Extension Educator, Horticulture
December 28, 2007
James B. Nardi, a University of Illinois biologist has written a book, Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners that introduces you to all the creatures that live in our soil.
Lavishly illustrated with nearly three hundred color illustrations and masterfully-rendered black and white drawings throughout, Life in the Soil invites naturalists and gardeners alike to dig in and discover the diverse community of creatures living in the dirt below us.
Biologist and acclaimed natural history artist James B. Nardi begins with an introduction to soil ecosystems, revealing the unseen labors of underground organisms maintaining the rich fertility of the earth as they recycle nutrients between the living and mineral worlds.
He then introduces readers to a dazzling array of creatures: wolf spiders with glowing red eyes, snails with 120 rows of teeth, and10,000-year-oldfungi, among others.
Organized by taxon, Life in the Soil covers everything from slime molds and roundworms to woodlice and dung beetles, as well as vertebrates from salamanders to shrews. The book ultimately explores the crucial role of soil ecosystems in conserving the worlds above and below ground.
A unique and illustrative introduction to the many unheralded creatures that inhabit our soils and shape our environment aboveground, Life in the Soil will inform and enrich the naturalist in all of us.
For more information, please contact Stephanie Hlywak at (773) 702--0376 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: University of Chicago Press
December 28, 2007
When you try to provide food for the birds, the rest of nature considers itself invited to the feast that you have provided. Here are some suggestions for reducing problems from squirrels, mice and other creatures that can be a problem to people feeding birds.
Probably the biggest problem that you are likely to face when trying to feed the birds is squirrels trying to take the birdseed. Although squirrels are also part of nature, and many people feel that their feeding at the bird feeder is natural and acceptable, other people get very upset when squirrels arrive at the feeder.
Squirrels are capable of tearing apart many feeders and carrying all of the seed away to be stored for later use, just as they do with acorns and other seeds in the fall.
Squirrels can be kept out of the feeder by mounting it on a slender metal pole that they are unable to climb. The feeder should be at least 6 or 7 feet off of the ground so that the squirrels will not be able to jump onto the feeder from the ground. Locate the bird feeder so that it is at least 20 feet from the nearest tree branch, house roof or other object that the squirrels may use to jump down onto the feeder.
If this isn't feasible, then using sheet metal or smooth plastic around a wooden post will usually keep off the squirrels. Smooth plastic or metal baffles beneath or above the bird feeder will probably keep away most of the squirrels.
Realize, however, that sooner or later a squirrel that is agile enough or ingenious enough to get to the seed anyway may arrive at your feeder. With this in mind, many people decide that if you can't beat them, join them. They end up resigning themselves to the fact that squirrels need to eat as well. Going with this notion, consider feeding corn to the squirrels so that they are less likely to attack the bird feeder. This bribery not only helps protect the feeder, but also helps another of nature's creatures make it through the winter.
Ear corn or corn-on-the-cob usually occupies the squirrels longer than loose corn or seed. These ears can be mounted on nails on boards or fence posts for support. Locate your feeder at least 15 feet from shrubbery or other cover so that ground feeding birds can see a prowling house cat or other predator and have time to escape.
Mice and rats may feed on the spilled seed around the feeder. Locating the feeder over a smooth surface such as a patio allows you to sweep up the seed each evening to reduce this problem. Because many birds prefer to feed on the ground, spilled seed should not be removed during the day.
Source: David Robson, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, Springfield Center, (217)782-6515
December 27, 2007
One of the questions that I frequently get during the holidays is "What is the difference between a sweet potato and a yam?" The Library of Congress has a Web site which answers the question called, " Everyday Mysteries: Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress. All of the questions presented on the Web site were asked by researchers and answered by librarians from the Library's Science Reference Services.
North Carolina State University has a nice chart illustrating the differences between sweet pototoes and yams.
December 12, 2007
One cannot appreciate the damage ice causes to trees until they've experienced a heavy ice storm. Normally major ice storms do not occur on a regular basis. According to the Chicago Tribune this four day stretch of frozen precipitation hasn't occurred in the Chicago Metro region since 1924. If our warmer winters continue, ice storms may be a more common occurrence in Chicagoland.
The following are web sites that will help you deal with ice storms and other winter weather:
Heavy accumulations of snow and ice can cause major structural damage to trees and shrubs. The damaged limbs should be properly removed. This University of Illinois Extension web site provides a guide for homeowners seeking to repair damaged plant material.
The University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point developed this web site for city planners and homeowners that describes just how susceptible certain tree species are to ice storms. Information on how ice storms form, tree features that make trees susceptible and resistant to ice storms, ice storm management and prevention, plus a table with susceptibility ratings of specific urban trees to ice damage is also provided.
This University of Illinois Extension web site offers links to current weather conditions around the state, up-to-date traffic and air travel information, plus information on how to deal with snow and ice storm related damage.
This web site includes a set of 12 fact sheets on preparing for winter danger.
This University of Illinois Extension press release outlines what to do to keep the food in your refrigerator and freezer safe during extended power outages from winter and summer storms.
December 11, 2007
While poinsettias are tough tropical plants, occasionally stems break off or bend during transport or when accidentally bumped. If caught soon enough, you can use those bloom stems for decorations.
Poinsettias are members of the Euphorbia family, characterized by milky sap in the stems. To use the flowers in arrangements, it's important that the stems are sealed.
Whether you accidentally break a stem or want to use the brightly colored leaves and flowers in an arrangement or vase, cut the "blooms" with at least four inches of stem. Immediately seal the cut end by dipping in boiling water for 5 to 10 seconds. Another alternative is to hold the cut end over a flame for 15 seconds. Make sure hands are protected with a kitchen mitt to avoid burning. Sealing prevents the sap from oozing from the cut; and, thus, it prevents the cut stem from wilting.
If stems are too long and need to be shortened, you'll have to reseal the end again.
"Blooms" should last a week or more. Make sure the cut end is in water or a wet florist block such as Oasis. Discard flowers when wilted and leaves start falling.
Source: David J. Robson, Extension Educator, Horticulture, email@example.com
December 10, 2007
Popular during the holiday season, the spectacular amaryllis can be enjoyed throughout the winter, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
"The amaryllis has a single flower stalk with four-inch blooms at the top," said David Robson. "The blooms resemble lily flowers and come in an array of colors from red to pink, coral, and white. The foliage is bright green and strap-like, similar to a bromeliad.
"You may be lucky and get two or three flower stalks per bulb."
Robson provided some recommendations for the purchase and care of amaryllis.
"If buying a bulb--available from October to March--select a large, fat one at least 2-1/2 inches in diameter," said Robson. "Bulbs need to be that size to flower properly. Make sure the bulbs are free of any mold or rot. If the bulb feels soft and squishy, avoid it."
When planting, use a container that has one or more drain holes in the bottom. Amaryllis bulbs are potted so that one-half to two-thirds of the bulb is exposed above the pot rim. Use a pot that is no more than two to three inches bigger in diameter than the bulb. Leave one-half inch of the pot rim above the soil line so you can water without spilling over the edge.
"After potting, soak the soil thoroughly," he said. "When watering, make sure water comes out the bottom of the pot, but do not let the pot stand in this excess water. Pour the excess off. Too much water and the bulb may rot."
Flower stalks with several blooms on each should develop in about six to eight weeks if a top-grade bulb was used. Stake the stalks if necessary but be careful not to injure the bulb.
"Some people stake before planting. It is possible that one flower stalk will bloom out before another is formed," Robson said. "Make sure to keep the soil moist during the flowering period."
The cooler the night temperatures, the stronger the stem, the longer the flowers will last--and the more intense the colors will remain.
Getting the bulb to re-flower the next year isn't always simple, but it can be a rewarding challenge.
"Cut off dead blooms immediately," he said. "However, don't remove leaves that begin to grow after the flower stalks have developed. Keep the plant moist and in a humid location with bright light to full sun. Once the danger of frost is over, sink the pot with the bulb inside into soil outside in a sunny flowerbed and fertilize with a complete water-soluble fertilizer every four to six weeks.
"In late summer, gradually reduce the watering. When foliage has died down, trim it off. Place the pots inside where it is cool--40 to 50 degrees--and dry. Lay the pots on their sides. The bulbs need a six to eight-week rest period. This period is critical to set the flower buds."
Amaryllis should be repotted about every three years or so. Otherwise, do not disturb the roots.
"Pots should be two to three inches larger than the bulb at planting, but pot-bound bulbs seem to flower nicely year after year with minimal care," said Robson.
Source: David J. Robson, Extension Educator, Horticulture, firstname.lastname@example.org
December 9, 2007
Around the holidays, we often see blooming plants that are members of the cactus family. The Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), and the Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri) all look alike. The Schlumbergera species are native to the tropical forests of Brazil, while the Rhipsalidopsis species is native to the natural forests of Brazil.
These three species of cactus are members of the group of cacti called leaf cacti, explains Martha Smith, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. The plant bodies are flattened and the leaves are actually stems. The flowers are produced from notches in these stems or from the tips. The fuchsia-like flowers last a long time. They are usually pink, but modern hybrids include white, red, yellow, and purple varieties.
Smith says the main difference between the Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus, and the Easter cactus is the time of bloom. As their common names suggest, a Thanksgiving cactus can bloom in late fall, one month before the Christmas cactus. The Easter cactus starts producing flower buds in February. Regardless of type, there are steps to follow to ensure bloom.
Flower bud initiation responds to cool temperatures and shortened day length. Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus should be left outdoors, away from artificial light until night temperatures dip into the 40s. At this time, they do best at temperatures between 50 and 65 degrees. Bring them in and place them in a cool area, keeping them away from all light between the hours of 5 p.m. and 8 a.m., and water weekly. Avoid heating vents that can cause temperature fluctuations. The plants should come into flower sometime in December through January.
"If you want them to bloom sooner, start the cool temp/short day treatment earlier," says Smith.
The Easter cactus requires a dry period. From October to November, very little water is required for flower bud initiation. Easter cactus should also be placed in the same cool area under shorter light periods at this time. In December, raise the temperature to about 65 degrees and water sparingly. Expect flowering around March.
"Regardless of which type of cactus you have, avoid high temperatures and heat fluctuations when the plant is flowering," says Smith. "Lack of flowering is directly related to the cool temp/short day treatment. The Easter cactus is a bit different since it is not a tropical plant. It requires a dry period."
Source: Martha A. Smith, Extension Educator, Horticulture, email@example.com