Finney County extension agents

Life's little questions aren't meant to be answered alone. Join 4-H, the club of families who share in teaching kids practical things like pet care, growing gardens or horseback riding, and important values like responsibility. Whether you're in the city or boonies, join 4-H and we'll tackle life's little questions together.

4-H is a youth development program that uses project-based experiences to teach our youth real-life skills to prepare them to become positive members in their communities and world. Its motto is "To Make the Best Better" and we always strive to create greater successes with each child in each project.

On the basic level, 4-H members join and choose projects they are interested in. These projects vary from food science, rocketry and robotics to entomology (bugs, insects, etc.) and Sheep. Then members become part of a club that meets regularly to conduct business which allows the youth to be a part of a full, functioning group. Within their club they perform community service, give presentations and run meetings with parliamentary procedure. In their clubs or during project meetings, they learn about their chosen projects, and in hands-on experiences, create a finished project by the end of the year. These finished projects, whether they are a market weight sheep or a walking robot, are displayed and judged at the county fair. Throughout this process youth gain numerous skills that include responsibility, record keeping and perseverance.

* 4-H membership: All youth between the ages of 7 and 18 may participate in a wide variety of projects, from traditional areas of livestock and home economics to nontraditional projects like cake decorating, youth leadership and robotics. Finney County 4-H also provides opportunities for trips, camps and scholarships. Youth may be enrolled in only one county at a time.

* To enroll: Youth must be 7 years old by Jan. 1 of the current year. Please visit our office to receive an enrollment packet that includes the registration form, health form and a youth code of conduct contract. Once these forms are filled out and returned to the Extension office, the youth is officially a Finney County 4-H'er.

* After enrollment: Youth must choose a club to participate in. Youth are able to choose the club that best fits their needs, interests and schedule. New 4-H families are encouraged to attend a few different club meetings to find out which is the best choice for them. However, a club selection must be made within 45 days of enrolling. Once a club has been selected, please contact the Extension office.

* Youth under the age of 8 years old: Youth that are 5 to 7 years old are encouraged to join Cloverbuds. This is a non-competition group that meets regularly within the regular club setting or as a club, to learn about 4-H and all the projects they can possibly be involved in once they are a 4-H'er. It is a great way for younger youth to "get their feet wet" and see what 4-H is all about without the pressures of competing.

* Where do I find information? Good question! There are lots of resources! The Finney County Extension Office located at 501 S. Ninth St., or online at Or there are many resource materials online at Leaders are always a great source of information and if you don't know one, talk to the Extension office.

Next week this news column will continue with some of "4-H Life's Little Questions!"

Time to plant and move irises

The iris family of flowers, Iridaceae, is my favorite family of flowers. Plants of this family are found on every continent except Antarctica. They grow in the polar tundra, temperate forests, grasslands, swamps, deserts, mountains, coasts and rain forests. The iris species database lists nearly 300 different species.

Most of the irises grown in Kansas are the German bearded iris. With its unique flower design and interesting petals and blooms, this one specie is the most commonly grown iris type with thousands of different named varieties. They are extremely hardy, long-lasting plants. German bearded irises come in many different sizes and colors. Miniature irises are only about six inches high with dainty little blooms. The largest German iris varieties have flowers three feet off the ground. So whatever place you want to plant irises in your landscape, you can find the right size to fit.

Bearded irises are unique in that they prefer to be moved and transplanted this time of year. They are the only plant that does best when transplanted during July and early August. Irises need dividing every few years as the center of clumps stop blooming. When moving irises, first cut the tops down to about six inches. Carefully dig up the rhizomes. A potato fork is the best tool. Cut and divide the rhizomes into fan pieces. Fans with three leaves will usually bloom next year. Smaller fans will likely take two years to bloom.

Plant the irises in a sunny spot or in a spot that receives at least six hours of sun a day. The rhizomes should be placed so that they sit about an inch above the ground. Water in the rhizome well. They do not need any fertilizer until next spring when all perennial flowers should get fertilized. Keep mulch off the rhizome. They need less water than most plants, but should receive an inch of water about every two weeks while getting established.

Anymore when planting different iris varieties, I plant re-blooming varieties. If you have not heard of this relatively recent development in German iris, you are missing a delight. About the only negative item for German iris is that they usually bloom for such a short time in the spring. Each variety only lasts for about two weeks. Re-blooming irises answer that problem by blooming again later in the fall. Fall blooming irises often bloom for a month or more due to the cooler fall temperatures. They can even withstand a light freeze down to about 28 degrees before the blooms are hurt. One fall we had some spectacular displays of re-blooming iris. I counted more than 50 flower blossoms on one plant.

One of my favorite things about bearded irises is that they can be shared with family and friends. We always have some irises planted that came from my parents and grandparents. We also pass on irises to our kids. The fact that irises need dividing after a few years is a great reason to grow them. Along with having irises in our yard that are divisions from irises grown by our ancestors, so do our children have irises growing in their yards that came from plants we gave them.

Plant some irises, especially the re-blooming types, and then in a few years when they need dividing, pass them on to your family and friends. If you have any questions about growing irises or other concerns, contact Finney County Extension Agent David Coltrain at 272-3670 or email

Back-to-school strategies to save costs

Budget cuts to education are happening in districts across the country. As a result, parents are likely to see increased costs for school expenses. In some cases, families may be asked to cover or contribute to costs for activities or services previously provided at no charge.

While back-to-school expenses are typically second only to holiday spending, the increased costs will challenge many families. The dilemma also offers a valuable lesson in helping children learn to weigh wants versus needs.

Following are 10 back-to-school tips from Kansas State Research and Extension:

1) Check with the school for a list of costs and requirements, such as enrollment fees, book and computer rentals or deposits, or other requirements, such as school supplies and costs for school breakfast or lunch. Also note costs for optional activities, such as rental fees for a band instrument or sports uniform.

2) Ask about options for paying enrollment fees, such as spreading out payments.

3) Check to see if your family qualifies for reduced costs, such as reduced lunch fees or scholarships for band or other activities, and guidelines for applying. If eligible, follow the directions on the application exactly. Also check to see if you qualify for community programs which provide school supplies for free or reduced costs.

4) Consider required school-related medical expenses, including immunizations, health screenings and athletic physicals, and check to see if these needs can be met at an economical or group rate with a local health-care provider or through the local health department. Compare prices from various providers and start early in case reduced-cost appointments are limited.

5) Review the school district list for required supplies. Plan to "shop" at home first, by checking supplies on hand and hand-me-downs such as a calculator from a previous year, art supplies in good condition and a reusable backpack or book bag to hold down costs.

6) Check sale flyers for the best prices on school supplies; wait to stock up, though, as the price on back-to-school supplies is typically reduced once the school year begins.

7) Spread out the expense, rather than trying to buy everything at once. Chances are, kids will want to wear summer clothing during the first weeks of school when the weather is still warm. Waiting also will give them time to settle in and see what others are wearing.

8) Help children choose budget-friendly clothes they will enjoy wearing. If a child wants something that doesn't fit within the budget, suggest opportunities for him or her to earn the difference. Older children (who have jobs) should be expected to take on increasing responsibility for their own expenses and extras.

9) Plan for school expenses to continue throughout the school year with costs for field trips, projects, school supplies, parties and family outings to school events and programs.

10) Keep records. Carry a small notepad and jot down this year's expenses to help in planning for next year. Save receipts, in the event purchases fail to meet expectations and will need to be returned. And, as with any purchase, ask about a store's policy for returns or exchanges before buying.