Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Extension Showcase: Foothills Fresh

The Foothills Fresh program highlights the emergence of the western piedmont and foothills area of North Carolina as an important local foods and agritourism region. What began as a four-county project now includes eight counties—Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, and Lincoln. Extension agents in each of those counties work as a team to coordinate the effort.

The focus of the program is its website, Area residents can search the site by county, by commodity, or by category (example: farmers markets). The website also provides information on seasonal produce availability, food safety and preservation, and nutrition. A new feature this year is a map showing all the participating farms. 

In addition to educating the public about local farms, Foothills Fresh also provides a growers school each year. This school is rotated to different counties, and topics are varied. The 2012 school is focusing on subjects ranging from pollinator conservation to managing stink bugs.

Foothills Fresh has helped farmers and Extension agents alike realize that everyone benefits when they work together to promote the entire region rather than just a single farm or county.  

- Kevin Starr, Lincoln Co.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pest Alert: Winter Annual Weeds

An invasion of lawn weeds can usually be traced back to management decisions that we are making for our lawns. Frequent and close mowing practices often yield more problems with weeds like annual bluegrass and chickweeds during the winter. These weeds germinate in the fall and continue to grow through the spring months, flowering and setting seed before dying back in late spring. The cycle will repeat next fall if conditions continue to be favorable for these winter annual weeds. Annual bluegrass (Poa annua) is a weedy, light-green grass that readily seeds. Common chickweed (Stellaria media) is a low-growing broadleaf weed that spreads outward from a central clump, rooting along the stems.  

Adjusting the mowing height of your lawn mower to achieve the proper height for your lawn is one of the easiest methods of weed prevention. Mowing at the proper height encourages a thicker, denser lawn that will be able to compete against most weeds.
Another practice that contributes to more annual bluegrass and chickweed is excess nitrogen levels due to over-fertilization. Soil testing and providing the correct fertility needed for the lawn to grow at its best will help limit these winter annual weeds.

- Jan McGuinn, Rutherford Co.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Extension Showcase: Burke County Master Gardener Program

Like many counties across North Carolina, the Burke County Cooperative Extension center has a Master Gardener program that trains volunteers to provide horticultural education to home gardeners. The Burke County program has graduated more than 150 Master Gardeners during its 10-year existence. This year the program produced another 27 new volunteers to add to its numbers.

Extension Master Gardeners give their time throughout the year to help with Extension’s horticulture program. Extension horticulture agents would be hard-pressed to do the high volume of work that each growing season generates without the help of these volunteers. Master Gardeners bring an endless variety of skills with them when they join the program, and their eagerness to learn new things and do good work is invaluable. Whether the community garden needs weeding, a school garden needs a little TLC, or the local county fair needs some extra hands, there are always plenty of Master Gardeners looking for something to keep them busy.

If you would like to learn more about the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program, you can contact your local Extension center for more information. Thank you, Extension Master Gardeners, for all that you do!

Photo by Donna Burke – Burke County Master Gardener Volunteers
- Donna Teasley, Burke Co.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Environmental Stewardship: Bees and Pesticides

Bees are very sensitive to most pesticides, and they are particularly sensitive to insect killers, also known as insecticides. Most bee poisonings happen when pesticides are applied to blooming plants, although pesticides can harm bees in other circumstances, too. Here we’ll discuss how you can prevent bees from being harmed by pesticides.

Honeybees fly 2 to 3 miles from their hive to find sources of nectar and pollen. Bees only fly out during the day when temperatures are warm enough. so you can decrease the potential for poisoning bees by applying pesticides when bees are not flying. Apply pesticides to your plants when air temperatures are below 55°F to 60°F and between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. Early-evening application gives pesticides time to partially or totally break down during the night.

Bees must have water to cool the hive and feed the brood. Never contaminate standing water with pesticides or drain spray tank contents onto the ground, creating puddles.

Do not apply pesticides while crops or landscape plants are in bloom. Before treating a landscape with pesticides, check for the presence of other blooming plants and weeds, which might attract bees. In orchards, pollen is gathered from the flowers of fruit trees during bloom. However, wildflowers and weeds on the orchard floor and within drift range of the pesticide spray can also serve as pollen sources. Insecticide should be applied only while target plants are in the bud stage or just after the petals have dropped.

If an insecticide formulation that is less toxic to bees is available, use it. Some examples of relatively nontoxic active ingredients that can be applied with little harm to bees include B.t. (Bacillus thuringiensis), azadirachtin (which is derived from neem oil), esfenvalerate, and pyrethrum. For any insecticide you apply, follow the instructions on the label.

Please remember that every action has an effect on the environment around you. If you are unsure of a pesticide’s use or potential harm to bees, please contact your local Cooperative Extension agent (contact information available at

Honeybees in a hive by Elizabeth Ayers
- Elizabeth Ayers, Madison Co.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Smart Gardening: Efficient Watering

Water is necessary for plants to grow and survive. Some plants, such as cacti and yuccas, require very little water; but the plants that are adapted to our Southern landscapes need ample water to thrive. Most established plants need about 1 inch of water each week. In normal years, rainfall supplies a significant portion of the water that our plants need. During a drought or periods of minimal rainfall, however, we have to supply the water that our plants need to grow. Decreased water supplies have made it increasingly important to use water as efficiently as possible. You can increase your irrigation efficiency by making just a few easy changes to your watering habits.

Apply water to the soil rather than sprinkling the leaves. Most plants absorb the majority of the water they need from the roots, so apply water to the soil where the plants can make the best use of it. Watering the foliage may make you feel good, but the plant is not likely to use much of that water. In addition, wet foliage can increase disease problems.
Water your plants when they need it, rather than on a schedule. Invest in a rain gauge to determine how much additional water you need to apply to supplement the rain you get each week. Install rain monitors if you use an irrigation system so that your system doesn’t run during or immediately following a rain event. Also, turn off the automatic timer, and operate the system manually so you can ensure that it only runs when needed.
Apply water slowly so it can soak into the soil and be absorbed by plant roots. Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation when possible. These irrigation helpers are designed to apply water slowly right at the root zone, to optimize the amount of water that soaks in and gets used by plants. Sprinklers and garden hoses generally apply water too fast and in too much volume for it all to soak in, resulting in considerable waste as unabsorbed water runs off.
Water early in the day or in the evenings to reduce the amount of water lost from evaporation during the hottest part of the day. 

- Kelly Groves, Catawba Co.

Soaker hoses allow water to slowly drip into the soil. Photo by Charlotte Glen

Monday, August 6, 2012

Pest Alert: Kudzu Bugs

Kudzu bugs often congregate in large numbers
on plant stems.
Photo by Charlotte Glen
“These bugs . . . they’re everywhere! How do I get rid of them?”
“They’re jumping on my legs when I walk through the yard.”
“They’re all over the side of my house.”
These are just a few of the comments I’ve heard lately from folks who have encountered the prolific kudzu bug, which is invading homes and gardens throughout the South.

Homes closest to soybean fields or kudzu patches are more likely to be invaded, because these are the kudzu bug’s favorite foods. They’ve also been known to feed on wisteria and vetches. Kudzu bugs gravitate toward light-colored surfaces like siding and fascia boards. Once there, they find their way into gaps around doors, windows, air conditioners, and water pipes, becoming nuisance pests inside homes.

It is difficult to control these pests with insecticides because the bugs move constantly and most people lack the proper equipment to apply insecticides. But there is hope! Sealing gaps and openings can prevent the bugs from entering your house. If they still find their way inside, simply vacuum them up and destroy the vacuum bag.

With a name like “kudzu bug,” one might think, “Great! An insect that destroys kudzu! What’s wrong with that?” Unfortunately, the kudzu bug is wreaking havoc on soybean fields as well as kudzu. Surveys by the North Carolina State University Department of Entomology and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have confirmed the presence of kudzu bugs in at least 55 North Carolina counties. Infestation with this pest has been associated with a significant decrease in crop yields, so entomologists are keeping a close watch on it. In the meantime, arm yourself with a vacuum cleaner in case they decide to visit your home.

- Julie Flowers, Gaston Co.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Tomato season is under way in North Carolina. After starting with the greenhouse tomatoes, we rapidly progress to a great abundance of tomatoes of all types. One of the best ways to use a tomato is in a tomato sandwich. You might think making a tomato sandwich is a simple thing, but there are major decisions that must be made along the way. First, what type of bread will you use? Then you have to decide on a spread. Will it be mayonnaise or a mayonnaise substitute? For some folks, it has to be a specific brand of mayonnaise. Then there’s the tomato itself—red, pink, or yellow?

The next decision is crucial: do you peel the tomato before you slice it, or not? I’ve tried it both ways. Unpeeled tomatoes make a sandwich that is easier to handle, but peeling the tomato releases all that great flavor. It also results in a juicier sandwich that challenges you to eat it before it falls apart. Salt and pepper are the final ingredients for this simple gourmet delight.

To get the most out of your fresh tomatoes, be sure to handle them properly in the kitchen. Rule number 1: do not refrigerate a tomato before you use it! A tomato that is showing even the least bit of color will continue to ripen if kept at room temperature. Placing your tomatoes in the refrigerator will have a negative effect on their taste. Naturally, if you cut a large tomato and only use part of it, you will have to refrigerate the remainder if you want to use it later.

Whether you grow them or buy them at your local farmers market, there’s nothing like a fresh North Carolina tomato. Enjoy them this summer!

Tomato, USDA ARS Photo Unit,
USDA Agricultural Research Service,

- Kevin Starr, Lincoln Co.