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.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

USDA Article on AflaGuard

We have had a lot of aflatoxin problems in corn this year in the blacklands and this article sure compliments the use of AflaGuard for reducing aflatoxin problems.

Afla-Guard Also Protects Corn Crops / Month x, 2010 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tomato Variety Trial

Stiles Farm Foundation, 2010
Bob Whitney and Archie Abrameit
Williamson County

Summary: The population of Texas continues to grow but the majority of that growth is centered along the I35 corridor. Latest population estimates show Travis County with 921,000 people, Williamson County with 354,000 people and Bell County with a population of 258,000. This puts Williamson County with its rich soil and moderate climate in the middle of one and half million people, all who eat and want lots of good food every day. Recent trends in the US point to more and more consumption of locally grown food products and at the top of the list is a desire to buy locally grown vegetables, fruits and nuts. Farmer's Market interest is at an all time high and more and more cities want a Farmers Market for their citizens. The local community supports the growth of small farm agriculture that supplies nutritious and healthy, locally grown farm products.

Because of this interest there are more growers and these growers want information to make informed decisions on varieties, fertility, irrigation, harvest and more. This test evaluated 19 popular and new tomato varieties.

Objective: To evaluate 19 tomato varieties for vigor and fruit set.

Materials and Methods: The Stiles Farm Foundation is a typical blackland soil and the test was planted in a Sunev series. PH of the site is 8.0; Nitrate was 15 ppm, 63 ppm P and 336 ppm K. Site was prepared in March. Beds were fertilized with 100 pounds of 21-0-0-24 in March and incorporated. Transplants were put in the beds on April 8. Varieties were planted 4 plants to a rep with 2 total reps per variety for a total of 8 plants. Spacing was 2.5 feet in the row and rows were 8 feet apart. Planting pattern is outlined in Table 1. Plants were drip irrigated on timed irrigations.

Table 1.
Row 1                         Row 2

No. Variety                No. Variety
1 Christy                   11 BHN 685
2 Celebrity                8 BHN 968
3 Solar Fire              15 Sunstart
4 Applause              10 Katana
5 BHN 0941           12 Phoenix
6 Tycoon                 13 Belle Rosa
7 BHN 602             16 Tygress
8 BHN 968              3 Solar Fire
9 Tomasin                18 Heatwave Select
10 Katana                14 Sunshine
11 BHN 685            19 Sun Pride
12 Phoenix                1 Christy
13 Belle Rosa            17 BHN 0944
14 Sunshine               4 Applause
15 Sunstart                 6 Tycoon
16 Tygress                 5 BHN 0941
17 BHN 0944           7 BHN 602
18 Heatwave Select   2 Celebrity
19 Sun Pride              9 Tomasin


Table 2. Vigor and Fruit Set of 19 Tomato Varieties, 2010.

No. Variety                    Vigor       Fruit Set

1 Christy                            5             5
2 Celebrity                        8               7.5
3 Solar Fire                       6.5              8
4 Applause                        2.5             7
5 BHN 0941                      6              4
6 Tycoon                           5.5             5.5
7 BHN 602                       6.5             7
8 BHN 968                       6         8.5
9 Tomasin                        6         6.5
10 Katana                       7        7.5
11 BHN 685                 7.5        7
12 Phoenix                   5.5         7.5
13 Belle Rosa               5.5        7.5
14 Sunshine                    4       8.5
15 Sunstart                    2.5       7
16 Tygress                      7     7.5
17 BHN 0944                7    5.5
18 Heatwave Select      5.5    6.5
19 Sun Pride                   8        8

Scale is 1-10 with 10 being best. Ratings made on 6-15-10 on both replications and the results averaged.

Acknowledgments: A big thanks to Dr. Larry Stein who worked with Lone Star Growers to grow the transplants and then ship them out to counties for testing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How Much to Water?

I am asked over and over how much do I need to water my lawn. Extension has developed recommendations that in general say you should water 1 inch per week. These are general because of differences in soil, plant, rooting depth and even shade. We have a weather station here at our Extension office that is programmed to help landscapers and homeowners know how much water they need. The information is available on texaset.tamu.edu and is fantastic. I have signed up for a weekly notification on the website so that it sends me an email and tells me how much to water for every week. I get the email on Friday and can water through the weekend to replace what was lost during the week to evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is the water lost from the soil surface and the plant together. I have told the program that I have bermudagrass for sod and I want normal growth. Here are the recommendations.
Date     Evapotranspiration
07/09    0.15
07/10    0.18
07/11    0.26
07/12    0.24
07/13    0.26
07/14    0.29
07/15    0.28

7 day watering recommendation for Bob Whitney:  0.60 inches  (assuming no rainfall)*
Plant Coefficient: Warm Season Turfgrass
Adjustment Factor: Normal

Friday, July 16, 2010

Texas State Pecan Show

The state pecan show is held each year during the Texas Pecan Growers Meeting. This year it was in San Marcos and had about 300 entries. Hopi won the commercial division.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pecan Field Day Set for August 11

Texas AgriLife Extension, Williamson County, has planned a Pecan Field Day for Wednesday, August 11 at Berry Springs Park and Preserve at 1801 CR 152 near Georgetown. Registration for the field day will begin at 9:30 a.m. with the program beginning at 10:00 a.m. and lasting through a sponsored noon meal. Cost of the Pecan Field Day is $5 per person. The Pecan Field Day will include two hours of Continuing Education Credits for private, commercial and non-commercial applicators. To preregister for the Pecan Field Day please contact the Williamson County Extension office at 512/943-3300 or email at dmcolburn@ag.tamu.edu
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid, service or accommodation in order to participate in this tour are encouraged to contact the Extension office at 512/943-3300 by August 6, 2010 to determine how reasonable accommodations can be made.
Discussing pecan weevil, pecan yellow and black aphids and other insect problems growers face will be Mr. Bill Ree, Extension Pecan Entomologist. Bill is based in College Station with state-wide responsibilities for educational programs in pecan insect management and is a great resource for pecan growers. This date for the Pecan Field Day should correspond with previous years dates for making the first pecan weevil sprays. The field day will be a great opportunity to catch up on the latest management of pecan insects and sightings of pecan weevil.
Next on the program will be Monte Nesbitt, Extension Horticulturalist and State Pecan Specialists for Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Monte was on our program in May and everyone enjoyed his discussion very much. Monte will discuss more about variety selection for production and less problems, some information on planting trees this fall and winter, care of trees in August and September and orchard preparation for harvest.
Sponsors for the Pecan Field Day include Dow AgroSciences.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bacterial Leaf Spot of Tomato

Greasy Spot Fungus on Meyers Lemon

Greasy spot fungus can wreak havoc on citrus trees if not controlled. The fungus is shown on both sides of the leaf. Prevention is easy. Remove all fallen leaves which are the source of more fungus and do not get water on the leaves if possible. Treatment if necessary is with a copper based fungicide.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mushrooms on Mulch

A dry spell followed by good rain will always result in lots of
different mushrooms or fungus on wood mulches. Even old roots
underground will prove a great breeding ground for mushrooms.
Mushroms can even grow underground and be quite large.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Herbicide Damage on Tomato

Hormone herbicides are used on many lawns to kill weeds. But these
herbicides are very volitale and can twist and curl tomato plants in
the spring.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Vegetable “Turn Row” Tour Set for May 18

This has been an interesting year for vegetable producers. Lots of good winter and spring rains have been nice but it sure made things hard getting ready for spring production. Then we have a long cool spring that makes things slow to grow and now we can't seem to get rain. The weather is always a mystery but there are many things growers can do to improve production and promote earliness.
Vegetable growers, small or large, are invited to an informal "Turn Row" tour on Tuesday, May 18th. We will start the tour at the Stiles Farm at 1 PM. The Stiles Farm is located on Hwy 79 just east of Thrall and there is a sign on the highway. At the Stiles Farm we will look at several variety tests including a sweet corn test with 8 varieties, a tomato test with 19 varieties and a watermelon test with 20 varieties. We can discuss the varieties, fertility, weed control and how weather has affected growth. Two general pesticide CEU's will be given to pesticide applicators. Next we will travel to the Selking Farm located on County Road 413 just north of Taylor off FM 619. John has done some unique things this year and he is willing to visit with growers about his production practices. You will also see some of the same variety tests at his farm.
If you are interested in attending the Vegetable "Turn Row" Tour please email alrichey@ag.tamu.edu or call the Extension office at 512/943-3300
to sign up.

Bob Whitney, CEA-Ag

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wheat and Oat Plots Nearing Harvest

Number            Entry Name    Description               Seeding rate (lb/a)
1                       Duster            Hard Wheat                60
2                       Deliver           Hard Wheat                60
3                       Fuller             Hard Wheat                60
4                       Fannin           Hard Wheat                60
5                      Coronado       Hard Wheat                60
6                      TAM 203       Hard Wheat                60
7                      TAM 304       Hard Wheat                60
8                      TAM 401       Hard Wheat                60
9                      Jackpot          Hard Wheat                60
10                    Pete               Hard Wheat                60
11                   TAMO 405     Oat                            90
12                   TAMO 406     Oat                             90
13                    TAMO 606    Oat                             90
14                    Horizon 314    Oat                             90
15                    LA 99016       Oat                            90
16                    TX02U7682    Experimental Oat       90
17                    TX05CS347-1 Experimental Oat      90
18                   TX05CS542    Experimental Oat        90
19                   TX05CS556    Experimental Oat         90
20                    TX07CS3697 Experimental Oat         90

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Transplanting Pomagranates

Moving up these pomagranate "sticks" from the starter pots to larger pots.  I took 24 sticks from each of 10 varieties to plant.  These came from a pomagranate fruit orchard that Dr. Larry Stein started in Uvalde.  We selected the most cold hardy to try here.  After a few more months I hope to move them to the field.  So far I have really good success on most except for Wonderful which looks like only 5 or 6 took. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Dr. Appel Speaking at Oak Wilt Workshop

  Dr. Dave Appel, Extension Plant Pathologist and Jim Houser with the Texas Forest Service did a great job in the Oak Wilt Workshop on May 7th.  The 45 who attended learned all about tree diseases and problems with a special emphasis on Oak Wilt.  It is treatable and I will include some treatment pictures in another post.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Great Pecan Meeting

Monte Nesbitt is speaking to the group about zinc nutrition along with orchard fertility.  He also spoke on varieties naming Kanza, Pawnee, Lakota and Caddo as great pecans to plant.  If you want a larger nut then add Nacono to the list as well.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Great May Pecan Meeting

The May 5th pecan meeting held at the Schwegmann orchard was great.  Look at the chart and you can see when to spray pecans for pecan nut casebearer.  Should be sometime next week.  We found our first moths on May 3rd and using this date the model on PNC Forecast shows us having eggs on May 14 that we might find and some nut entry on May 22.  This is late for our area but we have had a cool spring.
Forecasted Event Dates
Percent OvipositionDate
10%May 12
25%May 14
50%May 17
75%May 20
90%May 22
First Nut Entry : May 22

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rocks Can Grow Plants Too!

I took this picture at San Gabriel Park in Georgetown. This Elm is at least two years old and is doing great growing in the middle of this limestone rock. These rocks can hold lots of water and nutrients and are why west Williamson county looks so beautiful with so little soil.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Stiles Farm Field Day scheduled June 15

New cotton systems, row-crop fertility issues and herbicide-tolerant sorghum are a few of the topics that headline the 47th Stiles Farm Field Day scheduled June 15.

The Stiles Farm is located at 5700 Farm-to-Market Road 1063, near the intersection of U.S. Highway 79 and Farm-to-Market Road 1063, 1 mile east of Thrall. The event is free with registration starting at 7:45 a.m. At 8:30 a.m., tours will begin with the following scheduled presentations:

- Herbicide-tolerant sorghum and new weed technology, Dr. Paul Baumann, Texas AgriLife Extension Service weed specialist.

- Row-crop fertility issues-nutrient availability, Dr. Mark McFarland, AgriLife Extension soil fertility weed specialist.

- New cotton systems, Dr. Gaylon Morgan, AgriLife Extension cotton specialist.

- Cotton root rot update, Dr. Tom Isakeit, AgriLife Extension plant pathologist.

- Variety testing in Texas-grains, Dennis Pietsch, research associate specializing in crop testing with Texas AgriLife Research.

- Variety testing in Texas-cotton, Dr. C. Wayne Smith, professor of cotton breeding, Texas A&M University Department of Soil and Crop Science.

At noon, youth scholarships will be presented and the Taylor Agriculturalist of the Year will be named for 2010. A barbecue meal will follow, sponsored by the Taylor Chamber of Commerce.

Afternoon sessions will begin at 1:30 p.m. featuring the following topics:

- Equipment demonstrations featuring strip-till equipment, sprayers, guidance systems and more.

- Seedless watermelon production, Bob Whitney AgriLife Extension agent for Williamson County.

- Strip-till field studies featuring personnel from the Stiles Farm Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Producers with a Texas Department of Agriculture pesticide applicator license will receive three continuing education units for attending the field day. Three commercial crop advisor units will also be available.

The Stiles Farm is a non-profit, self-supporting institution established by bequest of the late J.V. and H.A. Stiles for the advancement of agriculture to benefit all Texans. A field day is held at the Stiles Farm each year to introduce producers to the latest research and best management practices.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Early Season Pecan Management Tour

Homeowners with just one tree to the large commercial pecan growers are all facing a short crop and low pecan prices. This may be the year that detailed management pays off and the Early Season Pecan Management Tour will focus on the details of doing the right things early to insure a successful pecan year. In particular the seminar will focus on pest problems but included will be information on a variety of subjects as well.
The Early Season Pecan Management Tour will be held on Wednesday, May 5th at the David Schwegmann Orchard north of Georgetown off the north bound I35 service road just before Hwy 195. Exit I35 at the NE Inner Loop (exit #262) and stay on the service road north and turn at the Pecan Tour Sign. Registration will start at 9:30 a.m. and the program will begin at 10:00 a.m., and last through a catered lunch. The tour will include two pesticide applicator credits, one in general and one in IPM. To preregister call the Williamson County Extension office at 512/943-3300 or email at rwhitney@ag.tamu.edu. Cost is $5.00 per individual to offset meal costs. Sponsors include Dow AgroSciences, Bayer, Syngenta and Southern Nut and Tree.
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid, service or accommodation in order to participate in this program are encouraged to contact Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Williamson County at 512/943-3300 by May 1 to determine how reasonable accommodations can be made.
Speakers for the Early Season Tour include Bill Ree, Extension IPM Specialist for Pecans. Growers in this area have heard Bill discuss insect management before but the drought and the changes it causes can catch growers off-guard.
Also on the program is Monte Nesbitt, new Extension Horticulturalist for Pecans. Monte will address several issues including fertility, zinc, weeds, and varieties.
Remember to call in your reservation! In addition, if you would like to receive this letter and other upcoming events from our office via email, please call or email Alisa Richey at 512-943-3300 or alrichey@ag.tamu.edu.

Oak Wilt and other Tree Diseases Workshop

If high summer temperatures and lingering drought weren’t enough to humiliate landscapes add in the Oak Wilt disease and homeowners are finally ready to sell out and move into an apartment!
This has been a terribly hot, dry summer for lawns, trees and shrubs. Homeowners have had some of the largest water bills in history but heat and drought are not the only cause of death for thousands of Live and Red Oak trees in Williamson County. We can blame the disease Ceratocystis fagacearum commonly known as Oak Wilt with steadily marching across the county landscape killing oak trees that are hundreds of years old. Add in the problem with Hypoxylon Canker on many species and a host of other problems in trees and we will see trees go down for years to come.
To help Master Gardeners, Professional Landscapers and even landowners better understand Oak Wilt and other Tree Diseases and know more about possible treatment options, Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas Forest Service have teamed up to offer the program “Oak Wilt and other Tree Diseases Workshop.” This is a day-long workshop starting at 8:30 a.m. and ending with an oak wilt injection demonstration close to 5:00 p.m. The training will be offered at the Williamson County Training Room, 3151 SE Inner Loop in Georgetown and end at the demonstration site. Cost is $10 and includes a catered lunch and break. You must preregister by paying $10 in advance to secure your spot. 3 Pesticide Credits will be offered to Private, Non-Commercial and Commercial applicators, one in IPM and two in General.
Speakers for the program will include Rob Grotty, Staff Forester with the Texas Forest Service (TFS), Jim Houser, TFS Oak Wilt Coordinator and Dr. Dave Appel, Extension Plant Pathologist and Associate Department Head of Plant Pathology at Texas A&M University.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Great Budding and Grafting Workshop

Larry Jim Womack from Womack's Nursery in DeLeon did a great job
showing everyone how to bud and graft pecans and peaches. Should have been there!

Pecan Sawfly

The pecan sawfly is a tiny wasp that lays eggs near pecan leaves and the larva then chews holes in the leaves. The leaves look like someone used a shotgun on them! The larva are generally not considered more than a nusiance but if you are not familiar with their damage you may think they are hurting the tree. They only have one generation per year.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Is It Time To Control Grassburrs?

Every year about this time lawn and garden supply stores will put up the signs saying it is now time to control grassburrs. Anyone with a grassburr problem certainly wants to do everything that they can to control this problem grass but it sure seems early to control them when the lawn hasn’t even started to green up.
The real problem with controlling grassburrs is that we want to get them before they put out those pesky seedheads. This particular weed is in the monocot or grass family and it is one of the warm season grasses. It functions like most other annual grasses in that it produces seed, that seed lays dormant on the soil until the right combination of light and moisture occur to germinate. It takes fairly warm air temperatures along with warm soil temperature to get grassburr seed to germinate since it is a warm season grass. The problem for the homeowner is knowing when all the right conditions will happen so that you can apply a PREEMERGE HERBICIDE before they do happen.
Herbicide is simply a herb killer meaning that it will kill plants. A preemerge herbicide is applied before the plant emerges from the soil and so it kills the plant before it has a chance to really grow. In order for preemerges to work they must be applied before all the conditions are right to germinate the seed. Some of these warm days it certainly feels like spring has sprung. It may feel warm but the soil is still cold and so the seeds wont germinate. In a few weeks though we will have seen our last frost and the days and nights will start warming quickly and then grassburrs will come alive. Because we don’t know for certain when all this will happen we apply preemerges early, usually the first two weeks in March to be ahead of the warm weather. The problem with applying them this early is that they don’t last long enough in the season. Many homeowners have complained that preemerges don’t work when what really happened is that the homeowner didn’t make a second application later in the season. These products are good but they are not so good as to last forever.
One question I also get asked a lot about is, “does corn gluten meal work?” Well for good information I like to go to the source so I looked up Dr. Nick Christians’ website in the Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University. Dr. Christians did the initial research on corn gluten meal as a preemerge in turf and he holds the U.S. government patent for its use as a preemerge. This is what he says, “Consumer acceptance of corn gluten meal as a natural herbicide has been good in the turf market. To date, most of its use has been on home lawns, but professional use has been increasing. Like any natural product, it has some disadvantages. You should time its application in the 4- to 6-week period before target-weed germination, which means that you must have a good knowledge of weeds and their life cycles. Use in the first year generally results in a reduction of 50 to 60 percent of the target weeds and 2 to 3 years are necessary to match the results of synthetic pre-emergence herbicides. The product is also more expensive than synthetic weed-and-feed materials. In another test Dr. Paul Baumann, Extension Weed Specialist tested corn gluten meal and found at 3 times the rate had 0% control of grassburrs. He conducted this test for two years.
The target market for the product is the growing number of people who refuse to use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers but still want to do something about their weed problem and are willing to pay the higher price.” He recommends 20#’s per 1000 square feet of lawn. The price of this is more than $30 per 50# bag.
To sum up this discussion you first need to get everything ready to put out a preemerge. You need to buy a good product that is okay for your grass and of course has grassburr control on the label and hopefully how long they will be controlled. When you apply the product it is very good to go in two directions for complete coverage. Just split the material in half and go one way then go the opposite direction with the other half. The lastly make sure you put on the second application based on what the label says. Satisfaction guaranteed!

Growing Asparagus Is Really Easy

Asparagus grows well in the Central Texas area being suited to the cooler climate here versus southeast Texas. A well tended asparagus bed can yield 24 to 30 pounds per 100 foot of row and for most of us this is just enough for your family and close friends. Asparagus is a perennial plant that can last 15 to 20 years without replanting if it is cared for properly.

Asparagus is planted from 1 year old plants or “crowns” and the time to plant is now until the weather turns warm. It takes about 3 years from the time you plant until the bed is in full production. Once the bed is in production you will see the buds or “spears” emerge from the soil line. Within a day or maybe two the spear is 4-10 inches long and is ready to be cut just below the soil surface. You can harvest asparagus for 4-6 weeks before the spears become smaller or you just get tired of eating it. Once harvest is complete the spears will grow into fern-like stalks six feet tall. It is a beautiful plant once fully grown and could be part of a flower garden if planted towards the back.

To plant asparagus you need a site that can be left alone for many years and it sure does help if there are no greenbriers or bermudagrass etc. in the bed area because once you plant you have to deal with these problems year after year. Before digging your bed add lots of organic matter and 2-3 pounds of 10-20-10 for every 20 foot of row. Till all this in thoroughly before digging your trench. The planting trench should be 4-6 inches wide and 6-12 inches deep. Plant the crowns in the bottom of the trench about 12 inches apart and fill in the trench with only 2-3 inches of soil. As you go through the first season you will continue to fill in the trench until it is full at the end of the year. We plant crowns this deep so you can come back and lightly till the bed in the winter without damaging the crowns.

Care in the season is really easy. Asparagus needs deep waterings every few days to promote deep root growth. Under the right conditions asparagus roots can grow 10-12 feet deep. Weeding is done by hand throughout the season although a heavy mulch layer will help keep weeds from being a problem.

Every year after the first killing frost you will remove the top fern growth at the ground level and fertilize with lots of compost and even some nitrogen fertilizer to promote rapid growth.

The last thing to consider is the proper variety. Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight, Jersey Supreme, UC157, and Purple Passion. Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight and Jersey Supreme and are all-male hybrids that are considered more productive since they do not waste energy on producing seed. The cost is higher initially but worth it in the long run. The crowns are shipped directly to you and should be as soon as they arrive then watch how quickly they grow.

All About Skunks

The skunk is a member of the weasel family and there are four species in North America. The four species are the striped skunk, by far the most common, the hooded skunk, the spotted skunk and the hog-nosed skunk.

The striped skunk is characterized by the lateral white stripes down its back with jet black fur. The body of the skunk is about the size of an ordinary house cat with short stocky legs and large feet. It has very well developed claws that enable it to be very good at digging. The major characteristic of skunks is the ability to discharge terrible smelling musk from the anal glands, and they can discharge several times not just one. The range of the striped skunk is all of the U.S. including the northern most part of Mexico.

Adult skunks breed in late February and gestation lasts between 7 to 10 weeks in length and there is only one litter per year. Litters usually consist of 4-6 young but the range is 2 to 16. The young skunks will stay with the female until fall. Skunks can live 10 years but most only survive for 3 years in the wild. The normal range for a skunk is ½ to 2 miles in diameter but a male may travel 4-5 miles.

Skunks move about and feed at night and are rather slow-moving and deliberate. They really have no fear of other animals including humans because of their great ability to defend themselves. This is certainly why they are moving into cities as their populations increase.

Skunks eat plant and animal foods in about equal amounts during fall and winter. They eat considerably more animal matter during spring and summer when insects, their preferred food, are more available. Field and house mice are regular and important items in the skunk diet which explains why they move into crawl spaces, garages, shops, etc. in winter.

Skunks are very adept at burrowing. They burrow under porches, houses, foundations and can burrow for many feet before emerging. One morning I was sitting on my back porch and heard some sort of scratching sound. After a few minutes I got up and walked out into the yard to look under the porch when I stepped off into the skunk burrow and almost fell on top of the skunk. Luckily both of us were to scared to do anything, he ran one direction and I ran the other.

The only methods for control of skunks is exclusion and/or trapping. It is very good idea to completely seal off all entrances underneath your house. Let me back up and say that first you should put out mouse poison under your house and then seal off the foundation. Any places that a skunk could dig under lay chicken wire on the ground to stop the digging. Grass will grow right through the wire but the skunk cant dig. Properly dispose of garbage or other food. Don’t leave bagged garbage in a garage, or by a back door, put it in a covered trash can well away from the house. Clean up your yard, removing old stacks of lumber, fence posts, etc. to remove hiding places and discourage skunks.

Skunks can be caught in live traps very successfully. Place a live trap near the den entrance and put canned fish flavored food in the trap to lure the skunk in. Once the trap is set, cover it with a tarp to create a dark, secure environment for the skunk. This tarp is very important because if you keep the skunk covered completely you can then move the trap away from your property without getting sprayed. What you do with the skunk is your business, the striped skunk is not a protected species.

Lastly, the skunk is a carrier of rabies which is the primary reason we are concerned about exposures to rabid skunks in the city. Everyone needs to first have their pets vaccinated for rabies. Rabid skunks will be out in the daytime which is not normal, they will be aggressive and they will approach a person without hesitation. Because of this everyone needs to be very careful and by all means warn your children about the problem.

Pruning Peach Trees

The main goals of pruning are to maintain tree form to an open center which facilitates light penetration and air circulation, and to partially control crop size by selectively thinning out fruiting wood. Peach trees bear fruit only on one year old wood. Dormant pruning is an invigorating action which results in a healthy canopy to produce the current season's crop and allow for ample production potential for the following year. Another pruning objective is to lower the fruiting zone to a height which can be hand-harvested from the ground. Topping trees at 7 -8 feet usually accomplishes this objective because the weight of the crop will bring limbs down where the fruit can be easily reached. Additional objectives of pruning are to remove dead or diseased shoots, rootstock suckers, and vegetative water sprouts from the center of the tree. When thinning out fruiting wood, remove old gray-colored, slow growing shoots which are not fruitful and leave one-year-old, red, 18 - 24 inch bearing shoots.

Four Steps to Prune a Mature Peach Tree
Remove all hanger shoots, rootstock suckers, and water sprouts in the lower three feet of the tree. This removal of lower growth clears a path for herbicide applications and allows for air circulation.

Remove all shoots above seven feet in height other than red 18 - 24 inch fruiting shoots. Cuts need to be at selected points where the scaffold and sub-scaffold limbs extend upward at a 45 - 50-degree angle. Cuts which leave limbs sideways at a 90-degree angle should be avoided.

Remove all vigorous shoots which grow toward the inside of the tree.

Remove all old gray wood in the three to seven foot production zone.
Always remove bull shoots in the middle of the trees any time they develop. Summer pruning immediately after harvest can help reduce bull shoots in the top of the tree.

Peach pruning normally removes 40 percent of the tree each winter. This reduces the number of fruit on the tree and stimulates strong growth of fruiting wood each year. Proper pruning is one of the keys to a long peach tree life.

Pruning paint is not needed. Wear gloves, long sleeves, eye protection, and a cap which covers the ears to prevent injury.

Late-spring frost is the single greatest factor in Texas peach production, and pruning early in the year removes much of the flower bud crop that constitutes "insurance" against crop loss. The peach tree will bloom soon after pruning when chilling is satisfied and warm weather follows. Growers with only a few trees can wait until "pink bud" to prune while larger growers traditionally prune as late in the spring as they can while still allowing for enough time to complete the task. Mature peach trees often take 20 to 30 minutes to prune properly.

What Do Things Cost?

I ran onto this article from Bob Sakata, who is the National Onion Association President and I enjoyed it so much I want to share some of the details with you and let you make some comparisons on what things cost now versus 50 years ago.
A 40 hp IHM cost $2,400 50 years ago or $60 per hp. Today a 40 hp John Deere costs about $46,000 or $1,150 per hp. The multiplier would be 19 or 19 times $1,150 equals $46,000. Minimum wage was 30 cents per hour 50 years ago and today it is $5.15 and moving higher. The multiplier would be 17. A pickup truck 50 years ago was $750, today $12,000 or even higher with a multiplier of 22. Onion seed $4.50 per pound, today $100 and the multiplier would be 22. Land was $200 per acre while today good land for onions would be $4,000. The multiplier would be 20. 50 years ago a bag of onions was 75¢ per bag. Take the multiplier of say 19 times 75¢ that would equal $14.25 per bag at today’s prices and unfortunately for onion producers they are not anywhere near that price.
Okay that sounds well and good but we don’t grow onions around here. What about the crops we grow. I just happen to have a book called Texas Historical Crops Statistics and it has prices back to 1909 on many crops but I will just use 1950's data to get close to onions.
In 1950 corn brought $1.26 per bushel and that times 19 would equal $23.94. Hay in 1950 brought $21.70 per ton which would equal $412 per ton today. Peanuts brought $206 per ton in 1950 times 19 would equal $3,914 today. Pecans were 26¢ a pound in 1950 and today they should bring $4.94 a pound but they only bring $2. Wheat was $1.96 per bushel fifty years ago and today it should bring $37.24/bu.
Now I know that this theory can be shot full of holes because things are different now, farmers are more efficient. Every time a new more efficient variety or machine or practice came along farmers implemented it and as a result they made more crops or had better livestock. This in turn produced more “units” so that the price went down. Farmers have in essence produced more than we need and the government has promoted a policy of cheap food. All these new innovations have caused farmers to get bigger and bigger until we now have less than 1% of our population involved in full time agriculture. Along with this increase in size and decrease in numbers, we have folks who want to shut down the “factory farm” which is what they call these large, efficient farms. The very thing that drove farmers to be larger (the drop in the cost of onions or wheat or hay or milk to the consumer) is the thing none of the consumers could stand to see change. How much would bread cost if wheat was $37 per bushel versus $3.
Bob Sakata puts it best when he says “the major concern today is whether additional efficiencies can be found in agriculture to offset continuing cost or expense increases.” He worries that agriculture may have reached the “road of no return”, since increased efficiency is harder and harder to come by.
Well let me finish by saying that Bob Sakata may have put in print what you can hear from any farmer in this county. Just stop one and ask and then be prepared to stay awhile.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pomegranate Fruit Variety Trial

In our heavy, high pH but highly fertile blackland soils we struggle to find fruits that can be grown and are productive. Pomegranates are one of those fruits that have become very popular over that last few years. They are nutritious, healthy, loaded with antioxidants, and really easy to grow. They seem to love our soils and except for the possibility of hard freezes killing young trees they seem to do very well in our area. I have found lots of old pomegranate trees around older homes and homesites and the trees are doing great. I don’t have a clue what variety they are but they are surviving and producing fruit, which is quite an accomplishment considering the abuse they are getting.
A couple of years ago Dr. Larry Stein and Jim Kamas, Extension Horticulturalists, established a pomegranate variety trial in Fredericksburg and in Uvalde. This winter I have taken cuttings of the 10 most productive and cold tolerant varieties to plant here in Williamson County. It is my hope to grow these in two locations and eventually to evaluate fruit production and quality. The 10 varieties are listed below, some like wonderful you might recognize but others are fairly new to Texas. I will keep you up to date on progress and if all goes well we may have Extension AgriLife Pomegranate recommendations for Williamson County.
Spanish Sweet
Utah Sweet
Purple Heart

Williamson County Soil Test Results

From 2008-09 there were 573 soil samples submitted to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service Soils Lab in College Station. Dr. Tony Provin is the Extension Soil Chemist and Soils Lab Director and he sends me the combined results of those soil samples every year so that I can see any trends. I love to use these for folks so that they have a general idea of what to expect and also they can compare their individual results with the county averages. Dr. Provin sends me results on all the nutrients but I am only discussing the ones that make the most difference.
First on the list is pH which is a measure of the alkalinity or acidity of a soil. This affects how plants grow because it affects nutrient uptake. We can’t grow some plants here simply because our soil pH is too high. Of 573 samples, 445 samples ranged from 7.1 - 8.2 pH. 56 were below 7.0 or slightly acidic and 72 samples were above 8.2 or moderately alkaline. At 8.2 you can really see iron chlorosis problems show up in plants.
Nitrogen is used in large quantities by plants and it what really makes plants grow and look green. So we need lots of nitrogen and most soils in our area are low or should be. Some samples are high which means that growers are probably over-fertilizing and not soil testing before applying fertilizer. Of all the samples 312 were below 10 ppm, which means 20 lbs per acre of nitrogen. 121 samples were 11-20 ppm and 140 samples were above 20 ppm which is very high. The highest sample was 1047 ppm which is unbelievable.
Phosphorus results were a lot more scattered in results. 50 ppm is considered the critical value above which you would not need to apply any phosphorus. Values less than 50 would mean an application but still you wouldn’t need to add a lot. 173 samples had less than 10 ppm, 101 samples were between 11 ppm and 20 ppm, 134 between 21 and 50, 165 greater than 50 ppm. In our high pH soils when you start to get higher phosphorus levels you can really see problems with iron chlorosis in plants. Fortunately fertilizer companies are starting to see the problem in Texas and selling fertilizers with little or no phosphorus for homeowners.
Basically of the 573 samples we don’t have a potassium shortage! 466 samples had more than 175 ppm which is the critical value for potassium. This means that no potassium is needed and probably won’t be needed for a long time.
Lastly I have included calcium. Calcium is one of those nutrients we have an abundance of in our soils. That is not hard to understand when you think about all the limestone (calcium carbonate) that is in and under our soils. One of the largest limestone mines is in our county so finding calcium is not too hard! Of all 573 samples565 had more than 3000 ppm. So don’t add any limestone or gypsum to these soils, you are only wasting your money.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Native and Improved Pasture Seminar Set

The Extension Livestock and Range Committee in Williamson County has planned an excellent seminar for native range and improved grass producers in the area. There is not a single livestock producer that doesn’t want to be able to graze more animal units on their pastures without hurting long term forage growth. Knowing how to properly manage native rangeland or better utilizing improved pasture grasses is the goal of every livestock producer and this seminar will answer many the questions producers have. The goal of the committee is to answer producers questions like, should I plant range grasses or bermudagrass?, should I rotate my pastures and when?, what is the best grass to plant?, should I fertilize?, and more.

The Native and Improved Pasture Seminar is to be held Thursday, February 18 at the St. Cyril & Methodious Hall in Granger. Registration and Meal will start at 5:30 PM and the program at 6:00 PM. There will be two (2) General Pesticide CEU's offered. Speakers will include Dr. Bob Lyons on Native Pasture Management, Dr. Larry Redmon on Improved Pasture Management and Ron Leps on Pasture Management in Williamson County. Cost is $5 at the door and participants must preregister by email rwhitney@ag.tamu.edu or by phone 512/943-3300.

The program will begin with Dr. Robert Lyons, Extension Range Specialist - Uvalde, an expert in native range grasses and grazing systems. Dr. Lyons will discuss rangeland grazing systems, determining your forage base, protecting your forages from overgrazing, and newer selections of range grasses for seeding. Dr. Lyons will focus on properly managing the fragile ecosystem we have on our native ranges while increasing their productivity with livestock and wildlife management.

Following Dr. Lyons will be Dr. Larry Redmon, State Extension Forage Specialist - College Station. Dr. Redmon is an expert in improved forage production, specifically bermudagrasses. Dr. Redmon was formally at the Overton Research and Extension Center where he did work in bermudagrass variety evaluation, grazing management of improved forages, overseeding bermudagrass, and fertility and weed control of improved pastures. Dr. Redmon will focus on improved pasture programs that will help livestock producers improve quality and quantity to maximize livestock return. He will also discuss some brand new weed control options with preemerge chemicals.

Last on the program is Ron Leps, Retired Williamson County Extension Agent. Mr. Leps has extensive experience with managing pastures in this area and he will relate some of his experiences to producers. Ron will help producers know what works in the area but more importantly what doesn’t work.

Make plans to attend the Native and Improved Pasture Seminar, Thursday, February 18 at the Hall in Granger. Sponsors are Williamson County Grain Inc. in Taylor, Dow AgroSciences, BASF Crop Protection, and Capital Farm Credit in Taylor.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Feral Hog Seminar Offered January 14

There is probably no animal in Texas that has had more publicity than the Feral Hog. Certainly in this area of Texas it has been the year for problems with all wildlife and feral hogs top the list. This animal has wrecked havoc with farmers and ranchers for years but as they have grown in numbers they have moved into neighborhoods and are now the newest “bad boy” on the block. Most people just want them gone but that is not possible. Management is the only choice and that begins with an understanding of this very adaptable creature.
Texas AgriLife Extension Service of Williamson County and the Little River-San Gabriel Soil and Water Conservation District will sponsor a Feral Hog Management Seminar, Thursday, January 14, 2010 at the St. Cyril & Methodious Hall in Granger, Texas. Registration is $5 per person and includes an evening meal and program handouts. Registration will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the program beginning at 6 p.m. Program topics include feral hog biology and population dynamics, laws and regulations for hunting feral hogs, agricultural regulations for feral hogs, methods of controlling hogs including trapping, use of dogs and loading feral hogs. 2 hours of CEU credits will be offered (1.0 in Laws & Regulations and one in General) to private, commercial and non-commercial pesticide applicators.
Speakers include Dr. Jim Cathey, Extension Wildlife Specialist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Jacob Hetzel, Wildlife Biologist with Texas Wildlife Services.
To get a proper meal count you must preregister by calling the Little River-San Gabriel Soil and Water Conservation District office at 254-527-3271.

Vegetable and Fruit Growers Shortcourse Set for January 21

South Central Texas vegetable and fruit growers won’t want to miss the upcoming Vegetable and Fruit Growers Shortcourse sponsored by Texas AgriLife Extension Service set for January 21 at the Taylor City Hall Building in Taylor, Texas. South Central Texas is home to many different kinds of fresh fruit and vegetable growers from very small, backyard types to large scale shipper-growers but all are interested in the latest and best technology possible. The Shortcourse will feature the three most well known vegetable and fruit Extension specialists in Texas and the Southwest. There will be lots of new technology and resources with time for idea sharing among specialists and growers. The Shortcourse registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. with the program beginning at 9:00 a.m. and continuing through 2:30 p.m. It will include lunch and educational materials and two continuing education credits in general for licensed private, non-commercial and commercial applicators. Cost of the program is $10 per person.
The first speaker for the Shortcourse will be Dr. Larry Stein, Extension Horticulturalist in Uvalde. Dr. Stein has responsibility for all horticulture crops in the south part of Texas and is a recognized expert in many areas of vegetable crops. He will address nutrient requirements of vegetable crops and vegetable irrigation in his talk.
Next on the agenda is Dr. Joe Masabni, Extension Vegetable Specialist at College Station. Dr. Masabni travels across the state doing research in vegetable crops and giving programs in vegetable production. Dr. Masabni specializes in weed control including use of mulches, both organic and plastics and will address this critical area in vegetable production.
After lunch the program will shift to fruit production with Jim Kamas. Mr. Kamas is the regional Extension fruit specialist with a particular interest in grapes. He is based in Fredericksburg but travels throughout the state to talk about fruit production. Jim will discuss the crops adapted to this area, requirements for growing them and potential for any new crops.
To reserve a seat at the Vegetable and Fruit Growers Shortcourse call the Williamson County Extension Office at 512/943-3300 or email rwhitney@ag.tamu.edu.