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Ready, set, grow

Published February 7, 2012
By late winter, as both veteran and less experienced gardeners start to get the "growing itch," many find themselves tempted by colorful and interesting seed packets.

"This is all encouraged by the fact that almost daily, a new seed catalog arrives in the mailbox or seed displays start showing up in the store," said University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Greg Stack.

However, before investing in seeds, it is important to know how to grow them into healthy transplants for next spring's garden. Make sure you have, and understand how to use, the proper tools for growing seedlings.

You can start seedlings in anything from last season's recycled trays and flats to Styrofoam cups and cottage cheese containers. Make sure that the containers are clean and have drainage holes in the bottom. Clean them by rinsing them in a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water, and make sure they have holes in the bottom.

The next step is to fill the containers with any of the many available potting or seed starting mixes. These mixes are formulated to provide adequate drainage while retaining enough moisture for seed germination. They are also sterile and free from pathogens that can attack new seedlings.

"Many of the mixes are combinations of peat, perlite, coir, and vermiculite and are often dry," Stack said. "So, prior to sowing seeds, moisten the mix by filling the container and placing it in a shallow tray of water. Water will be absorbed from the bottom up, assuring a thoroughly moistened mix."

To keep the seeds uniformly moist and retain moisture after germination, cover the containers with plastic. Gardeners often allow the media to dry out between waterings, causing the seeds to germinate poorly or erratically. A propagation mat is a helpful tool, particularly for growing a large number of seedlings. These thermostatically regulated heating mats provide a constant, uniform temperature to the media, which encourages a uniform germination." Once seedlings start to appear, remove the cover, take them off the heating mat, and move them to a cooler, well-lit area. These conditions slow growth and help reduce seedling elongation. A four- foot, two-bulb fluorescent shop light positioned two to three inches above the seedlings can be used to supply artificial light. Leave it on for 14 to 16 hours a day.

"This will help greatly in reducing seedling elongation due to insufficient light from natural sources," said Stack. "If you use windows to grow seedlings, turn the seed containers daily to prevent seedlings from leaning into the light."

When seedlings have developed the first set of "true leaves" (leaves that look like those on the mature plant), transplant them into individual containers or trays. Again, use containers with holes in the bottom and filled with a prepared growing mix. Put the containers back under the lights or in a very well-lit, cool area and water as needed to keep them moist. This will help to limit elongation. Use fertilizer at half strength to maintain healthy plants without encouraging a lot of extra growth.

"The last and most important thing to remember is to schedule or time your seed sowing indoors so that the plants you produce will be at their best when you need them for outdoor planting," Stack said. "Many first-time gardeners make the mistake of sowing whenever the spirit moves them. But there is a science to the art of horticulture." Stack stresses the importance of knowing how long it takes to produce a usable transplant and planning the seed sowing indoors to correspond with the proper planting time outdoors.

For example, it takes approximately four to five weeks of indoor growing to produce a suitable tomato transplant. Seeds sowed indoors at the end of April will be ready for a May 30 planting date outdoors. This growing time varies with the type of seeds being sown and can range from 4 to 15 weeks, so check references before sowing. Sowing too early often results in transplants that are too tall and not in very good condition for the garden."

While it is easy to get caught up in the excitement and anticipation of growing things, the time spent assembling the needed materials and knowing how to use them will result in better-looking transplants for the garden.

"So, before you start buying those seed packets, have everything in place for a successful growing experience," Stack said. -30-

Pain Management in Pets: An Owner's Guide

Published February 6, 2012
An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy,

There are many parallels between people and pets when it comes to anticipating and addressing pain associated with surgical procedures.

Dr. Jordyn Boesch, a board-certified veterinary anesthesiologist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, urges owners to talk with their veterinarian about the medications that will be used in their pets to control surgical pain and to work closely with their veterinarian to manage pain for optimal health outcomes.

"It is now accepted, thanks to a very large body of scientific evidence, that animals experience pain in much the same way that human beings do," Dr. Boesch says.

While procedures like a spay, castration, tooth extraction, or lump biopsy may be necessary for the health of your pet, these procedures will cause pain if adequate pain medication is not administered. Pain medications are more effective when they are given both before and after such procedures. Controlling pain is important not just for ethical reasons, but because studies show it can also speed your pet's recovery.

"Pain causes the body to release a wide variety of stress hormones that interfere with tissue healing," explains Dr. Boesch, "so decreasing stress can lead to faster healing."

Dr. Boesch advises pet owners to discuss the pain management plan with their veterinarian before any surgical procedure and to ask specific questions: What kind of pain medication will be administered, and at what points in the procedure? What are possible side effects or risks of those medications? What are the instructions for administering any pain medication at home after the procedure? What signs of pain should you watch for at home?

Because the signs of pain may not be easily detected, it is important to consult your veterinarian for advice on general signs of pain as well as signs that may be specific to your pet's species or the procedure performed. A pet in pain may simply appear more subdued, may stop eating or drinking, or may not want to engage in favorite activities. Cats may hide, stop grooming, or eliminate outside the litter box. The pet may look at or lick an incision site or "guard" the area that is painful. Unusual behaviors should not be ignored or attributed simply to the stress of visiting the vet's office.

Some species may not show any signs of pain at all.

"Farm animals such as horses and cattle, as well as birds and small mammals such as rabbits, indicate pain even more subtly because, as prey species, they have evolved to hide signs of pain from predators," says Dr. Boesch.

Just as in human medicine, veterinary medicine makes use of a range of pain medications suited to various conditions. Sometimes using more than one pain medication together, such as morphine (or related drugs) plus an anti-inflammatory drug, is needed and is more effective than either one used alone. And sometimes, other non-drug treatments such as physical therapy or icing an incision can help tremendously too.

Dr. Boesch stresses the importance of giving pets only the medications and doses indicated by a veterinarian. "Pet owners should never take their animal's pain management into their own hands," she says. "Giving an over-the-counter human pain medication to a cat, for example, could kill the cat. Owners must consult their veterinarian before giving their pet any medicine or supplement."

If you have any questions about pain management in your pet, please consult your local veterinarian or call the anesthesiologists at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Writer: Julia Disney

An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy,

Veterinary Extension/Office of Public Engagement
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

Corn market remains unsettled

Published February 6, 2012
The 2011-12 corn marketing year is approaching the halfway point. "At this time of year," said University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good, "prospects for marketing-year consumption and ending stocks are often fairly clear and the market begins to focus more on new crop prospects. This year, consumption, stocks, and price prospects are far from clear."

Good continued, "There is considerable uncertainty about the pace of consumption for the rest of year in each of the major categories. If anything, the uncertainty outlined two weeks ago has intensified."

The surprisingly small estimates of feed and residual use during the last half of the 2010-11 and first quarter of the 2011-12 marketing years had created expectations of a "correction" to be revealed in upcoming USDA Grain Stocks reports. Now, the on-going year-over- year decline in broiler production, prospects for fewer numbers of cattle on feed later in the year, and the relatively mild winter weather to date point to some slowdown in feed use, whatever the pace actually is, he said.

Good also noted that ethanol production during the first five months of the current marketing year was nearly 3 percent larger than in the same period last year. "That rapid pace of production suggested that corn used for ethanol and co-product production for the year might exceed the USDA projection of 5 billion bushels. Ethanol production in the last quarter of 2011 was likely accelerated by the impending expiration of the blenders' tax credit. Stocks of ethanol have now accumulated and prices have declined sharply from the record high levels of late 2011," he said.

Margins for ethanol producers have also declined sharply as the result of lower ethanol prices and the recent rebound in corn prices. Combined with the rapidly approaching domestic "blend wall" and the uncertainty of ethanol exports, prospects for ethanol production in the last half of the marketing year have become less clear, according to Good.

Corn exports started the year very slowly. Exports during the first quarter were 47 million bushels (10.4 percent) smaller than in the same quarter last year and at the lowest level in nine years.

The pace of exports accelerated a bit in December and January. As of Feb. 2, cumulative export inspections were nearly equal to those of a year earlier. As of Jan. 26, unshipped export sales were only 50 million bushels smaller than those of a year earlier. Shipments and sales appear to be on a pace to exceed the USDA projection of 1.65 billion bushels for the year.

Good noted that export prospects might be further enhanced by expectations for further reductions in the projected size of the upcoming Argentine harvest. "The USDA reduced that forecast by 120 million bushels (10 percent) last month. Trade reports about the size of further reductions are in a wide range, but center on about 150 million bushels. Add in uncertainty about Chinese demand, the ongoing drought in parts of Mexico, and the likely implications of possible freeze damage to wheat crops in eastern Europe and the Ukraine and the U.S export picture becomes murkier," he explained.

While uncertain, the level of year- ending U.S. corn stocks will be small, increasing the importance of the size of the 2012 crop. Production expectations begin with planted acreage. Corn acreage is generally expected to increase by 2 to 3 million acres due to prospects for less prevented plantings and the relatively high price of corn. Area harvested for grain, then, could increase by 3 to 4 million acres, he said.

The default yield expectation centers on trend value, but there are widely differing opinions about trend value. Good believes that "deviation from trend will depend on planting and growing season weather. Current concerns center on soil moisture deficits in the southern Plains, in the Southeast, and more recently in western Iowa and southern Minnesota. While probabilities favor a much larger corn crop in 2012, the likely production will remain unknown for several more months."

The mixed fundamental picture for corn results in a wide range of price expectations and complicates marketing decisions for producers. This type of environment favors spreading sales of remaining old-crop inventories over the next few months. For now it appears that the recent wide trading range (about $5.75 to $6.75 for March futures) will persist, with prices in the upper part of the range providing opportunities for incremental sales.