URBANA, Ill. – We may put up a Christmas tree every year, but few of us are aware of their history and significance. University of Illinois Extension educator Ron Wolford enlightens us.
In 1856, Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, was the first president to place a Christmas tree in the White House.
Thomas Edison's assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees in 1882. Christmas tree lights were first mass-produced in 1890.
The tradition of an official Chicago Christmas tree was initiated in 1913 when one was lit by Mayor Carter H. Harrison in Grant Park.
From 1887 to 1933, a fishing schooner called the "Christmas Ship" would tie up at the Clark Street Bridge in Chicago and sell Michigan spruce trees to Chicagoans.
Since 1971, the Province of Nova Scotia has presented the Boston Christmas tree to the people of Boston. The tree is a gift of thanks for relief supplies received from Boston after the explosion of a ship in Halifax, Nova Scotia Harbor. Part of the city was leveled, killing and injuring thousands.
In 1979, the National Christmas Tree was not lit, except for the top ornament. This was done to honor American hostages in Iran.
Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states and Canada.
The average growing time for a Christmas tree is seven years.
Between 25 and 30 million live Christmas trees are sold in the United States each year.
Approximately, 350 million Christmas trees are currently growing on tree farms in the United States.
Check out the University of Illinois Extension website Christmas Trees & More for more information: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/trees/.
Finding the perfect Christmas tree
URBANA, Ill. – Choosing the perfect Christmas tree this holiday season is simply a matter of following a few simple steps, according to University of Illinois Extension educator Ron Wolford.
“Choosing the family Christmas tree can be a memory-filled tradition,” Wolford says. The following tips can help you select a fresh tree for your home and keep it looking its best.
Pick and measure a spot in your home to place the tree before heading out to buy it. Wolford says, “Ask yourself if the tree will be seen from all sides, or will some of it be against a wall?”
Choose a tree that fits where it is to be displayed. For example, if the tree is displayed in front of a large window, then all four sides should look as good as possible. If the tree is displayed against a wall, a tree with three good sides should suffice. A tree with two good sides would work well in a corner. “The more perfect a tree, the more expensive it will be,” Wolford notes. Also, bring a tape measure with you to the farm to ensure your tree is not too tall for your space.
Place the tree away from heat sources, such as heaters, fireplaces, TVs, radiators, and air vents. Wolford points out that a dried-out tree is a fire hazard.
If buying from a retail lot, Wolford recommends going during the day. “Choosing a tree in daylight is much easier than trying to pick out a tree in a dimly lit lot,” he says.
A fresh tree will have a healthy green appearance with few browning needles. Needles should be flexible and not fall off if you run a branch through your hand. Raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end. Very few green needles should fall off the tree, but it is normal for a few inner brown needles to drop. Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and long enough, so it will fit easily into your stand.
“Store your tree in an unheated garage or some other area out of the wind if you are not putting it up right away,” Wolford notes. “Make a fresh, 1-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of warm water. When you bring the tree indoors, make another fresh 1-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand. The water reservoir of the stand should provide one quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk.”
Keep the water level above the base of the tree. If the base dries out, resin will form over the cut end and the tree will not be able to absorb water and will dry out quickly.
Commercially prepared mixes, sugar, aspirin, or other additives added to the water are not necessary. “Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh,” Wolford says.
For more information, visit the University of Illinois Extension website Christmas Trees & More at www.urbanext.illinois.edu/trees.
New Illinois program for extension around the world
URBANA, Ill. – A new program for worldwide agricultural development kicked off Nov. 30 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. AgReach closes gaps in agrisystems so that farmers in some of the poorest countries can thrive, including Sierra Leone, Malawi, and Bangladesh.
Paul McNamara, economist and professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences leads the initiative and team of 18 professionals. With over 20 years of experience in agricultural economics and development, McNamara founded AgReach to continue building the $22 million development portfolio of projects that have improved the quality of farming families’ food and methods in over 50 countries.
College of ACES Dean Kim Kidwell stated, “One thing notable about the AgReach program is the mix of disciplines and the breadth of experience among the team. People are a key ingredient in any well-functioning and impactful extension program, and in a relatively short amount of time, the AgReach team has assembled a world-class group of development professionals and scholars to implement its program of capacity development and action-oriented research.”
AgReach has grown out of several United States Agency for International Development and Feed the Future projects. Initiated by the Modernizing Agriculture and Extension Services in 2012, AgReach builds from other programs including the Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Services (INGENAES) and Malawi Strengthening Agriculture and Nutrition Extension Services Project (SANE), both housed at Illinois.
Through collaboration with public and private institutions, governments, and nongovernmental organizations, these projects have transformed extension into more demand-driven, gender-responsive, and nutrition-sensitive systems through building local capacity and applying research-based solutions that work. In addition to its strong background in strengthening extension systems, AgReach is rooted in one of the world’s most prestigious land-grant universities, making it well-positioned as an international thought leader in extension.
More information about AgReach is available online.
Top 10 tips for poinsettias
URBANA, Ill. – It is hard to think of the holidays without conjuring up images of red poinsettias and a snowy landscape. These beautiful plants are easy to care for, with a few simple tips.
“There is no need for people to experience difficulties with their poinsettia plants,” says University of Illinois Extension educator Kim Ellson. “Here are some tips to ensure your poinsettia looks its very best this season and well into the new year.”
- Purchase a healthy, high-quality plant.
- Make sure the cyathia remain tight and have not opened. The cyathia are the green buds in the centers of the flowers, surrounded by the colorful red bracts. They eventually open into tiny yellow flowers.
- White and healthy roots are a great indicator of good plant health.
- Wrap plants before transporting them home.
- Avoid cold drafts; poinsettias are highly sensitive to direct drafts and suffer damage easily.
- Let plants go completely dry between waterings, without stressing plants. Poinsettias are prone to suffer from overwatering as they have sensitive root systems that easily rot out.
- Always water thoroughly.
- If possible, select a cool area in your home. Avoid heating ducts or placing plants in overly warm areas during the holiday season. This will ensure vibrant, colorful bracts.
- There is no need to fertilize your poinsettia during the holidays; save the fertilizer for March.
- Monitor the plant for pests such as whiteflies by checking the undersides of the leaves. Treat early before infestations become unwieldy.
“These basic guidelines should help ensure you get the very most out of your poinsettia this holiday, and enjoy a colorful season,” Ellson says.
Hog prices join corn and wheat at 10-year lows
URBANA, Ill. – For many producers of agricultural commodities, prices are a key driver of their financial wellbeing. Wide-ranging price movements over time can vastly alter their financial conditions. According to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt, it is clear that the financial impacts of price movements affect many agricultural input businesses as well.
Hurt asks, what can happen to prices of agricultural commodities in a decade, and why look at the last decade?
“It was 10 years ago in the fall of 2006 that agricultural commodity prices began to head upward in what can be described as a boom/moderation price cycle,” Hurt says. “Nearby futures prices are used to compare prices over time. Measured this way, prices for wheat, corn, and lean hogs in the fall of this year fell to 10-year lows, dating back to 2006 or earlier. Unfortunately, costs of production are not at 10-year lows and this means narrow margins or losses are likely for many producing these commodities.”
Focusing on lean hog futures prices, the low this fall was on the October 2016 contract at $40.70. Hurt says the last time lean hog futures have been this low was in October 2002. This means lean hog futures in the fall of 2016 were the lowest lead contract price in 14 years. Lean hog futures have recovered somewhat since October, with the lead contract currently trading around $50, a level that is at the lower end of the 10-year range.
Cash prices also reflect these multi-year lows. Live prices of hogs for 51 percent to 52 percent carcasses are expected to average about $36.25 in the final quarter of this year. This will be the lowest fourth quarter price since 2002 and the lowest cash prices in 14 years, the same as lean hog futures. The current quarter is shaping up to have the worst losses since the first quarter of 2008 when cash corn prices moved above $4 per bushel after many years around $2.
“A 3 percent increase in this quarter’s pork production is one of the forces keeping prices low, but shortages of packer capacity seems to be another factor that is an additional downward force on low farm prices,” Hurt says. “Over time, the pork industry growth has reached a point where more packer capacity is needed. In addition, the largest hog supplies of the year tend to be in the final quarter, which puts added seasonal pressure on capacity. It is generally thought that 2.5 million head per week is near federal inspection capacity. In four of the past seven weeks, the number of head processed at federal inspected plants has been above 2.5 million head.
“When there is a shortage of capacity in any industry there tend to be high returns to those who own that capacity,” Hurt adds. “That seems to be the case this fall as the farm-to-wholesale margin is at record-high levels. Looking at the most recent USDA data, the farm-to-wholesale margin for January through October has averaged 68 cents per retail pound this year compared to 56 cents per retail pound for the same period in 2015. If all of this higher margin were bid into the farm level price, it would increase live hog prices by $5 to $7 per live hundredweight.”
After prices average about $36 for the final quarter of 2016, prices are expected to improve to about $40 for the first quarter of 2017 with head counts that are a little smaller, Hurt says. Then, seasonally smaller supplies in the second and third quarters could support live hog prices around $50.
“Two new processing plants are expected to come online by the fall of 2017,” Hurt says. “These should relieve the capacity shortage and allow hog prices to be higher a year from now, even though hog supplies will be higher. Current forecasts are for live hog prices to average about $43 in the fourth quarter of 2017. Live hog prices averaged around $50 in 2015, but will drop to about $46 for 2016 and are forecast to average near $46 again in 2017.”
With current costs estimated at $49, Hurt says this means losses for this quarter of about $34 per head and for the first quarter of 2017 of around $27 per head. The second and third quarters should be at about the breakeven point, with loses of $19 in the final quarter of 2017.
The forecast of annual losses of about $11 per head in 2016 are expected to continue for 2017, Hurt says. “More packer capacity will help hog prices in 2017. In addition, retail pork prices are expected to continue to drop and provide stronger domestic usage. Pork exports are expected to grow in 2017 as well. Nevertheless, these positive factors will not be enough to bring the industry back to the breakeven level. The industry will need to consider a reduction in the breeding herd in the last half of 2017 in order to boost prices back closer to the breakeven level in 2018,” Hurt says.
Forcing paperwhites for holiday décor
URBANA, Ill. – Longing for a bit of spring during the winter months? A University of Illinois Extension educator suggests “forcing” bulbs indoors to create a beautiful and long-lasting flower display for your home.
“The term ‘forcing’ refers to a technique that imitates the environmental conditions that bulbs encounter outdoors, thereby tricking them into flowering earlier,” says Candice Hart. “Essentially, it allows you to bring the outdoor beauty of bulbs indoors.”
Most flowering bulbs need a cold treatment before they will initiate a flower. “This would apply to most of our spring flowering bulbs in Illinois, like tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, and others,” Hart says. “We plant these bulbs outdoors in the fall so that they are exposed to the winter cold before flowering the following spring. This can easily be replicated indoors by placing bulbs in the refrigerator or in a cool garage or basement for a period of time.”
Fortunately, there are bulbs that do not need a cold treatment in order to flower, making the process much simpler. Paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus), with its prolific white blooms, is one example. “They are so easy to grow, and make an excellent choice for holiday décor,” Hart notes.
“The unique thing about forcing bulbs is that they can be planted in containers with or without drainage, because they’ll only be in the container for a short period of time,” Hart says. “I personally love the look of paperwhites forced in shallow clear containers with decorative stones.”
To plant in a container without drainage, select a 3- to 4-inch deep decorative container. Place 1 to 2 inches of washed gravel or stones in the bottom of the container and carefully place the bulbs on the gravel or stones. Bulbs can be placed as close as desired. Next, place enough gravel or stones over or around the bulbs to hold them in place.
To use a pot that has drainage, again select one that is 3 to 4 inches deep, and plant the bulbs in a well-drained potting mix with the tops of the bulbs even or slightly below the rim of the pot.
In a container with no drainage holes, add water to the base of the bulbs and maintain it at this level through the life of the planting. “Do not immerse the bulbs in water; only the basal plate of the bulb, where the roots originate, should be in water,” Hart warns. In a container with drainage, simply water the soil thoroughly after planting and keep it moist thereafter.
Paperwhites will flower under any light conditions. However, for best results, place the bulbs in a window area with a southern exposure. When the plants begin to flower, remove them from direct sunlight and place plants in the coolest area of the home. This helps to prolong flowering.
If you can pot up paperwhite narcissus bulbs every 10 days or so starting in the fall, you can have a succession of blooms all through the winter. “These forced bulbs make a great decoration for your own home or gift for the holidays,” Hart notes.