Millipede (and Friends) Invasion

Recently the following question came to the AnswerLine inbox: I have little worm-like bugs, both dead and alive, in my basement; they are especially found in the corners and damp areas. How do I get rid of these?

AnswerLine replied: Without a picture, we cannot be certain. However, something that is common and fits your description is a type of millipede. They are found in damp areas around foundations, basements, etc. Here is an Extension publication from the University of Minnesota that has some photos and management instructions: http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/sowbugs-millipedes-centipedes/

Reply: It is Millipedes.  Thanks for the help.

With the unusual wet conditions that the Midwest is experiencing this year, it is quite possible that many will be seeing millipedes and their counterparts (sowbugs, centipedes, pillbugs, roly-polys) in basements and crawl spaces, around foundations, and damp places in the yard this year.

Spirobolid millipedes gathered on a piece of tree bark

Millipedes and company are unusual arthropods or a many-legged relative of insects. Millipedes, usually dark brown in color, have worm-like bodies with two pairs of legs per body segment and a pair of antennae. When they die, they usually coil because coiling is their first means of defense. Dead or alive, they can simply be swept or vacuumed and disposed of outside.

While they do frighten people, they are more of a nuisance than harmful. They do not bite or pose any danger to humans, transmit diseases to plants or animals, or cause damage to the home or food per information provided by Colorado State University Extension. They often move into the home in the spring and fall but unless they find moisture, they will usually die within two days.

These many-legged insect relatives are actually beneficial in the landscape. They feed on aphids and other soft-bodied insect pests and, like worms, recycle decaying organic matter.

If infestation is a problem, the University of Minnesota and Colorado State University Extension publications linked above provide management information.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Collecting and Fall Planting Milkweed for Monarchs

In recent years, we have heard and read much about the declining monarch butterfly population due to eradication of milkweed in agricultural and urban areas.  Milkweed is critical for the survival of monarchs.  It is the only host plant for the monarch caterpillars which feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed.  And besides providing food for caterpillars, the leaves of the milkweed plant are the only place that the female monarchs lay their eggs.  As milkweed plants gradually disappeared from the landscape, the monarch populations gradually declined.  With the decline, there is urging to plant milkweed to support and increase the monarch population.

Back in the 1990s, I began an initial planting of the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) along our creek banks with seeds from a single pod that I found along the road side. In the 20 some years since, those few seeds have fostered a nice habitat for monarchs as they not only spread along the creek bank, but also into the surrounding pasture.  This year I am once again on a mission to collect some pods, harvest the seeds, and eventually plant them.  However, this time I have a partner; my 9-year old granddaughter loves monarchs and wants to do her part in helping their survival.

Fall is the perfect time to collect and plant milkweed.  The first step is to acquire seed.  Most milkweed species grow particularly well in undisturbed areas, so start by checking out roadsides, pastures, creek and river banks, railroad track beds, bike paths, highway medians, agricultural field margins, vacant land, cultivated gardens, and parks.  In September the seed pods begin to turn brown, split, and open.  The seed pod looks like a spiny, bumpy fruit. They begin light green in color and gradually over the summer turn yellow-green and eventually sage green to sage grey-brown.  As they get to this later stage, they will start to split.  This is the stage that you want for harvesting seeds. When the pod is opened, the seeds inside should be dark brown. If they’re green or light brown, they’re not mature yet and won’t sprout when planted.  If you don’t see the split or aren’t sure about the color, you can gently push on the pod; if it splits easily and the seeds are brown, it is ready; if it won’t pop open easily, leave it for another time.

Remove the entire seed pod from the plant and place it in a paper or organza bag.  Attached to the seeds is the coma, (white, hairy fluff also known as floss, silk, or plume) that is essential to the natural propagation of milkweed in the wild.  The fluff enables the wind to scatter and disperse the seed over a wide area.  Whether the seed is saved to share or use later or planted this fall, the fluff should be removed and it is best to do this before the pod fully opens and explodes.  When the seeds are all compact inside the pod, it is easy to do by carefully removing the spine holding the fluff and running your fingers down it; as you do, the seeds fall out easily.  Check out the Monarch Butterfly Garden website for a great video on how to do this.  If the pod is more mature and already opening with the fluff beginning to take flight, place the pod in a paper bag and shake it vigorously; sometimes it helps to add some coins or washers to the bag to aid this process.

Milkweed needs a period of cold stratification to germinate so that is what makes fall an ideal time to plant milkweed as Mother Nature will do the work during the winter months. November is the best time in the Midwest to plant.  The soil needs to be cold enough that the seeds won’t germinate, but not yet frozen.  The location chosen should be sunny and an area where you can allow the milkweeds to spread naturally over time as they can become invasive in a perfectly manicured yard or flower garden.  A bare patch of moist soil is best.  Poke a shallow hole and drop in a seed or two.  Cover, water, and lightly mulch for winter protection, and wait for spring.  For more tips on planting, see Fall Planting Milkweed Seeds – 10 Simple Steps from the Monarch Butterfly Garden website.  Another method of planting  is by making and throwing out seed balls.  To learn more about this method, see the article by the Iowa DNR.

If you miss the window for fall planting, the seeds can be planted in the spring, too.  For additional information on keeping seeds over the winter and planting in the spring or other times, check out the Michigan State University publication, How to Collect and Grow Milkweeds to Help Monarchs and Other Pollinators.

Lastly, I would be amiss to not suggest that this would make a great 4-H project for any young person interested in monarch habitat.  And for crafters, there are any number of ways to use the dried pods.  In all cases, please be advised to wear gloves or wash hands frequently when working with milkweed or pods.  Milkweed sap (looks like milk) can be an eye irritant, so take appropriate precautions to avoid this kind of discomfort.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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‘Tis the Season for Fruit Fly Control

Macro view of a fruit-fly sitting on watermelon.  Note the red eyes.

As the garden produce has come into the kitchen, so have the fruit flies.  Fruit flies are those pesky tiny insects harboring around the kitchen with reddish eyes and are attracted to anything fruit or vegetable in the area.  Beyond being a nuisance, they can also carry harmful bacteria.  They multiply rapidly so if not controlled quickly, a small problem becomes a big problem.

One of the best ways to control fruit flies in the home is to practice excellent sanitation, eliminate rotting fruits and vegetables and keep as much food in the refrigerator as possible. Keep counters, sinks, and drains clean at all times–even the dishwasher. Trash should be kept tied and taken out frequently, and compost scraps should not be allowed to pileup on the counter. Cracked or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables should be cut off and discarded immediately to prevent infestation.

Chemical control is not recommended; however, you can make your own traps using attractants commonly found in the kitchen such as cider vinegar, wine or even a small piece of fruit.   Put a small amount of the attractant in a glass or jar, cover  with a plastic wrap that fits tightly to the glass, and poke very small holes in the plastic.  Fruit flies will enter the glass but find themselves trapped.  The University of Nebraska offered another simple trap using yeast and sugar.

Once you’ve done the work to kill or trap fruit flies, keep them from coming back with these preventative measures:

1. Keep the counter clean. Fruit flies don’t just like to eat fruit; they also like spilled food, crumbs, spilled juice — just about anything. Wipe your counters frequently throughout the day and dry thoroughly.

2. Wash any produce coming into the home. Fruit flies piggyback their way into our homes on fruits and vegetables. By washing fruit and vegetables, you get rid of any eggs that may have been laid on the produce.

3. Keep produce covered or in the refrigerator. If produce must sit on the counter, be sure that it is fully contained and covered.

4. Remove odors immediately.  If something smells, chances are it will attracts fruit flies, too. Clean drains, garbage cans, pet bedding, litter boxes and similar things.

Female fruit flies lay 100 or more eggs per day.  With the possibility of new eggs hatching,  a couple of weeks of diligence will be necessary.  Continue using traps,  depriving them of food and water, and stepping up sanitary procedures to keep  them from breeding and eventually eliminating them from the home.

 

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Bed Bugs

A single bed bug on a blanket fiber There is a lot of moving going on in the area I live. Many leases are turning over August 1st or September 1st. I have seen lots of furniture on the curb for free and there are several places that offer furniture swaps or sell the used furniture at bargain prices. There are also a number of people giving their used furniture away to friends they know that could use it.

I had a caller yesterday concerned about her college-aged son getting a free couch from a friend. Her main concern was if bed bugs might be present. She did not want him to be affected by that or to introduce bed bugs into his apartment. That is a legitimate concern for sure.

Bed bugs are a headache and can be difficult to get rid of on your own. The first thing you need to do is make sure there really are bed bugs present. The EPA and the University of Kentucky have great websites with pictures for identifying, preventing, and getting rid of bed bugs. It can be very difficult to get rid of bed bugs yourself. Most often it is necessary to contact a pest control company to come and rid your infested areas of bed bugs.

Besides being concerned about used furniture you might pick up, traveling can also be a concern. The EPA has tips for travel when you are staying in a hotel room. Since bed bugs are most active at night when you are sleeping it is a good idea to be diligent when you check into your room. It takes only a few minutes and can prevent a lot of hassles for you.

Bed bugs were practically eradicated a few decades ago but infestations have increased dramatically in recent years due to changes in pest control practices, less effective insecticides due to bed bugs being more resistant and the general population not being as vigilant as we should be.

Bed bugs do not favor any socioeconomic class or level of cleanliness. They can be anywhere. I hope none of us ever has to personally deal with them but if you do or know of others who are dealing with them, I hope the research based sites mentioned above are helpful.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Eliminating Ants

Are ants finding their way into your home this Spring/Summer? AnswerLine receives calls on a regular basis from callers looking for ways to get rid of those pesky ants.

Ants are typically trying to get in looking for nutrition and/or shelter so the first thing to do is eliminate any food or water sources the ants would be attracted to including rinsing out recycling containers before putting them in the storage bin.

If there appears to be nothing the ants might be looking for but they are still coming in, clean the infested area with soapy water or an ammonia window cleaner. If you can find the entry point where the ants are getting in you can seal it with petroleum jelly until you can silicon caulk the opening.

There are pesticide-free sprays on the market that can be effective in getting rid of ants. The safest homemade remedy to deter ants is to mix equal parts water and white vinegar and spray on the paths.

If you can identify the type of ant  you are trying to get rid of you can be more specific in what you use. There are hundreds of different species of ants found in the United States but only a fraction of those are actually found in or around homes and buildings. Observation and baiting with sticky traps can be important steps in the beginning to help determine where the ants might be coming from or where they are most active.

Terro is a commercial product you can purchase that typically has good results. Be sure to read the instructions for storage and usage if you have children and/or pets in the house. Terro makes products to treat ants both inside and outside the home.

Ants are Springtime house guests that are never welcome. With a little bit of diligence we should all be able to keep our homes ant free.

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Dealing with Head Lice

With kids back in school, it’s probably only a matter of time until you hear about head lice.  Anyone who comes in close contact with someone who already has head lice is at risk for acquiring head lice as they are easily transmitted from head to head.  Preschool and elementary-school children and their families are most often infected.  While head lice infestation is very common and has been around for centuries, they are contagious, an annoyance and disruption to family life, and sometimes tough to get rid of—been there, done that!

The head louse is a tiny, wingless parasitic insect that lives among human hairs and feeds on tiny amounts of blood drawn from the scalp.  While they are frustrating to deal with, they aren’t dangerous as they don’t spread disease.  However, their bites make a child’s head itchy and scratching can lead to infection.  It is best to treat head lice quickly once they are found as they spread easily from person to person.

Head scratching is usually the first sign that your child has head lice.  However, when scratching is noticed, the child already has an active case.  Therefore, it is best to check your child’s scalp weekly for nits (lice eggs) by parting the child’s hair into small sections and looking particularly near the scalp, around and behind the ears, and near the neckline at the back of the head. Even though small, nits can be seen by the naked eye.  Adult lice lay eggs on the hair shafts close to the scalp; nits look like dandruff, but can’t be removed by brushing or shaking them off.  The eggs hatch within 1 to 2 weeks after they have been laid.  After hatching, the egg casing remains firmly attached to the hair shaft and the newly immerged nymphs, smaller than a sesame seed with six tiny legs, are on the move seeking blood to survive.  Nymphs become adults within 1 to 2 weeks and are gray-white in color and about the size of a sesame seed. Nymphs and adults are often harder to spot as they move fast.  See the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website for pictures of the various lice stages and for the best information on how to treat lice.

Lice cannot jump or survive long without a human host.  They cannot spread to pets as they can only survive on human blood. They are spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person.  Cleaning is a necessary part of ridding the home of head lice.  Here are some simple, but time consuming, ways to get rid of lice and prevent re-infestation:

  • Wash all bed linens and clothing that’s been recently worn by the infested person in very hot water; dry with the hot cycle of the dryer for at least 20 minutes.
  • Put stuffed animals and non-washable items in airtight bags for at least 3 days. Place the bags in the garage or someplace away from constant human contact.
  • Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture (car seats, too); dispose of the vacuum cleaner bag in an airtight bag away from the home.
  • Clean hair-care items like combs, barrettes, hair ties or bands, headbands, and brushes by soaking in rubbing alcohol or medicated shampoo for an hour. If tolerated, these items can also be washed in the dishwasher.

Finally, know that having head lice is NOT a sign of poor hygiene or a dirty home.  They are a problem for all mankind.  Remind your kids to avoid head-to-head contact with other children and avoid sharing brushes and hair/head attire.  Most importantly, help them understand that while having lice can be embarrassing, they have not done anything wrong and they are not dirty.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Ants in the house

We have been having a lot of calls about ants in the home lately and I must confess, I’ve been seeing them in my house this summer too. We put a kitchen and great room addition on to our house last summer. We made every effort to seal things up tightly to prevent mice and insects from entering. I was sad to see some ants on my kitchen counter today before I came into work. I thought that a bit of research was in order to see just how or where the ants were entering.

The first place to look is in obvious cracks or seams where the wall comes together. This isn’t an issue at my house. Second would be to look at gaps in the foundation. Again, that doesn’t seem to be an issue for me. The article that I looked at suggested that ants may already have spaces under the floor or carpeting where they already have trails established. I know that could be an issue in an older section of the house but I hope that they do not have any trails in the newer parts of my home. Older windows that do not fit tight can also be a point of entry for the ants. Doors that no longer fit tightly will allow ants to enter. The best possibility for ants to enter my home is, I think, the holes that we drilled in the walls to allow electric, phone, cable and gas lines. Another alternative that I don’t like to think about is the possibility that the ants may have been born inside my house.

If I want to keep ants out, there are a few simple steps that will make my home less attractive to the ants. I can seal up cracks and calk around the gas and other lines that enter my home. Keeping things clean in the kitchen, rinsing sticky dishes and being sure that there are no crumbs or pet food available to the ants will help. Ants also look for moisture, so leaky faucets should be repaired and changing the pet’s water bowl often should help reduce the possibility of ants in the home.

I will take a fresh look around my home tonight after work and see just what I need to do to eliminate the ants inside my house before they become a problem.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Tick Season Has Arrived

Spring is a season I look forward to.  It brings green grass, flowers, leaves on the trees, and lots of outdoor time.  And unfortunately, ticks are also part of spring.  Because of mild winter temperatures and another wet spring, ticks may again be abundant in some locations.  Tick populations vary greatly from place to place and year to year. Ticks are most active from March to September with peak activity in April, May, and June. Ticks live and crawl on low-lying vegetation and attach to small mammals, pets, or people as they pass by.  Ticks crawl upward to find a place to bite.

There are more than a dozen different tick varieties throughout our area; however, there are three main types usually encountered:  the American dog tick, the lone star tick, and the blacklegged tick.

The American Dog Tick is also known as the wood tick.  These ticks are found predominantly in grassy fields as well as along walkways and trails.  They feed on a variety of warm blooded animals.  Without a host, they may survive up to two years but need a host to move to the next stage of their development.  They can transmit diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever;  however, this disease is not common in Iowa, Minnesota, or South Dakota.

 

The Lone Star Tick is abundant in the south central and southeastern US and in recent years has become common in Iowa as well.  It is recognized by the white dot on the back of the adult female.  The adult feeds on large mammals while the immature ticks prefer birds and small mammals.  These ticks are usually found in bushy and grassy areas and can transmit the bacteria of several diseases but not Lyme Disease.

 

 

The Blacklegged Tick is also known as the deer tick or bear tick and is the known carrier of Lyme Disease.  This tick takes two years to complete its life cycle and is found predominately in woody, brushy areas.   Both the nymph (about the size of a poppy seed) and adult (1/8” or smaller) stages are capable of transmitting Lyme Disease.

 

 

If you are unsure about a tick, you can submit it for identification to the Iowa State University Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic. Please click here for submitting information. ISU does not test ticks for pathogens.  According to the CDC, testing ticks for pathogen presence is not useful. (https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/removal/)

After being outdoors, make it a routine to check clothing and your body.  A good tip is to disrobe in a dry bathtub where ticks that might fall off and can be easily seen and disposed of.  If a tick has attached, it is important to remove it quickly and correctly.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend this method:

  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
  4. Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers. (Folk remedies such as burning or coating with polish, detergent or petroleum jelly are of no benefit and my promote transmission of pathogens.)

Clothing should be laundered in as warm of water as possible.

For more information on ticks, check out these resources:

Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases in Iowa by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Tick-Borne Diseases by Iowa Department of Public Health Center for Acute Disease Epidemiology

Ticks and Their Control by University of Minnesota Extension

Tick-Borne Diseases in Minnesota by University of Minnesota Extension

Ticks in South Dakota by SDSU Extension

This blog was prepared with the help of Dr. Donald R Lewis, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Iowa State University Department of Entomology.

Tick images are courtesy of and with permission of John Van Dyk, Iowa State University Department of Entomology. http://www.ent.iastate.edu/
A dime is included in the photos to give perspective of size.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Prevent Clothing Moths

The warm weather makes me want to finish up cleaning and storing winter items. I typically wash all our winter coats, hats, mittens, and scarves.  The flannel sheets and heavy blankets are clean and stored away.  The next thing I need to do is wash or dry-clean all our woolen sweaters and shirts and store them to prevent damage from clothing moths.

I did a little research on clothing moths since it has been a while since we had any questions from AnswerLine callers on this topic. These moths like to lay eggs on woolen and other animal fiber articles of clothing.  There are actually two different species of clothing moths.

The case making clothes moth and the webbing clothes moth both appear very similar.  They are both yellowish in color and about ¼ inch long.  They look a bit fluttery when flying and both avoid the light.  Their fully grown larvae are about ½ inch long and white when brownish-black heads.  Both will spin a feeding tube or protective case into the fabric that they are feeding upon.

This larval stage is the only life stage when the insect feeds; the eggs and adult moths do not damage clothing. The clothing moths prefer quiet dark areas like closets, attics and seldom used drawers or trunks.  If you store an item for a long time in one of those quiet spots the item is particularly at risk.  Moths typically will not damage anything in a high traffic or use area.

You may be wondering how to prevent a clothing moth infestation. The best answer to this is to be meticulous in keeping both the storage area and the garments clean.  Vacuuming will remove eggs and laundering or dry cleaning will also destroy the eggs.  Cleaning items will also remove food stains and body oils which will also attract moths.  You may need to brush or leave items in the bright sunlight to get rid of larvae or eggs.  Remember to brush the items outdoors so you don’t re-infest your home.

Freezing is another alternative to control the larvae or eggs in an item that you cannot wash or dry-clean. You must leave the item in a freezer set at 0F for at least 48-72 hours. This will be great if you have stuffed animals or items with feathers on them.

After your items are cleaned, store them in a tightly sealed container. You may want to choose a tightly sealed plastic tub.  Cedar does contain oil that acts as an insecticide but is only effective if tightly contained.  A cedar closet is not typically tight enough to actually kill the moths.  Moth balls can be effective if placed inside a tightly sealed container but they are toxic and you may want to avoid using them.  The odor of the mothballs is very long lasting so you may choose to just use the tightly sealed tub alone.

It looks like I have a project for this weekend, but once I get everything cleaned it will be safely stored for the summer.

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Prevent Box Elder Bugs

boxelder bugsIt seems really early in the year to be thinking about Box Elder Bugs but this is the time of year to work at preventing an infestation next fall.  Use a tube of calking to seal up sites where the bugs can enter the house.  Check cracks in the foundation or house siding and gaps around the windows or doors.  It may seem like a big job, but with the arrival of nice weather you can break the job down into smaller parts.  Perhaps do one side of the house every week this month.

Later in the year, you can spray massing box elder bugs with Sevin, Diazinon, or Orthene.  You can also make a spray of soapy water using 5 tablespoons of liquid detergent per gallon of water.  This is a very effective spray but does not have any residual effect.

Take a little time this summer to slow or eliminate the entry of Box Elder Bugs into your home.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

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