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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How to Store Fresh Ginger

Fresh ginger, also known as ginger root, adds a flavorful punch to many foods and beverages.  However, usually only a small amount is needed to season and that leaves one with, “what do I do with the rest?”

To begin, 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger is the equivalent of 1/8 tsp dried ground ginger.  Keep this equivalency in mind when purchasing fresh ginger.  Since it is usually sold by the pound, choose a rhizome that fits your needs as closely as possible.  That aside, the piece that you have may still be more than needed.  Ginger will be okay on your kitchen counter for a day or two but it is better stored in the refrigerator.  To store in the refrigerator, place the rhizome in a storage bag or container; it will keep 4-6 weeks in the refrigerator.  Do watch the rhizome for molding, softness, discoloration or off smell or appearance; these are signs of spoilage and if detected, the rhizome should be disposed.  Like other fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh ginger contains enzymes that break down its starch and pectin over time.

If longer storage is needed, fresh ginger can be frozen.  To freeze, peel the skin off the rhizome if desired (peeling is done more for aesthetics than need).  Removing the skin may be easier by scraping with the edge of a spoon or knife rather than with a vegetable peeler due to it’s gnarly and irregular shape.  Ginger may be frozen in pieces, grated, or finely chopped.  Pieces should be wrapped tightly in foil or a freezer bag with as much of the air removed as possible.  Grated or chopped pieces freeze better by making small piles on a parchment lined baking sheet or in an ice cube tray and placed in the freezer for a couple of hours; once frozen, put the small piles in individual freezer bags or into a freezer bag, again removing as much air as possible.  Fresh ginger will maintain its best quality in the freezer for about 3 months but will remain safe well beyond that time; in fact, ginger that has been kept constantly frozen at 0°F will keep indefinitely.

Another method that some use to preserve fresh ginger is to submerge pieces in alcohol.  Cooks Illustrated experimented with this process by using vodka and sherry and compared the flavor and texture to frozen ginger.  After four weeks, the submerged samples were grated and cooked in a stir-fry.  The samples retained their ginger flavor and grating ease as well as the frozen ginger; however, the ginger stored in sherry picked up sherry flavor.  The takeaway on the experiment was that fresh ginger stores as well in vodka as freezing.  A note of caution here as the same may not be true beyond the four weeks used in the experiment.

Even though we have ginger year-round in our markets, ginger has a season.  Young ginger is usually more readily available in the spring (April and May) and is not as strong flavored or as tough and fibrous as ginger that has been stored for year-round availability.  It is juicy and plump, has a fresh lively taste, and a pink blush; the skin is so thin that peeling is generally not necessary.  If you are a fresh ginger fan, this would be the time to pick up a large quantity and freeze it for future uses.

 

 

 

 

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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Asparagus and Rhubarb tips

When should I stop cutting my asparagus?  How long can I harvest my rhubarb?  Is rhubarb that I pull in the summer poisonous?  We will be getting these questions from callers very soon.

Allow a new planting of asparagus to grow for a year at least, before the first cutting.  During the second spring, it is safe to cut asparagus for three to four weeks.  After that time has passed, allow the plant to grow.  During year three, it is safe to harvest asparagus until mid-June.  The safety factor we mention is safety for the plant.  Overharvesting will weaken the plant and may cause plants to be less productive in the future.  Harvest asparagus by cutting or snapping the spears when they reach a height of 6 to 8 inches.  An asparagus bed that has been cared for well can last 15 years or even longer.  Mine has been productive for 38 years and is still going strong.

Harvest rhubarb when the stalks are between 10 and 15 inches tall.  Simply hold a stalk near the base and pull it up and to one side. Another option would be to cut the stalks off level with the ground using a sharp knife.  Remove the leaves from the stalk right away.  After that, rhubarb can be stored in a plastic bag for at least two weeks.  Remember that over harvesting rhubarb can damage the plant; never remover more than half the fully developed stalks at one time.

Start a new rhubarb patch by dividing an older, existing patch. It is best to delay harvesting the new patch for the first two years.  During the third year, harvest only for four to six weeks; stopping harvest in mid-June.  If your rhubarb sends up flower stalks, remove them as allowing the plants to flower will reduce production the next year.  Stopping harvest in mid-June also allows the plant to feed the roots and keep the plant strong. You may fertilize the planting with some all-purpose fertilizer in the spring. Use about ½ cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer early in the spring. Remembering to water the rhubarb during long dry summers will help the planting have a long life.

Callers often ask if they can harvest a bit of rhubarb later in the summer. We tell them that if the patch is an older, well-established one then they could pull enough small, tender stalks to make a pie or a crisp. Harvesting more than that can damage the planting. And, no, the rhubarb is not poisonous if pulled mid-summer.

Enjoy those first foods from the garden.

 

 

 

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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‘Shrooming in the Woods or Supermarket – It’s a Good Thing!

Common morel fungus growing in the forest

As spring creeps in this year, mushroom enthusiasts are just itching to get out into the woods and search for the highly prized, morel mushroom.  This elusive mushroom is prized for its tastiness and can only be wild-crafted as no one has figured out how to grow and farm them as of yet.

Besides being prized for their taste, morels are loaded with all kinds of nutrients.  Because they tend to grow in rich soils they come packed with vitamins and minerals such as iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin D, folate, niacin, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, calcium selenium, thiamin, vitamin E and vitamin B6.  However, their nutrient value varies with the soil where the moral grows.  Morals are also loaded with antioxidants, help to balance blood sugar, and provide protein and fiber.  Morals can be used in any way that farmed mushrooms would be used.

While the wild moral mushroom is high prized, its’ farmed mushroom cousins—white, shitake, cremini, oyster, maitake–are equally as nutritious and offer delicious and unique flavors, too.  They are also readily available at the supermarket.   Even though there are more than 2000 varieties of edible mushrooms in the world, most people cook with only one or two.  Here is a quick summary of those most commonly found on produce shelves:

White Button Shitake Cremini/Portobello Oyster Maitake
 
Most common mushroom.
Mild flavor, very versatile.
Protein-rich.
Deep woodsy flavor especially if dried and
re-hydrated.
Calcium rich.
Baby bella = Cremini; larger, mature form = Portobello.
Makes dark sauces and great for grilling.
Delicate, mild flavor.
Stays firm when cooked; excellent for stir-fry.
Iron and antioxidant rich.
Also known as hen-of-the-woods.
Earthy flavor.
Excellent for stir-frys.
Antioxidant rich.

The enemy of any mushroom is moisture in its packaging.  Fresh morels will keep about a week in the refrigerator provided they were harvested in good condition.  Place them in paper bags and store them in the refrigerator with plenty of air circulating around them.  Drying is an excellent storage option, too.  A paper bag is also a good way to store purchased mushrooms; this allows them to breathe.  Moisture build up inside the packaging is the fastest way for mushrooms to break down.

Mushrooms need to be cleaned before use. The best way to clean most fresh mushrooms is to wipe them with a clean, barely damp cloth or paper towel. Washing mushrooms is usually not necessary. If you must rinse them, do it lightly and dry them immediately, gently with paper towels. Never soak fresh mushrooms in water, which will cause them to become soggy. Morels need to be cleaned differently.  Begin by cutting a thin slice off the bottom of each stem.  You may also cut the mushrooms in half from stem to tip. Rinse them in cool water to remove dirt and insects. If heavy dirt, bugs and worms are present, it may be necessary to soak them in lightly salted water for a short time to bring out debris. Rinse the morels well and pat dry.

Cleaned mushrooms can be wrapped loosely in damp paper towels or a damp clean cotton cloth, placed in a container, and stored in the refrigerator for up to three days; the mushrooms may darken if stored this way.

Mushroom nutrition can be enhanced by placing them in the sun for 30 minutes prior to use.  Since most mushrooms are grown in the dark, they need sunlight to bring up their vitamin D content.  Exposure to sunlight significantly improves vitamin D.  If the mushrooms are chopped prior to exposure, vitamin D is maximized.  Some packaged mushrooms are marketed as vitamin D enhanced.

For those that do not care for fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms may be an option.  Dried or powdered mushrooms pack the same nutritional punch as fresh mushrooms.  Mushroom powder can be included in sauces, homemade bread, casseroles, soups, etc., to add nutrition.  There are now a number of mushroom powder “enhanced” products and foods on supermarket shelves.

So whether it is the wild moral mushroom or farmed, store bought mushrooms, mushrooms are an excellent food for both flavor and nutrition.  Take good care of them to maximize both the flavor and nutrition.

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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Garnishes

Since Spring has officially arrived, I am already looking forward to warmer weather and Summer! Smoothies are a favorite at our house in the Summer. They are something we, along with our children and grandchildren, all enjoy.

One of the fun things about smoothies is the many fun ways you can garnish them. There are the usual little umbrellas, plastic animals, and fancy straws. Flavored salt is another pretty common garnish. You can use your food processor or a mortar and pestle to grind coarse salt. Moisten the rim of the glass with lemon, lime, or orange juice, or even water, and dip it in the flavored salt. This works with flavored or colored sugar as well. Or try powdered drink mixes or finely chopped coconut for something different.

The idea behind garnishes is to complement or contrast flavors to hint at what’s in the recipe or bring out the flavor. If you use ice as part of your garnish you can freeze colored juices or sodas in cubes which will not dilute your drink. Or freeze berries or slices of fruit in ice cubes. You can also purchase spherical ice cube molds which look unique and attractive in the glass.

Other popular garnishes for fruity drinks are maraschino cherries, pineapple wedges, fruit kabobs, shaved coconut, and candied strips or wheels of zest. It is fun to experiment using a few different citrus zests and twisting or tieing them together.

If you are serving a vegetable smoothie, you can use a mandolin or vegetable peeler to make long, thin strips of cucumber, carrot, or radish to garnish with. Fresh herb leaves or sprigs also add a nice touch. Or try threading sprigs of hardy herbs (rosemary or thyme) through cranberries, blueberries, and raspberries. My favorite vegetable smoothie uses fresh spinach, frozen bananas, avocado, protein powder, and almond milk. I like to garnish it with fresh fruit such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

Sometimes in place of smoothies my granddaughter likes a “mocktail” which we often like to make layered. To accomplish this you need to use ingredients with contrasting colors and different weights. For a Layered Shirley Temple, mix together 1/2 cup orange juice and 1/2 cup lemon-lime flavored carbonated beverage. Pour the mixture into a tall glass then pour 1 Tablespoon grenadine in and let it sink to the bottom. Maraschino cherries make a nice garnish for this drink. Another layered drink that looks pretty is the Italian Cream Soda. To make this one, mix the fruit flavored syrups you are using with the soda water and pour into a glass. Float half-and-half on top for the layered look and top with whipped cream.

Homemade lollipops are a fun activity to do with children and the lollipops can serve as a stirrer in their smoothies and a snack.

Happy Summer! I hope it will be a long one after the extended Winter we have had!

 

 

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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Lettuce!

 

This year, it seems like winter has a grip on us and just will not let go. One thing that does make me feel like spring is coming is looking at the lettuce at the grocery store and dreaming about planting some out in my garden.

When I look at the variety of lettuce available at the store, it seems like there must be almost endless number of different types. Actually, there are really only five different types of lettuce.

    • Leaf lettuce (sometimes called loose-leaf lettuce)
    • Romaine (sometimes called Cos lettuce)
    • Crisphead lettuce
    • Butterhead Lettuce
    • Stem lettuce (sometimes called Asparagus lettuce)

Leaf lettuce has crisp leaves arranged loosely on a stalk.   Most home gardeners that grow lettuce have leaf lettuce in their gardens. It is the most widely planted salad vegetable.

Cos or Romaine

Cos or Romaine lettuce can be easily recognized as it has an upright rather elongated head. It is great as an addition to tossed salads.

Butterhead lettuce

Butterhead lettuce may be less familiar but are typically smaller, loose headed, and have soft and tender leaves. This too makes an excellent addition to tossed salads.

Stem lettuce is not always available at our local grocery stores. It is actually an enlarged seed stalk often used in Chinese dishes. Sometimes it is stewed or creamed.

The lettuce that everyone seems to be familiar with is the Crisphead lettuce. This type is found in nearly every grocery store—think iceberg lettuce. It seems odd to me that this most common lettuce is actually one of the most difficult to grow. Start this in the garden very early in the spring, as it is very sensitive to heat. If the lettuce is not mature before the hot weather arrives, the lettuce will often die.

Sometimes callers want to know why the lettuce they grew in the garden is bitter. This often happens when the weather turns warmer and stalks for seeds begin to grow. If you wash the lettuce and store it in the refrigerator for a couple of days, the bitterness will dissipate.

Store your lettuce in the coolest part of your refrigerator. The first shelf near the back wall of the refrigerator is usually the coolest spot. Avoid placing the lettuce near pears, bananas, or apples. These fruits give off ethylene gas, which can cause the lettuce to develop brown spots and decay. Discard any lettuce that has black spots or seems slimy.

Due to the composition of lettuce, (94.9% water) there is no way to successfully preserve it. Enjoy lettuce fresh and often.  And remember that spring will be here eventually.

 

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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Gardening for Food Pantries

Food insecurity exists to some extent in nearly every community.  People who are food insecure not only experience food shortage, but they usually are unable to include fresh fruits and vegetables for a healthy diet because they are out of reach.  Either produce costs too much or is not available.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  By sharing our garden or orchard surplus or planting a dedicated giving garden, home, community, and school gardeners can help food banks, pantries, and community food distribution programs provide fresh produce to ease this problem.

A giving garden can be a whole garden, a row or two as championed by the Garden Writers Association’s Plant a Row for the Hungry, or even one container dedicated to growing healthy (organic if possible) vegetables or fruits for those in need. Or it can be a planned effort such as a Master Gardener garden program done alone or in conjunction with another organization. Every donation, no matter how big or small, makes a difference to someone in need.  Besides helping to fill food banks, pantries, and programs, raising vegetables and/or fruits to donate is rewarding for everyone involved, including children, so it can be a family affair.

Before planting, you will want to do a little research.  Contact local food banks, pantries, or distribution programs to find out if they will accept local produce, what fruits and vegetables they prefer, and when and where to drop off donations.  Once you know the details of donating, purchase seeds or plants for the preferred produce, plant, and tend your garden.  Often the most sought after produce is some of the easiest to grow.

Harvest your produce at its prime as you would for yourself and practice safe-handling.  Many who are served by food banks and pantries are at a higher risk for foodborne illness as they include children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.   Here are a few tips from Michigan State University Extension to minimize food safety risks when donating produce:

  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water before handling produce.
  • If pesticides were used on the product, be absolutely certain that you have followed the instructions on the pesticide label for application and safe harvest times. If you are unsure, discard the produce in the garbage—do not compost, eat or donate it.
  • Inspect each item of produce carefully. Discard any items that have signs of insects, bruising, mold, or spoilage. If you wouldn’t buy it, toss it!
  • Brush off as much mud and soil as possible from the produce.
  • Only use clean, food-grade containers or bags to store and transport produce.
  • Keep different types of produce separate.

If you have to wait a day or two to deliver your produce, refrigerate the produce so that it will stay as fresh as possible.

Some food banks offer donation receipts that you can use at tax time so remember to ask for a receipt if that is something you want. Gardeners who donate produce from their gardens or orchards to nonprofit organizations for distribution to people in need are protected from criminal and civil liability by the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. Under terms of the act, donors are protected from civil and criminal liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient.

For additional help on donating and handling produce, download these free fact sheets from Michigan State University: Donating Produce  and Safe Handling of Fruits and Vegetables. If you are interested in a Master Gardener program, contact your county extension office.

Mother Teresa said it best, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”  Donating garden surplus or harvesting from a giving garden can do just that.

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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Spring Clean Your Medicine Cabinet

While spring isn’t quite here, it’s not too early to set some time aside to clean your medicine cabinet, drawer, or shelf.  To some extent, most people welcome spring with a little extra attention to mopping, dusting, or vacuuming away winter’s dust and dirt.  While the windows may shine and the house and yard look fresh, the medicine cabinet remains untouched with a variety of forgotten old prescription bottles and OTC medications that “might come in handy someday” still on the shelf.  Likely some of these medications have expired and may cause more harm than good.

I’m guilty of keeping them too long myself.  Largely I forget about them and as long as I don’t need anything from the medicine cabinet, they are out of sight and out of mind.  Since it is a common problem, different groups have initiated “Take Back” or cleaning times to call attention to the issue.  Twice each year we have “National Prescription Drug Take Back Day” when consumers are encouraged to return unused or old medicine to their pharmacies, hospitals, or drop-off sites.  The first one in 2018 will be April 28; there will be a second in the fall, usually in October.  We also have National Spring Cleaning Week the last week in March when medicine cabinet cleaning is encouraged as part of the spring cleaning routine.

What should consumers do the rest of the year to safely dispose of medicines if they are unable to utilize the designated drop-off times?  The FDA offers instructions on how to safely dispose of medicines by flushing unwanted drugs down the toilet and for placing them in the garbage.  The downside of these alternatives are that drugs that are flushed can taint our rivers, lakes, and water supplies.  Drugs in the trash are a potential hazard to the environment and may be found accidently by children or pets, or scavenging teens or adults looking for a high.  In 2014 the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) authorized pharmacies and hospitals to take back drugs designated as controlled substances any time from a consumer wishing to surrender them; prior to that time, controlled substances had to be surrendered to law enforcement.  Controlled substances include opioid painkillers like Oxycontin, stimulants like Adderall, and depressants like Ativan.  Drop-off is completely free and anonymous.

Now there’s a new alternative.  Since 2016, the drugstore chain, Walgreens, has been installing safe medication disposal kiosks across the nation.  Not every store has one so to find a kiosk in your area, visit Store Locator.  The kiosks provide a safe and convenient way to dispose of unwanted, unused or expired prescriptions, including controlled substances, and over-the-counter medications, ointments and creams, liquids, lotions, pet medications, prescription patches, and vitamins and supplements at no cost.

Certain medications or items are not accepted at the kiosks including needles, inhalers, aerosol cans, hydrogen peroxide, thermometers, and illicit drugs. As part of Walgreens drug take-back program, the kiosks make the disposal of medications easier and are available year-round during pharmacy hours to help reduce the misuse of medications and the rise in overdose deaths.

Here are some tips to get you started on extending your spring cleaning to your medicine cabinet:

Check the dates. Examine everything in the medicine cabinet, including ointments, supplements and vitamins. Discard any item that is beyond the expiration date and any prescription medications that are more than a year old. It is important to note that the expiration date really refers to that product unopened.  Once a medication has been opened and used, the clock starts ticking on its shelf life as contamination has been introduced. Medications and vitamins may lose their effectiveness or potency after the expiration date. Some may even become toxic.  Therefore, write the date you opened it on the container and after one year, get rid of all things opened or partially used.

Discard any items that have changed color or smell funny.  Regardless of the expiration or use by date, these items should be disposed.  This includes any colors that have faded, because they may have been exposed to too much light

Discard unmarked containers. If something is no longer in its original container or cannot be identified, get rid of it. Medications should always be kept in their original containers so that they are easily recognized. This includes ointments, since these can easily be mistaken for creams.

Dispose of medication and medical supplies properly and carefully. Because of the potential harm to the environment or to humans or pets, it is not recommended to simply throw out medication or flush them down the toilet. If you must do so, follow the FDA  recommendations.  Consider the disposal options aforementioned and utilize whichever works best for you.

Most collection sites won’t accept asthma inhalers, needles, insulin syringes or any other syringes, marijuana, mercury thermometers, and medications containing iodine. For disposal information and drop-off locations for syringes, needles, and other injectables—for example,for example, expired EpiPens—go to Safe Needle Disposal or call 800-643-1643.  When in doubt about how to safely dispose of a medication or medical device, check with your pharmacist.

Remove any personal identifying information on the prescription label.  Prior to disposal or container recycling either remove the label or black out any personal information including the RX number.  Also be sure the container is clean before recycling.

Inspect adhesive bandages.  Bandages and tapes have a limited lifespan, too, and should be replaced before their adhesive breaks down.

Lastly, consider relocating your medicine cabinet.  The bathroom is not the best place to store medication. The temperature and humidity changes that come with the shower running can lower the potency of some medicines. Medications should be kept in a cool dry place, away from children, pets, and scavengers. Consider a locked drawer or a locked box on a shelf.

It’s smart to undertake a medicine-cabinet cleaning every spring.  An annual review of prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, and medical products can help keep us safe and healthy. Using an old product won’t necessary land you in the ER, but it could or it may not work effectively thereby wasting you money, affecting your health, or possibly delaying your recovery. Further, if the medicine isn’t on the shelf, it can’t be accidently used, incorrectly used, or abused.

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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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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