Safety Tips for Trick-or-Treating in 2020

As your family considers whether or not to participate in trick-or-treating this year, talk with neighbors and those you intend to visit and decide how to best keep everyone safe. If you decide to welcome trick-or-treaters to your porch or venture out with your little ghouls and goblins, consider these basic guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

  • Be aware that the more closely you interact with others and the longer the interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. Stay 6 feet away from people who do not live with you.
  • Avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters.
  • Hand out your treats outdoors, if possible.
  • Set up a table or station with individually bagged treats for trick-or-treaters to take.
  • Wash your hands before handling treats.
  • Wear a mask. Remember that a costume mask is not a substitute for a cloth mask. You can even make your cloth mask part of your costume. Do not wear a costume mask over a cloth mask, as it can make breathing difficult.
  • Bring hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol with you and use it after touching objects or people.
  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when you get home and before eating anything.
  • For more safety guidelines, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays/halloween.html.

If you opt out:

  • If you opt not to have trick-or-treaters come to your home this year, place a sign noting you are not handing out treats due to health and safety guidelines. You can make it in the shape of a headstone, pumpkin or other Halloween objects to make it fun and friendly as you convey your wishes.

If you opt in:

  • Make it obvious you want guests, and be sure they have plenty of light. Consider placing a pathway of tea lights inside white paper bags, or cut out jack-o-lanterns and place along the driveway or sidewalk leading to your door.
  • Avoid anything flammable. Halloween decorations made of plastic, paper, cornstalks or hay are great for creating a festive scene, but they are highly flammable and can catch on fire when combined with lighted candles or spotlights that put out heat. Be wise and safe by choosing low wattage/LED lights and other safe lights to illuminate your decorations. If you use candles, make sure they are out of the reach of children, pets and costumes or decorations.
  • Clear the way. Prevent your guests from tripping or falling by putting away hoses, garden tools, sprinklers and bikes. Also, if you have pets, take a minute to “scoop the poop” off the lawn. If you have decorations that require extension cords, be sure to use heavy tape to secure cords to hard surfaces.
  • Keep pets away from the action.It is best to keep dogs and cats in another part of the yard or home. It will remove the chance of unpredictable behavior from your pets and keep visitors safe.

            Make this Halloween fun and safe for everyone. The tips mentioned above should help those who plan to join in the festivities as well as those who choose to opt out.

By: Kathleen Riggs, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences professor, kathleen.riggs@usu.edu, 435-586-8132

Tips for Living in Cougar Country

In recent weeks, reports of cougar sightings have increased across Utah, including in urban areas and on hiking trails. The cougar, Puma concolor, is known as the mountain lion, puma, screamer or panther. They are readily recognized by their tawny color, white muzzle and long tail.

Adults typically weigh 90-200 pounds. Males and females pair briefly for breeding, but the female raises the kittens alone. Kittens stay with the female until they are about a year and a half old, then they disperse to find their own territories.

The cougar has been a protected wildlife species in Utah since 1967. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources manages an annual statewide limited-entry hunting season on cougars in Utah to regulate populations and reduce the potential for human-wildlife conflicts.

Although cougars are found across Utah, they are solitary animals, making them a rare sight for humans. Cougars can be found from the High Uinta wilderness to the dry southern deserts. In Utah, cougars prefer more wooded areas such as pinyon-juniper and pine-oak brush areas. Within these habitat types, they prefer areas where there are rocky cliffs, ledges and tall trees or brush that can be used for cover.

The main prey of cougars is deer, so they will be found wherever deer are. They will also eat elk, antelope, small mammals and birds. They usually hunt alone and at night, ambushing their prey from behind. Typically, cougars kill their prey with a bite to the lower neck.

After making a kill, a cougar often will take the carcass to the base of a tree and cover it with soil, leaves or snow, saving it to feed on later.

Living in cougar country requires awareness and adjustments. Consider these tips.

Secure your property 

* Remove wildlife attractants from your property, including pet food, water sources, bird feeders and fallen fruit.

* Make your yard deer-proof. If your property and landscaping are attractive to deer and other wildlife, cougars may follow the wildlife into your property and stay nearby while watching for prey.

* Trim vegetation and remove woodpiles to reduce hiding places for wildlife.

* Install outside and motion sensitive lighting around your property.

* Do not leave children outside unattended, especially at dawn and dusk.

* Bring pets inside at night and secure livestock in a barn or kennel.

* Provide secure shelter for hobby farm animals such as poultry, rabbits and goats.

* Encourage your neighbors to follow these tips too.

Prevent Conflicts While Recreating 

* Cougars rarely bother groups of people. Therefore, travel in groups, and keep everyone together, including children and dogs. Keep dogs on leashes. Do not hike or jog alone.

* Make noise while hiking to alert cougars of your presence.

* Leave the area if you find a dead animal, especially deer or elk, as it could be a cougar kill. The cougar may return and defend its food.

* Keep a clean camp. Store food and garbage in an odor-free, locked container or hung between two trees where cougars (and bears) cannot get it.

Know What to Do

It is unusual to see cougars in the wild, and they rarely cause problems for humans. Although unlikely to happen, you should know how to react if you encounter an aggressive cougar.

* Stop. Never run from a cougar. Running will provoke an instinctive prey response and the cougar may pursue you.

* Do not approach the cougar.

* Make yourself look intimidating. Make eye contact with the cougar, which cougars consider a threat. Make yourself look big by opening your jacket, raising your arms and waving them.

* Stand up tall. Do not crouch or squat.

* Talk firmly in a loud voice, back away slowly and leave the area.

* If you have children with you, pick them up before they panic and run. As you pick them up, keep eye contact with the cougar and try not to bend over too far or turn your back to the cougar.

* If attacked, fight back! Protect your head and neck, as the neck is the target for the cougar. If you are aggressive enough, the cougar may think it is not likely to win its fight with you quickly, and it will probably give up and leave.

If you have an encounter with aggressive wildlife, please alert the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources office near you. If the encounter or sighting occurs after hours or on the weekend, call your local police department or county sheriff’s office, who can then contact a conservation officer to handle the situation. More information is available at https://www.wildawareutah.org/.                                                                                                       

For more tips, see video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwQ_a3BJhnQ

By: Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist,  terry.messmer@usu.edu, 435-797-3975   

Prevent Your Carved Creation from Becoming a Fungal Fiasco

Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns is an art form that comes in all shapes, sizes and levels of difficulty. The final product (usually) makes the pumpkin carvers proud and anxious to display their work. However, often just a few days later, the pumpkin creation may start to wither and rot, and eventually, mold will take over. Why does this happen?

When you carve a pumpkin, it exposes the insides, making it more susceptible to infection through air flow. The environment (temperature, sunlight, etc.) can also be a factor in the pumpkin’s quality.

Molds are a fungal micro-organism that have the potential to live everywhere. These fungi release tiny, lightweight spores that allow them to travel through the air. They can then infect and cause carved pumpkins to shrivel, soften and start to grow fuzzy, grey mold. Some common interior molds include CladosporiumPenicilliumAspergillus and Alternaria.

Consider these methods to help preserve your carved pumpkin:

          1. Thoroughly wash your pumpkin before cutting into it.

          2.  Sterilize spoons, knives or other carving tools before use, especially between pumpkin carving.

          3. Remove all of the pumpkin’s insides to reduce the surface area where potential fungi can grow.

          4. Dip, wash or spray your finished carving with a 10 percent bleach solution. This will kill any microorganisms on your pumpkin. 

          5. Rub the cut areas with petroleum jelly, which helps lock in the moisture and slow the drying process.

          6. Consider using an electric light or glow stick instead of a candle. This will prevent the gourd from “cooking” and spoiling faster.

          Click here to see a gallery of the fungi that can infect your carved pumpkin: https://dkphoto.photoshelter.com/…/Molds-…/G0000GOne6NTk5fs/.

          Click here to learn more about mold and mildews: https://utahpests.usu.edu/…/p…/pdf/mold-mildew_pestpress.pdf.

By: Nick Volesky, Utah State University Extension vegetable integrated pest management associate, Nick.volesky@usu.edu

October Yard and Garden Tips

Autumn is officially here, and there is much to look forward to – pumpkins on the porch, apple cider, cooler temperatures and walks through crunchy leaves. But before you get too comfortable, don’t forget there are still yard and garden end-of-season tasks to be done. Here are tips from the Utah State University Extension Gardeners Almanac to help. Included are links to fact sheets and videos for further information.

· Consider adding a smaller structure such as a low tunnel or a larger high tunnel to extend your growing season.

· Learn how and when to harvest winter squash. Store winter squash in a cool, 50-55 F, dry location.

· Plant garlic cloves from mid-October through early November.

· Click here for a list of fall cleanup chores and good landscape practices.

· Remove vegetable plants from the garden once the harvest is complete. This will help reduce overwintering sites for insect pests.

· Protect tomatoes from early frost by covering the plants with a blanket or tarp.

· Overwinter carrotsbeets and parsnips in the ground by placing mulch over them. This prevents the ground from freezing.

· Rototill leaves, compost and/or manure into the vegetable garden to enhance the soil microbe activity.

· Limit rose pruning to heading back excessively long canes. This will help prevent damage from heavy snow loads.

· Cut back ornamental grasses in snow-prone areas once the foliage has died down; otherwise, leave them until spring and enjoy the vertical accent during winter.

· Plant spring-blooming bulbs through early November.

· Consider planting trees and shrubs in the fall to enhance root establishment.

· Dig tender perennials such as gladiolas, dahlias, begonias and canna lilies after the foliage has died down and store them in a cool, 45-50 F, dry location.

· Protect trunks of young trees from winter cracking by wrapping them with a white reflective tree wrap.

· Dig and remove annual flower plantings.

· Plant cold-hardy annuals such as pansies, primrose, kale and ornamental cabbage.

· Prune out (to the ground) raspberry canes that have fruited.

· Fall is the best time to control tough perennial weeds such as field bindweed (morning glory). Click here for a list of weed control options.

· The last lawn mowing of the season should be 1-1 ½ inches high to minimize disease problems.

· Apply a quick-release nitrogen fertilizer after the last mowing (late October to early November) for early green-up next spring.

· Click here for the average first and last frost dates in locations around Utah.

Pests and Problems:

· Send diseased vegetable plants and leaves to the local landfill.

· Use burlap or other soft materials to wrap evergreens to prevent snow breakage.

· Treat for Coryneum blight in stone fruits (cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums) when 50 percent of leaves have dropped.

· Clean up and discard fallen fruit to reduce overwintering sites for disease and insect pests.