Monday, January 31, 2011

Shiitake Mushroom Workshop, February 22

There must be something intriguing about growing mushrooms in logs, because even after more than seven years of offering workshops in our area, we still get requests for more information on the subject. For this reason, Cooperative Extension will offer an evening workshop on successfully inoculating and cultivating shiitake mushrooms on natural logs in outdoor environments. The workshop will take place at the Watauga County Cooperative Agricultural Conference Center on Tuesday, February 22, from 6:00-8:30 PM.

The workshop will consist of presentations of both basic mushroom biology and cultivation techniques, plus a hands-on demonstration of the tools and process for drilling, inoculating, and waxing the logs for successful production. The mushroom workshop is FREE and open to the public, but we do ask that you RSVP with the Watauga County Center of NC Cooperative Extension so that we can be sure that enough hand-outs and other supplies are on-hand. To register, call Watauga County Cooperative Extension at 828-264-3061.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Get Hooked on Beekeeping

Honeybee on onion flower
In recent years, much attention has turned to the humble honeybee.  This insect is responsible for every third bite of food we consume and, yet, is easily taken for granted due to its small size and the lack of education on how our food is grown. 

 From colony collapse disorder, environmental toxins and a lack of biological diversity, people are becoming more educated on the threats to honeybees and other pollinators.  Hobby beekeepers are popping up everywhere, and this is great news!  Similar to the benefits of small, localized farms over massive, industrialized agriculture, hobby beekeepers can often have a greater impact at a local level and are able to experiment with management techniques more easily than large beekeepers. 

If you are interested in raising bees this year, you would be wise to go ahead and order beekeeping equipment and, most importantly, the bees themselves.  Due to the growing interest in beekeeping, many suppliers sell out before spring arrives, so be sure and call around to check on availability.  There are several suppliers nearby that sell bees and equipment: Beech Mountain Beekeepers Supply in Avery County and Brushy Mountain Bee Farm and Miller Bee Supply in Wilkes County.  Local beekeepers and clubs may have other resources as well. 

There are many excellent resources for learning about beekeeping.  NC State University has general information located on the website  Publications like Bee Culture and American Beekeeping Journal are commonly recommended, as are organizations like the Eastern Apiculture Society and the American Beekeeping Federation.  Locally, the Watauga County Beekeepers Association is an excellent resource for educational workshops and information specific to keeping bees in the High Country.  There are too many books to list on the topic of beekeeping, however First Lessons in Beekeeping by Keith Delaplane and The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture: An Encyclopedia of Beekeeping seem to be local favorites. 

The most important thing is to ask questions from other beekeepers, for there are numerous answers to the same question and it’s essential to learn from the experience of others.  The Watauga County Beekeepers begin monthly meetings beginning on March 1, 2011 at 7PM at the Agricultural Conference Center in Boone and meet on the first Tuesday of each month through October.  You can also follow them on the web:

As beekeepers like to say, “May all your supers be full” as your enter into this fascinating hobby!

Planning What to Eat Saves Much More than Money

Knowing what your meals are for the up-coming week will lower your grocery bill, reduce food wastage, and take less physical and fossil fuel energy. Sit down for a few minutes and write your plan for the week before making the grocery list. Before heading to the store, take a look at your schedule. Are there any evenings that you’ll get home too late to prepare dinner? This is when “planned-overs” save a drive-thru trip, and probably poor nutritional choices. Cooking large batches and then refrigerating or freezing some for later makes busy evenings less insane. Soups and casseroles freeze well and may be one dish meals for easy clean up.
Taking what is left from dinner to work the next day sure beats a sandwich and is way cheaper than eating out.
24% of fruits and vegetables are thrown away in the U.S.  When deciding what to pack in your lunch or which vegetable to prepare for dinner, look to see what needs to be eaten.
According to several recent research studies, each American wastes an average of 197 pounds of food a year. While it may not seem like it, we spend a lower percentage our disposable income on food than any other country. So wasting food is not such a big issue to many of us.
Consumers are just part of the food waste problem. It’s happening all up and down the food supply chain, from the farm, at the processing plants, restaurants, grocery stores and of course at home.
Crunching numbers, researchers have concluded that 300 million barrels of oil a year--4 percent of all oil consumed in America--was used to produce and transport food that wasn’t eaten. Food waste accounts for over a quarter of the consumption of freshwater. Another study, published by University of Texas at Austin, says that each year more energy is wasted in food discarded by Americans than is extracted from U.S. coastal oil and gas reserves. It is also more than all the energy we get from the corn ethanol we produce in a year.
A 2009 National Institute of Health study suggests that increased prevalence of obesity has been the result of the “push effect”, an overwhelming cheap supply of readily available food. Addressing the oversupply of food energy in the U.S. may help curb the obesity epidemic as well as decrease food waste, which has profound environmental consequences.  
In addition to this wasteful consumption of fossil fuels and their direct impact on climate change, food waste rotting in landfills produces substantial quantities of methane, a gas with 25 fold more potent global warming potential than carbon dioxide.  
Fortunately, our local grocery stores donate food that is about to expire to the Hospitality House and Hunger Coalition. Our small family farms are generally very careful not to waste food.
While the entire food supply chain needs to be examined, individuals can make a difference in reducing food waste by planning meals, packing food from restaurants and home dinners for lunch, and composting food scraps for the garden.

Here is a soup recipe that’s large enough to feed a family of 4 at least twice. Freeze the portion that you will don’t eat within 3 days. May thaw in the microwave when you don’t have time or energy to cook. Also a delicious lunch.

Hearty Chicken Noodle Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
4 cups diced potatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups dried noodles of choice (whole wheat is healthiest)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon poultry seasoning
½ to 1 teaspoon salt
8 cups chicken broth
2 cups diced chicken. May use left-over chicken.

Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium low heat. Add garlic, onion, celery, carrots and chicken (if raw) and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add potato, broth, salt, oregano, thyme and poultry seasoning and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until potato is tender, 15 - 20 minutes. If you are using leftover, cooked chicken, add now. Add noodles and cook 10 minutes until they are tender. You may need to add some water if soup is too thick.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Does Your Forest Talk Money?

North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service will host an evening workshop titled “Does Your Forest Talk Money?” on March 8, from 6:00--9:30 pm.  Forest land owners, farmers, wild crafters, and food entrepreneurs are invited to participate in the event at the Agricultural Conference Center here in Boone.  Featured speakers include Jeanine Davis, Ph.D., a horticulturist with the Special Crops Program of NCSU, Caroline Edwards, Non Timber Forest Products Advisor of NCSU; Michael Cheek and Brian Schneider of the NC Division of Forest Resources, Alyx Perry, Director of Southern Forests Network.

Limited quantities of FREE Ginseng Seeds 
and Books: “Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal &Other Woodland Medicinals” by Persons and Davis.  

Please call the Watauga County Extension Service at 828) 264-3061 if you will attend, so that handouts will be sufficient. No registration fee. Light snacks will be provided.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Melting Away the Icy Blues

When you venture outside this winter you’ll likely have some appreciation for ice melt products that keep you from slipping and sliding.  A number of different ice melt products (also called de-icers) exist and it’s in your best interest to inform yourself on their risks and limitations.

Magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, sodium chloride, and potassium chloride are common ingredients in de-icing products.  Calcium and sodium chloride can damage concrete surfaces, as well as stone and brick and are particularly harsh on plants.  Magnesium and potassium chloride are moderately damaging to plants.  There are also products labeled as “pet-friendly” or “environmentally-friendly”  that commonly use calcium magnesium acetate as an active ingredient.  These products typically cause little damage to concrete and plants and are often the best approach for effective melting without damaging landscapes.  The bottom line is that using excessive amounts of any of these products can lead to problems in the landscape and on surfaces.  You should always carefully follow the label of the de-icing product you’re using.

Occasionally people will use leftover fertilizer granules to melt ice.  While fertilizers do contain salt compounds, they are also full of other materials that will reduce the overall melting ability, so they don’t work as well as other de-icers.  Fertilizers applied to icy sidewalks, roadways and steps will be carried directly into drains, and eventually our creeks and rivers.  These excess nutrients in water supplies are a health threat and greatly damage natural habitats.  The bottom line... fertilizers should NEVER be used as de-icers!

The liberal use of de-icers during a harsh winter can lead to salt damage in landscapes.  Salt damage on plants is never an easy fix. Evergreen needles that have been sprayed with salt mist from roadways will turn brown.  Sometimes entire branches turn brown and die.  Salt can also cause stunted or deformed growth the following spring.  Research also shows that excessive salts can lead to greater susceptibility to insect and disease problems.  Be mindful of the risks of excessive amounts of de-icers near your plants.

It’s important to understand that ice melt products cannot replace the chore of shoveling.  Ice melt products work best if they are applied BEFORE snow and ice coat surfaces.  You can also utilize sand to help you gain traction on slick surfaces.  Always apply de-icing materials safely and wisely and remember... it’s only 67 more days until the official beginning of spring!

Watauga Extension's International Audience

Ete-sen! Bonjour! Ni hao! Hola!  to all our international visitors.  In order to track our "traffic" here on the blog, we use which lets you get a map of folks visiting the site. From Hickory NC to San Francisco California, to Ghana to Indonesia to Turkey to Chile, the Watauga County Extension blog has had over 3,000 hits since we began in March of 2010 and over 1,800 unique users.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Commercial-Scale, Certified Organic Production & Certification Class begins 1/20 in Ashe

Commercial-Scale, Certified Organic Production & Certification Class begins 1/20

NC Cooperative Extension Presents A class for farmers wanting to begin or transition to Commercial-Scale, Certified Organic Production Of Vegetable, Flower, and Fruit Crops. This class is geared toward growers who are or will soon be set-up for commercial scale production (1-acre of ready-to-cultivate field land or more), and wish to enter the expanding Certified Organic Market. Topics covered will include soils & fertility, disease identification & control, insect identification & control, weed management, post-harvest handling, certification & record-keeping, and marketing to retail & wholesale buyers.

The class will meet on Thursdays, from 6-8 PM, at the Ashe County Extension Center during the winter and early Spring of 2011.

Participating growers will receive books and digital media on organic agriculture, weed management, disease identification, and organic pest control.

Cost: $50 – Class limited to 20 growers

January 20 – Introduction to Organics & Certification, and Marketing to Wholesale buyers
January 27 – Planning Your Organic Crops, Cover Crops, & Rotations
February 3 – Soils & Fertility in Organic Systems
February 10 - Weed Management in Organic Systems
February 17 – Disease Management in Organic Systems
February 24 – Insect Management in Organic Systems
March 3 – Pest Management Wrap-up & Post-Harvest Handling for Selected Crops
March 10 – Certification Details Wrap-up

For more information, call the Ashe County Extension office at (336) 846-5850, or the Watauga County Cooperative Extension office at (828) 264-3061, or e-mail Richard Boylan at

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program

The Watauga County Cooperative Extension Service is looking for dedicated individuals to participate in the 2011 Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program. The training is an intensive overview of horticultural practices for beginning and advanced gardeners. No experience is necessary to apply for the program. Once the training is completed, participants then have one year to contribute 40 hours of volunteer service to the community. Past volunteer projects include maintaining community gardens, growing transplants for school gardens, teaching children's gardening programs, and developing horticultural factsheets for the Cooperative Extension office.

The 2011 course meets weekly beginning on Thursday, February 17th from 9 AM to 12:30 PM. Lectures and hands-on activities in basic botany, plant propagation, soils and composting, insects, diseases, weeds, pruning, vegetables and ornamentals will be covered. The course fee is $ 115 and includes a comprehensive training manual and additional materials throughout the course. Two reduced-fee scholarships are also available to qualifying individuals. Anyone interested in the program should complete an application form by January 28, 2011.

Application forms are available HERE. Contact Meghan Baker for additional information: or 828-264-3061.

4-H Camping 2011

4-H Camp Registration open

It's not too early to begin enrolling for 4-H Camp for Summer 2011. Watauga County 4-H will escort a group of 8-14 year old campers to Betsy-Jeff Penn 4-H Center. The center is located above Greensboro in Rockingham County, near Reidsville. The camping week is June 26-July 1. To guarantee a spot, register by January 28. The good news is you can reserve your spot with a $100.00 deposit and have until June to save up for the rest of the fee, which is $280.00 more (a total of $380.00). The fee covers meals, lodging, t-shirt, transportation to camp and more. Registration will continue beyond January 28, but spaces may not be guaranteed. Contact the 4-H office at 264-3061 for more information or to register. Click here for registration information. To see the camp, check here.