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Workshop addresses mortality composting

Published August 5, 2015
Five bin mortality composter
Five-bin mortality composter

URBANA, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension will offer a unique workshop for livestock producers who use or are considering mortality composting. The Animal Mortality Composting Workshop will be held on Thursday, August 27, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Sterling, Ill.

“This workshop gives livestock producers the opportunity to visit an active composting site and talk with a variety of experts on mortality composting,” said Morgan Hayes, a clinical professor with the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) at Illinois and a member of the Illinois Extension Livestock Facilities and Manure Management team.

The workshop begins at 10 a.m. at the Jordan Township Building, and the morning session will include several presentations on different aspects of carcass composting. Ted Funk, retired Extension specialist with ABE, will discuss the regulations for on-farm mortality composting. Dale Rozeboom, a professor and Extension specialist from Michigan State, will go over the basics of composting. Matt Roberts, with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), will talk about the programs that are available through the NRCS and the facility designs they are proposing and how to use them.

In the afternoon, the workshop will move to a nearby farm, and there will be a series of demonstrations on moisture control, selection of a carbon source, and measuring temperature in the compost. “At the end of the workshop,” said Hayes, “we will turn a compost pile that has already gone through a full heat cycle so that producers can see when they should turn a pile and what it should look like.”

Hayes said, “We expect the audience to be largely swine producers, but we’re using steers for our demonstration to ensure that we don’t have any bio-security concerns for pork producers coming to the event. The size of the animal might change the timing, but the process is the same for all species.”

Online registration at the Illinois Extension Livestock Facilities and Manure Management website is limited and closes on August 21. There is a $40 fee for the first registrant and $10 for any additional persons from the same farm. Registration includes lunch for each attendee and a heavy-duty thermometer (for each farm) to use in composting. Spanish translation will be available.

The workshop is sponsored by the Illinois Pork Producers, the Illinois Soybean Association, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.


News Source:

Morgan Hayes, 217-244-8179

News Writer:

Leanne Lucas, 217-244-9085

Tips for digging and storing summer bulbs

Published August 5, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - Summer bulbs add beauty to the landscape when earlier spring bulbs have long faded and flowering shrubs have turned to foliage for the season, said a University of Illinois horticulture educator.

“However, summer bulbs must be dug up at the end of your growing season and properly stored inside for the winter in order to have a floral display the following year,” Richard Hentschel explained.

By tradition, a bulb refers to any plant that maintains its entire life cycle in a storage root. A few of the well-known, common summer-blooming bulbs are lily, gladiolus caladiums, iris, canna, and dahlia. Summer bulbs are planted in the spring after the chance of frost and the garden soils have warmed.   

To dig summer bulbs at the end of the season, Hentschel said to wait until the bulb foliage has naturally died down or dig immediately after a killing frost. 

Digging summer bulbs usually means loosening the soil with a garden fork or spade several inches away from where the bulb is believed to be and gently lifting the plant without damage to the bulb itself, Hentschel said. “At this point, the outer skin of the bulb is soft and tender so caution is needed,” he added. “Most often summer bulbs are stored with a small amount of soil still clinging to the roots. A gentle shake to remove any excess soil will be a good step.”

Summer bulbs need to be cured before storage to toughen up the outer skin. Curing means allowing the freshly dug bulbs to dry down in a cool shady location before being stored.  Summer bulbs that are put into storage still wet or damaged during the digging process could easily develop storage rots and other kinds of decay, Hentschel said. The time from digging to actual storage of the bulb for the winter can take a few days to a few weeks and should be done during warm late-summer and early-fall weather.

Hentschel recommended that if there are many different kinds of summer bulbs to store, labeling each clump should be done.  “One neat trick for larger bulbs such as amaryllis or elephant ears is to use a magic marker and write directly on the bulb,” he said.

Storage temperatures for summer bulbs can range from 40 to 60 degrees, with 50 degrees being a good goal. If kept too warm, bulbs will begin to grow in storage, and, if they are kept too cold, they suffer and can be slow to grow when planted again in the spring. While in storage, check on the bulbs at least once during the winter months to be sure the bulbs are sound. “If any bulbs show decay, remove them before the decay spreads to healthy bulbs,” Hentschel said.

Some storage roots may need to have the soil or storage media moistened but never saturated to maintain adequate moisture so the storage roots are not all dried by planting time.

“With these easy steps, summer blooms will grace your garden year after year,” Hentschel said.

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Confessions of a reformed composter

Published August 4, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - Do your eyes glaze over as you read home composting recipes? Do you wonder if an advanced degree in chemistry is necessary to make respectable home compost?

“Home composting is no more complicated than baking a cake,” said University of Illinois Extension educator Sandy Mason. “Once a gardener understands the basic principles of home composting, they can use the materials they have available and the methods that best suite them to make their compost.”

Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic materials (stuff that was once alive) using aerobic bacteria (ones that need oxygen, not the smelly anaerobic kind) and fungi, but also protozoans, millipedes, beetles, and worms.

Compost happens. “Organic matter decomposition takes place whether we are around or not,” Mason noted. “However, as gardeners we can speed the composting process and have the finished compost retain the most plant nutrients.

“When I first started composting, I made just about every mistake possible,” Mason confessed. “My first composting attempt was a 4 x 4 x 4-foot pile of the autumn leaves so abundantly available this time of year. I did eventually get some compost at the bottom of the pile, but it took over two years.”

Mason shared these simple steps to speed the composting process of autumn leaves:

  • Shred leaves; small particle size equals a faster decomposition rate.
  • Moisten leaves while building the pile.
  • Minimum size pile is 3 x 3 x 3 feet with a maximum of 5 x 5 x 5 feet.  
  • Add a layer of green materials such as vegetable scraps, plant trimmings, or grass clippings over each 6- to 8-inch layer of leaves. Materials that tend to mat such as grass clippings should be either mixed in or placed in 2- to 3-inch layers within this 6-8 inch layer.” A great mix of materials for the pile is 1 part grass, vegetable scraps, or plant clippings to 2 to 3 parts autumn leaves depending, on leaf moisture,” Mason recommended.
  • Sprinkle finished compost or garden soil over each green layer. “No need to buy compost starters,” Mason noted. “Compost or garden soil possesses all the necessary microbes and creatures to start the composting process.”
  • Turn or mix the pile. The interior temperature of the pile should increase as decomposition takes place. When the temperature starts to decrease, the pile should be mixed or turned (top layer becomes the bottom layer) to continue the decomposition process. “Managing a compost pile is just helping the microbes to do their job by providing the food, moisture, and oxygen they need,” she said.

Not everything should be added, Mason said. “Leave out items such as meat and bones, which can attract rodents, raccoons, cats and dogs. Dog and cat manure should also be left out because it can carry disease organisms. Also leave out twigs bigger than 1/2 inch and rose-bush trimmings. “Although a well-managed pile should kill most disease organisms, leave out obviously diseased plants as well as weeds with seeds or rhizomes,” she said.

“Finished compost is ‘black gold’ to gardeners,” Mason said. “Compost is a great soil conditioner to loosen heavy clay soils and improve the water-holding capacity of sandy soils. It replenishes the beneficial microbes and fungi in the soil as well as adding essential plant nutrients.

“Compost feeds the soil that feeds your plants,” she said.

Visit the University of Illinois Extension Composting for the Homeowner website for more information on composting.

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Caregivers experience difficult emotions

Published August 4, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – In the United States, 43.5 million people are providing care for someone aged 50 or older. Although many families are faced with the care of multiple generations, there is little understanding of the emotional strain caregiving has on relationships, said a University of Illinois Extension family life educator.

“Caregivers may say they are managing okay, but they often feel more stress as a result of taking on this role,” said Cheri Burcham.

Many caregivers step into their roles without much thought about how emotionally and physically demanding caregiving can be, she noted.

“Caregivers assume this role because their loved one needs help, and it can be a very rewarding experience. There will be issues to be dealt with along the way though, especially if the caregiver wants to thrive and not just survive,” the expert said.

Caregivers often feel a variety of emotions, including frustration, guilt, fear, and anger. It is important that they recognize that these feelings are normal. When these feelings are managed, they can be constructive and provide the motivation for problem solving, she said.

According to Burcham, some techniques for handling these difficult emotions and situations include:

  • Stepping back and taking a deep breath
  • Reframing the situation from a different point of view and trying to understand the other person’s perspective
  • Remembering the good times
  • Contacting a trusted friend and talking about your feelings
  • Understanding the care receiver and her issues, which may include dementia, loss of independence, etc.
  • Participating in physical activities
  • Getting some time off or respite care
  • Concentrating on the benefits and rewards of caregiving

University of Illinois Extension’s family life team has developed a program called “Caregiving Relationships: For People Who Care for Adults.” This program helps caregivers of older adults address the many issues and challenges that they face in this role. For more information on caregiving, visit the Extension website and locate a family life educator, Burcham advised.