ones the already have. Added to all this they are helping to reinvigorate our landscape gardens at the Extension office including adding a new EarthKind rose garden and a vegetable variety trial garden.
Now that you know how much fun the Williamson County Master Gardeners are having doing gardening education you may want to know how you can get involved. We are just now beginning signup for our 2009 Master Gardener intern training program. This training program is 15 weeks in length with the first class being Tuesday, August 11, 2009. Classes are held each Tuesday, from 1 pm till 5 pm at the Extension office meeting room, 3151 Inner Loop, in Georgetown. Each week features a different speaker on a different topic such as Dr. Doug Welsh on EarthKind gardening, Jim Kamas on fruits and nuts, Steve Chaney on Perennials, Tom Leroy on vegetables, plus many more. This is every bit like a college course in horticulture which prepares you for the many opportunities to work with AgriLife Extension in educating the public about horticulture. In fact you will have lots of opportunities to present programs, talk one on one answering questions, developing projects and helping train future gardeners. Each Master Gardener intern must complete the required educational training program and within one year do 50 hours volunteering in Master Gardener projects and receive an additional 15 hours of continuing education before they are certified. Once certified, Master Gardeners maintain their certification by continuing to volunteer time to support horticulture education and projects and also completing advanced education. This way the public can be assured that when they attend a program given by a Master Gardener or even ask a question of one of the many currently certified Master Gardeners they are getting good, science based information in horticulture.
Now if we have you interested and are ready to sign up you can get an application one of several ways. First, the applications are available on our Extension website at Williamson-tx.tamu.edu or you can call the Extension office at 943-3300 and we can mail you one. The cost of the class is $250 or $4.17 per hour of instruction. For $250 you receive all the classroom training, the Master Gardener notebook, reference books, a hand lens and many other materials throughout the class. So get an application, fill it out and send it in with $250 soon. We take applications on a first come, first served basis. Once we get your application then we will begin the process of selection. You will be interviewed by an Extension Agent and a Certified Master Gardener and if selected you will start on August 11! Interviews for new interns will start in May so get in your application in and start your new career as a Master Gardener.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chilling Accumulation: Its Importance and Estimation

This year we have had what has seemed like an unusually warm winter. In actuality it has been really cool overall with average temperatures in December being 51.3 degrees, in January 50.6 degrees and February being a cold 58.8 degrees. I get a lot of questions about chilling hours and if we have accumulated enough. Stone fruit trees such as peaches develop their vegetative and fruiting buds in the summer and, as winter approaches, the already developed buds go dormant in response to both shorter day lengths and cooler temperatures. This dormancy or sleeping stage protects these buds from oncoming cold weather. Once buds have entered dormancy, they will be tolerant to temperatures much below freezing and will not grow in response to mid-winter warm spells. These buds remain dormant until they have accumulated sufficient chilling units (CU) of cold weather. Almost any variety of stone fruit you buy will have its chilling requirement on the tag. When enough chilling accumulates, the buds are ready to grow in response to warm temperatures. As long as there have been enough CU’s the flower and leaf buds develop normally. If the buds do not receive sufficient chilling temperatures during winter to completely release dormancy, trees will develop one or more of the physiological symptoms associated with insufficient chilling: 1) delayed foliation, 2) reduced fruit set and increased buttoning and, 3) reduced fruit quality.

Delayed Foliation - A classic symptom of insufficient chilling is delayed leafing out. A tree may have a small tuft of leaves near the tips of the stems and have no leaves for 12 to 20 inches below the tips. Lower buds will break eventually but full foliation is significantly delayed, fruit set is reduced, and the tree is weakened.

Reduced Fruit Set and Buttoning - Flowering, in response to insufficient chilling, often follows the pattern seen with leaf development. Bloom is delayed, extended, and due to abnormalities in pistil and pollen development, fruit set is reduced. In many peach cultivars, flowers drop before or around shuck split, but in others such as ‘Jersey Queen’ and ‘Harvester’, buttons form. Buttons result from flowers which apparently have set but never develop into full-size fruit. The fruit remains small and misshapen as they ripen. If you cut these fruit open, the seed is dead.

Reduced Fruit Quality - The effects of insufficient chilling on fruit quality are probably the least discussed but appear to be very common especially in central and south Texas. The effects on leaf growth and fruit set are dramatic but the effects of insufficient chill on fruit quality are subtle, and can occur when other symptoms do not. Insufficient chilling will cause many cultivars to have an enlarged tip and reduced firmness. Furthermore, fruit ground coloration may be greener than usual, possibly due to the fruit losing firmness before the ground color can fully change from green to yellow. The extent of these quality problems depends on the cultivar and the degree of chilling deficiency.

Mean Temperature Model - The mean temperature model uses mean winter (December and/or January) monthly temperatures to estimate accumulated chilling units. The Stone Fruit Breeding Program at Texas A&M University developed a method to estimate chill accumulation which has demonstrated to be accurate for estimating chill accumulation in Texas from the Lower Rio Grande Valley up to the Red River. The coldest month or months are used for the calculation. In low chill regions (regions where average January temperature is 59-63 degrees F) where January represents the dormancy season, January mean temperature is most accurate for estimation. In high chill regions (regions where average January temperature is below 48 degrees F) a mean December-January temperature is recommended. For Williamson County we would use the December-January temperature model.

Also, this method will make it possible for the grower to know, before fruit thinning time, if chill accumulation was sufficient for a given cultivar. If insufficient chilling is suspected for a cultivar, the grower can implement management and marketing strategies to reduce the impact on costs and labor. Furthermore, chemical sprays such as Dormex that help break dormancy are being researched. These chemicals can be used in late January or early February if insufficient chilling is suspected. On the other hand, the expense of a dormancy-breaking chemical can be avoided if the grower knows that trees have received sufficient chill accumulation.

Williamson County Example
Mean December, 2008 temperature is 51.3°F and mean January, 2009 temperature is 50.6°F
Chilling Units = 4280 minus 68.8 X [(Dec. mean + Jan. mean)/2]
Chilling Units = 4280 - 68.8 X [(51.3° + 50.6°)/2]
Chilling Units = 4280 - 68.8 X 50.95
Chilling Units = 4280 - 3505.36
Chilling Units = 774.64
We normally recommend trees with 600 to 800 hour requirements and sure enough we have had enough chilling hours.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Time to Get Those Lawns in Shape

With all the warm weather lately people are ready to start fixing up their landscapes and I am right there with them. I always start off like a fireball but like everyone else, come July I am ready for winter again!! But since spring is here let’s talk about lawn care, probably the biggest plant you have in your landscape and certainly the one that takes the most time.

First off, now is the time to get your lawn mower running again. Certainly it needs the perennial oil change and maybe a new spark plug and for sure some new gas. Fortunately gas is cheaper now than last summer. Once your mower is ready you should mow your lawn as short as you can get it. Now this may be messy but mowing it short will help warm the soil and probably more importantly take out a lot of those winter weeds or at least set them back. Some people call the procedure scalping but I don’t see many mowers that can be set low enough to actually scalp a lawn. I just call this a spring clean-up.

Next you will need to fertilize but only if you have bermudagrass or St. Augustinegrass. These two are already trying to green up telling us that soil temperatures are getting warmer by the day. Since they are starting to grow they are the ones that will respond to fertilizer the best and no matter what you hear the fertilizer they need is nitrogen. This can be the hard part because very few stores sell just a nitrogen fertilizer, either organic or inorganic. But fertilizers that have a lot of phosphorus or potassium are not really needed in our soils and can even tie up other nutrients our grasses need. What we need is 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. or in fertilizer terms 7 pounds of 15-0-0 or 5 pounds of 21-0-0 which is a common nitrogen fertilizer. Also at this time you can apply an iron product if you have consistently had problems with yellow St Augustinegrass. Iron sulphate or Ironite can work well to help with this problem caused by our high pH soils in Williamson County.

Now those of you with Zoysia grass or buffalograss need to wait until later in April to fertilize your grasses. Both of these are slower to start in the spring and fertilizing now can only feed the weeds and other grasses in your lawn and not the actual grass you are growing.

Another thing you need to do now is water, although I think you probably already knew that! We are in a severe drought and there is no moisture in our soils for grasses or landscape plants to start growing. It is unfortunate that we have to start off the year watering but if you expect your landscape to be ready when it finally does rain you must water now. What we want is about 4 inches of wet soil. So water until you can push a shovel in about 4 inches easily. If it doesn’t soak in fast enough then turn off the sprinkler and come back in one hour. This has been a real lesson for me this year since I moved from an area with sandy soils to one here with heavy clay. The soil is great here, and very rich but it does take time to water thoroughly.

Lastly I am getting lots of complaints about weeds and weedy grasses. Well those weeds are not summer weeds only winter weeds. They have all sprouted as a result of the rains we got the first of February or were sprouted and waiting on those rains. Now they are taking advantage of an open lawn and great weather. Earlier I mentioned mowing and this is one of the best ways to really help “restrain” these weeds. If you still have too many and want to get rid of them then you can use spot treatments with a dilute Roundup solution or with 20% vinegar just “painting them with a foam brush. If that is too slow then you might try any of the weed control products you can mix up in a sprayer. Be careful though and don’t drift over to trees or shrubs since these could also be damaged. I sure don’t recommend a weed and feed product since I have never seen homeowners be that careful to avoid flower beds and sure enough these products control flowers too!!