URBANA, Ill.- The idea of putting in a raised-bed vegetable garden can be confusing if you’re not sure where to start, said a University of Illinois horticulture educator.
It can be especially difficult for schools and communities that have never put in gardens before. Spring is a great time to start planning for this year’s garden, said Candice Miller.
“A checklist can be helpful in putting in a raised-bed garden,” Miller said. “The list below can help you work through all the steps of putting in a raised-bed garden, from selecting a location for your raised bed, all the way through planting your bed.”
Step 1: Choose a location
- The location for a raised bed should be in full sun for most fruits and vegetables.
- It should be near a water source for easy watering and should be close to the building for convenient harvesting.
- The bed can face any direction, but if you are building a longer bed, orienting the bed east and west will provide better light distribution.
Step 2: Kill off existing vegetation where your raised bed will go
- Grass and weeds can grow up through the new bed so it’s best to kill off any existing grass and weeds prior to putting the soil in the bed.
- This can be done naturally by placing plastic, cardboard, or layers of newspaper down over the vegetation. This will eliminate all light from the plants and will kill off the growth over a few months’ time. This can be done in the fall so that the area is ready for spring planting. Newspaper or cardboard can be left at the bottom of the bed as it will degrade, but plastic should be removed prior to placing soil in order to not impede the drainage of your bed.
- Another method is to spray the existing vegetation with a herbicide, like glyphosate, to kill all existing vegetation. Follow the safety and application instructions on the product label.
Step 3: Choose your construction materials
- Raised beds can be constructed out of just about anything. Some of the most popular choices include redwood or cedar wood, concrete blocks, bricks, stone, and various recycled materials.
- Redwood and cedar are some of the longest-lasting woods for building raised beds.
- Some materials you want to avoid include some treated lumbers (read more about treated lumbers here: http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/freepubs/pdfs/uc173.pdf), creosote-treated railroad ties, and chemically treated pallet wood. Avoid any type of material that may be dangerous for food products to come in contact with. If these materials are used for bed construction, the bed may be lined with plastic to avoid contact of the materials with the soil.
- Choose whatever material will be the most economical and long lasting for your bed.
Step 4: Build your bed
- The size of the bed will depend on the number of people the bed will provide with food.
- Beds should be no more than 4 feet wide if accessible from both sides and 3 feet if accessible from one side. The length of the bed can be as long as needed.
- The depth of the bed should be at least 6 to 12 inches to promote good root growth.
- Beds built higher than 18 to 24 inches will need extra reinforcement.
- At least a 4-foot-wide pathway between beds is standard for easy accessibility. This pathway can also be covered with mulch, straw, newspaper, etc., to prevent weeds. It can be planted with grass as long as the pathway is large enough to allow a mower to pass through.
Step 5: Fill your bed with soil
- The soil used for the bed should include good topsoil and lots of organic matter. This can be any combination of: purchased topsoil, compost, fine pine bark mulch, or peat moss.
- A soil mixture example could be: 60 percent topsoil, 30 percent compost, 10 percent soilless growing mix that contains peat moss, perlite, and/or vermiculite.
- Various websites have soil calculators available that can tell you how much soil is needed for a certain bed size.
- It’s recommended (though not required) to test the soil using a soil test kit prior to planting and in years following to monitor pH and nutrient levels.
Step 6: Plant your bed
- Nearly anything can be grown in a raised bed. Cucurbit crops like melons and cucumbers may be better suited to a larger site though as they quickly fill a bed.
- Plant spacing is very important in a raised bed so that prime planting space is not wasted. Consult your seed packet for information on proper spacing. Information can also be found on U of I Extension websites (http://web.extension.illinois.edu/vegguide/step02.cfm) and in various books about ways to maximize planting space.
- Be sure to place taller vegetables on the appropriate side of the bed to prevent shading of other plants in the bed.
Visit the Illinois Vegetable Garden Guide website by U of I Extension for more information on raised beds and vegetable gardening: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/vegguide/.
NRES Master's Defense by Jack Pizzo
N-527 Turner Hall, 1102 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana, IL
NRES Master's Defense by Jack Pizzo
Title: Green and Natural Spaces in Your Community A Guide to Living with and Managing Naturalized Landscapes and Natural Areas
Sustainability (green infrastructure, wetland mitigation, sustainable landscaping and ecological restoration) has influenced site design and land management for the last 25 years. It has been my experience that land owners, public and private, have a limited knowledge of the reasons, costs, responsibilities, and benefits. As such, many of the projects failed to meet their goals and owner expectations. To date there has been no single non-technical publication to explain sustainability, and the science behind it, to the owners. The purpose of my project was to create a publication that explains the need for sustainability through engaging the owners’ professional and/or personal values. The goal was to provide a resource that will help any person develop a good understanding of the importance of sustainability in the landscape as well as support current and future projects.
Beware the infected bargain plant
URBANA, Ill. - Buying bargain plants at the garden center can be very tempting, but before buying that marked-down plant, it’s important to give it a good inspection, said a University of Illinois horticulture educator
“Usually when a plant is marked down, it’s either because it is toward the end of the season for that plant or because there is a problem with that plant,” said Candice Miller. “Some of these problems may include various diseases or insects that are infecting the plant that could then spread to other plants in your home or garden.
“Using some inspection techniques can help you decide whether that plant is a quality plant to purchase,” she added.
First inspect the leaves and stems of the plant closely. Look on the upper and lower sides of the leaf checking for any symptoms of insects feeding on the plant or for any sign of disease. Signs of insect feeding could include a sticky, shiny substance on the upper leaf surface, possibly caused by aphids. Or there may be white fuzz-covered insects called mealybugs that have attached themselves to stems or leaves. All are common pests that can infect potted plants.
Look for any browning, spotting, or wilting of leaves as well. “Those symptoms may be due to improper watering, but they may also be signs of other problems or disease,” Miller noted.
The root system is also important to inspect. Carefully turn the plant over and gently remove the root ball from the pot. Check to make sure roots look white and healthy and have formed a solid root ball that does not fall apart when pulled out of the pot. “Large circling roots may be a sign that the plant has been in that pot for an extended period of time and roots that are darkened and look diseased may be a symptom of disease problems,” Miller said.
As mentioned, the other reason a plant is marked down is simply because the season has ended for that plant. Amaryllis bulbs, for example, are commonly sold during the holidays as a kit that includes the bulb, soil, and a container. “I went through this inspection process myself recently at a garden center,” related Miller. “I love amaryllis so a 90 percent-off amaryllis bulb is hard to pass up. Upon inspecting the bulb, though, I noticed that the bulb had already begun to grow inside the package and there was mold growing on the bulb, likely from being in a moist, warm package for too long.
“If I had purchased that bulb kit, I likely would not have had success in getting it to grow and bloom. It was an example of when plant inspection pays off,” she said.
The next time you’re tempted by a bargain plant, be sure to give it a good inspection.
“If the plant passes inspection and is growing happily and healthily, that plant may be worth the reduced price as long as the planting time is still appropriate,” Miller said.
Beneficial anti-inflammatory effects observed when plant extracts fed to sick pigs
URBANA, Ill. – Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) is the most expensive and invasive disease for pig producers on a global scale. Though it is not occurring on every farm, it is the biggest disease problem in the pig industry, said a University of Illinois animal sciences researcher.
E. coli has also been a problem historically and continues to be on an industry-wide basis, said James Pettigrew. “Either disease can sweep through a farm so their alleviation would substantially reduce production costs. Even though many management practices have been used in the swine industry, these practices cannot guarantee freedom from disease for pigs,” he said.
Consumer concerns about bacterial resistance to antibiotics have prompted the swine industry to seek additional methods to protect the health of pigs, including special feed additives. This interest led Pettigrew and his team to explore the potential benefits of selected plant extracts
The researchers conducted two experiments to test the beneficial effects of adding plant extracts to pig diets to combat PRRS and E. coli. In both experiments, researchers used four diets in weanling pigs, including a control diet and three additional diets that included garlic botanical extracted from garlic, turmeric oleoresin extracted from ginger, or capsicum oleoresin from pepper. In both experiments, half of the pigs in each dietary treatment were challenged with either E. coli or PRRS virus while the other half of the pigs were non-challenged.
“We’ve known for a long time that plant extracts, also called essential oils or botanicals, have certain biological actions,” said Yanhong Liu, a doctoral student who led the studies. “For instance, they can act as antioxidants or as antimicrobials. We wanted to test whether we could get a benefit from feeding those products in very low doses to pigs that were challenged with these specific diseases.”
E. coli, a bacterial illness of the gut, is marked by diarrhea, decrease in appetite, decrease in body weight, and in some cases, a higher mortality rate. E. coli is especially dangerous post-weaning as pigs adapt to new feed and new environments, Pettigrew said.
The pigs in the study challenged with E. coli that had been fed any of the three plant extracts had a lower frequency of diarrhea (20 percent) than the pigs fed the control diet (40 percent). The pigs fed plant extracts were more efficient (40 percent) in feed use than the pigs fed the control diet in the E. coli-challenged group, and challenged pigs fed plant extracts had sounder gut morphology compared with the challenged pigs fed the control diet.
Liu noted that even the pigs in the non-challenged group, with a low frequency of mild diarrhea, benefited from the plant extracts. “Because there is a relatively high diarrhea rate in post-weaning pigs as they are moved from the mom and started on all solid feed, the extracts could also be used to reduce its occurrence,” she said.
Common symptoms of PRRS, a viral infection of the lung, include fever, lethargy, trouble breathing, loss of appetite, and decreased growth performance. The disease can also lead to spontaneous abortions and higher pre-weaning mortality rates in pigs.
After feeding the pigs challenged with the PRRS virus the three plant extracts, the researchers observed that the pigs were more efficient in week 1 (55 percent) and week 2 (40 percent) than the pigs fed the control diet. The pigs continued eating and gaining weight. They found this to be especially true with turmeric, Liu said.
When they checked blood samples from the pigs with the PRRS virus, they found that the pigs fed plant extracts also had a lower blood viral load (13 percent) and lower concentrations of inflammatory mediators than pigs fed the control diet. These observations also suggest that feeding plant extracts could suppress ongoing inflammation and prevent secondary infections.
The researchers believe the benefits resulted from the effects on the pigs’ immune systems because feeding plant extracts reduced the inflammation caused by E. coli and the PRRS virus.
“In production animals, inflammation is costly. Inflammation reduces feed intake, and it diverts nutrients away from growth to the immune system,” Pettigrew said, “If we can bring that quickly back down to normal after a challenge, then that helps in production.”
Although previous studies have looked at using plant extracts in pig diets, Pettigrew said Liu’s study, which looked at the effects of three different extracts on two different diseases, had not been done previously. He also added that the low concentration of the extracts used while still producing beneficial results set this study apart.
The researchers will continue to study the mechanisms behind the beneficial effects they observed, including conducting gene expression studies. “We want to know the big picture of how these plant extracts affected the challenged and non-challenged pigs,” Liu said.
“Dietary plant extracts alleviate diarrhea and alter immune responses of weaned pigs experimentally infected with a pathogenic Escherichia coli” was published in the November 2013 issue of Journal of Animal Science and can be accessed online at http://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/91/11/5294.full. Co-authors of the study were Liu, Pettigrew, M. Song, M. Che, J.A.S. Almeida, J.J. Lee, D. Bravo, and C.W. Maddox.
“Dietary plant extracts improve immune responses and growth efficiency of pigs experimentally infected with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus” was published in the December 2013 issue of Journal of Animal Science and can be accessed online at http://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/91/12/5668.full. Co-authors of the study were Liu, Pettigrew, T.M. Che, M. Song, J.J. Lee, J.A.S. Almeida, D. Bravo, and W.G. Van Alstine.
Pancosma SA, Geneva, Switzerland, provided funding for the research.
Researchers determine feather meal good source of energy for swine
Urbana, Ill – Hydrolyzed feather meal is a co-product of the poultry processing industry that can be used as a protein source in swine. A lack of published data on the digestibility of energy and nutrients in feather meal fed to pigs spurred on researchers at the University of Illinois and Auburn University to give producers more information about the nutritional value of this feed ingredient.
Hans H. Stein, a U of I animal sciences researcher, and Lee Chiba, a professor animal nutrition at Auburn University, collaborated to determine amino acid and phosphorus digestibility and the concentration of digestible and metabolizable energy in hydrolyzed feather meal from four different processing plants.
The processing of hydrolyzed feather meal is not standardized, which means that feather meal processed in different plants may vary in nutritional value. Because feather meal may contain coagulated poultry blood, each source was included in the experiment both without and with added blood.
Results of the research indicated that the digestibility of crude protein and every amino acid was different among the four sources of hydrolyzed feather meal if no blood was added. The addition of blood to feather meal had inconsistent effects on the digestibility of amino acids. Digestibility of lysine increased with the addition of blood in two of the sources of feather meal but not in the other two sources. However, adding blood reduced the digestibility of isoleucine, leucine, methionine, valine, and the average of all indispensable amino acids in two sources of feather meal but had no effect in the other two sources.
Stein said that the differences in amino acid digestibility might be due to differences in processing. "Processing conditions such as steam pressure and time of hydrolysis can affect the quality and digestibility of protein and amino acids," he explained. "It is also possible that differences in the timing of blood addition, before or after hydrolysis of the feathers, have an effect on amino acid digestibility."
Other results of the experiment indicated that there was a tendency for phosphorus digestibility to differ among the four feather meal sources, but in all cases digestibility was greater than 89 percent for feather meal without blood. For all sources, phosphorus digestibility in feather meal with added blood was less than that in meal with no blood added, with digestibility in one source reduced to as little as 50.2 percent.
The concentration of metabolizable energy ranged from 4,206 to 5,474 kcal per kg DM with no consistent response to the addition of blood. However, there were significant differences among the four sources of feather meal. These values are greater than values previously published for hydrolyzed feather meal.
"It's important for producers to consider the source of feather meal and whether or not it has added blood when they're using it in swine diets. That way they can accurately assess its nutritional value," Stein said. "These results indicate that regardless of source or addition of blood, feather meal contains more digestible and metabolizable energy than has been demonstrated in the past."
The paper, "Amino acid and phosphorus digestibility and concentration of digestible and metabolizable energy in hydrolyzed feather meal fed to growing pigs," was published in a recent edition of the Journal of Animal Science. It was co-authored with Stein, Chiba, Rommel Sulabo of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, Ferdinando Almeida of U of I, Sean Brotzge of Auburn University, and Robert Payne of Evonik-Degussa Corporation. The full paper is available online at http://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/91/12/5829.full.
Financial support for this research was provided by the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station of Auburn, Ala., and Evonik-Degussa Corporation. The feather meal was donated by the four members of the Poultry Protein and Fat Council.
Extension website offers help as ACA deadline approaches
Urbana, Ill - The deadline to enroll for health insurance through federal or state health exchanges is fast approaching. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), March 31 is the last day for open enrollment for marketplace insurance plans for 2014. University of Illinois Extension wants to help residents of Illinois better understand the ACA and how it affects them. The Affordable Care Act in Illinois is a website developed by Extension specialists Laura Payne and Chelsey Byers to provide “unbiased factual information related to the (ACA) law in order to help individuals make educated and informed decisions.”
A variety of features on the website provide this information. Perhaps the most entertaining is the short video “Health Reform Hits Main Street.” Narrated by Cokie Roberts, the video offers a fast-paced overview of the problems that precipitated the ACA and its proposed solutions, all the while acknowledging the expense and controversy that surrounds it.
Visitors to the website can also access fact sheets that address a variety of topics: how the ACA affects residents’ access to and use of the country’s health-care system and insurance policies (How Does the ACA Impact Me?); health insurance options for small businesses (Small Business and Rural Communities); an extensive explanation of the health insurance marketplace (What is the Marketplace?); and information to help participants protect themselves and their personal information (Protect Yourself From Fraud).
There is a list of additional Internet resources for those who want more information and a blog that addresses specific topics as the deadline for enrollment approaches.
To enroll in an insurance plan, visit the state’s website, Get Covered Illinois. If you have other questions or would like to talk with an Extension specialist, contact Laura Payne at 217-244-7038, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chelsey Byers at 217-333-7872, email@example.com.
Winter jug sowing
URBANA, Ill. - With such a strong trend in growing vegetables, home gardeners have become very creative in starting their seeds, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
“One of those ways has been what is being called winter jug sowing, using white one-gallon milk jugs,” said Richard Hentschel. “Like using row covers or cold frames, the milk jugs allow the gardener to extend the gardening season in their yard. This activity can take place anytime from late fall through very early spring. This certainly is something that can be done while we are having cold weather outdoors.”
The jug garden can be placed on the patio, apartment balcony, off the ground on the patio table where it can stay the remainder of the winter (or all of winter 2015 if done in the fall). “Those seeds are perfectly safe, even if the milk jugs are covered with snow,” Hentschel said.
The gallon jug provides the container used to grow seedlings, but also the protective cover from the elements. While there are different ways to prepare the milk jug, a typical jug will have the upper one-half to two-thirds nearly cut off, leaving a small portion as the hinge at one of the jug corners or, for some, the side opposite the handle. Like most good containers, there needs to be a number of drainage holes or slits cut into the pot to allow for water drainage. Holes or slits placed on the sides of the pot or holes in the bottom work equally well. There should be at least four, one per side or bottom.
“If you already start your own seeds in a more traditional fashion, you know the importance of using a soilless media to start and grow your vegetables, herbs, or flowers to avoid soilborne pathogens,” Hentschel explained. “You can use the same mix for your jug sowing.”
The starter seeds should be considered winter hardy or those that can be sown and tolerate being outdoors until the seeds begin to sprout on their own. “Think about those vegetables that like cold weather rather than warmer temperatures, and you will begin to build a list of vegetables to try,” Hentschel said.
He suggested choosing early varieties such as spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, peas, broccoli, thymus serpyllum (creeping thyme), salvia (common sage), oregano, and cilantro. Later varieties include lettuce (numerous varieties), bok choy, beets, carrots, basil, and parsley.
Once the pot is sown, tape the jug back together with duct tape until there is a need for venting to prevent the jug from getting too hot inside. The seeds sown prefer cold to cool soils and similar air temperatures, Hentschel said. Label and date the jug. “This will help you fine-tune your growing the following season,” he said.
“For gardeners who do not have enough space, the right equipment, or a good location to start seeds indoors, the jug method is great because the jugs stay outside and Mother Nature does the rest,” Hentschel said.
New research suggests safer ways to use soft plastic lures
URBANA, Ill. – Soft plastic fishing lures don’t degrade, don’t decompose, even after two years of being discarded, and are being found both in nature and inside fish. University of Illinois researcher Cory Suski, in collaboration with Steven Cooke from Carleton University in Canada, studied the unanticipated impact of the soft lures on lake trout, smallmouth bass, and the environment. The soft plastic lures look like worms, leeches, or crayfish and are particularly enticing to fish, making them very popular with anglers. The material they’re made from feels like gelatin, like an inedible version of gummy worms.
For the field portion of the study, snorkelers searched for broken or discarded lures along the shoreline in Charleston Lake in eastern Ontario. They found as many as 80 lures approximately every 50 miles.
“We don’t think that people are discarding them intentionally,” Suski said. “They just drop off the hook or half of it rips off the hook and sinks to the bottom where they can’t be easily retrieved.”
In the lab portion of the study, eight different types of soft plastic lures were immersed in water at two temperatures for a two-year period to evaluate the change in size and the rate of decomposition.
The fact that there was little evidence of decomposition over the two-year span makes the lures’ “shelf life” in the environment troubling.
“If a lure is swallowed and swells, it fills the fish’s stomach, and the fish likely will have problems with digestion,” Suski said. “Interestingly, swelling varies from lure to lure depending upon the brand—some up to 200 percent of their original size. We aren’t saying that one lure is better than the other, but that it is likely possible to create lures that don’t swell as much or ideally that degrade quickly.”
Suski was relieved that the rate of lure ingestion by fish was lower than the numbers they had anticipated from earlier studies conducted with fish in laboratory tanks and was also lower than he had anticipated based on the number of lures discovered in the lake.
“Rather than saying let’s ban these lures, we can likely work with anglers and the industry to improve things,” Suski said. “What we’ve found in many projects is that anglers want to do the right thing. They care about the environment, but sometimes they just don’t know how their actions are affecting the environment – after all, before this study, no one had quantified how many of these lures had been lost. So if we tell them that a lot of lures are being dropped and they stay around for two years, they’ll likely change their behavior and be more careful.”
Some states are considering legislation that would ban the use of soft plastic lures because of the potential threat to fish and wildlife, but Suski believes that changes can occur without regulations.
For example, anglers might use alternative rigging methods such as an o-ring on stick baits so that the lure will stay on the hook. More information about how to properly dispose of the soft plastic lures may also be beneficial. Suski said that there are already some grassroots initiatives from the recreational fishing community that encourage anglers to deposit used lures in the trash. Another effort is a program called Re-Bait that promotes proper disposal of lures. Suski noted that the effect of the ingestion of soft lures on birds, turtles, and snakes is unknown.
“Exploring the Potential Effects of Lost or Discarded Soft Plastic Fishing Lures on Fish and the Environment” was published in a 2014 issue of Water, Air, and Soil Pollution. In addition to Cory Suski, Travis Raison, Alex Nagrodski, and Steven Cooke contributed to the paper. The research was partially funded by Carleton University and the Charleston Lake Cottagers.
Catering a variety of events is one of Stephen Kovachevich’s favorite things about his job. On any given day Stephen, a partner with Michaels’ Catering, might work a cocktail party for 200, a dinner for 30, or a bar mitzvah for 150. He says the variety, as well as his work with young people, keeps work refreshing and entertaining.
Stephen credits the food science and business classes he took in the hospitality management curriculum at the University of Illinois with preparing him for his catering partnership.
“The strong food science foundation has helped in the culinary aspects of my career, while the business curriculum helped form a basis for being a partner in business,” Stephen says. “The program also allowed me to use the creative part of my brain, which is essential in creating first-class, upscale food. I was also selected to be an undergraduate teaching assistant, which helped me build my management skills.”
Stephen also enjoyed his classmates and what they could teach him along the way.
“The upper-level classes in restaurant management involved a smaller core group of students,” Stephen says. “I enjoyed the camaraderie of the group, working together to help each other achieve our goals. The energy and creativeness that we put forth together created an enriching experience.”
“I enjoy engaging adults and young people in the democratic process,” says Bob Pritchard, an agricultural communications graduate. “It is especially rewarding to work with my youth advisory council, speak to school classes and share my perspective about the issues facing citizens.”
Bob’s varied career includes experience in agriculture radio, TV broadcasting, university extension work, public relations, and governmental relations. As a legislator, Bob especially enjoys working with his community and engaging with those around him. Experience and practice gained at the University of Illinois have helped him succeed professionally.
“The abilities to work with people; to think strategically and creatively; to communicate and listen; to explain the issues and my views; to build confidence; to apply the skills developed over my life experiences; to be ethical; and to be dedicated to the interests of my constituents all have helped me excel,” Bob says.
Those skills are just a part of what Bob learned at U of I through classes and extracurricular activities. He was involved in ACES Council, Alpha Zeta social fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho agriculture fraternity, the dairy science club, Block I, and the Marching Illini.
“My courses helped develop communication skills, thinking, a broad education, and discipline,” Bob says. “Extracurricular experiences reinforced group dynamics, persuasion, leadership, and confidence, and they built a network of contacts I have relied upon in my various jobs.”