Extension office notes: information on pests, plants, pruning and training opportunities

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Special to the
Opelika Observer
By Katie Nichols, Victoria Dee, Justin Miller, Ann Chambliss

Women in Ag: Basic Hands-On Training Slated for June 14
The United States is home to more than 1.2 million female farmers. As these numbers climb, the Alabama Extension system is continuing its dedication to providing programming geared specifically toward women.
Brenda Glover, an Alabama Extension animal science and forages regional agent, will host a basic hands-on training session, June 14 at the Black Belt Research and Extension Center in Marion Junction. This training will highlight topics that are essential to a successful farming operation.
Glover said the training stemmed from a need for knowledge of the basics.
“There are lots of women getting involved on farms for one reason or another,” Glover said. “We would like to help them be more independent, take ownership and be successful.”
Topics will include:
• Fencing: Temporary and Permanent from Sutton Gibbs, NRCS
• Tractors and Farm Implements: Driving, Checking oil, Tire pressure, Bushhogs, Sprayers from Wendy Yeager, farm owner
• Pasture Pests: Measuring, Pest Control from Dr. Kelly Palmer, Auburn University
• Trucks and Trailers: Goosenecks, Bumper Pulls from Katie Gantt, farm owner
• Forage Yield Estimation and Soil Testing from Caroline Chappell and Katie Mason, Auburn University
• Animal Health: Needle/vaccination selection, Injection sites from Dr. Jessica Rush, Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Attendees will have the opportunity to drive and work with equipment, as well as learn to soil sample and administer vaccinations using fruit.
“Hands-on training is important for women who are primary operators, and for those helping someone else on the farm,” Glover said.
Training will be from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Space is limited to 30 participants, and registration is first come, first served. Before May 31, the cost to register is $40, which includes lunch. After May 31, the cost increases to $50. To register or for more information about the training, contact Glover at glovebs@aces.edu.
There will also be a two-day Women in Ag workshop in October. Interested parties should watch the ACES calendar for updates.
Pruning Produces Bigger Tomatoes
For many, a garden is not complete without tomato plants in it. Whether you are a producer or a backyard gardener, growing the biggest and best tomatoes is often the end goal. Pruning tomato plants can help people achieve this goal.
Dr. Joe Kemble, an Alabama Extension commercial vegetable specialist, offers the following information about pruning tomato plants.
Pruning helps maintain a balance between vegetative and reproductive growth. If you don’t prune or prune sparingly, your tomato plants will produce excessive vegetative growth with reduced fruit size.
Moderate pruning will leave your plants with shorter vines and larger fruit that will mature earlier. Pruning combined with staking keeps vines and fruit off the ground, helping to manage diseases. Although pruning requires some effort, the benefits of doing so are more marketable fruit and easier harvesting.
The most common method of pruning is prune to a two-stemmed plant by pinching off lateral branches (suckers) as they develop in the axils of each leaf. To achieve this balance, remove all the suckers up to the one immediately below the first flower cluster. A single pruning will usually be adequate, although a later pruning may be needed to remove suckers growing from the base of the plant.
Suckers should be removed when small, no more than two to four inches in length. Letting them get large wastes plant energy and provides an entry point for plant pathogens. Prune early in the morning after plants have dried. Ensuring plant health by pruning is an easy proactive way to gain better fruit and manage diseases.
For more information on pruning, visit Alabama Extension online or contact your local extension office.
Beware of Invasive Pests
With summer just around the corner, many people will be gearing up to make travel plans.
Unfortunately, people are not the only ones on the move this summer. Spring and summer are critical times when damaging invasive species emerge and are easily spread.
Invasive species include plants, animals and insects. Marla Faver, an Alabama Extension regional agent and plant diagnostician, said these species can have a negative effect in a new environment.
“Species introduced into a new environment often have negative impacts to the ecosystem,” Faver said.
According to the USDA, invasive species cost the United States $40 billion each year in damages and control efforts.
“Invasive species are spread primarily by humans,” Faver said. “Transportation of these species can be both intentional and unintentional.”
In addition to human movement, some common ways that these species are spread are:

  • as unsuccessful attempts to control other invasive species
  • escaped imported animals and plants
  • international and interstate transportation highways, canals and rivers.
    The USDA offers the following tips on preventing introducing invasive species into a new environment.
    When moving to a new home. Check patio furniture, grills, bikes and other outdoor items for insect eggs before moving them.
    Before taking an out-of-state trip, make sure your car, RV or other outdoor vehicle is cleaned first. Check any hard-to-see areas to make sure they are free of soil, egg masses and insects. When traveling internationally, be aware of returning with unusual plants, souvenirs made from plants or wood or even a piece of fruit. U.S. laws prohibit many of these items from entering the country because they could harbor an invasive pest.
    Mailing homegrown plants, fruits and vegetables
    Be aware when mailing anything from home gardens. If you live in an area quarantined for a specific pest, don’t mail produce or plants from your garden to others.
    Some invasive pests burrow inside wood to lay their eggs. Don’t take untreated firewood with you on outdoor outings. Instead, buy certified, heat-treated firewood or responsibly gather wood at your destination.
    When buying garden items, ask the retailer if they comply with federal and state quarantine restrictions. Before buying plants online, check if the seller is in the U.S. If they are in another country, you might need import documents to bring the items into the U.S.
    There are three plant diagnostic labs throughout the state, located in Auburn, Birmingham and Gulf Shores. These labs offer services related to plant, soil and insect samples. Samples are examined and control recommendations are provided based on the findings.
    For more information on cost and services provided, visit Alabama Extension online or contact your county extension office. The Auburn Plant Diagnostic Lab in Gulf Shores is the newest lab.
    Avoiding Poisonous Plants
    Warmer weather is sending people in droves to participate in many outdoors activities. In many of these instances, people are in close contact with plants. When camping, hiking, playing in the yard and even working in flower beds and gardens, people should watch for poisonous plants that can cause harm.
    Some of the common poisonous plants people see are poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. Dr. Nancy Loewenstein, an Alabama Extension specialist of forestry and wildlife sciences, said there are a few more species besides these that can cause rashes.
    “While most people don’t react to English ivy (Hedera helix), individuals who are sensitive to it can develop a rash after working or playing around it in the yard.” Loewenstein said. “Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is covered with stinging hairs that cause a painful sting if touched. Skin irritation resembling hives may result. Spurge nettle, also called tread softly (Cnidoscolus stimulosus) is another plant with stinging hairs to avoid in the woods.”
    Unless someone is severely allergic, generally nothing will happen to a person just touching poison ivy, oak or sumac.
    Andrew Baril, an Alabama Extension regional agent of forestry, wildlife and natural resources, said problems occur with these plants when someone crushes the leaves or stem and releases the oils.
    “If the oil is allowed to come in contact with skin, a rash will develop for most people,” Baril said. “If one does come in contact with the oils, it is best to wash the area with warm water and a mild soap. Don’t scratch the area; just lightly remove as much of the oil as possible.”
    Baril said that encountering the oils while burning the plants is worse than touching or crushing them.
    “Smoke encountering the eyes, and inhalation into one’s lungs is extremely painful, and could lead to hospitalization and even death,” Baril said.
    Baril offers a few tips on how to identify poisonous plants and precautions to take to avoid them.
    Poison ivy and poison oak have leaves with three leaflets, often with a reddish spot where the leaflets attach to the stem.
    Always wear long pants and close-toed shoes when in wooded areas.
    Consider application of a preventive lotion, such as Ivy Block, before going outdoors. Always wash clothes immediately upon return from walking in wooded areas.
    Some plants cause reactions or death in humans, but do not have the same effect on animals. Some animals are deathly affected by some plants, but they do not hurt humans.
    “Humans need to look out for poison ivy, poison oak and sumac and don’t touch it,” Baril said. “Animals don’t normally have a problem with the touching these plants, but if your dog rolls in a patch of poison ivy and you rub the dog, it will get on you.”
    According to Baril, dog hair can carry the oils found in these plants.
    “They can bring them into a home and the oil can get on carpets, rugs, furniture or wherever they lay,” Baril said. “Oils can remain potent for over a year. Therefore, dogs should be bathed after they have been seen playing in the plants.”
    Baril cautioned that touching a poisonous plant can be bad, but eating one can be even worse.
    “If you don’t know for sure what plant you are handling, don’t ingest the plant,” Baril said.
    Loewenstein said there are some wild plants that are edible but a person should be sure what the plant is before they eat it.
    “Unless you’re 100 percent sure you’ve identified a plant correctly and made sure it is edible, don’t eat any wild plants,” Loewenstein said. “Some plants have fruits that look safe to eat, but are not. A few examples are Chinaberry and the Chinese tallowtree.”

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