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Beneficial anti-inflammatory effects observed when plant extracts fed to sick pigs

Published February 26, 2014
pig snout

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 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 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

Published February 26, 2014
pigs eating outside

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

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

Published February 26, 2014
The Affordable Care Act in Illinois
The Affordable Care Act in Illinois

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,, or Chelsey Byers at 217-333-7872,



News Source:

Chelsey Byers, 217-333-7872

News Writer:

Leanne Lucas, 217-244-9085

Winter jug sowing

Published February 26, 2014

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.

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

New research suggests safer ways to use soft plastic lures

Published February 25, 2014
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.

Stephen Kovachevich
The energy and creativeness that we put forth together created an enriching experience.
Coal City, Illinois

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.”

Bob Pritchard
It is especially rewarding to work with my youth advisory council, speak to school classes and share my perspective about the issues facing citizens.
Hinckley, Illinois

“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.”

Potential growth in corn used for ethanol production

Published February 24, 2014

URBANA, Ill. – It has been argued that corn consumption during the current marketing year appears to be more responsive to lower prices than generally anticipated, particularly in the export market. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, the responsiveness reflects not only lower corn prices in absolute terms, but also in relation to the price of other feed ingredients. 

“Arguably, corn has become one of the cheaper feed ingredients currently available,” said Darrel Good. “In addition to increased feed consumption of corn in the domestic and foreign markets, there are also indications that domestic corn consumption could be boosted by a growing export demand for ethanol. It is argued that the combination of generally high crude oil prices, and therefore high gasoline prices, in relation to ethanol prices, will make ethanol an attractive source of octane around the world. With corn prices at the current levels, U.S. ethanol is very competitively priced in the world market. Anticipating export demand for ethanol, however, is difficult, and opinions about the size of that market vary considerably,” he said.

According to Good, U.S. ethanol exports totaled about 400 million gallons in 2010 but ballooned to almost 1.2 billion gallons in 2011 as high sugar prices and limited Brazilian ethanol supplies boosted demand for U.S. ethanol, particularly in Brazil. Exports retreated to about 730 million gallons in 2012 as Brazilian ethanol production rebounded and totaled only about 620 million gallons in 2013. However, exports were on the rise late in the year, totaling 82.5 million gallons in November 2013 and nearly 65 million gallons in December 2013. Weekly statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) suggest that exports have been brisk so far in 2014. Canada is the largest importer of U.S. ethanol, accounting for 45 percent of U.S. exports in December 2013. Brazil accounted for an additional 22 percent of U.S. exports. An additional 44 countries imported some U.S. ethanol in November or December 2013.

“A combination of larger ethanol exports, increased domestic motor fuel consumption, and a final EPA rule making for the Renewable Fuel Standards for 2014 that provided more ‘push’ for higher ethanol blends in the domestic fuel supply could provide for meaningful expansion in domestic ethanol production and corn consumption,” Good said. “The magnitude of ethanol imports will also factor into that potential expansion. With so many unknowns, it is difficult to quantify potential growth. However, there is not unlimited capacity to produce corn-based ethanol in the United States. It is conceivable that with limited imports, growing exports, and expanding domestic consumption of ethanol, production capacity could be challenged at some point. That capacity then will determine the limit of growth in corn consumption associated with ethanol production,” he said.

The Renewable Fuels Association estimates the nameplate capacity of current biorefineries at 14.875 billion gallons, with an additional 165 million gallons of new construction or expansion under way. Good said that, translating that capacity into maximum potential for corn consumption is not straightforward for at least three reasons. First, it is possible for refineries to produce above nameplate capacity. Second, feedstocks other than corn are used in some refineries. Third, there is a variation in the estimates of yield of ethanol per bushel of corn processed into ethanol, and the yield can vary by the intensity of use relative to nameplate capacity. As a result, estimates of maximum corn consumption vary.

The most recent private industry survey (for the year ended June 2013) revealed an average industry yield of 2.72 gallons of undenatured ethanol per bushel of corn. Assuming total nameplate capacity of 15.04 billion gallons of ethanol and recognizing that production can exceed nameplate capacity (but that not all feedstock is corn), corn-based ethanol production capacity might be near 15.2 billion gallons. With a yield of 2.72 gallons per bushel, maximum corn consumption for ethanol would be 5.588 billion bushels. That compares to the USDA projection of 5.0 billion bushels for the current marketing year.

“There is a bit more to the story, however,” Good added. “A co-product of ethanol refining is a variety of distillers grains solubles (DGS) that are used as livestock feed. Those solubles substitute for other feed ingredients, mostly whole corn. That same private survey I referenced indicated that an average of 16 pounds of livestock feed is produced for each bushel of corn refined. That is, for each bushel refined, 0.286 bushels are available to substitute for other feed ingredients. If, for example, 80 percent of those solubles substitute for whole corn, then 0.229 bushels of whole corn are replaced (domestically or internationally) for each bushel of corn refined into ethanol. Using that relationship, the net consumption of corn from ethanol production can be calculated. Processing 5.0 billion bushels of corn into ethanol would represent a net use of 3.855 billion bushels [5.0 - (.229 X 5.0)] and processing 5.588 billion bushels would represent a net use of 4.308 billion bushels. Under the assumptions made here, moving from 5.0 billion bushels of corn processed into ethanol to the maximum industry capacity of 5.588 billion bushels would result in a 453-million-bushel net increase in corn consumption rather than a 588-million-bushel increase,” he said.

Good concluded by saying that ethanol is expected to continue to be a large and likely growing segment of demand for U.S. corn, suggesting that corn prices could be supported at higher levels than expected during a period of more abundant supplies. However, there is a limit to growth without motivation to expand corn-based ethanol production capacity.           


The perfect time to plan this year’s fruit tree orchard

Published February 24, 2014
home orchard

URBANA, Ill. - It is not too early to start to plan for a new home orchard or to consider replacements for aging fruit trees in an existing home orchard, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. 

“There are several different kinds of fruit trees to consider: apple, cherry, peach, pear, and or plum,” said Richard Hentschel.

In northern portions of Illinois, the horticulture educator said apple is likely the main fruit tree grown in backyard orchards. Apples are the hardiest of fruit trees and a good place to start for the home orchardist, he added.

“When you shop the fruit tree catalogs or visit with your favorite retail garden center to find out what varieties they will be carrying this spring, consider dwarf apples because, as in most cases, yard space is limited. Dwarf apple trees are naturally smaller than their full-sized siblings and are much easier to train, prune, and maintain than a full-sized fruit tree. If you have lots of space, full-sized fruit trees are always an option but will provide the challenges associated with any full-sized fruit tree,” Hentschel said.

Fruit trees are dwarf naturally or because growers graft or bud them to a dwarfing rootstock, limiting the size of the fruit tree. If they are naturally dwarf, then the apples listed will be a “spur-type” tree. There are many examples of spurs available. Empire, red and yellow delicious, Macintosh, Rome, winesap, and early blaze are a few. The smallest fruit trees will be a combination of a spur type grafted or budded on a dwarfing rootstock, often listed in the catalogs as “Double Dwarf.” 

“Catalogs will list a mature size that is considerably smaller than the full-sized version, but the ultimate size of your dwarf tree is really up to you. If you start to train too late or do not prune correctly, that dwarf apple tree will be much larger than you wanted or expected, yet still much smaller than a full-sized tree,” Hentschel explained. 

Another important key to selecting fruit trees is pollination. Fruit tree catalogs will suggest which apple varieties will be the best pollinators for the varieties you wish to grow. “It is critical that you have two different apple varieties blooming at the same time in order to get good pollination and a strong fruit set,” he said.

Apples are mostly considered to be “self-unfruitful,” meaning that pollen from other flowers on the same tree or from another tree of the same variety will not pollinate itself. The smallest home orchard would need to contain at least two different apple varieties blooming at the same time. Hentschel noted that a possible exception to this rule is if an ornamental flowering crabapple is in bloom, pollen from the flowering crabapple will pollinate fruiting apple trees. This is more likely to occur in an urban backyard than outside of town, he added.   

Just what do experts mean when they say “you need to train your fruit tree?” 

“Home orchardists need to train the tree for structure and to encourage fruit production in order to have a productive, high yielding home orchard,” Hentschel said. “The branches will be positioned on the trunk to allow good sunlight throughout the canopy to promote fruit production from the interior to the outside of your trees’ canopy. This also allows air circulation in the canopy, reducing leaf and fruit diseases, so you benefit in two ways.”

Using dwarf apple trees as an example, what orchardists call the central leader system will likely be used to train the trees. The central leader system allows fruit trees to look like most other trees in the landscape, yet produce apples without the tree looking like those seen in commercial orchards. Training starts the first year dwarf trees are planted. Start to select scaffold branches, placing the first set of scaffold branches no more than 24 inches from the ground.

“By starting that low, you will be able to place additional scaffolds and still have a mature tree that is no taller than 6 to 8 feet, making it very easy to manage. If a dwarf tree is allowed to grow without being well trained, that fruit tree will be much larger than you had planned for. Fruit production will be delayed and long-term care will be more difficult,” Hentschel said.

There are several other advantages of a well-trained dwarf fruit tree, Hentschel noted. “Annual spring pruning will be visually much clearer as to what branches will need your attention. There will be branches that need to be adjusted using traditional branch spreaders or alternative methods such as using twine and a stake to pull the branch into the desired horizontal plane as you develop your scaffolds. Water sprouts will be easily identified as they will be growing straight up from the horizontal scaffold branches,” he said.

As dwarf fruit trees mature, weekly inspection and monitoring of fruit pests will be easier and done very quickly. Even though young fruit trees may not produce apples for the first two or more years, orchardists will need to take care of insects and foliar diseases. Foliage-feeding insects reduce the canopy, reducing the amount of food that could go into growing and developing. Leaf diseases have a similar impact. If allowed to continue over the seasons, they could easily delay fruit production. Early pruning and scaffold selection encourages flowers and fruit set.   

“Where you place the home orchard on your property will make a big difference in how the fruit tree grows and performs,” Hentschel said. “A fruit tree requires full sun for best growth and production. A fruit tree uses that sunlight to both produce the fruits that we enjoy so much as well as create vegetative and fruit buds for the coming year.”

Another major consideration is the soil in the area where the home orchard will be planted. “Fruit trees are no different from other trees or shrubs in your landscape; they need good soil drainage. Placing the home orchard where water will drain away very soon after a rain event will help ensure that the roots have the needed soil oxygen to supply both the moisture and nutrients needed to the canopy for continued growth of the foliage and filling of the fruits,” Hentschel said.

“If the soil oxygen is displaced for an extended period of time, the roots will be unable to move the moisture and nutrients up into the tree. Soils that remain too wet will also promote root loss through decay, putting further stress on the fruit tree, potentially killing the fruit tree,” he added.

Besides soil drainage, another area overlooked is air drainage. Home orchardists can avoid late spring frosts to a great degree by placing the trees on a slope or at the high point in the landscape so the cold air settles to the bottom of the hill or slope, away from the fruit tree. “The concern here is preventing the most frost-susceptible flower buds from being damaged. While the weather is unpredictable in the late spring, we can reduce the risk,” Hentschel explained.

“Home orchardists can reduce the risk of damage from a late frost by delaying spring growth by mulching the soil late in the fall or early winter, well after cold weather has set in and after the ground is very cold or frozen,” Hentschel said. “This activity will keep the ground frozen and the root system cold, delaying the fruit tree from breaking dormancy even by a few days, which helps us get past the chances of damage from that late frost.”

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Early onset of “gardenitis”

Published February 21, 2014
garden shovel

URBANA, Ill. - The next “bug” you catch may not be the flu bug, but rather the gardening bug that starts to infect many gardeners about this time of year, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. 

“There are some preventative steps to take to delay the early onset of ‘gardenitis,’”said Richard Hentschel.

“Start by taking deep breaths and thinking back on all the good things that happened last year in your garden and forgetting about the bad stuff. Next, check your temperature by going to the patio door and looking at the indoor-outdoor thermometer to be sure it is still reading too cold to start anything indoors. Last, drink in lots of sunshine on the brighter, longer days we are having,” he said.

Having taken all the above steps, gardeners can then consider starting their vegetable and flower seeds in a timelier, controlled manner. “Read the seed packet to find out the best time to sow the seeds for planting outside in our area, normally just a few weeks before the average frost-free date. The date will vary, depending if you are planning for that early garden, the summer or fall garden,” Hentschel said.

Gardeners should start seeds at home that they cannot find as transplants or for those specific flowers or vegetables that can only be found in the seed catalogs. Hentschel recommends using fresh, packed for 2014, vegetable and flower seeds, brand new or very clean and sanitized seed starting flats; and a bag of brand new soil-less growing media for starting seeds.

“If the seed-starting media is dry, wet and stir in enough water to provide moisture for the seeds to start their germination process,” he said. “Next, fold the soil into the starting flats, being sure to adequately fill the cells using clean hands or sanitized garden tools. Once that is finished, you are ready to sow your seeds. 

“If you are using individual cell packs place one or two seeds per cell at the depth recommended on the seed packet. If you are sowing in rows, place the rows far enough apart so you can later transplant them easily,” Hentschel added.

Gardeners can also sow across the flat in short rows if fewer plants are needed or to be able to sprout more kinds of vegetables of the same type. “Many gardeners will take plastic wrap from the kitchen and lightly cover the seed flat to retain even moisture during the germination process,” he said.

Some seeds prefer warmer soil temperatures to germinate, others cooler, so be sure to sow similar seeds in the same flat. Once seeds are in the flats and covered, place them in an appropriate location to provide the needed heat to warm up or to keep the soil cool.

“Instructions on the seed packet will tell you when you can expect to see the seedlings emerge and if any thinning will be needed. If thinning is necessary, use a small pair of scissors to cut the unwanted seedling off, but do not pull it out as you will damage the seedling you want to keep,” Hentschel explained.

As the seedlings continue to grow, move the flats into brighter light to keep them from reaching for the sun and getting too leggy and thin. The best conditions will be good sunlight during the day and cooler night temperatures to create the best transplant possible. 

“Too much water can ruin your recipe for success by causing seedling diseases and later root rots of young vegetable and flower plants. When watering, water the soil only, not the foliage which can also cause diseases,” he said. “If your ‘gardenitis’ gets too bad, contact your support group of other gardeners and have them talk you down.”

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension