Tag Archives: harvest

Get Razzed with Raspberries

May 30, 2019 by

Raspberries are a favorite item at the grocery store for many people. In the wild, they can be found growing in roadside ditches or along tree lines. They are also a favorite plant in the garden. They can be grown in abundance with the right knowledge and conditions. Paul Read, professor of Agronomy and Horticulture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, specializes in viticulture.

Different raspberry plants, he says, may produce red, black, or purple fruits in the fall. The plant is perennial. The raspberries themselves grow where once there were flowers and pull free from the stalk.

Black raspberries may bear a resemblance to blackberries, but raspberries are hollow where the berry connects to the stalk. Blackberries have a white core where the fruit connects to the stalk.

Read says it is important to know the distinction between types of raspberry plants. In Nebraska, people can grow red, black, and lesser-known purple and golden raspberries—and there are fundamentally different types of plants.

The standard type of raspberry plant is a floricane, which produces flowers and fruit on the second year’s growth, Read says. The ever-bearing, or primocane, plant produces at the end of the first year’s growth. This type of plant is sought after by commercial and home growers because it fruits sooner. With an ever-bearing plant, one may be picking quite a few berries by late August or early September.

“It’s nice to get fruit the first year,” Read says.

Standard raspberry types, and notable black raspberries, have barbs on their stalks, although thornless varieties are becoming more available. Thorny plants are more cold-tolerant, says Read; but he notes that many thornless varieties do well in Nebraska’s climate. “The best thorny types are miserable to harvest,” he adds, laughing.

Although raspberries may be found growing in various conditions in the wild, in order to optimize their production, the home gardener should follow a few simple rules. Raspberries should be planted in full sun, Read says, not shade.

“They [raspberry plants] should get 6-8 hours of full sun [per day],” Read advises.

He says there is some advantage to north-south row orientation because the southern slopes receive more sun in the northern hemisphere.

The casual home gardener should place raspberry plants 1.5 feet apart in their row, and rows should be placed 3-4 feet apart, Read says. He notes that more space may be optimal but understands that may be unrealistic to homeowners.

Read says it is generally useful to mulch raspberry plants in order to control weeds. Many types of mulch will work. Black landscaping fabric is particularly clean and easy to use. Organic mulch tends to cool the ground, which is good in the heat of the summer. Plastic mulch tends to warm the soil, which is good in the spring and can be good in the fall.

Read recommends supporting the raspberry plants using wires that are attached to posts, planted in the ground every few feet. The plants are then trained up the wires.

At the end of the year, cut down the stalks, Read says. It minimizes the risk of overwintering pests and diseases.

With this knowledge and a little luck, a home gardener can have raspberries this fall and next.  


Visit extension.unl.edu for more information on gardening raspberries and other plants.

This article was printed in the June 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Hand-Pollinated Tomatoes

April 25, 2019 by
Photography by provided

Why wait for the bees? Hand-pollination can help home gardeners take their tomato harvests to the next level with crossbred varieties and bountiful yields.   

John Porter, Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension and College of Agriculture, says it’s an easy and straightforward process. He encourages gardeners to give it a try.

Hand-pollination can increase yields in the absence of conditions required to make plants produce.

Pollination and Seeds

In order for a tomato plant to create tomatoes, it must be pollinated. Seeds also come from pollinated tomatoes. When left alone, tomatoes will self-pollinate with help from insects and the wind.

An heirloom tomato will produce seeds similar to the parent plant because of self-pollination. A hybrid “cultivar” requires starting with a specific male and female plant; however, it is possible to cross any tomato varieties because all tomato plants belong to the same species.

Gardeners may cross many varieties and then grow out the results. Then, they can pick and choose which varieties to save for later planting. Each plant will be at least a little bit different.

“Cross a red slicing [tomato] and a yellow cherry [tomato], some seeds should end up with different traits from each parent,” Porter says.

Tomato flowers are enclosed reproductive systems, meaning that the stamens (the male part) and the pistils (the female part) are totally enclosed. As a result, Porter says, tomatoes don’t cross-pollinate very easily.

The pistil will usually be the center part of the flower. It is larger and can have multiple sections on it. There are usually multiple stamens arranged around the pistil.

“Stamens are a threadlike filament with [what resembles] a pinhead on the top—that’s where the pollen comes from,” Porter says. Pollen is the yellowish powder present in flowers.

Different tomato varieties planted next to one another will not likely cross-pollinate, he says. A natural hybrid is therefore unlikely.

The Hand-Pollination Process

Porter says breeding tomatoes is a straightforward process: “Basically, you just need to take the pollen from one flower and pollinate the other one with it. Pick a mother and father plant. You want to take the pollen from the father plant.”

The next step is to open up the enclosed flower to pollinate. Remove the flower from the father plant and use it (or a tiny paintbrush) to pollinate the open flower. Porter suggests removing the father plant’s flower because opening it up will damage the sheath that covers the stamens. “It will be damaged anyway,” he says.

Selecting a good candidate female flower is important. “You’ll want to get it right when it opens up, or a little beforehand, right as it matures,” he says. “At that time, open it up so you can get into the reproductive structure. Remove the male structure, the stamen, so it does not self-pollinate. This is important.”

Then, put pollen from the designated male plant onto the stamen of a flower on the designated female plant. “You want to do this process a few days before the flower really opens—just to reduce the chances of self-pollination,” Porter says.

Finally, to effectively cross-pollinate, the flower must be isolated after hand-pollination. Porter says small paper bags or fine mesh bags will work. “You just want to seal off that flower so bees or foreign pollen doesn’t pollinate it,” he says.

Every flower in the tomato plant that is hand-pollinated will produce hybrid fruit and hybrid seeds. Each of the hand-pollinated flowers must be protected to avoid cross-pollination.

The Mystery of Reproduction

Although insects (such as bees) and the wind normally assist in tomato plants’ self-pollination, Porter says that hand-pollination may be essential for gardeners working in conditions isolated from the natural elements. This may be true of tomatoes growing indoors or in pots on a porch.

Rainy weather and excessive heat can also reduce the activity of pollinators. Such conditions further warrant hand-pollination by gardeners.

Studies have shown that, in the absence of wind, a fan can significantly increase yield as well. Greenhouse workers sometimes use stingless bees. But hand-pollination will do the trick just as well.

Beyond producing unique fruits of the gardener’s own selection, hand-pollination can teach children about natural reproduction.

It is a good reminder that in our world of big-box stores and industrial agriculture, our food is not just a commodity—it is alive, complex, and worthy of our respect and admiration.   


Visit extension.unl.edu for more information.

This article was printed in the May 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Make Your Bed and Plant in It

February 25, 2019 by
Photography by provided

Preparing a garden bed requires just a little bit of foresight and planning. It is best done in the fall, although many gardeners would rather wait out the cold season and begin preparations in the spring. Springtime preparations still produce fine results (but beginning the process soon after the conclusion of harvesting is ideal).

The same preparations should be used for vegetables and ornamentals alike. Scott Evans, horticulture program coordinator at the Nebraska Extension, shares a few simple tips for preparing successful garden beds:

Removing the prior year’s vegetation creates a healthy garden bed, Evans says. Foliage and fruits left in or on the ground may provide wintering habitats for harmful diseases and insects that can carry into the spring. Evans says that removing debris is best done in the fall because it decreases the chances that pathogens and insects will overwinter in the garden. Springtime removal is important if foliage and debris is not removed in the fall.

Crop rotation is equally important, says Evans. Prepare the bed accordingly and plot out where all of the vegetables will go. Avoid placing vegetables from the same family in the same place year after year. Move them to a different location, “not just a couple of feet—tens of feet,” Evans says.

Planting the same family of vegetables in the same place year after year creates the potential for diseases and insects. For example, the squash vine borer overwinters in pupae in the soil. Relocating the plants out of their immediate reach mitigates some potential for insect problems.

Plants from the same family are not always easily distinguishable. This is due to years of domestication and selection.

“It’s pretty darn amazing,” he says. Tomatoes, potatoes, pepper, and eggplants all come from the same plant family. Mustards, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli also belong to the same plant family. Tomatoes and peppers should not be rotated in the same area of the garden due to their relationship. The same is true of Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Although removing the prior year’s vegetation and rotating crops are essential preparatory steps, there are a few other tricks that can further improve yields. Tilling and spading the soil facilitates root growth.

“Don’t do any tilling or spading when the soil is wet. It can compact the soil,” Evans says, adding that working damp-to-dry soil is OK. Working compost into the top 6 inches of soil also improves it, he says.

Evans recommends staking plants such as tomatoes shortly after planting to avoid disturbing them later when they are large and unwieldy.

He advises planting plants with specific sunlight requirements according to their needs. For example, tomatoes need full all-day sun. Other plants thrive in partial sunlight. Inappropriate light conditions can be a source of disappointment for gardeners.

Keep a gardening journal and write down what does well in particular gardening conditions, he suggests. 

Evans suggests old newspapers as an inexpensive option for mulch (spread in flat sheets) over the soil. Mulch is a protective layer that reduces evaporation, maintains even soil temperature, prevents erosion, controls weeds, and helps to keep produce clean.

Also, Evans warns, don’t forget to use a fence to keep out rabbits.

Preparing a garden bed is often the most labor-intensive part of gardening. With just a few simple steps, one can truly maximize a garden’s potential yield. After preparation and planting comes the most time-consuming (and rewarding) part of the process: watching the garden grow—this is best done with a cool drink in hand and an empty mind.


Visit extension.unl.edu for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

How Old is Too Old for Home-Canned Food?

October 26, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Mady Besch

Preserving homegrown produce is a favorite pastime for Midwestern gardeners. 

In late summer and fall, mountains of cucumbers turn into pickles and baskets of tomatoes become salsa and spaghetti sauce with the help of canners on stovetops. 

A bountiful harvest then fills the pantry in the form of canned jars. Health-conscious consumers get to know what goes into their processed foods while enjoying the harvest throughout the calendar year.

But beware the curse of plenty, as overabundant jars can accumulate into perpetuity. The question then becomes, “At what point should homemade cans be discarded?”

Foods canned at home are safe to eat for several years—says Nancy Urbanec, a nutrition and health expert with the Nebraska Extension in Douglas and Sarpy counties—so long as the food was properly canned in the appropriate type of jars (glass mason jars and metal bands can be reused) with new lids (fresh seals), and stored in a cool, dry location.

“I’m not going to advocate for eating something five to seven years old,” she says. “Food safety-wise, it’s perfectly safe. Food quality-wise, it will change.” Peculiarities in foods stored in cans for many years may include lack of texture, cloudiness, and sometimes disintegration. 

Urbanec advises using canned foods within a year of processing, while the quality is best. She plans her garden with the intention of producing enough canned goods to last until the next year’s harvest. 

She also advises discarding canned items with rusted or bulged lids. Unsealed jars of canned food in the pantry should be discarded to avoid risk of botulism. 

Urbanec suggests removing the metal rings from the lids of cans that have been opened to make it easier to identify unsealed jars. Sticky exteriors of jars may also be a clue that they are not properly sealed. Jars containing fizz or odd bubbles may be suspect, too.

Unfortunately, botulin bacteria cannot be detected easily. But Urbanec says water-bath canning with adequate acidity or proper pressure canning will keep foods safe to eat. 

The methods of water-bath and pressure canning are slightly different in process but identical in result—they kill any possible botulin bacteria.  Both methods produce safely preserved food. 

What about when the prime year has slipped past already? Urbanec recommends not keeping canned items past one year. But when it happens—and it will happen, especially for folks new to growing and pickling cucumbers—Urbanec suggests using surplus pickles mixed with mayonnaise as a sandwich spread. Pickles can also be mixed with sour cream as a condiment for pita and lamb. Pickle brine with oil makes a delightful salad dressing, and deep-fried pickle spears will disappear off any serving tray. 

Urbanec enjoys sharing her canned produce with friends and family. Before offering them as gifts, however, she always checks to ensure that her lids are safely sealed. So if you have more cans of tomatoes and cucumbers this year than you know what to do with, tie a pretty bow around those mason jars and give them away as gifts. 

If you still have cans of pickles remaining after trying Urbanec’s suggestions—or maybe you just don’t want to share—know that it’s perfectly safe to consume them past one year.


Visit extension.unl.edu for more information about the Nebraska Extension in Douglas and Sarpy counties. 

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Elderberry Bounty

August 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Foraging berries is one of many underappreciated outdoor activities that Nebraska offers. Putting one’s kids to work on a ripe berry bush with a couple of pails will give them an opportunity to appreciate the natural world. 

Finding berries to pick is not difficult. Berry farms are plentiful in the state, and even roadside ditches offer opportunities to pick berries for those who know what to look for. Elderberries—for example—are plentiful, often seen, and often overlooked.

Paul Read, a professor of horticulture and viticulture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who grows elderberries, says they are a native small fruit in the genus Sambucus. The common American elder shrub, Sambucus canadensis, has a semi-woody stem from which foliage and a “cyme” (a type of flower cluster or “inflorescence”) grows. The semi-woody stem contains a soft, white pith at its center. “When I was a kid, we used to remove it [the pith] and make whistles,” Read says. The stem can support a shrub 12 or more feet in height. 

The small, sweet-smelling white flowers are “umbrella-shaped.” The cyme contains many small flowers that develop into deep-red to black individual fruits, which are no bigger than a quarter inch in diameter. In midsummer, the odds are that anyone driving around the countryside could find elderberries in bloom on roadsides and in ditch banks. In the fall, the clusters of dark fruit weighing down the plants give them away. 

Elderberries make fine jellies, jams, pies, and wines. The flowers can also be made into wine. Aside from tasting good, elderberries are healthy. Read says that elderberries have many of the beneficial characteristics generally expected of fruits and vegetables. In addition, he adds, elderberries are one of the fruits highest in antioxidant content. Elderberry products, such as concentrated juices, have found their way into the health food market. 

Read does not forage elderberries because he has a cultivated “Adams” elderberry growing in his garden. He says there are other “cultivars” (varieties) available including “York” and “Nova.” However, foraged elderberries will be pretty similar to cultivars. 

“Birds love them both,” he says. Foragers should expect to compete with birds for perfectly ripe berries. When cultivating, throwing a net over the plants will help keep the birds out.

Elderberries are easy to incorporate into the home garden. Read recommends spacing elderberry plants out in a field and cutting them back each year so the height is uniform. 

Whether homegrown or foraged, harvest elderberries when they are very dark in order to benefit from the increased antioxidant content and enhanced flavors. He adds that they are not difficult to grow or harvest, and most commercial elderberries are harvested by hand.

Consuming the fruits of your forage will connect you to the source. You will know the environment. You will know your environment. In the cold sterile aisle of the grocery store, it is easy to forget: Nourishment comes from the earth.


This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Cooped Up in the City

June 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Raising chickens in the city has become more common in recent years due to the popularity of urban farming. 

Brett Kreifels, educator for the Nebraska Extension in Cass County (formerly of the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension), has been around poultry his whole life. He runs 4-H youth development for the county and has extensive education in livestock. His grandfather owned a hatchery in Springfield when he was a child. 

Kreifels says there is a trend in favor of urban farming and raising poultry in cities like Omaha because it’s fun and it teaches sustainability. Eggs are an added benefit. For some, it is comforting to know where their meat comes from.

To get started, he says it is important to know local regulations, noting that Omaha and Lincoln have different rules, and Omaha residents must follow both city and Douglas County rules. Much of Sarpy County does not allow chickens, with the exception of those raised by youth in 4-H programs.

Beka Doolittle raises chickens in a part of Elkhorn that is not annexed by the city but falls within Douglas County. She has a permit from the county, but also advises urban farmers to be aware of homeowners association covenants. She raises egg-laying chickens exclusively. Doolittle selected types that lay a variety of colored eggs—they look beautiful in cartons. If one of her birds were to stop laying, she would keep it as a pet. She says raising chickens teaches good life skills, and she enjoys passing them on to her 8-year-old daughter. She says caring for chickens is therapeutic, noting that their strange behavior always makes her laugh. 

Janine Brooks keeps chickens within Omaha city limits. She has many Seramas (a small breed of bantam chickens originally from Malaysia), and enjoys their eggs. It takes five of their eggs to equal one average chicken egg. Brooks says she got into chickens with her 31-year-old daughter, who is autistic. She says her daughter loves the chickens and also raises turkeys. Rearing poultry and watching them grow has been therapeutic for the family and keeps her daughter occupied. Brooks says chickens and turkeys are incredible pets, inexpensive to feed and maintain, and they are clean animals.   

Kreifels says there are no health concerns with raising poultry so long as you keep a clean coop. Otherwise there are risks of salmonella and E. coli. He recommends washing your eggs and your hands after handling chickens. He has been sick from his own birds on one occasion. He attributes it to lax hand-washing practices. “Don’t kiss your chickens,” he says, partly joking.

To get started in Omaha, Kreifels recommends first contacting the Douglas County Health Department. Let them know you are interested in raising chickens. They will want to know your lot size, whether or not you have a fenced-in yard, and what the coops look like. They will send someone out to inspect the facility. If they approve, they will tell you how many chickens you can have and issue you a permit.

It’s that simple. Raise chickens. Eat fresh eggs. Know where your meat comes from. Learn to nurture yourself by nurturing and respecting your food source.


Visit extension.unl.edu to learn more about the Nebraska Extension’s work with local agriculture and livestock.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome. 

Starting Seeds

April 15, 2018 by

Growing produce is a great way to save money on groceries and promote healthy eating. Buying greenhouse-started plants is one option, but starting your own seedlings allows you to grow atypical plants at a fraction of the cost.

Springtime planting takes a little bit of foresight, so plan ahead. Seeds should be started six to eight weeks prior to planting in the ground. With Nebraska’s climate, seedlings will not survive in the winter cold and should be started indoors or with protection.

Dr. David Hibler, the owner of the Benson Plant Rescue, recommends starting your seeds in January or February. Hibler says that this will help you get your plants in the ground before the generally accepted frost-safe date of around May 4, noting that the date has been less consistent in recent years.

To start seedlings indoors, Hibler says you need three things: a light source, moisture, and a growing medium such as soil. He says kits are available, with the “72 slot” being a popular option. The 72 slot is a small greenhouse-like tray with subdivided slots for growing medium and seeds.

For the growing medium, expanding medium pellets are an easy option. Hibler recommends a lightweight organic seed-starting mix. Soil can be mixed with peat moss or vermiculite to lighten it. Hibler also recommends reusing seed trays and soils.

For lighting, Hibler recommends full-spectrum fluorescent lights. “Daylight” bulbs, he says, are often a fraction of the price of “grow lights” but contain the necessary spectrum. A brood light with a full-spectrum, compact fluorescent bulb also works well. He says LEDs are also available.

Hibler says that when the soil reaches around 64 degrees Fahrenheit and there is no risk of frost, seedlings can be planted. Perennials, he notes, can tolerate a little bit of frost.

John Porter, agriculture program coordinator with the University of Nebraska Agriculture School, lends a few supplementary suggestions. Porter says seeds need around 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate. Once they come up and have leaves on them, they need to be a bit cooler—60-65 degrees Fahrenheit—so they don’t get long and leggy. He notes that most seeds don’t need light to get started. He says they can be started on top of the refrigerator for warmth.

Porter also recommends sterile soil and sterilized containers. “There are some diseases that will kill the seedlings when they are very young,” he says. Porter also recommends using recycled containers for seedlings. They will need drain holes. He recommends cleaning them with a detergent and sterilizing with a 10 percent bleach solution.

Once the seeds germinate and have leaves, they should go into the potting soil. “Seeds have the nutrients to get [seedlings] into the first set of leaves; they don’t need nutrients until then,” Porter says.

As for lighting, Porter says commercial greenhouses use LEDs, but fluorescent bulbs also work. He notes that if full-spectrum bulbs are not available, a mix of warm and cool fluorescent bulbs contain enough of the light spectrum required for most seedlings. Porter recommends putting the lights as close to the seedlings as possible without causing damage to the plants.

Growing seedlings indoors is not an exact science to yield good results. If you need supplies, the Benson Plant Rescue has them for sale, or Hibler can steer you to the right place to find them. If you want to learn the science of starting seeds, Porter offers a course with the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office. Everything else about starting your own seeds and planting your garden is DIY. That is half the charm.

The Benson Plant Rescue is on Facebook at @bensonplantrescue and can be reached by e-mail at bensonplantrescue@cox.net. Details on plant propagation classes with the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office are available at extension.unl.edu/statewide/douglas-sarpy or by e-mail at john.porter@unl.edu.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

How to Make Frozen Aronia Berry Wine

November 14, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’re anything of a forager, after summer and fall, you have a freezer full of frozen berries. They can keep for a long time, and it’s easy to pick more than is necessary once you get into the bushes. Foraged berries are great. But when the next year rolls around, you need to make room. It’s time to use up those frozen berries.

Producing wine can use up quite a few. Frozen berries are easier to ferment because the freezing and thawing breaks down the cell walls of the fruit, making it easier to juice firmer berries. And just about everyone loves wine. It makes a great gift, and the wine will be done just in time for the holiday (if started far enough in advance in the fall). Clearing out your freezer will make room for fall berries, winter trout, and other game.

Personally, I had a freezer full of aronia berries from Kurt and Tina Geschwender, who live in Ponca Hills, and were gracious enough to let a friend and I pick their excess. The berries are firm and tart, a bit like cranberries, and are loaded with antioxidants. Because they are so sturdy, freezing helps to pulp them, lending to a better wine with less effort.

Finished aronia berry wine is crisp and dry with a beautiful dark maroon color. It retains the flavor of the berry.

The aronia berry wine is simple and uses the same equipment and basic knowledge discussed in my previous article “Foraging and Fermenting Wild American Grapes,” which can be found in the August 2016 issue of Omaha Magazine online. The same basic equipment used to make grape wine can be used for aronia berries.

It is essential to have a fermentation bucket, fermentation lock, and straining bag—all of which must be sanitized.

Plenty of berries, sugar, and other items are also necessary.

My recipe is modified from Winemaker’s Recipe Handbook’s cranberry recipe (the Blackberry recipe is also a solid option). The following makes one gallon of wine—or step up the quantities to make more:

  • 3 pounds aronia berries
  • 7 pints water (preferably not tap)
  • 2.5 pounds sugar
  • 0.5 teaspoon pectic enzyme
  • 0.5 teaspoon yeast energizer
  • 1 Campden tablet (crushed)
  • 1 package wine yeast (EC-1118 yeast best tolerates the antioxidant-rich aronia berries)

Adding half a pint of red grape concentrate is preferable to some, but I like to let the aronia berries shine.

First, place washed, frozen berries in a straining bag in your fermenter. Mash and squeeze the thawing pulp in the fermenter. This would be difficult with fresh, firm berries. Tie the bag and leave it in the fermenter. Stir in all other ingredients except for yeast. Cover the fermenter. Twenty-four hours later, add the yeast and cover. Stir daily. When fermentation slows to a near standstill (after about five days), remove the straining bag and pulp. After about three more weeks, siphon the wine into a sanitized glass secondary fermenter. A hydrometer is useful for assessing the progress of fermentation. In about two months, if it is clear, bottle it.

A deep, red bottle of aronia berry wine is sure to be a memorable Christmas gift to anyone lucky enough to receive one. More importantly, there’s room in the freezer for that fall turkey.

See omahamagazine.com/articles/foraging-and-fermenting-wild-american-grapes for more information on basic winemaking with wild grapes. Visit fermenterssupply.com for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December edition of Omaha Home.

Living with 
Livestock in Omaha

June 19, 2017 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Hungry for a taste of the simple life? You don’t have to sacrifice the convenient luxuries of living in the Omaha metro.

Nick Batter, a lawyer who raises livestock in the Ponca Hills area, knows how to get the best of both worlds.

From left: Nick Batter and Jill Stigge

Batter owns five acres near Hummel Park, just outside of the city limits. He says he can’t imagine any other place where a young professional can raise a pig or shoot a shotgun in his or her front yard, and then drive 10 minutes to have sushi or see a Broadway show.

Urban Logistical Hassles

After first determining whether barnyard animals are allowed in your neighborhood, Batter says there are some challenges to raising livestock in the Omaha metro.

“There’s not many people to buy livestock from,” he says. He has to go on road trips to get animals. He must be selective about breeds due to space limitations: He raises a more docile breed of pig and a shorter-legged sheep (it runs slower). He doesn’t have space to overwinter animals either.

Batter’s livestock selection changes throughout the year to accommodate his space. He gets baby animals in spring and slaughters them after the first frost. By the end of April, he already had sheep, lambs, goats, rabbits, laying hens, and was expecting four pigs to arrive soon.

Limited access to feed stores presents another logistical challenge in the Omaha metro,  he says. For a variety of reasons (including his professional schedule), he has to buy feed on Sundays, and only one store is open when he’s available—and it’s in Irvington.

Nevertheless, he says the perks of animal husbandry outweigh any hassle.

Perks of Residential Livestock

Batter says his animals mostly “live off the land,” and their diet is only supplemented by feed. His rabbits and sheep eat grass. “Goats eat everything green,” he says.

He pens the pigs under mulberry, walnut, and oak trees. So, the pigs eat plenty of berries, nuts, and acorns. Batter finishes fattening them on black walnuts, a “very American walnut,” he says.

Batter doesn’t need to mow the lawn. The sheep do it. His two border collies make sure the sheep don’t leave the property.

He says the animal pens are near his home due to space limitations. His window faces the pens, so if predators are in the area—and his animals are distressed—he knows quickly.

Batter eats fresh eggs and chicken. “Keep them warm, keep them watered, keep them fed,” he says of the chickens. “They really do the rest.” He gets two to three dozen eggs a day. “They’re producing eggs like crazy,” Batter says. “I’m not even feeding them.”

The chickens eat bugs and grass, which they prefer. Batter enjoys sharing eggs. “Sharing eggs is expressive,” he says. “Time goes into it. It’s a way to share your personal time with somebody.”

Batter practices ethical husbandry and reaps the rewards, both in food and in spirit. “I’m not divorcing myself from the process [of processing animals],” Batter says. He knows his animals have a good life. “Every day of their lives is terrific except for the last day,” Batter says, adding that it pains him to waste meat: “You realize it came from a life.” And in the case of his backyard farm, a life that he nurtured and raised.”

Do It Yourself

Before investing in urban livestock, would-be farmers must research the zoning of their neighborhood. Circumstances are different all across the Omaha metro. To be safe, the University of Nebraska’s Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office encourages homeowners to check with neighborhood associations or county planning and zoning offices.

“There are so many different situations, SIDs, acreages, in city limits, out of city limits,” says Monte Stauffer, an educator with the county extension office. “The person who can make that decision is at the county courthouse; you just have to give them an address.”

For advice on raising chickens, Stauffer suggests reaching out to Brett Kreifels, an extension assistant with a master’s degree in poultry production. Meanwhile, Stauffer (an animal sciences and animal husbandry expert) can answer any questions about pigs, calves, horses, sheep, and goats.

Kreifels and Stauffer are available by phone at 402-444-7804. A receptionist at the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office directs queries to the relevant experts on staff.

“You can do it for several reasons: to try to generate additional income, to produce your own food, or provide an educational opportunity to young people—giving them some chores to do, some responsibility that they may not get them in trouble,” Stauffer says.

Visit extension.unl.edu/statewide/douglas-sarpy for more information.

Eggs, sausages, and bacon harvested from the farm.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

Fall in Nebraska

September 24, 2013 by

Since I’m from Texas, we are thankful to have several friends and family visit us here in Nebraska. Even though you and I know it really is “The Good Life” (wink, wink), it turns out Omaha is not everyone’s number one vacation destination.

My favorite time to have visitors in Nebraska is October. Guests get the crisp fall at the zoo, the fun pumpkin patches, and if they look around anywhere, they’ll witness Nebraska football.

No one does harvest celebration better than Omaha-area pumpkin patches. From corn mazes to hayrides to campfires, eventually you’ll get to the pumpkins. We all have our own favorite pumpkin patch cuisines. My daughter, Lucy, likes caramel apples. My son, Max, goes straight for the fresh cookies. My husband, Chris, however, usually picks barbecue. And I get succotash.

I train my visitors to do it right. Getting extra kettle corn on Monday to take with you to the zoo on Tuesday is practically a rite of passage.

Whether they have kids or not, they have to experience Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. I explain that there’s no need for a workout; we’ll be burning plenty of calories (consumed at the pumpkin patch) while walking through the zoo. I like to guide friends through the shark tunnel in the aquarium and mention that scene in one of the Jaws movies when the aquarium breaks. When we’re right in the middle, I point at the glass and ask, “Hey, is that a crack?”

The beauty of our zoo is the accessibility to the beautiful animals. The gorillas, the Desert Dome, or dining in the Lied Jungle—it’s all a unique experience. The kids like to take our family friends to the Kingdoms of the Night. They think it’s cool and spooky. And they like to show their friends how Mom freaks out in the bats section. Real funny, kids!

Still, the best part about Nebraska in the fall is football. I’ve been telling friends back in Texas (who think they are crazy for football) about Husker football, but they think it’s bigger there. So we make them come up here and see it for themselves. My friends are always surprised at the positive spirit of football, the tailgates, and warm welcome given to opposing teams’ fans. I make them watch the news the whole time they are here so that we can see how many facets of football is worked into the news: weather, traffic, recruiting, news reports, segues, etc.

Just remember, Omaha—fall is, in this writer’s opinion, the best time of the year to introduce out-of-towners to our home.

Read more of Murrell’s stories at momontherocks.com.