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Maple Syrup Production

tapped treeProducing maple syrup and value-added maple products offers an opportunity to diversify farm operations and income. A new publication, "Maple Sugaring: An Introduction to Small-Scale Commercial Production," from ATTRA provides an overview of maple sugaring, including business planning, financial considerations, marketing, equipment and supplies, value-added products, organic certification, regulations, and quality control.

The publication also includes resources for acquiring more knowledge on maple syrup production and determining if maple sugaring is a viable addition to a farming operation.

Download it free today at


Value Added Producer Grant

grant calculationA free learning session will be offered for those interested in applying and learning more about the USDA Value Added Producer Grant program. The learning session will be held Oct. 27 at the Jeff and Deb Hansen Agricultural Student Learning Center, Ames, from 1:30-3 p.m. It is sponsored by the USDA Rural Development office, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

Topics include eligibility, resources, grant writing tips and services provided by USDA Rural Development, ISU Extension and Outreach and AgMRC. Value added agriculture producers, producer groups, cooperatives and service providers that serve those populations should plan to attend this learning session.

The USDA Rural Business Cooperative Service announced the availability of $18 million in competitive grant funds for fiscal year 2017 to help independent agricultural producers enter into value-added activities. The grant will fund one of the following two activities:

  • Developing feasibility studies or business plans (including marketing plans or other planning activities) needed to establish a viable value-added marketing opportunity for an agricultural product; or
  • Acquiring working capital to operate a value-added business venture or an alliance that will allow the producers to better compete in domestic and international markets.

Value-added products are defined as:

  • A change in the physical state or form of the product (such as milling wheat into flour or making strawberries into jam);
  • The production of a product in a manner that enhances its value, as demonstrated through a business plan (such as organically produced products);
  • The physical segregation of an agricultural commodity or product in a manner that results in the enhancement of the value of that commodity or product (such as an identity preserved marketing system).

Applications must be completed and submitted no later than Jan. 31, 2018. For more information about the workshop, contact ISU Extension and Outreach program assistant Shannon Hoyle at


Answering Your Fall Lawn Care Questions

grassAdam Thoms of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach answered all your questions about how to tend to your lawn this fall.

Have additional questions? Send us a note at!

What is the best strategy for weed control as fall approaches?

A healthy lawn this the first and best strategy. Strong competition from healthy turfgrass will help more than anything against weeds. Fertilizing the yard with 0.75 to 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet now, and again in early November will help give the turfgrass the nutrients it needs for optimal growth and health. Also making sure bare spots in your yard have seed in them will help to fill in areas of the yard that otherwise could be open for weeds to invade. 

What are some characteristics of a good herbicide to use in the fall?

Fall herbicides should focus on broadleaf weed control. We suggest spraying for these weeds after the first frost. When selecting a broadleaf herbicide, make sure it has at least 2-3 different chemicals. The reason we want different chemicals is that some chemicals work better on certain broadleaf weeds than others, so getting 2-3 chemicals in the tank will help with better broad-spectrum control. The fall is not the time to treat for crabgrass, this is a summer annual and the frost will kill crabgrass. It will germinate again next April to May so do not worry about it until the spring.

What weather conditions should we apply herbicides in?

You want to apply herbicides when there is little to no wind, the temperatures are less than 80 degrees, and there no rainfall in the forecast for at least a day. If you are using a granular weed and feed product you will want to apply this right after it has rained or after a heavy dew. These products only work if the leaf tissue is wet, as the product has to stick to the leaf.

Is fall a good time to aerate the lawn? What is a good strategy for lawn aeration?

The fall is the best time to aerate a yard, September and October are better than November to aerate because it allows the yard some recovery time. The best aeration is to use a machine that pulls a plug, and go at least two different directions over the yard.

Can we still use grass clippings for composting and mulch even if they have been treated with fertilizer and/or herbicides?

Always read the label to see if you can use the clippings. The label will tell you if it is safe to use the clippings or not.

Can raked leaves be used for composting?

Raked leaves can be mulched up and returned to your yard as extra fertilizer, I have seen piles as high as 18 inches mulched into the turf. Make sure you chop the leaves up fine enough that they fall into the canopy and do not sit on top of the turf and smother it. This may mean mowing the yard two or three times if you have a bunch of leaves on the yard.

Have a funny story or a quick lesson from a project on your acreage? Drop us a line! We'd love to feature stories from our readers!


Solving Ventilation Challenges in Calf Production

Submitted by Shannon Hoyle
Farmer and ISUEO Value-Added Agriculture Program Assistant
Nashua, Iowa

Raising dairy beef calves has been a challenging, yet rewarding experience. Over the course of the past 16 months raising baby calves, there have been many things that I have learned. There is no system that works for everyone in every situation, but I hope that sharing my experience can help you on your farm.

The number one necessity in successfully raising calves is proper ventilation. I raise calves in a retrofitted 60x40x40 hayshed. The hayshed sits north and south. There are doors on the south end and east side of the shed. There are also two, 4x4 foot fans that we installed on the north end that suck air through the hayshed (negative pressure mechanical ventilation). None, one, or both fans can be turned on by a switch, but they have one speed. Fifty-three individual pens, that we built ourselves, can fit in this shed.

During my first group of calves in this hayshed, we started noticing that calves in the back ¾ of the hayshed were starting to develop some respiratory problems. By this time, it was late May, so the average overnight temperature was 60 degrees and day temperatures in the upper 70’s. This warm air would rise and not exchange with the lower air, and so we concluded that by the time the air flowed to the back ¾ of the shed that it was way above the calf level and not exchanging air. This allowed for the proper environment for respiratory problems to start.

We decided that there needed to be a way to baffle the air so we could get the proper air exchange. We decided to make a baffle out of silage wrap and install it in the middle of the shed. In order for it to work correctly, it had to be cut out to fit the peak of the hay shed. We measured and cut the baffle out in the yard and then installed it with plastic pieces that could help support the weight of the silage wrap on the screws, and then we screwed them into the rafters of the hayshed. The bottom of the baffle comes down to just above the calf pens. The air that is then sucked through the hayshed will run into the baffle and spread out and move to the bottom of the baffle. This allows the fresh air to exchange with dirty air, yet since the baffle is a foot and a half above the calf, it does not create a draft on the calf. As you’ll see in the above picture, we have the east doors open. The fans will pull air from the easiest source. We want to create a tunnel so that the air is even, so we now keep those doors shut.

Baffle in barnWhile we noticed that there was much better ventilation now with one baffle installed in the middle of the shed, we did notice some areas that still had dead-spots where air was not moving. Once this group of calves were weaned and moved to another pen, we made two more baffles and installed one in the front ¼ of the shed and the back ¾ of the shed.

While this system is not perfect, it has allowed us to provide much better ventilation for the calves, and we have seen a significant drop in respiratory issues once the baffles were installed.

Would this system work for you, and wondering where you can get some silage wrap? You have probably noticed the white bags full of different types of feed while you drive around Iowa. Once the feed is removed from those bags, they machine that packs them cannot usually reuse the same material. You could see if they would sell you the wrap once they are done with it.

Have a funny story or a quick lesson from a project on your acreage? Drop us a line! We'd love to feature stories from our readers!


Learning Something New - Starting Seeds

Submitted by Kris Boyles
Newhall, Iowa

adding plastic to the greenhouseWe have a long way to go in learning acreage living. We are city transplants from about five years ago. But we did have a success of sorts that I'd like to share. This year we tried to plant more of our garden from seed instead of buying plants. (Seeds are cheaper than plants.) We converted the shed workbench to a temporary greenhouse by making a homemade warming "mat" out of mostly salvaged construction materials. (My husband works construction and keeps a close eye on the dumpster.) We also made greenhouse lights from second hand shop lights, mounted on a salvaged wood frame. We enclosed it with plastic to keep the plants warm. We were able to get it as high as 90 degrees in the greenhouse. We started planting indoors in early March and planted most of our seedlings outdoors by mid-/late-June. Next year I'd like to start some indoor plants even earlier.

inside the greenhouseThis year we probably spent what we usually do in garden start-up costs, but most of the costs went to the reusable mat and lights instead of toward plants. So next year we expect to see a big savings in our garden start-up costs since we will have seed as our primary purchase. (Or we may invest our usual garden spending to grow or improve another area of the acreage, like trees.)

This year, we are done with peas, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, carrots, onions and beans. We are currently harvesting lots of squash, cucumbers, kale and parsley. Potatoes, rosemary, basil, pumpkin and cauliflower are still coming along. Peppers, cantaloupe and eggplant didn't do very well once we transplanted them. I won't do a winter garden until next year because we have some soil issues we want to address this fall. We TREASURE our 80+ tomatoes which are just beginning to mature. We turn most of them into sauce which we use for spaghetti, lasagna, and homemade pizza. We also can some whole or diced and sometimes make salsa or juice. We are a family of six, so we eat most of what we grow.

With the garden, the approximately 50 chickens we keep, and with the cattlemen relatives we have, my dream someday would be to only go to the store for dairy in the summertime. I don't know if it is realistic, but I can dream.

Have a funny story or a quick lesson from a project on your acreage? Drop us a line! We'd love to feature stories from our readers!


What's New?

Christa Hartsook
Small Farms Program Coordinator
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach


bee hiveOne year ago, my oldest son received a traditional Langstroth bee hive. He needed to rehab the interior frames, add new foundation and repair one box damaged beyond repair.

During the summer of 2016, he repaired the hive completely. He researched different types of bees and decided that Carniolan bees were what he wanted to purchase.

In April of 2017, we installed a two-pound package of bees. Things have gone well this summer; he's been able to witness all stages of bee development. We've all learned how to properly check the hive and that smoking the bees is crucial to preventing multiple stings.

He's anxiously awaiting the first honey harvest, which is a month or two out yet, but it's fun to watch him learn from this new enterprise.

What's new on your farm? Tell us about it!


Have a funny story or a quick lesson from a project on your acreage? Drop us a line! We'd love to feature stories from our readers!


Raspberry Patch and Meat Goats

Christa Hartsook
Small Farms Program Coordinator
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach


We have a wide variety of critters on our small acreage. Most are kept at the insistence of our three, animal-loving kids. Each critter variety requires a different feeding, management, etc., and each have provided learning opportunities for kids and parents.

This summer I have learned that meat goats do indeed work well at brush control. (For more information on Utilizing Goats for Brush Control, read our Acreage Living article.) This would work well if they confined their browsing to the thistles and random mulberry trees in the pasture. However, this summer, these little critters have discovered that my raspberry patch, on the other side of their fence, is full of tasty leaves.

I've been left with bare canes. The three kids these critters belong to have been left with some additional fencing projects.

raspberry twigs


Have a funny story or a quick lesson from a project on your acreage? Drop us a line! We'd love to feature stories from our readers!