February is romance time — especially for skunks

Scott Anderson
Brown County AgriLife Extension
Scott Anderson

February is known for Valentine’s Day. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife officials, February is also the prime month for breeding season for skunks in Texas. The most common species of skunk in our part of the state is the striped skunk. They have two white stripes on their backs that join in the neck region. They have five toes on each foot. Striped skunks construct their homes wherever a convenient place is found. Striped skunks are gregarious, living in families from the time the young are old enough to walk until they are able to fend for themselves.

Their breeding season is usually February through March. They have a gestation period of 62-75 days. Most young skunks are born in May. On average, five young are born per litter. Young striped skunks’ eyes and ears open after about 30 days, at which time they are able to musk (spray). They are weaned at 8-10 weeks of age. Once the babies are able to leave their dens, they follow their mother about. Dispersal of family units takes place usually in autumn.

Striped skunks are omnivorous. Insects constitute over half of their diet. They will eat nesting birds’ eggs, field mice, young rabbits, and small reptiles. Skunks have few natural enemies. Most predators are repulsed by the odor of their musk. Skunks have musk glands located at the base of their tail. A skunk has voluntary control over the glands and can control the direction in which the musk is discharged. According to Extension Wildlife Specialists, the glands only contain about one tablespoon of musk at a time. Striped skunks are highly susceptible to being struck by vehicles. Individuals seldom live more than two years in the wild. Skunks are highly susceptible to rabies. According to Texas Department of Health records, skunks accounted for 52% of confirmed rabid animals from 1956-2002. This susceptibility to the rabies virus serves to keep populations under control. Other species of skunks found in Texas are spotted, hooded, and hog-nosed skunks.

TexasSpeaks

TexasSpeaks is being conducted in Brown County and across the state to allow the citizens of Texas to provide their input on the assets and issues in their communities. The local branch of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has a rich history of providing educational programs that address the most critical issues in the county and invites your participation in the TexasSpeaks process.

The Extension Service highly values the opinions shared through the TexasSpeaks community assessment. The expectation is that the assessment will take about 10 minutes.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is a statewide network of professional educators, trained volunteers, and county offices. It reaches into every Texas county to address local priority needs and to extend the latest research to the people of Texas. Some of the major efforts are in mitigating drought impacts; conserving water use in homes, landscapes, and production agriculture; improving emergency management; enhancing food security; and protecting human health through education about diet, exercise, and disease prevention and management. You can provide your input by visiting tx.ag/texasspeaks.

If you have any questions, contact the Brown County Extension office at 325-646-0386. Thank you very much for your involvement in this process.

Onion planting

Variety selection

The size of the onion bulb is dependent upon the number and size of the green leaves or tops at the time of bulb maturity. For each leaf there will be a ring of onion; the larger the leaf, the larger the ring will be. The onion will first form a top and then, depending on the onion variety and length of daylight, start to form the bulb. Onions are characterized by day length; "long-day" onion varieties will quit forming tops and begin to form bulbs when the daylength reaches 14 to 16 hours while "short-day" onions will start making bulbs much earlier in the year when there are only 10 to 12 hours of daylight.

Care Of transplant instructions

When you receive live plants, they should be planted as soon as possible. Should conditions exist that make you unable to plant these plants right away, remove the onion plants from the box and spread them out in a cool, dry area. The roots and tops may begin to dry out but do not be alarmed, the onion is a member of the lily family and as such will live for approximately three weeks off the bulb. The first thing that the onion will do after planting will be to shoot new roots.

Preparing the soil

Onions are best grown on raised beds at least four inches high and 20 inches wide. Onion growth and yield can be greatly enhanced by banding a fertilizer rich in phosphorous (10-20-10) 2 to 3 inches below transplants at planting time. Make a trench in the top of the bed fours inches deep, distribute one-half cup of the fertilizer per 10 linear feet of row, cover the fertilizer with two inches of soil and plant the transplants.

Planting

Set plants out approximately one inch deep with a four inch spacing. On the raised bed, set two rows on each bed, four inches in from the side of the row. Should you want to harvest some of the onions during the growing season as green onions, you may plant the plants as close as two inches apart. Pull every other one, prior to them beginning to bulb, leaving some for larger onions. Transplants should be set out 4 to 6 weeks prior to the date of the last average spring freeze.

Fertilization and growing tips

Onions require a high source of nitrogen. A nitrogen-based fertilizer (ammonium sulfate or ammonium nitrate) should be applied at the rate of one cup per twenty feet of row. The first application should be about three weeks after planting and then continue with applications every 2 to 3 weeks. Once the neck starts feeling soft do not apply any more fertilizer. This should occur approximately 4 weeks prior to harvest. Always water immediately after feeding and maintain moisture during the growing season. The closer to harvest the more water the onion will require.

Flowering — abnormal for onions

Most folks want to grow onion bulbs NOT onion flowers! What causes bulb onions to send up flower stalks? Flowering of onions can be caused by several things but usually the most prevalent is temperature fluctuation. An onion is classed as a biennial which means it normally takes 2 years to go from seed to seed. Temperature is the controlling or triggering factor in this process. If an onion plant is exposed to alternating cold and warm temperatures resulting in the onion plant going dormant, resuming growth, going dormant and then resuming growth again, the onion bulbs prematurely flower or bolt. Use only transplants that are pencil-sized or smaller in diameter when planting in early.

What to do about flowering?

What can one do if flower stalks appear? Should the flower stalks be removed from the onion plants? Suit yourself but once the onion plant has bolted, or sent up a flower stalk, there is nothing you can do to eliminate this problem. The onion bulbs will be edible but smaller. Use these onions as soon as possible because the green flower stalk which emerges through the center of the bulb will make storage almost impossible.

Harvesting and storage

Onions are fully mature when their tops have fallen over. After pulling from the ground allow the onion to dry, clip the roots and cut the tops back to one inch. The key to preserving onions and to prevent bruising is to keep them cool, dry and separated. As a general rule, the sweeter the onion, the higher the water content, and therefore the less shelf life. A more pungent onion will store longer, so eat the sweet varieties first and save the more pungent onions for storage.