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Author Archives: UConn Extension

Mulch Volcanoes: A Growing Problem

This is a re-post from October 9, 2013. As the weather gets warmer, the problem is resurfacing.

tree volcano

Photo: Wisconsin Extension

UConn Extension has noticed a growing problem in Connecticut landscapes – tree volcanoes. A tree volcano occurs when mulch is piled around the base of the tree and climbs up the trunk. The shape of the mulch resembles a cone or a volcano. Mulch volcanoes waste money and damage trees.

Mulch is useful at the base of a tree for many reasons. When done correctly, the mulch protects the tree from a lawnmower or string trimmer, aids in keeping the soil moist and keeps the ground cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Mulch also improves soil structure, aeration, and prevents soil erosion and runoff.

Bark is the outermost protective layer or skin of a tree. To properly function, bark needs to be exposed to air. When mulch is piled around the trunk of the tree, the mulch softens the bark and allows outside organisms like varmints, insects, bacteria, virus and fungi to penetrate into the tree. Over time a tree volcano will kill the tree.

Ideally, a mulch ring is placed at the base of the tree immediately after the tree is planted. Follow these steps to correctly apply mulch to the base of your trees:

  1. Before you apply mulch, remove any weeds from around the tree.
  2. The mulch ring should be 2-3 feet wide around the tree trunk radius.
  3. Maximum depth of the mulch is 2-3 inches – the roots need to breathe. Taper the mulch layer to the grass at the edge of the ring.
  4. Aged wood chips or shredded bark are the best choices for mulch.
  5. Mulch shouldn’t touch the bark of the tree.
  6. Trees 10 inches in diameter and larger don’t need mulch.

For more information on tree volcanoes or other home and garden questions, visit a UConn Extension Master Gardener program office. Locations can be found at: http://mastergardener.uconn.edu

Meat and Poultry Hotline for Food Safety Info

USDA logo

USDA Expands Meat and Poultry Hotline Hours to Further Provide Food Safety Information to Consumers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that it is increasing the delivery of safe food handling and preparation information by expanding the hours of its Meat and Poultry Hotline and Ask Karen chat services.  As detailed in the Agency’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan, FSIS is focusing on the reduction of foodborne illness, and one way to contribute to that reduction is to increase public awareness of safe food handling information.

FSIS’ Meat and Poultry Hotline has been educating consumers since 1985. The toll-free telephone service assists in the prevention of foodborne illnesses by answering consumers’ questions about the safe storage, handling and preparation of meat, poultry and egg products. Beginning today, the hotline will be open for two additional hours, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.

“Our hotline provides a valuable service in educating consumers about how to safely prepare food,” said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza. “By keeping the hotline open an additional two hours, we are expanding our reach to allow more consumers, including those on the West Coast, to have their food safety questions answered.”

The hotline is accompanied by Ask Karen, a 24-hour online service that provides answers to thousands of frequently asked questions and also allows consumers to email or live-chat with a food safety specialist during operating hours.

For 32 years the Meat and Poultry Hotline has answered questions about food manufacturer recalls, food poisoning, food safety during power outages, and the inspection of meat, poultry and egg products. From novice cooks roasting their first turkey to experienced food handlers asking about foodborne bacteria, the Meat and Poultry Hotline has answered more than 3 million calls since its inception.

“Our hotline staff are experts in their field and have backgrounds in nutrition, food technology and public health,” said Almanza. “Experts are available to talk with people in English and Spanish, so we are able to help address the food safety needs of diverse communities.”

Consumers can contact the Meat and Poultry Hotline to speak to a live food expert at 1-888-674-6854, or visit Ask Karen to chat or email (in English or Spanish), Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time/7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pacific Time.

Online Course Catalog of Extension Programs

course catalog imageThere are more than one hundred UConn Extension specialists working throughout Connecticut. These educators are teaching and training in local communities, sharing their experience and knowledge with residents through a variety of programs. These instructional activities now will be easily accessible with the creation of an online extension course catalog.

Extension classes address a wide range of topics, including issues related to agriculture and food systems, the green industry, families and community development, land use and water, nutrition and wellness as well as numerous 4-H and youth activities. The website uses these groupings and an A to Z index so finding offerings is simple and straightforward. Each program links to a page with information on the objectives, goals, components, intended audience, the time of year and how often programs run and a link to the program’s website, that provides additional information.

As part of a nationwide network through the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, Extension professionals and trained volunteers engage the state’s diverse population to make informed choices and better decisions. The partnerships enrich our lives and our environment.

View the course catalog online at http://s.uconn.edu/courses.

Spring: Egg Safety Time

Spring: A good time to remind you about egg safety

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

 

eggs

Photo: Iowa Extension

Spring is here (at least officially) and it is always a good time to remind ourselves of how to safely handle eggs. Whether you are hard-boiling them for an Easter or Passover celebration, or looking forward to serving deviled eggs at your family picnic, it is important to follow food safety guidelines.

It wasn’t all that long ago that we thought that uncracked eggs were essentially sterile (inside the egg). But, numerous foodborne disease outbreaks that were sourced back to eggs in the 1970s and 1980s sounded an alarm bell. Maybe the problem was actually Salmonella (a pathogen commonly associated with eggs) IN the egg, not only on the surface of the eggshell. The implications of this new thinking would have a great impact on how eggs are handled by the foodservice industry. If the Salmonella was in the egg, then simply cleaning the shell surface would not reduce the risk of illness from egg-containing menu items such as eggnog, soft-boiled eggs, some custards and other raw or partially cooked egg-containing foods.

Salmonella enteritidis (SE) is a common illness causing strain of this pathogen. It is often associated with eggs. From 1998-2008, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recorded that 60.3% of all SE outbreaks were traced to eggs as the source.

How does SE get into the egg?

There are potentially two ways for this pathogen to get into an egg. First, since Salmonella is an intestinal pathogen, chicken manure can be one source of the problem. Chicken pass eggs through the vent—the same way they poop out waste. Therefore, it is easy for chicken manure to some in contact with the surface of an egg. This can happen as the egg is laid, or if the egg comes into contact with the manure after it is laid, or rodent feces in the barn, or from other contaminated places in the farm environment.

Fresh shell eggs are protected by the “bloom” or “cuticle”, a gelatinous covering that dries after the egg is laid and helps to seal the pores in the egg shell. This is a natural covering that keeps moisture in and helps to keep bacteria out. Some customers may ask for unwashed eggs, thinking that this will mean a safer egg.

Commercially, eggs are often washed and/or sanitized prior to sale. Careful handling and refrigeration of eggs after washing helps to insure against cross contamination and the risk of pathogen growth.

A bigger problem, that is less amenable to environmental controls occurs when a hen’s ovaries for infected with SE. An infected chicken may look completely healthy—and so will her eggs.

Rules and regulations

A Federal Egg Safety rule went into effect in July 2010. Many provisions of the rule were aimed at reducing the risk for Salmonella infected birds. They also addressed environmental controls to minimize the pathogen in the hen house. Each operation must register with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and have a written SE Prevention Plan.

Some provisions of the rule address the monitoring and reduction of SE during the raising of pullets, or young hens. Other provisions address biosecurity, control of rodents and other pests, environmental sampling and testing, cleaning and disinfection of the hen house, egg sampling and testing, and refrigeration. Eggs must be held and transported at or below 45°F beginning 36 hours after laying.

The rule also exempts any operation with fewer than 3,000 laying hens and any farmer who sells all of his/her eggs directly to the consumer. These operations do not need to register with FDA, develop a prevention plan or keep records of cleaning or sanitizing operations.

No matter where you buy your eggs—from the farm or the supermarket, make sure that the eggs are refrigerated, clean and uncracked when you buy them. Be sure to refrigerate the eggs quickly after purchase. And, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.

Safe handling of eggs

It is important to handle eggs safely to prevent illness.

When buying eggs, buy shell eggs only when sold from a refrigerator or refrigerated case. In Connecticut supermarkets, eggs must be held at temperatures no lower than 45°F. Open the carton, and make sure that the eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked.

Check “sell-buy” dates so that you are getting the freshest eggs. Sell-by dates are an indication to store owners when to pull the product from the shelves. This does not mean that the food is no longer safe to be consumed. Eggs are safe to eat when stored properly up to 4-5 weeks after the sell by date.

If you choose to buy pasteurized eggs or an egg substitute product (usually found in a cardboard carton) made from egg whites, be sure that the product is sold from a refrigerated or freezer case. Check “sell-buy” dates for the freshest product.

Storing eggs

Store eggs in the original carton, and refrigerate as soon as possible after purchase. Be sure that the temperature in your refrigerator is 40°F or below. Eggs are washed and sanitized before they are packed. Eggs should not be washed before storage because you may remove the natural coating on the shell that protects the egg.

When handling or preparing eggs

When preparing eggs, keep in mind that there is always a chance that they could be contaminated with bacteria. Wash your hands and all utensils, counters and cutting boards with hot water and soap before and after preparing eggs. Do not prepare raw eggs near ready-­to-eat foods like salads, cooked meat or fish, bread, rolls or fresh fruit.

  • Use only clean, unbroken eggs. Discard dirty or broken eggs.
  • Cold temperatures will reduce the chance that bacteria will multiply, so keep shell eggs, broken-out eggs or egg mixtures refrigerated before and after cooking.
  • Do not leave eggs in any form at room temperature for more than two hours including prepa­ration time and serving.
  • For picnics or outdoor parties, pack egg dishes with ice or a freezer gel pack in an insulated cooler or bag.
  • To prevent the contamination of other foods with the bacteria found in raw eggs, wash your hands, utensils, equipment and work areas with hot, soapy water before and after using eggs or making egg-containing foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  • To keep prepared egg dishes safe, refrigerate leftovers in shallow con­tainers immediately after serving so that they will cool quickly. Use left­overs within two days.

Cooking eggs

When eggs are fully cooked, bacteria, such as Salmonella, will be killed. When you cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm, you can be sure that they are safe. When eggs are the ingredients in fully cooked baked goods, you may also be sure that the bacteria have been killed. However, when eggs are ingredients in casser­oles, quiches, sauces or custards, it is best to use a thermometer to make sure that the food is cooked to at least 160°F.

If you like to eat eggs that are not cooked to this high temperature or if you are serving folks with compromised immune systems, you might want to consider using pasteurized egg products, often found in the dairy section or egg section of your market in a carton similar to a milk carton.

Hardboiled egg safety

Once eggs are cooked, they need to be refrigerated immediately if they are not to be eaten. For some reason, people thing that this is not true of hardboiled eggs…that somehow the shell will protect them from contamination and bacterial growth. Safe cooking and handling of hardboiled eggs includes the following steps:

  • Cook hard boiled eggs thoroughly. Cool quickly under cold running water or ice water, then refrigerate.
  • Keep in mind that once an egg is hard-cooked, the protective coating is washed away. This leaves open pores – and an entry point for bacteria.
  • Keep hard-cooked eggs in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If you are decorating your hard cooked eggs or using them for holiday activities, they should not be out of refrigeration for more than a total of 2 hours. That includes all time spent at room temperature once the egg is cooked—whether cooling, decorating, or using as a centerpiece. If hard cooked eggs are out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours (or even less time if it is over 70° F), then they must be thrown out.
  • Eat hard cooked eggs within 5 days or so.

For more information about egg safety, go to the US Food and Drug Administration web site at www.fda.gov, the US Department of Agriculture web site at www.fsis.usda.gov, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-627.

The Dean’s Chair

Article by Tom Worthley

bench tag

Photo: Defining Studios

Sometime early in 2016 a sugar maple tree died somewhere on campus and was removed by the UConn arborist crew. Knowing that our UConn student Forest Crew runs a portable bandsaw mill on occasion, arborist John Kehoe arranged to have some of the larger logs from the tree dropped off at the wood yard, thinking they might be of interest.

The logs remained there on the ground throughout the summer while the Forest Crew worked on other projects.

In October of 2016, for the annual Cornucopia fest, the Forest Crew set up their portable band saw mill on the corner of the quad as part the Forestry exhibit and to conduct a sawmilling demonstration. Needing logs for the demonstration, Professor Worthley suggested that the crew, “Bring over a couple of those old maple logs that have been laying around.”

Now, some sawyers will tell you that making the first cut into a sawlog can be like opening a gift package – sometimes you find something special – and such was the case here. The maple lumber from this not-so-special log exhibited some very interesting figure and color and a bit of “spalting” (a black meandering line that can be seen in spots), all characteristics that are prized and valued by woodworkers. The lumber was stored away in the shed to wait for some special purpose to present itself (or, perhaps, for some wealthy wood-working customer to come along).

Dean with chair

Photo: Defining Studios

When Dean Weidemann announced his retirement and with that announcement came the topic of a recognition gift, the question arose as to whether something could be made from “UConn wood”, and lo and behold, a special purpose presented itself. So pieces of the Cornucopia-fest maple were loaded onto the old Ford pickup and delivered to the artisans and craftsmen at City Bench, in Higganum. There they were kiln-dried, planed, turned, book-matched and assembled into the bench we are proud to present today.

The “Product of UConn Forest” and “Connecticut Grown” brands provide recognition that raw materials in this item were locally grown and produced following sustainable forest management practices.

Biological Control Short Course Offered

people in field

Photo: Auerfarm

Xerces Society’s Conservation Biological Control Short Course

4-H Education Center at Auer Farm
158 Auer Farm Rd.
Bloomfield, CT

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017
9:00 am – 4:30 pm EDT

Learn a science-based strategy that seeks to integrate beneficial insects for natural pest control with instructor Dr. Ana Legrand from UConn!

To register and read course agenda follow this link: http://s.uconn.edu/3mt

Legal Issues and Climate Adaptation

fact sheets
A number of questions were raised at Legal Issues in the Age of Climate Adaptation, a conference held by UConn CLEAR’s and Connecticut Sea Grant’s Climate Adaptation Academy in late 2015. The Marine Affairs Institute & RI Sea Grant Legal Program at Roger Williams University School of Law reviewed the questions, which came from the audience during the course of the conference. The Legal Program then developed four fact sheets addressing the following topics: Takings and Coastal Management; Property and Permitting Boundaries at the Shoreline; Government Tort Liability for Disclosure of Flood Hazard Information; Flood and Erosion Control Structures. The fact sheets can be found at: http://climate.uconn.edu/
Also a UConn Clear Webinar with regard to the fact sheets will be held on May 2:  http://clear.uconn.edu/webinars/CLEARseries17/index.htm

Where Bears Are

bears

Sightings of black bears in Connecticut are becoming increasingly common. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Rittenhouse)

UConn CAHNR faculty member Tracy Rittenhouse was recently featured in the UConn Today article about bears in Connecticut. Tracy tells us: “We recently estimated the population size of black bears in the state at 427+/- 30 bears. We (with UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research) created this online story map that people can use to learn about bears in their neighborhood:
http://clear3.uconn.edu/viewers/bears/

UConn Sugar House Open Today

sugarhouse

UConn Sugar House to be open for sales of fresh maple syrup!

The sap is flowing! Members of the UConn Forest and Wildlife Club and UConn Forest Crew are finishing and bottling fresh maple syrup and the Sugar House will be open for demonstration, tours and sales today, Friday, 3/24/2017 from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. It is anticipated that tasting opportunities might also be happening! Come visit the UConn Sugar House, first driveway off Horsebarn Hill Rd, just past Farm Services.

National Ag Day

Katy-Katelyn

Happy National Agriculture Day! UConn CAHNR students, and Connecticut 4-H alumni Katy Davis and Katelyn Williams are in Washington DC today for National Ag Day Training – two of only 12 4-H students selected nationwide to participate.

National 4-H Council is pleased to offer this agriculture leadership opportunity for college students to represent 4-H in the 2017 National Ag Day events in Washington, D.C. Students are participating in a training at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center. The Agriculture Council of America (ACA) sponsors 100 student representatives from across the country to participate in the training and attend the National Ag Day activities on Capitol Hill. The students—from FFA, AFA, 4-H and Student NAMA—put a face on the future of agriculture and personally emphasize the importance of agriculture in our everyday lives.