Putting up hay brings back memories


It was hot sticky dirty work. In rural areas it was also one of the few ways teenagers could earn spending money in the summer. Those who have put up hay in the heat know what I’m talking about. Baling hay was a job meant for the hottest part of the day.

Cutting, raking or baling hay early in the morning wasn’t practical. Heavy dew usually blanketed the field. Dew often fell in evening when temperatures cooled. That left the hot part of the day.

It wasn’t just the heat. Chaff would stick to your sweaty skin and much of the dust would go down your throat or up your nose. Eyes would often weep and occasionally develop a case of pink-eye. Tossing 55-pound bales into a second story barn door wore on the shoulders.

Sometimes poison ivy or briars were mixed into bales. I remember my wife telling about baling one field and finding half a copperhead in several bales. She always wondered how many didn’t get cut in half.

There were tricks to making the process run smoothly. Raking the forage into even windrows was important as was travelling at a proper speed. If hay wasn’t dry enough the bales were brutally heavy. That wasn’t the worst part. They could mold, sometimes causing enough heat to burn down a barn.

As with any job, speeding up the process is usually better, but getting greedy leads to problems. Making the rows of dried hay too large or moving through them too fast meant breaking shear pins or worse. That slowed things down. Turning on steep ground with a tractor, baler and wagon tethered together could be challenging too. Thinking ahead is critical.

Once the bales were on the wagon they had to be secured if hauled any distance. Quick and secure stacking keeps the crew from loading it twice. Falling off a truckload of hay isn’t much fun either.

Suffice to say, putting up hay is hard work. One would think the pay would be good. Think again. Back in the 70s and 80s, slinging several hundred bales in a day would net about two dollars an hour.

If rain was in the forecast, work never stopped. There were no breaks. Sometimes if you had your work done you would help the neighbors get their hay in before the rain.

I remember helping my wife’s grandfather in the hayfield. He’d offer me two dollars an hour like the rest of his crew. I never took his money.  I told him I’d love to help and would work for free, but I didn’t work for two dollars an hour.  He never understood my logic.

Still the same, I really enjoyed all the times I handled hay. I still love the look and smell of a freshly mowed meadow. It was so satisfying to see such a difference in a field and barn.

A lot has changed. Production has transitioned to large round bales. Some farmers even use the huge square bales and all the loading is accomplished with machinery. They even make plastic bonnets, so hay need not be placed in barns.

It’s hard to find small square bales anymore. I remember my father-in-law charging a dollar a bale back in the 80s. I bought some recently for twelve dollars each. He’d turn over in his grave, or maybe he’d smile.

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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Virginia creeper is another aggressive native vine


Last week I profiled trumpet vine, a ridiculously aggressive woody vine. This week belongs to another nemesis, and it’s also marketed as an ornamental.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is that vine many people confuse with poison ivy. It has leaves with five leaflets instead of three. Berries are purple instead of white. It also doesn’t have the same hairiness on the stems. This material is root tissue that clings to things. Correctly they are referred to as adventitious aerial roots.

Unlike poison ivy, Virginia creeper doesn’t contain urushiol, which causes the running sores resulting from poison ivy exposure. Some folks to experience a minor and short-term irritation from it. In addition, it is far more aggressive than poison ivy and covers landscaping and buildings in a fraction of the time.

Virginia creeper doesn’t climb exclusively by adventitious roots. It has tendrils like grape vines do. One would expect this, as it is in the grape family. These woody vines can grow to the tops of most trees and up and down utility poles.

Virginia creeper produces fruits that look like miniature grapes. However, they are poisonous in large quantities. These berries don’t taste very good, so children likely won’t eat enough to cause serious problems. Birds and squirrels will eat these fruits though and spread the seeds everywhere. Pretty soon, you will find seedlings all over your yard.

Sometimes pets will eat these vines and results are variable. Plants contain oxalate compounds which can lead to kidney problems or mouth irritations. Usually large quantities must be eaten.

For those who want native landscaping, this one fits the bill. However, its aggressiveness will frustrate you. It thrives in sun or shade. Technically, it’s not considered invasive, since it’s native. That’s just semantics. This is not a plant to encourage. You won’t be able to contain it.

I admit it has beautiful red foliage in the fall, but so does poison ivy. I can tolerate wisteria. It has beautiful fragrant flowers, and it doesn’t spread as fast from seeds.

Round-up is effective for killing Virginia creeper. Unfortunately, it kills whatever it hits, so you must pull the vines off the plants first. Round-up also kills grass, so laying vines on your lawn to be sprayed isn’t the answer either. Cutting the vines down and treating freshly cut stumps with concentrated Round-up is the best solution.

Vines encroaching onto the lawn can be controlled by broadleaf herbicides like 2,4-D, dicamba, or mecaprop. A combination of the three works well too. These chemicals are effective for lawn use only. They will kill most flowers, shrubs and trees.

The important thing to remember is to not let this plant get ahead of you. It’s a fast grower and can destroy landscaping quickly. It also will ruin siding.

Also, don’t assume you’ve solved the problem after your initial treatment. Several applications are usually necessary to get it all. Seeds can also remain dormant and new plants can pop up at any time. Don’t get talked into planting this one. The longer you have it the more you will hate it.

Virginia creeper is taking over my Lady Banks Rose

Virginia creeper is taking over this doorway

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us)

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Some native plants sound good but have huge downside


I walked around my yard recently and realized certain plants are taking over my landscaping. Most of the culprits are woody vines. Most are also native species and natives are all the rage right now.

Just because a plant is native doesn’t mean it’s desirable in one’s landscape. My greatest problem comes from a vine with gorgeous reddish orange flowers. These flowers attract hummingbirds in droves. Butterflies and native bees love them too. The vine in question is called trumpet creeper or trumpet vine (Campsis radicans).

I read an article recently profiling this aggressive vine as one of the native species we must encourage. First, it needs no encouragement. Even kudzu is easier to contain. Trumpet vine will quickly cover shrubbery, trees and buildings. It’s also a prolific seed producer and these seeds will spread everywhere. Plants will spring up in your lawn and garden beds in no time.

Internet articles abound detailing how to propagate this menace. It may have some good points, but this is not a plant to encourage. It’s on par with Callery (Bradford) pear. It has an aggressive root system and will eventually take over your yard.

Some people plant it in pots to lessen its invasiveness. Some even bury pots in the ground to slow this vine down. I think this is wishful thinking. I’ve declared war on it on my property and I’m still losing.

I’ve pretty much eliminated poison ivy, but trumpet vine is in all my crape myrtles. It’s also growing up the sides of my house and has invaded all the shade trees bordering my property. Muscadine grapes are tough, but trumpet vine has crept its way into them too.

For those who don’t know what it looks like, it has a woody stem much like grape, Virginia creeper or wisteria. Leaves with multiple blades emerge from stems in groups of two. Vines climb by tendrils and can grow 40 feet tall.

Flowers are brightly colored and grow in bunches. As the name indicates, they are trumpet-shaped. As flowers fade, bean-shaped seed pods develop, and they are filled with dozens of seeds.

These plants have copious roots, so controlling their spread is difficult. Simply killing the tops or cutting them down won’t put a dent in them. Several applications of systemic herbicides are necessary to kill them.

I usually use Round-up (glyphosate) on the stumps at full strength after first cutting the vines close to the ground. Repeated treatments are still often necessary. No options are available to spray directly on trees or shrubbery. Some broadleaf herbicides can limit the growth of trumpet vine in lawns, but they’re hard to kill.

Reports are mixed as to whether this vine is poisonous to pets. According to most sources, the worst symptoms are a mild dermatitis. People face the same risk, although symptoms are far less than from contact with poison ivy or its relatives.

I would never recommend encouraging this plant even though it is native and has beautiful flowers. I cringe every time I see it being sold in nursery catalogs.

close-up of trumpet vine flower

Trumpet vine with seed pods trying to take over a saucer magnolia

Trumpet vine blasting through vinyl siding

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Plants define our environment


I’ve lived my life in basically three different regions. My first 22 years were spent in northeast Maine. I’ve lived my last 22 years in northeast North Carolina. In between, I lived in north-central West Virginia.

Certain plants endear me to all three places. Some of these plants are ones used in landscaping. Others are trees that jog my memory to experiences in my past. Still others are plants that I like to forage for food. Many species overlap and thrive in all three environments.

When I go back and visit Maine, probably the first things I notice are trees. I love birches, particularly yellow birch. White and gray birch are pretty, too. As far as evergreens go, I love northern white cedar, known to most people as arborvitae. They grow over 80 feet tall in eastern Maine, and their aroma is unmistakable.

Variety of landscape plants is limited due to cold winters. Broadleaf evergreens are all but nonexistent. Dahlias, cannas and gladiolus must be dug and stored in the cellar or they freeze and die. Summer flowers are phenomenal, because of cooler summers. Even pansies don’t melt out in summer up there.

My favorite foraging species are fiddleheads, blueberries wild raspberries, choke cherries and wild apples. Wild apples dominate nearly every rural roadside. Finding enough for a big batch of applesauce is easy.

I can’t travel to West Virginia, especially in spring, without noticing all the dogwoods and redbuds. In fall, sugar maples, red and white oak and yellow poplar seem to dominate the tree line. Sycamores line the creek banks. Fall color is great, since forests are almost entirely deciduous.

Since I left West Virginia I miss the rhododendrons. It was too cold for them in Maine and too hot for them here. In spring, daffodils emerge around every abandoned farm. Peonies and poppies were popular landscape perennials there too.

Tree nuts abound in the fall. Black walnut, butternut and my all-time favorite, shagbark hickory can be found in large numbers. I’m also a big fan of sweet birch bark tea. It has a delightful wintergreen flavor.

In spring, wild leek is a treat. Locals call them ramps. In summer, blackberries were a staple. I remember collecting five-gallon buckets full. I can still recall my wife dragging a nearly full bucket off the hill when she was nearly nine months pregnant.

Here in eastern North Carolina, landscape plants that define the area to me are southern magnolia, camellia, gardenia and crape myrtle. Those are the ones I’d miss if I ever left this place. Verbena and lantana are two of my favorite summer flowers.

In northeast North Carolina, by far my favorite foraging plants are pecans and muscadine grapes. Elderberries are plentiful too. They also were in West Virginia.

I love to travel around the tupelo and cypress swamps. On their edges are usually copious amounts of pawpaws in late summer. Beautyberry bushes often dot the outside edges. Live oaks thrive on the outer banks in their natural environment. Several locations inland have planted ones that are spectacular, but live oaks characterize Ocracoke.

I’m just scratching the surface, but these are plants that I feel illustrate these three places. Perhaps there are other plants that represent home to you.

only their aroma can trump the beauty of these spectacular unique flowers

close-up of southern magnolia flower

crape myrtle may be overused, but it’s a fixture in the southeast

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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Homemade sauerkraut is hard to beat


Local cabbage fields are nearing harvest or have already been cut. Many would have been harvested sooner  if fields hadn’t been so wet. I always look forward to fresh cabbage. It’s so versatile.

One of my favorite cabbage dishes is sauerkraut. My mother-in-law made the best I’ve ever tasted. Elloise Minney passed nine years ago, but I can still taste her kraut. She used an old-fashioned wood framed kraut cutter to slice it just the right thickness.

Sauerkraut is easy to make. I’ve made it myself, but there was always something special about hers. Maybe it was her crock, the coarseness of the cut or the temperature of her cellar. I don’t know, but her kraut was spectacular.

She used a large stone crock, stuffed it with sliced cabbage, salted it by layers and mixed it thoroughly. She inserted a large thoroughly washed smooth stone to pack the cabbage down and keep it submerged. Then she placed a board on the crock with another stone to hold it down.

Eventually, she packed it into jars and stored it in her cellar house. She always seemed to know precisely how long to wait before storing it in jars, and she made sure the jars were not sealed. This would have been difficult anyway, as gas is produced that would break the seal. Somehow, she could tell when it was ready by consistency alone.

This cabbage delight cures by a process called lactofermentation. Lactobacillus bacteria, the same or very similar ones contained in milk and yogurt, convert natural sugars into lactic acid. Lactic acid is the substance that keeps the stuff from spoiling. It also helps give it its incredible tart flavor.

Elloise was always careful to keep all her equipment clean. This keeps competing bacteria and fungi from entering the mix. She didn’t use gloves, but she always was careful to wash her hands thoroughly. Other than that, the fermentation process is simple.

No other ingredients need to be added other than the pickling salt, which contains no iodine. The salt draws moisture from the cabbage. No water or vinegar is usually required for the fermentation process.

If cabbage has dried some it’s sometimes necessary to add salted water to the mix, but this is rarely necessary. Usually the cabbage is reconstituted in the washing process.

I think what made her kraut so good was that it wasn’t processed. Some folks can their kraut after it has fermented, thinking it will last longer. It might, but the final product loses flavor and the texture isn’t as crisp.

Sauerkraut not only tastes good, it’s good for you. A cup has less than 30 calories. Product that has not been processed contains probiotics that promote healthy digestion. Beneficial bacteria can also help us if we must use certain antibiotics to treat infection. Probiotic bacteria in kraut re-establish in our digestive systems.

Kielbasa and kraut is a delicacy I often crave. Unfortunately, it’s just not the same when using store-bought kraut. This cabbage delicacy is also great on hot dogs, brats or eastern barbecue. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Elloise Minney in her kitchen 34 years ago

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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We should encourage native pollinators and native plant species


The European honey bee is perhaps agriculture’s most important pollinator. Its greatest importance is that we derive honey from it. Honey production is a multibillion dollar industry.

There are no native honey bees. The varroa mite nearly wiped out honey bees in the late 80s and 90s, but those bees originally escaped captivity. They weren’t native. In fact, the European honey bee is the only honey bee that doesn’t reside in tropical regions. There are other pollinators though, and many are more effective than honey bees at pollinating plants.

I knew there were a lot, but I read there were over 4000 species of native bees. There are dozens of species of bumble bees alone. Bumble bees are more efficient pollinators for most plants than honey bees.

Bees aren’t the only pollinators. Wasps, beetles and other insects are important, too. So are hummingbirds, beetles, ants, butterflies, moths, bats and other small mammals and lizards. Many of these we’d like around our homes. Some we wouldn’t.

Agriculture is dependent upon pollinators. Some crops can’t exist without them. More than a third of all crop plants rely upon some type of animal for pollination. Fruit production especially depends on them.

We often look at pollinators only as they relate to agriculture. However, our ecosystems depend on them. When native pollinators suffer, so do native plants. When native plants suffer, so do native wildlife species.

In our home landscaping it is important to keep in mind when different plants flower. Pollinators need a constant supply of food. If we plant things pollinators like but they all bloom in the same season, we aren’t helping much. The same goes for planting food plots for wildlife. Stable supplies of both vegetation, pollen and nectar are essential.

When landscape plants invade the natural environment, they tend to upset that balance. In the past, well meaning individuals have planted exotic plants for conservation purposes. This has led to disastrous situations. Multiflora rose and kudzu are two examples.

Our unfortunate interference hasn’t been limited to exotic plants either. We’ve introduced nutria to control vegetation in ditches, and that has caused major problems for our waterways.

When wild Canada goose populations were in decline, we introduced a strain of Canada goose that doesn’t migrate. Now we’re stuck with resident geese that leave their droppings everywhere and are a health hazard. They also consume resources that won’t be available for future migrating geese.

Introducing species not native to an area can have unforeseen consequences. Creating an imbalance can limit native plant species. That can hinder native animal species.

People often want to manage the environment to favor certain species. Some would even like to see certain ones wiped from the earth. However, if we wiped out mosquitoes, ants and wasps we would upset the balance and we might not like the results.

Native plants and native pollinators have existed since the beginning of time. If we plant native species we stand a greater chance of encouraging native pollinators and achieving more stable populations of wild creatures.

Native rose mallow being pollinated

Same flower a little more close-up

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Pollination and pollinators are important for our environment


I’d say most people have little regard for pollinators at all. They might even think the world would be better if all these critters went extinct. Bees, wasps, beetles and the like are usually not among your average person’s list of favorite organisms.

These disparaged creatures are vital to our food supply. Our environment would be drastically different without them.  Most plants need to be pollinated to reproduce, and there are three ways this is accomplished.

Some plants self-pollinate, and this can usually be accomplished without any outside interference. Flowers that have male and female parts near each other are often good candidates for self-pollination. In vegetable gardens, prime examples are: tomatoes, peppers, peas and beans. You might see bees working them, but pollinators aren’t necessary.

Fruit trees and most blueberries are an exception. They have stamens and pistils near each other, but these plants will not self-pollinate. That’s why two different cultivars must be planted or be close enough to another of the same species for pollinators to transfer pollen.

Another way plants may be pollinated is by wind. Corn is a good example here. Pollen travels from the tassel of one plant to the silks of the same or a different corn plant through a combination of wind and gravity. That’s why in small plots like home gardens it’s best to plant corn in blocks rather than in a few long rows.

The final way plants are pollinated is by insects, birds, bats or the like. These creatures visit the flowers and physically spread the male gamete to the female gamete. This is not their goal. They aren’t altruistic creatures, but their actions result in fertilization and seed production.

Some plants have what we call imperfect flowers. Flowers of this type are either male or female. Those plants not fertilized by wind are dependent on pollinators. Garden examples are: cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, watermelons and cantaloupes.

Asparagus, hollies and persimmons are examples of plants that are totally male or female. Both sexes of plants must be present for fruit to develop. In other words, your holly bushes will never set fruit unless both male and female plants are nearby. Once the flowers wither, your shrubs will remain green the rest of the season. The same goes for your persimmon tree.

This whole process is important to more than our gardens. The whole ecosystem would be drastically changed if we didn’t have species that depended on nectar and pollen as their primary or total food source.

Pesticide safety is critical. We must be careful to target our chemicals, so we limit their exposure to beneficial insects and other pollinators. Spraying when these critters are active should be avoided, if possible. For home gardeners, it’s often helpful to try other methods of pest control.

When selecting plants for your garden or landscaping, always keep in mind the pollination requirements. You could do everything else correctly and still not get the results you want. Also, if you don’t want to encourage bees, beetles or wasps, select plants that don’t require pollinators.

Small grains like these need no animal pollinators

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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