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.

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.