My Fall Protocol

Fall is officially here, even though the temperatures are still rising into the high 80’s. Colder temperatures are just around the corner and we need to be doing some winter preparation before that first frost arrives. I do my yard preparation in three major steps: cleaning up the yard; preparing the yard for winter; and planting for the spring bloom. I know it sounds like a lot of work and I will be out doing the preparation, too!

Clean up that yard:

I love to fill my yard with flowers in the spcompostring and summer, so one of the first things I will need to do is pull out the annuals and put them with my compost. These plants are only intended to grow for one season and won’t survive the winter. Composting could be a subject all on its own – so for now I just suggest you allow nature to do what it does best in breaking down the plant matter to be able to help future things grow. Composting is one awesome way to dispose of yard waste and be environmentally friendly too. Clean out your pots and store them for the winter. With cold Iowa temperatures, the containers will weather better stacked and stored. Cleaning your pots helps prevent molds and bacteria transfer from one season to the next. Sometimes it is good to clean with a mild disinfectant solution.

Cut back your perennials. Trim gangly stems. Any non-woody stems can be pruned back to within an inch or two of the ground. In most cases, only woody stems and branches will survive the cold Iowa winters. You can also do this in the spring (I just like to have a start on the preparation for next years’ tasks). Pick up excess yard waste or branches and dispose of them properly by composting or adding to the city yard waste collection bags.

Keep up with your weeding until the frost arrives for good and it will help lessen the amount of weed pulling that you will do in the spring. Some weeds are hardy perennials and it is best to not give invasive plants a chance to establish a deep root system.

Preparation for the chillfrost

I protect my plants with a light layer of mulch. (I rake and mulch my leaves and then use that as a layer of protection). This layer of protection helps prevent soil temperatures from becoming too extreme. Even if frost penetrates the ground it won’t kill the plant roots if it isn’t too extreme. Some of the more fragile plants have to weather the winter in my basement. I dig them up and transfer them to a pot that I can bring indoors. I just have to find a sunny location and put a tray down layered with small pebbles and water so that they still get a little moisture and a little light.

Remove the garden hose from the outdoor faucets and allow them to drain out and them store them for the winter. If a hose is left outside with water in it, the water will freeze and crack or break the hose.leaves

Rake your leaves as needed.  It hurts the lawn to leave the leaves down on the grass and with the arrival of snow can damage the lawn if left all winter long.

Winterize your outdoor equipment. Taking the time to clean up and winterize will help your equipment to last longer and be prepared for next spring. Winterize by draining the gasoline tank, cleaning debris off, sharpening blades, removing rust, etc. I store the equipment, so that critters or cold temperatures won’t do damage.

Plant for the Spring:is

As I said earlier, I like flowers and color. I take time to plant spring bulbs sometime in late September early October. They will look the best if you plant them in bunches of 8-10 bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and even irises work great for a pop of spring color. I like to make sure I use good planting soil and a little bit of mulch in with the bulbs and then put a layer on top for protection.

This Fall To-Do list that will take a little of time on the weekend, but reaping the rewards next spring when there is less to do and there is properly working equipment will be a blessing.  Just grab the sweatshirt and the yard gloves and get busy!

       ~ Sheri


Organizing for Agriculture

This title alone does not convey this to be an engaging blog, but let’s see if I can put a unique spin on this topic. What have you done for agriculture? What do you do to help support, promote or advocate for agriculture? Agriculture is connected to so many careers, it is important everyone becomes informed on the issues facing agriculture, food production and the environment. I encourage you to LISTEN (it’s different than hearing) to many different viewpoints, form your own opinions, and stand behind your beliefs. Boy, all those election commercials are rubbing off, sorry.

Iowans have long recognized the importance in having a voice in and about agriculture. It is the backbone of our state economy. Do you know how many Iowans have held the position as Secretary of United States Department of Agriculture? The answer: six! The most of any state! You will likely recognize some of their names: James “Tama Jim” Wilson, Edwin Thomas Meredith, Henry C. Wallace, Henry A. Wallace, Mike Johanns, and Tom Vilsack. All of these men have interesting backgrounds.  One of these gentlemen allowed George Washingon Carver to stay in his office while going to Iowa Agricultural College (ISU). Another founded the Better Homes and Gardens magazine, while another went on to become Vice President of the United States. All these men had a strong voice about the importance of Iowa and agriculture. You, too, can you be a voice. Do you visit with farmers? Do you call your legislators and speak with them to voice your concerns at a local, regional, state and national level?

And did you know at one time the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture was not a member of the President’s Cabinet? An organization rallied in 1889 to make this position a part of the Cabinet. What organization do you think that was? If your answer was the Farm Bureau, you would be incorrect. The American Farm Bureau Federation did not form until 1920. The correct answer would be the National Grange, founded in 1867. To be honest, the first time I heard of the Grange was watching Little House on the Prairie. Pa got dressed up, went to a Grange meeting and wore a yellow ribbon on his lapel. (Yes, I remember the strangest things.) That is all I could tell you before I did a little research.  Did you know the Grange was also involved in the Hatch Act that created experimental stations at state colleges of agriculture. (GO ISU!) they also were involved in legislation in 1906 that promoted ethanol as a motor fuel. See, ethanol is not a new thing. There are other items in the news presented as new which, if one did a little research, would find have been around for decades (i.e. methane, GMOs, soil/water conservation).

Sugar Grove 2

The National Grange will be holding their 150th convention in November. According to the National Grange website, it states they advocate for rural America and agriculture. With a history of grassroots activism, family values and community service, the Grange is a part of 2,100 hometowns in the United States. One of these hometowns is Newton, IA, home to the Silos & Smokestacks Partner Site Sugar Grove Vineyards & Gathering Place, a rejuvenated 1870s Grange Hall. I hope you will make an appointment to visit.

These are just two examples of organizations and people that have had a voice for agriculture. I encourage you to check out FarmHer, WOCAN, Iowa Corn Growers, Iowa Soybean, Iowa Cattlemen, Iowa Pork Producers, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and the many others that have a voice for American agriculture. How can you help?

-Laura, Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Fall is just around the corner. For me, Fall brings back memories of scenicfire pit evenings, football games, beautiful fall colors in tree lines, seasonal mums, and picking apples. I savor family time being spent outdoors. I thoroughly enjoy watching my grandkids during this time of year…especially when we travel to the apple orchard and they are all about helping pick “good” apples. That got me thinking about how I can help them learn about picking apples as we have fun at the apple orchard.

I prefer like to look for a “pick your own” orchard because I love to do the apple picking. Many of the orchards offer other festivities like games and pumpkins patches.  Here in Iowa, September and early October are the best times to visit the orchards.

There are a few things that I have learned that will make the apple picking experience a positive event for the visitor as well as the orchard owners.

  • Pick apples in the designated areas. Orchards have predetermined trees that are ready for picking. Meaning that the apples are ripe, ready and will easily come off the ridetree without damaging the tree for future seasons.
  • No tree climbing. Not only is this dangerous, it could do damage to the more fragile areas of the tree and unless they have provided ladders to reach higher limbs, the apples to be picked are the ones that are within reach.
  • No throwing apples.
  • Watch your step. Since apples adorn the ground it is important to watch where you are stepping and to wear appropriate shoes to be able to walk freely on uneven ground.
  • Keep the younger ones close and help them in the picking process. Help them to learn the importance of picking apples with future years in mind. When we damage the tree it does affect the next years’ blooms.

What to look for and how to pick like an expert:

  • Look at the apple. Look for imperfections like blemishes, bruises or insect damage.
  • The apple should have a creamy looking background. If the apple is a red apple, it will isstill have a golden glow behind the red color. No matter what your favorite type of apple, a ripe and ready apple will have a creamy coloring in the background.
  • A ripe apple will general be a sweeter apple. The more tart the apple, the less ripe it is.
  • A ripe apple will be crisp. Apples will become less crisp as they ripen.
  • If there are a lot of apples on the ground, chances are that particular tree is ripe or over ripened and has been dropping apples.
  • Seeds will be brown in color. When you cut into the apple, the seeds of a ripe apple will be brown in color.

Picking apples 101:apple

  • Apples are delicate and need to be treated accordingly.
  • Don’t pull, tug or grab at the apples. Be gentle and roll the apple in the direction of the branch and twist gently. The stem should break away easily and the spur should remain intact on the tree. If you pull to roughly, you remove the spur of the apple.
  • Most orchards will provide bags to collect apples you’ve picked. Be sure to not over stuff the bags which may bruise or damage your harvest.
  • Store your apples in a cool, dark place. They should be separate from other produce.
  • Apples last longer when stored in a cool (33 degree), high humidity (90-95%) location.
  • Do not wash the apples until you are ready to eat them. Unwashed apples have better storage
  • If you notice that the stem is missing – this apple should be used or disposed of, because it can create an entry area for pests.

The apple picking season is just getting started. Get out and enjoy the fall with the family and remember some of these helpful suggestions to make your experience as well as others the best it can be.

 ~  Sheri


The Art of Apple Picking

Summer 2016 Professional Development


Click here to see more!

This summer, our staff assisted in hosting eight different professional development workshops across the state. Each workshop consisted of one tour day and one day in the classroom. The tours visited a wide variety of farms and agribusinesses, which helped teachers learn more about agriculture concepts, how they tie to other subject areas, and the potential career opportunities for their students.

The tours ranged from dairy farms and beef cattle farms, to a tomato and aquaculture farm, children’s museum, grain cooperatives, ethanol refineries, implement dealerships, grocery warehouses, a wind farm, implement factory, greenhouses and even a genetics laboratory. At ethanol refineries, we were able to talk about chemistry, biochemistry, marketing, and energy issues. At the various farm operations, we were able to discuss biology, biosecurity, health, safety, logistics, and marketing. At implement dealerships and factories, we were able to discuss engineering, science, and the challenges that farmers face that agriculture engineers work to solve.

The second day of the workshops focused on tying the concepts from the first day into subject areas like science, social studies, language arts, and math. Teachers got to walk through hands-on activities and lesson plans that bridge these concepts.

During these workshops, we documented our experiences. Check out our Storify story to see some social media posts.

We also documented the workshops with a short video. Give it a few minutes and learn about what we did this summer!


Castration – Why do they do that?

Rocky Mountain oysters (aka cowboy caviar or bull fries) might in some circles be considered a delicacy. But testicles are not for everyone. Beyond the occasional food eating contest, why do they castrate cattle and pigs?

When managing a herd of cattle, maintaining oversight of the genetics is important. By selecting which bulls are allowed to breed the cows, farmers can positively influence traits in the calves. Traits like weaning weight, muscling, fat, milk production, physical soundness are all closely monitored. By breeding the best quality cattle, farmers produce the best quality meat that will make it to the grocery stores.

In cattle, male calves are castrated through the surgical removal of the testes, an elastrator band, through chemical castration, or through hormonal castration. All have advantages and disadvantages so farmers choose the one that makes the most sense for them and their operation. They try to minimize pain to the animal and increase the chance for a quick and speedy recovery.

There are several reasons that cattle are castrated. Testes produce testosterone. By lowering testosterone levels in male animals, aggressiveness is reduced. From a herd management standpoint less aggression means less fighting and less potential harm to humans. Male animals can also have high muscle pH. This can affect taste negatively. Castration reduces this high muscle pH and can increase the marbling, tenderness, and overall grade quality of the meat. The higher quality meat, the higher market prices the carcass can command.

Just look at the different in body shape and size of the two animals below. On the left is a Black Angus bull (testes intact). On the right is a Black Angus steer that has been castrated.


The bull is much larger and much more heavily muscled. The meat will likely be tougher and not as well marbled. The meat of the steer will more closely resemble the meat from heifers and cows. Consumers crave uniformity in meat and so having a consistent product is one objective of the beef industry.

Woody_osPigs are castrated for many of the same reasons as cattle. Meat from male pigs that haven’t been castrated (boars) often suffers from ‘boar taint‘. This smell and taste of pork is caused by excessive testosterone and androstenone and is undesirable. Boars can also be very aggressive toward other animals and toward human farm workers.

Male pigs are castrated at a young age typically surgically using a disinfected surgical knife. After the incision is made and the testes removed, the wound is cleansed. The castrated pig, or barrow, will be less aggressive and have improved meat quality. There are some chemical alternatives to this physical castration. A protein compound that works like an immunization delays the maturity of the animals. This reduces the sex hormones in the animal’s body and reduces the effect of ‘boar taint’.

Castration has been a very common practice in livestock operations. It is one management tool to help ensure quality meat products to consumers. So throw another steak or pork chop on the grill this Labor Day weekend and enjoy!


Generate Excitement with Reading

School is starting across the state of Iowa and what a perfect time to get back into the routines of enjoying family reading times together. Reading is a fundamental part of life – truly something we need and will always use and enjoy. We want to help strengthen agriculture literacy in fun and exciting ways like reading. There are many opportunities to unlock the potential and nurture the importance of reading.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, children who are read to at home maintain an advantage over children who are not read to. Children are more likely to also have a higher reading proficiency and stronger reading skills. That can lead to success in other subjects in school and throughout life. We all know children in our circle of life that we can influence in positive ways. We help them to develop reading and language skills just by taking time to read to them and their imagination develops as well.

As parents or role models we play a very important role in the lives of the children around us. We can help them, as well as show them the enjoyment than comes from taking time to read. A few simple changes in our day to day routines can make reading a bigger part of our lives:

  1. Turn off the television
  2. Put aside the computer games and telephones
  3. Teach by your example
  4. Read together
  5. Hit the library as a family

We can unlock potential and get readers excited to read about agriculture. Agriculture teaches by using real life examples and encourages readers to value their local communities and farmers as well as teaches them about where their food, fiber and fuel comes from. Here are a few great reads for the young readers you know

cowsCows by Jules Older is a lighthearted, yet informative look at cows, different breeds, what they eat, how they make milk and lots of other facts on cows. Children will enjoy the humor and fantastic pictures while the learn factual informaindextion.

Food and Farming, Then and Now by Bobbie Kalman is a wonderful book to help children see how farming, selling, preservation and preparation of food has changed over the years. Today most of our food is bought from a grocery store, but many years ago things were grown on the family farm and harvested for family use. This book helps kids see how much things have changed in food production. They learn where our food comes from and about the people that grow i51pQdBKPjnL._SX410_BO1,204,203,200_t.

Before We Eat from Farm to Table by award winning author Pat Brisson helps to show that before we eat, many people work very hard. They plant grain, catch fish, tend to animals and stock shelves to help feed our growing population. Milk doesn’t just appear in the refrigerator nor do apples grow in the bowl on the counter.

Fantastic Farm Machines by Cris Peterson gives superb examples of the monster machinery that work the fields 61jLvr7BNoL._SX431_BO1,204,203,200_across our beautiful country. Vivid color photos provide examples of different machines that do the planting, harvesting, and so much more. The author takes the reader on a journey from one farm to another to show many examples of machines from past and present. It is a great read for those who love tractors and big machines.

We invite you to get excited about reading and making a difference in the lives of the young people around you. Take time to read and read to those you’ve been given the opportunity to influence!


What’s Cookin’? Fire Roasted Corn Salsa

This recipe was debuted at the Iowa State Fair as part of a Farm-to-Fork cooking series. Everybody in the audience wanted seconds! Now you can make it at home. Sweet corn is the star of the show so make this while it is still in season!20160811_161920_resizeda

5 large ears of sweet corn, husked
2 Tbsp. corn oil
½ cup diced red onion
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 medium jalapeno, diced
¼ cup cilantro, torn or chopped
Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place the whole corn cobs on a hot grill for 3-4 minutes per side until slightly charred.
  2. Allow to cool slightly and then cut the corn off of the cob and place in a mixing bowl.
  3. Dice the red onion and add to small bowl with vinegar. Marinate for approximately 10 minutes until the onions change color slightly. Then add to the mixing bowl with the corn.
  4. Remove seeds from tomato and dice flesh. Dice jalapeno and add both to the mixing bowl with the corn.
  5. Toss corn and other ingredients with corn oil, salt, and pepper.
  6. Immediately before serving, mix in cilantro.

Where does it all come from? The story of the ingredients:


Sweet corn: Although Iowa farmers do raise some of the best-tasting sweet corn in the country, less than 1% of the corn in our state is sweet corn. Although one is considered a vegetable and the other a grain, sweet corn and field corn are close relatives. Sweet corn is a naturally occurring genetic mutation of field corn. The sweet corn plant is shorter, matures faster, and its kernels have a higher sugar content.

Corn oil: Corn oil is produced from field corn. 99% of the corn grown in Iowa is field corn. Field corn is harvested in the fall, after the plant dies and the seeds are dry and hard.  Field corn has a much higher starch content and is used to make livestock feed, ethanol, corn meal, corn starch, corn syrup and more. The oil is pressed out of the corn kernel. Corn can be specifically processed for oil or the oil can be a by-product of the ethanol production process.

Red onions:  The biggest onion producing states are Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California. Onions are a root crop that grow for 5-6 months before being either mechanically or hand harvested from the soil.

Tomatoes:   Tomatoes are not widely grown in Iowa commercially. But they are an easy addition to a backyard garden. Most tomatoes will mature and produce fruit in 60-80 days. Tomatoes are a fruit because they carry the seeds of the tomato plant. In Iowa, tomatoes are typically grown in high tunnels that allow them to be planted as early as April. Tomatoes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors including red, orange, and yellow.

Red wine vinegar: Yeasts are added to the juice of grapes and yeast will convert the sugars to alcohol through fermentation. The result is of course wine. If left long enough, bacteria will convert the alcohol in the wine to acetic acid which is vinegar. Vinegars can take up to 10 years to make because of these two processes. But it all starts with grapes. The grape industry is growing in Iowa again. Iowa has more than 300 vineyards.

Jalapeños:  Jalapeños are not the hottest pepper known to man, but they do offer considerable fire to any dish. Ripe jalapeños are 4-6 inches long, fat, and firm. They will turn bright green then darken to a deeper green before turning black and then red. You can harvest them at any point during the color transition. Jalapeños need up to 16 hours of daylight and at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. They grow best in the warm, dry climate of the southwest U.S.

Cilantro:   Also known as coriander, cilantro adds a unique flavor to any dish. Alkaloids in the plant do make the taste unappealing for some people (they say it tastes like soap). Cilantro does best in well-drained soil in warm, but not hot temperatures. It bolts quickly (produces seed heads) so temperature must be maintained constant and the plants must be kept pinched back to produce maximum foliage. Grinnell, Iowa based Mariposa Farms herb growers commercially produce a wide range of herbs sold in locally grocery stores including cilantro.

Pepper:  Black pepper comes from the fruit of a pepper plant species which grows in hot and humid tropical climates. The unripe dried fruit, called peppercorns, are ground into the spice we call pepper. Pepper was one of the spices that early explores traded because of its high value. It came from the spice islands of southeast Asia which also were known for nutmeg, mace and cloves.

Salt: Salt isn’t exactly an agricultural product. But, is an important component because it is the only rock that humans seek out and regularly consume. Salt can be harvested from salt pans (dried lakes) or mined from underground.