Gage County Extension

October 2022

In This Issue:


Office closed for Columbus Day October 10th

Horticulture - Nicole Stoner

Drought and Fall Irrigation

Water and Integrated Cropping Systems- Nathan Mueller

Give Alfalfa A Fall Rest

Food, Nutrition & Health - Tara Dunker

Understand Product Dates to Save Money.

4-H & Youth Development - Jacie Milius

National 4-H Week

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Currently, most of the state is in at least a moderate drought, with many areas affected by severe, extreme, and even exceptional drought conditions. The Farmer’s almanac is calling for a cold, dry winter, again, so moving into that with drought conditions already could be devastating to our plants.

Long-term Effects of Drought on Landscape Plants

Drought conditions can cause the leaves to wilt, scorch, or fall prematurely in the fall. You may have noticed your trees defoliating a little early this year and that is due to heat and drought conditions. Drought can also cause branch dieback and even possibly death of the tree if the drought conditions go on too long or are not corrected through irrigation.

Roots are vital to the growth and health of our trees and shrubs. In drought conditions, the root hairs are the first part of the root system to be affected by dry soil conditions (University of Massachusetts Amherst). The dieback of the root hairs reduces the water absorbing capacity of the plant. More established and older plants are able to overcome this lack of root hairs over time and as soil moisture is restored, however, newly planted trees suffer most because they already have a reduced root system.

When trees are water stressed, their first response is to close the stomatal openings on the leaves (University of Massachusetts Amherst). This reduces the plant’s ability to bring in carbon dioxide to use for photosynthesis, which is how our trees make their own sugars.

Drought stress on our trees and shrubs can be ongoing. The stress put on our plants through drought can increase their susceptibility to insect and disease issues later. They have to work harder to find water to survive which causes their defense system to diminish. It can take multiple years of normal precipitation to get our trees back to their full health again following a drought.

Effects of Drought on Lawns

This year we have all seen a great deal of browning in the lawns due to drought. In some cases, the lawn may have just gone dormant due to the hot, dry weather we have seen all summer. In other cases, though, the lawn may have died due to drought. If your lawn was Kentucky bluegrass, chances are it is dormant and it will green up again in the fall or next spring. If your lawn was tall fescue, chances are it is dead if it is brown, tall fescue doesn’t go dormant as well as bluegrass. The tall fescue in this situation will need to be reseeded.

Fall Irrigation
Fall and winter watering is extremely important, especially this year during a drought. Use a soaker hose to ensure that the soil is wet down to 8-12 inches deep surrounding these plants and at least out to the dripline of those trees. Mulch can also help keep moisture near the plants, the goal is to keep the soil moist, not soggy and not dry. Irrigation is important, but remember to fight the human tendency of “nurturing” that we all have. Keep in mind that even though we are in a drought, more new trees are killed from overwatering, not underwatering.

Remember to continue irrigation through the winter months, despite the fact trees are dormant. Water throughout the winter when the ground is not frozen, when necessary. Winter watering should occur during the day on days when the temperature is at least 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit and is only necessary 1-2 times per month until spring. It is a good idea to test for soil moisture with a long screwdriver or soil probe prior to watering to determine if watering is necessary. If the screwdriver goes into the soil easily, watering is not necessary. However, if pushing the screwdriver into the soil is very difficult, plants should be watered.

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Give Alfalfa A Fall Rest-By Nathan Mueller

Learn more in this article about the importance of not cutting alfalfa during the winterizing or fall resting period in September and October.

What risks are there for cutting alfalfa in the fall? When and how long is the alfalfa fall resting period or winterizing period? What impact will cutting alfalfa during this ongoing drought have this fall? The answers to these questions can help you make an informed decision on whether to take another cutting of alfalfa in 2022.

When and how long is the alfalfa fall resting period? Alfalfa needs about 6 weeks of uninterrupted growth each fall to be fully winterized before the first hard freeze. The first fall hard freeze of 28 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours for the most recent 30-year normal (1991-2020) was October 19 for Beatrice and October 21 for Fairbury according to the National Weather Service. Therefore, no cutting or grazing would be recommended

Understand Product Dates to Save Money-Tara Dunker

I hate to break it to you, but dietitians don’t always eat beautifully packed lunches—in my case, the rate of photo-worthy lunches is closer to never.

Instead, I often prioritize snagging whatever has almost, but not quite, gone bad from my fridge. Earlier this week, that meant grabbing a half-eaten container of cottage cheese that had met its “best by” deadline the day before (still smelled fine) and an equally used up container of blueberries.

Don’t worry. I do keep a well-stocked drawer of Tara-forgot-her-lunch-again foods in my office, so I didn’t go hungry.

But I think this does a good job of pointing to the importance of understanding product dates in an effort to reduce food waste and save money in this increasingly expensive world.

In case you’re often left wondering how to interpret these dates in your own home, let’s break them down.

First, know that except for infant formulas, product dates are not expiration dates. They are meant instead to tell consumers when a product should be used for best quality—not for food safety.

That milk in your fridge that’s about to pass its “use by” date? As long as you’ve stored it safely, it could be good for another four to seven days beyond the date marked on the carton.

The “sell by,” “best by,” and “use by” dates you see on foods can act as a guide for how long the product might last, but knowing what each means will help you reduce food waste in your home.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

-Stores use “sell by” dates to determine when to sell an item for best quality. This is not a safety deadline, but may indicate products that have been sitting on the shelf longer.

-Even if a “best by” date has passed on food you have at home, it should be safe to consume if stored and handled properly. This is the recommended date for best flavor or quality.

-When a product reaches its “use by” date, it means it’s no longer at peak quality according to the manufacturer.

Do you see a common thread?

All of these dates come down to food quality, not food safety. However, they’re still only a general guide based on the assumption that consumers are handling food properly.

Food can become unsafe at any time, either before or after the product dates listed on the package. This is because pathogens can contaminate any food not handled or stored properly.

Sometimes these pathogens are obvious, like moldy bread. But other times, contaminated food may show no visible signs of how unsafe it has become, which makes safe food handling practices so important.

Always wash your hands before handling food, separate raw meat and poultry from ready-to-eat foods, cook food to proper temperatures and get leftovers in the fridge as soon as possible.

And remember: When in doubt, go ahead and throw it out.

Find Your Spark! National 4-H Week - Oct 3-8 Jacie Milius

National 4-H Week is right around the corner! This year's celebration will take place October 3-8. Start planning your celebration now!

We recognize over 400 families in Gage County, the time donated by all our volunteer leaders, the fantastic support of hundreds of businesses and organizations across the county, and many others for countless ways you support 4-H youth. We work with the greatest people in the state of Nebraska!