Thursday, December 18, 2008

Local and Organic Produce: Top 20 Menu Trends for 2009

The National Restaurant Associated just released their top menu trends for 2009. Topping this year's list is locally grown produce! Coming in at #3 is organic produce.

Other items on the overall list include heirloom tomatoes (#31), exotic mushrooms (#35), fresh herbs (#48), chard (#108) and berries (#133).

An overall theme to the list is more healthful eating like smaller portions, vegetarian and vegan entrees, nutritionally balanced meals, grilling, superfruits and more fruits and veggies.

To check out the whole list click here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advertise Your Farm!

Owners of Agritourism farms and vineyards there is a unique opportunity to get your business advertised through the NCDA&CS.

Those who are interested can get their farm listed on a map of agritorism destinations that will be compiled by the NCDA&CS and funded by the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. The full color map will be entitled "Discover North Carolina Farms" and 100,000 copies will be printed in 2009 and placed at welcome centers and tourism offices statewide.

“Agritourism farms and vineyards have sprouted across North Carolina, and this map is another way to let people know where they are,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “The map can be kept in the glove compartment of your car for easy use on day trips or longer vacations. It will be a great resource, so we encourage agritourism farm and vineyard owners to apply to be on it.”

Applications must be postmarked by Jan. 9, and space on the map is limited. Visit the Agritoursim Site or call Martha Glass at 919.733.7887 ext. 276 for more information.

In these hard times, what better way to increase business to your farm than by marketing! Don't miss this unique opportunity.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Strawberry Row Covers

**See update from Bill Yarborough at end of post**
With colder temperatures looming, there is the issue of row covers for protection of strawberry plantings. I would like to share some information from Dr. Barclay Poling about row covers.

Do I need row covers if I grow Chandler?
Chandler is very hardy! Depending on the winter, they may not be needed at all!

Chandler is quite cold hardy and does not generally require winter protection (straw or row covers) for most growing areas in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. However, winter temperatures below 10oF will cause extensive flower and crown injury in this variety. For this reason, row covers are strongly recommended for areas where there is a potential for periods of extreme cold in winter (less than 10oF). Based on recent research with row covers in upper mountain areas (elevations higher than 2,500 feet), it has been determined that row covers (1.5 oz per sq yd) applied in late November to early December for additional winter protection and then removed in early March (before new blossoms reach the “popcorn” stage) can significantly improve Chandler yields compared to unprotected plantings. This climatic zone would include the higher elevations in Georgia. The covers also assist with deer protection, and they can be re-applied for cold protection of flower buds and blossoms in late winter to early spring.

What about Camarosa?

Our experience has been that Camarosa is NOT as cold hardy as Chander, and does benefit from winter protection with row covers in piedmont and mountain climates, but they may not be justified in milder growing regions like the coastal plain, except when there is a sudden freeze with temperatures in the low teens or single digits.

Which weight cover is best?

WNC: Research with row covers in upper mountain areas (elevations higher than 2,500 feet), has shown that 1.5 oz per sq yd are a good choice.

When should I buy covers and are they profitable to use?

Now is an excellent time to purchase some covers! They can be very profitable to use for over-winter protection of all varieties in the mountains. Camarosa responds well to over-winter covers in the piedmont. I strongly recommend that all growers have row covers for severe freezes in winter. Chandler may come though a serious freeze, but losses with Camarosa can be extreme!

Should I remove row covers in warm spells?

When we first started using covers in the 1980s and early 1990s, we were convinced that the covers "had to come off" during any warm spells in winter - even for a day or two. But, we really did not have any actual research data to back this 'play safe' recommendation up! There are definite costs associated with this operation! From experience we have learned that these "on-off" and "off-on" operations get real expensive and are probably not justified on an economic basis. So, I would try to resist the temptation to pull covers back each time we have temperatures in the upper 70s or maybe low 80s. However, I would be inclined to pull them back (or to the side of the rows) if there is going to be an extended warm spell of 5-7 days.

If you would like more information on row covers, Dr. Poling has shared information in the form of a word document. If you would like this information, please email me and I will be happy to forward to you. Thank you Dr. Poling for this advice!

Good Luck and Stay Warm!

**Update from Bill Yarborough**
I received an email from Bill Yarborough about this post. His comments are as follows:

"In my opinion working here all these years, using elevation as the rule would not be my choice. Mountain shading, aspect, air drainage, too many factors to predict.

Cover strawberries in mountain counties anywhere they are grown would be a better recommendation."

Thanks for the recommendation Bill!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Drip/Micro Payback Wizard

There is a new on-line tool that can be used to help you decide if drip irrigation is right for you. The Drip/Micro Payback Wizard from Toro Co. was designed to help growers recognize the cost savings and determine payback period for converting to a drip or micro irrigation system. Growers submit information including state, crop, number of acres, current irrigation type and water cost per acre foot and the Payback Wizard does the rest. The on-line tool will also estimate additional acreage that could be farmed with the water saved. Check it out!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Did you know...

that there are two plant diseases that are specifically regulated by the state of NC? Both Potato Virus Y and White Pine Blister Rust have laws on the books that regulate plant movement into NC.

Potato Virus Y is a plant pathogen that is spread by aphids and infects crops including potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco. NC regulation prohibits the movement of tobacco and tomato transplants from areas of Florida south of and including Dixie, Gilchrist, Alachua, Putnam and Flagler Counties. Plants that were brought to NC from these areas have tested positive for Potato Virus Y. Though Potato Virus Y occurs annually in NC, it is not able to overwinter here. This regulation helps to prevent or slow down the build up on the virus in our agricultural fields. Plants that are grown in greenhouses in the areas mentioned above that are certified as grown in an aphid-free environment can be purchased and planted in NC.

The second plant disease is White Pine Blister Rust caused by the fungus Cronartium ribicola. Currants, gooseberries and other plants in the genus Ribes cannot be legally brought into or grown in NC. Ribes spp. are alternate hosts for the pathogen that causes White Pine Blister Rust, the most devastating disease of the white pine (including Pinus strobis). This is an old law, however there is still an active eradication of native currants in WNC within a certain distance of white pine plantations as young white pines are rather susceptible. Though many cultivated varieties of currants and gooseberries claim to be resistant to White Pine Blister Rust, there is not significant scientific evidence of the claim. Researchers are actively researching this subject.

To find out more about these regulations visit the NCDA&CS Plant Industry-Plant Protection Section.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Organic Certification Cost Share Program

The NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services has released information on the organic certification cost share program:

"This program is designed to assist the organic grower with the cost of becoming certified under the National Organic Program. For a farm to be eligible for this program it must be located within the state of North Carolina and must be certified by a business or organization that is accredited by the USDA to certify organic operations The NCDA & CS will pay 75% of the cost of certification up to a maximum of $750 to the certifying agency for any certification occurring between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009. Funding for this program comes from a USDA grant to the NCDA & CS. The assistance is available on a first come first serve basis until the funds are depleted."

For more information, contact Kevin Hardison at NCDA&CS at

If you would like more information or a copy of the NC Organic Cost Share Program Authorization Form please contact me:

Visit the NCDA&CS Organic Horticultural Crops Marketing Division site to learn more about organic production in NC.

Monday, November 10, 2008

CFSA Part Two: Saturday and Sunday

Alas, the time is come to hear about my final two days at the CFSA Conference! Again, the word I have to describe it is "Wow!"

Saturday was a day full of Joel Salatin, proprietor and visionary of Polyface Inc., a "family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley". Salatin is a congenial, outspoken proponent of local and sustainable food systems, and probably the youngest child* in his family ;).

Salatin's first presentation was entitled "Tightening the Distance Between Field and Fork", a story about his likes, dislikes and successes in marketing his farm products.

Salatin discussed major marketing venues and his experiences with them:
1. farm gate sales - direct sales at your farm
2. farmer's markets - group of locals selling their product at a central location
3. metropolitan buying clubs - kind of like a CSA for those that are far from the farm, the customers chose the products they want and are charged a flat rate for delivery ($0.25/lb)
4. restaurant sales - sales to local restaurants who value the quality of local food
5. institutional services (colleges, hospitals, etc) - lots of hurdles to jump through!

With all of these venues for sales, he stressed that building relationships is the #1 priority and he reminded us of the 80-20 rule- that is that 20% of your customers make up 80% of your sales. Among ways that Polyface Inc. value their customers is to reward those who buy in bulk, as well as those who recommend Polyface to others. The first question that a caller gets when they call the farm is "where did you hear about us?" This is logged into a computer and when the reference comes in they give them a gift!

After dinner (and of course dessert) Salatin spoke again. This time he discussed "Building a local Food System that Really Works". He discussed the 3 vulnerabitilies of our food system, centralized production, centralized processing and long distance transport (the average trip of our food is 1,500 miles!). The answer to these vulnerabilities is a local, embedded, transparent food system (in green for a reason). The problem is energy! Studies have shown that there is a lot more energy that goes into our local food than the Wal Mart trucks.
Salatin discussed that what we need is a "whole system". This whole system has six components that work together. I will list and briefly discuss Salatin's view of them below.

1. Production. Salatin says we have "ostracized" production to places that are unseen and outside of the community. We need to make the local food system aesthetically and aromatically pleasing. We also need to make it profitable! Production involves a connectivenss with our ecological niche, as well as sweaty workers and young apprentices.
2. Processing. Ideally this should be done on the farm, but we need to keep it in our communities.
3. Marketing. Products don't sell themselves. This is the job of the youngest child, the *"gregarious, storytelling schmoozer of the bunch".
4. Accountant. Someone who watches the money and shops for the best deals.
5. Distribution system. We need to allow colaborative farm-gate sales.
6. Patrons. People who enjoy food, know where their kitchens are and are interested in the morality of food and their connection with it.

As you can tell, he has some big ideas. If you would like to learn more about Joel Salatin and his ideas, I encourage you to read his books which include "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal", "You Can Farm", "Holy Cows and Hog Heaven" and "Family Friendly Farming".

Sunday was spent learning about Small Fruits. First up was Organic Pest Management with Dr. Harald Scherm of the Dept. of Plant Pathology at UGA and then Dr. Gina Fernandez from the Dept. of Horticultural Science at NCSU discussed Caneberry (the new name for brambles) Production and Challenges of Organic Production. Both were great talks and filled with useful information- all of which I will share with you next season when you have Small Fruits on your mind.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Local Events Next Week

There are 2 local events next week that you should be aware of.

1. Nov. 11, 7 pm - Farm Energy Efficiency Project- The North Carolina Farm Bureau is hosting a series of meetings to discuss a new program to make your farm more energy efficient. Presentations will highlight the program and elaborate on how NCFB can provide extremely low cost farm energy assessments. Representatives from USDA will be on hand to discuss how this program leads into their 9007 (REAP) program which provides grants and loan guarantees for energy improvements. We all know how important it is to conserve energy in order to be efficient and save $$$. This event will take place at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River (formerly Fletcher). If you would like to attend, please RSVP by Friday to Scott Welborn at

**BONUS: A delicious dinner will be catered by Freeman's BBQ!**

2. Nov. 12, 1:30 pm - Farm to Fork: Building a Local Food Economy- Dr. Nancy Creamer
with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, along with its partners, is launching a statewide initiative "Building a Local Food Economy in North Carolina". Over the next 9 months they will be gathering input a number of ways: working with an advisory group, hosting regional meetings, facilitating targeted issues working groups, hosting a statewide summit (March 2 and 3), and finally, drafting a State Action Plan that will articulate a shared vision and specific opportunities for action that will enable us to make progress toward shared goals. **The meetings are not designed to be presentations about how to build your local food economy, but are working sessions that will help us identify specific regional and local sustainable food systems models that are successful, and also regional and statewide challenges that can be addressed through policies, programs, and funding.**
Come participate in the local discussion in Asheville on November 12 from 1:30-4:30 at the NC Arboretum, 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way.

Update: The program in Asheville is at capacity. Consider attending another meeting, details at or by contacting Nancy Creamer at

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

CFSA Part One: Thursday and Friday

All I can say is "Wow!" I had a great time at the CFSA Conference this weekend in Anderson, SC. Besides the food, the energy of the participants was the best part. There was a buzz among the crowd and every workshop I attended was filled with knowledgeable and inquisitive people and speakers. I learned so much that I am going to split it into two posts. Here is Part One!

On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to attend a delicious dinner (and dessert, of course) that was followed by an address from Wes Jackson, the mastermind and visionary behind the Land Institute in Kansas and a sustainable ag pioneer. Jackson discussed the idea of a "50 Year Farm Bill". He discussed that each 5 year farm bill is a "mile post" towards sustainability and a 50 year plan. Jackson, who has a PhD in genetics from NC State, stressed the importance of sustainable grain production through breeding of perennial grains as a way of restoring and sustaining our soils and water usage. At the Land Institute, students and researchers are working to perrenialize sorghum, wheat, sunflowers and corn. To hear a clip of what Dr. Jackson had to say click on the video from the Chautauqua Institute in NY on Aug. 14. Quite the concept.

On Friday I attended a special Rodale Institute session with Dr. Paul Hepperly, the director or research, and Jeff Moyer, the farm director and inventor of the "roller-crimper". Did you know that in the U.S. we are losing topsoil 10% faster than nature can replace it?! Dr. Hepperly stressed that it is imperative that we reduce the erosion of topsoil immediately- the goal of research at Rodale. This involves cover cropping and rotation which increases soil organic matter and carbon sequestration.

Jeff Moyer discussed his roller-crimper, a machine that was developed to mechanically kill cover crops by rolling them down then crimping them in a no-till system. This allows you to sow your cash crop directly into the green manure. Both Hepperly and Moyer empahsized that you "can't get something from nothing"; when it comes to decreasing tillage we need to increase cover crops.

After the Rodale Institute session, the ag agents were off on a field trip, which was a good thing because I think ag agents tend to get antsy being "cooped up". Our destination was Greenbrier Farms where we were greeted by the owner and a gracious host, Joyce Palmer (shown right with her milking station). It was Joyce and her late husband's dream to have a farm where they could raise all-natural beef that is good for their customers as well as the environment. In addition to the all-natural beef, Greenbrier Farms also produces broilers (left), eggs and goats, as well as having an "alert llama" (below, left), pet turkeys, a community garden and a new greenhouse (below, right). Upon our arrival, Joyce was also celebrating becoming a certified raw milk dairy.

It was quite a fun trip, even if there wasn't many vegetables to see.

Greenbrier Farms is part of the Upstate Forever, a non-profit organization dedicated to smart growth and development of SC, as well as the protection of "special places" in the Upstate. We were fortunate after dinner (and dessert, of course) to hear from the Founder and Executive Director of Upstate Forever, Brad Wyche. Wyche shared with us the role of sustainable agriculture in a strong regional economic development program, as well as Upstate Forever's efforts to preserve farmland and rural communities.

As you can tell it was a busy two days! I can't wait to share with you the exciting information I learned. If you would like to hear more about the programs that I attended, give me a call or write me an email. I also encourage you to visit the website links above.

I will be back with Part Two later in the week.

: Part Two contains information about Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, tomato season extension, organic blueberry and caneberry (formerly brambles) production.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Clear Plastic Available

Guy Picard has 8 rolls of 1.5 mil clear plastic available. The rolls are 9 ft X 3000 ft and he is willing to sell them for $75 per roll. He will also reduce that price if you are willing to take all 8 rolls. If you are interested, contact Guy at 828.275.6177.

Tomato Grafting Workshop

Yesterday I took part in a Tomato Grafting Workshop** with Tom Elmore from Thatchmore Farms and Dr. Jeanine Davis from NCSU (both pictured below right). It was a great afternoon! About 20 people were in attendance at Reems Creek Nursery in Weaverville to learn about the process and applicability of grafting in vegetables.

The reasons for grafting vegetables are similar to the reasons why fruit trees and other woody perennials are grafted: for disease resistance and/or increased vigor. Tom explained that there are rootstock available from seed companies that were developed for grafting purposes with increased vigor and resistance to multiple diseases such as bacterial wilt, Fusarium wilt, Verticillium wilt and nematodes. We also discussed that it is important to get positive identification of a disease problem in order to properly chose your rootstock.

Tom shared a video from the University of Vermont that demonstrated the grafting process as well as different grafting techniques. Tom also discussed his experience with grafting, explaining his success with grafting vigorous and healthy plants in his greenhouse after many years in tomato production. He explained that the grafted plants reminded him of the way his tomatoes used to look. Tom is planning to plant grafted tomatoes in the field next season, as well as in his greenhouse.

Dr. Davis and I discussed some different aspects of grafting in vegetables, including why you would want to graft and the research that is being currently being done to address this topic. Dr. Davis talked about the applicability of grafting heirloom tomatoes onto disease resistant rootstocks because of the lack of genetic disease resistance available in heirloom varieties. I talked a little about the history of grafting and the applicability of grafting for cucurbits (left, grafted cucumber). Grafting of watermelon on gourd rootstock for the control of Fusarium wilt has been taking place since the 1920s in Japan and Korea!

After a great discussion with the audience, Tom graced us with a performance of his tomato grafting technique (right). We joked that if this organic farming thing doesn't take off then Tom has a future as a surgeon!

Finally, it was our turn to try. I was lucky to find a participant who was nice enough to act as a hand model/demonstrator of the grafting technique.
Below is a series of pictures of the grafting. First, the stem of the rootstock and scion (the top of the plant- this is the one whose fruit you are desiring) are sliced at a 45 degree angle. Next, a clip is placed on the rootstock. Then, the scion is slipped into the clip gently. The goal here is to align the vascular system of the rootstock and scion as seamlessly as possible trying to ensure that the graft will take. Finally, you have a finished product!

It is important to care for your grafted plants with great attention. Think about it, the scion has been separated from its root system! The plants should be kept in a low light and high humidity setting. This will slow the transpiration of the plant and help the scion from becoming water stressed during this fragile period. Eventually, the graft union will heal and gradually more and more light and less humidity will be added. After the plants harden off, they are ready to be transplanted into the ground or greenhouse. The grafting process adds about a week to the transplant system- so plan accordingly!

Supplies for grafting, including clips and rootstock and heirloom tomato seeds can be purchased through Johnny's Selected Seeds.

To learn more about grafting:
**This workshop was part of the 2008 Farmer Education Series put together by the Organic Growers School.**

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

13 more days!

Election day is right around the corner! I encourage you to take the time to review the candidates' views on the issues that are important to you. The candidates' official websites are the best sources of information on their proposed policies. In addition, if farming is an issue that is important to you, Southeast Farm Press has published an article entitled "Candidates Provide Farm Program Views" which addresses both candidates' views on farming.

Reminder: Early voting has started in NC- you can even register and vote on the same day during the early voting period.

Please take the time to exercise your right to vote!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pumpkin/Gourd Field Day

The pumpkin/gourd field day was held at the Mountain Research Station in beautiful Waynesville on Oct. 16. The field day showcased the incredible variety trial that was sponsored in part by the Specialty Crops Program and was a collaboration between Dr. Jonathon Schultheis from NC State (shown on right with turban squash), Dr. Annette Wszelaki from U. Tennessee and Terry Kelley from U. Georgia. The trial included 25 varieties that were replicated in the trial. This trial is the 2nd season of data for these varieties. In addition, 10-15 observational pumpkins and gourds were dispersed in the trial. Depending on this years data, these observational varieties may be included in future trials.

I have included pictures of some of the varieties. The captions for the images can be found below.

Top row:
Magic Lantern
- Harris Moran, industry standard for jack-o-lantern types (photo courtesy of Michael Hannah)
Gladiator-good yield, nice color, strong stem, intermediate powdery mildew resistance
Dependable-strong green stem, nice ribs

Jarrahdale-gray to slate-gray exterior with deep ribs, medium-sweet orange flesh, great for display and culinary uses
Long Island Cheese-heirloom variety, moderately sweet flesh for pie, nice color, flattened
Full Moon-faint pastel orangey-white, 25-50 lbs

Bicolor Spoon- beautiful and decorative, not part of replicated trial
Goblin Eggs- great name, great for decoration, not part of replicated trial
Rouge Vif D'Etampes- meaning "vivid red" in French, this slightly flattened squash is striking and has moderately sweet flesh good for pie; also called Cinderella

In NC trials were also set-up in the piedmont and down east. Dr. Schultheis and colleagues agreed that in NC, pumpkins are better adapted for the mountains. All agreed that this could be a successful and profitable venture for WNC growers.

Attendees were also fortunate to hear from Dr. Greg Hoyt Professor and Extension specialist in Crop Science at NC State (shown left). Dr. Hoyt explained his data from the Mountain Horticultural Research Station in Mills River where they compared pumpkin, gourd and squash production on black-plastic, no-till and bare ground systems. His results (right) showed that most varieties will produce a greater number of fruit and a greater yield in pounds in black plastic production systems than in bareground or no-till. Dr. Hoyt believes that the cost of the black plastic production will pay for itself, although the data has not been compiled to prove this. Another excellent suggestion was that pumpkins could be grown on plastic from spring crops, such as strawberries.

Overall, this was a great field day! Thanks to the researchers and the Mountain Research Station for a job well done!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

EPA: Soil Fumigant Risk Mitigation

EPA is reviewing soil fumigants for re-registration and a number of mitigations have been proposed. The use of soil fumigants is very important to some vegetable growers in WNC and the proposed changes will change the way these products are used or whether or not vegetable growers will even be able to use soil fumigants in a practical and cost effective manner.

Proposed changes include the following measures:
  • Buffer zones
  • Posting requirements
  • Agricultural worker protection
  • Good agricultural practices
  • Application method, practices and rate restrictions
  • Restricted use pesticide classification
  • Community outreach and education programs, etc.

Here is the link to the EPA information page on the Aug. 28, 2008 Soil Fumigant Mitigation Methods. This link provides all the details of the changes and measures.

This is a very important issue and threatens vegetable production as we know it. Although these soil fumigant decisions are final, public comments on implementation of the risk mitigation measures are due to EPA by October 30, 2008. EPA has indicated that, based on the comments it receives, it may modify the rule or some of the mitigation measures it has published. Word is that they have received very few comments, thus far. So if this issue is something that you feel strongly about, please send the EPA your comments soon.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Southeast Vegetable and Fruit Expo 2008!

The Schedule for the 23rd Annual Southeast Vegetable & Fruit Expo has been announced! The Expo will take place Dec. 2-3, 2008 at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in Myrtle Beach SC.
As usual the program for 2008 is excellent! If you grow vegetables or fruit in WNC, the Expo has something for you.

2008 Session Topics:
  • Watermelons/Cucurbits
  • Sweetpotato
  • Marketing Opportunities
  • Crucifers
  • Hot Topics- includes Food Safety, Recalls and Traceback, Risk Management
  • Timely Production Concerns
  • Tomato/Pepper
  • Sweetcorn & Snapbeans
  • Specialty Crop Opportunities- includes BLACKBERRY opportunities and updates on Dole's East Coast plans.
The Expo includes the annual Trade Show which is open continuously throughout the Expo. In addition, Continuing Education Credits (CCA) and Continuing Pesticide Recertification credits will be offered at some sessions!
The full schedule and registration information can be found on the North Carolina Vegetable Grower's Association website.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Well it is that time of year again when we are looking for that first fall freeze. It does not appear that any freezing temperatures are on the immediate horizon as warm high pressure is expected to build east into NC from the west later next week ushering in some warmer temperatures. In fact temperatures are expected to be above normal over the next 6-10 days. The next shot of at least some cooler air will not come until around October 17th. Long range models show at least a brief weather pattern change for the middle of this month which will bring with it cooler temperatures. The 2-4 week outlook for the region is for a greater possibility for below normal temperatures will likely come in the latter 2 weeks of the month.

In WNC our average first freeze usually comes in late October and early November. Some isolated highland areas have already experienced a light frost.

Please take precautions to protect your crops if you have any that may be affected by a frost. Also, remind your friends and families to bring in house plants that are sensitive.

**Thanks to Jeff Orrock Warning Coordination Meteorologist for NOAA's National Weather Service out of the Raleigh Forecast Office for this information.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Jake's Farm: Fresh Produce Safety Training

Today, Chris and Missy at Jake's Farm were kind enough to let 22 growers and extension agents "pick apart" their farm in a mock USDA GAP and GHP audit. GAP (good agricultural practices) and GHP (good handling practices) are a hot button issue after the E. coli/spinach outbreak in 2006 and this summer's Salmonella outbreak on peppers from Mexico.

Dr. Keith Baldwin of NCA&T led the audit- a checklist of items that are awarded points. The audit involved aspects of the farm from irrigation water contamination, to wild and domestic animals, to worker hygiene, manure use and traceback of products. Dr. Baldwin stated that as food illness outbreaks are in the mainstream news and consumers become increasingly concerned with the safety of their food, these certifications are eventually going to become a requirement. A timeline has not been set, but Chris said it best when he stated that growers must "lock arms" and work together as the regulations come into play.

Overall, the mock audit was a success and everyone learned a lot. Probably the most important lesson was to document all the steps you take to make your farm and produce safe. Also, check with your produce buyer to see if they have a preference to a 3rd party auditor. On average, audits take 2-3 hours and cost from $200-$300 and are done annually- so make sure that you and your buyer are on the same page.

If you would like more information on GAP and GHP certification, please contact me or visit the National GAPs program website at Cornell. The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project has put together some excellent resources.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chandler Strawberry Plugs Available

Are you in the need of some strawberry plugs? Scott Walker of Jersey Asparagus Farms in Pittsgrove, NJ has 45,000 Chandler plugs available in 50 cell trays.

If interested contact Scott ASAP at:

Jersey Asparagus Farms
105 Porchtown Road
Pittsgrove, NJ 08318
Phone: 856.358.2548
Fax: 856.358.6127

Monday, September 29, 2008

2009 WNC AgOptions Announced!

The 2009 cycle for the WNC AgOptions Grant Program have been announced!

The goal of WNC AgOptions is to enhance the sustainability of WNC agriculture by assisting farmers in establishing themselves economically, environmentally and socially through new ventures. In order to provide direct financial assistance to farmers to minimize the risk of diversifying their operations, WNC AgOptions makes "mini grants" available on a competitive basis. Since 2004, 168 farmers have participated and have been provided "mini grants" ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 totaling $527,500. Just a few examples of projects include growing new/different crops, starting agritourism ventures, season extension and value-added products.

This year awards can be $3,000, $6,000 or $9,000! If you are interested in this fantastic opportunity visit WNC AgOptions for more information and to see what kinds of projects have been funded in the past. The site also includes frequently asked questions, links and contact information. Those who are interested should contact their local extension agent for assistance.
Click here to download an application.

Support for the WNC AgOptions program comes from the NC Tobacco Trust Fund and other partners include NC Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services and HandMade in America and NC Cooperative Extension.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Downy Mildew: Cabbage

Today I went to a field of cabbage, a nice change from all of the time I have been spending in tomato and pepper fields. I noticed that the lower leaves had some spots that were yellow and turning necrotic. When I turned the leaf over I notice that familiar fungal growth- downy mildew.

Symptoms of downy mildew on cabbage include irregular shaped lesions that vary in size and are sunken and whitish-gray (image, left). The tissue around the lesions will turn yellow. When you flip the leaf over, a fluffy, white, downy growth is evident (image, below). One can distinguish downy mildew from powdery mildew because only downy mildew will sporulate (reproduce new spores) on the bottom side of the leaf.

Downy mildew on cabbage is caused by Peronospora parasitica. This organism causes downy mildew on vegetables in the Brassicacea family such as broccoli, cauliflower and radishes, and is different from the organism that causes downy mildew on cucurbits (Pseudoperonospora cubensis). P. parasitica, like most downy mildews, thrives in cool, wet weather (temps. 50-60 degrees F) though it can tolerate cooler and warmer temperatures.

P. parasitica forms two types of spores, oospores and sporangia. Oospores are the overwintering, resistant spores that can survive in the soil (not shown). The other spore type are sporangia. Sporangia are large (relatively speaking for a microscopic organism), round spores that are born on tree-looking structures known as sporangiophores (images left and right). These sporangia are disseminated by wind or rain splash. Isn't this organism beautiful (I know, I know... a face only a plant pathologist could love). Making a successful slide is difficult because P. parasitica is quite delicate. You will notice that some areas of the image to the left are out of focus, this is because P. parasitica is 3-D and taking a 1-D image doesn't do it justice.

Downy mildew can be introduced into a field through transplants, so make sure that your transplants are disease free. Also, if you notice that you have diseased plants, do not dump these plants in a cull pile in the field because they have the potential of infecting the non-diseased plants. Try to eliminate brassica weeds and rotating the field with non-brassica vegetables might help.

There are no downy mildew resistant cabbage cultivars, however there are a few effective fungicides for the control of downy mildew on cabbage. A new fungicide from Syngenta, Revus (mandipropamid) has shown excellent efficacy for controlling this disease. Also, ProPhyt (potassium phosphite) + Manex (maneb) can be used to control the disease.
Reduced efficacy of Ridomil Gold and Bravo has been shown in NC (Adams et al., 2007, Plant Disease Management Reports 2:V119. DOI:10.1094/PDMR02).

As always refer to manufacturers' recommendations on the fungicide label.

**Special thanks to Kelly Ivors and Dreams Milks who assisted with the pictures of P. parasitica.**
*Much of this information was gathered from Univ. of FL Plant Pathology Fact Sheet 33 (Tom Kucharek) available on-line.*

Friday, September 5, 2008

It's Strawberry Time!

Many growers are getting ready to prepare their fields and plant their strawberries. Luckily, we are not expecting the rain amounts in WNC that eastern NC is expecting and planting can continue. However, if it is possible that we get heavy rains and/or strong winds when you begin field preparation and planting there are a few things to keep in mind. Here are a few tips from Dr. Barclay Poling (Horticultural Science Dept. at NCSU) and Sam Harrell (Lewis Nursery and Farms in Rocky Point, NC) for planting during extreme weather and otherwise:
1. "Don't lay more plastic than you can cut waterways". In other words, when laying plastic prior to heavy rains make the necessary provisions to allow for adequate water drainage.
2. Lay plastic so that "a cup of dirt is formed" at the edge of the plastic. You don’t want to just throw dirt up against the base of the plastic bed, but you want to make sure that a “groove” is formed that actually holds some soil – the so called “cup of dirt.” Doing this will make sure that your plastic will stay down in case of strong winds.
3. Wait 2 full weeks before plantback. After fumigation with 50:50/methyl bromide:chloropicrin at recommended rates, allow the full 2 weeks (14 days) before planting. This is true with VIF plastics as well. Some growers are playing it safe, allowing 3 weeks, though 2 weeks should be adequate with warmer soil temperatures (than the spring). If you are using another fumigant be sure to strictly adhere to the manufacturer’s label on rate and plantback.
4. Punching holes. You can go out 24 hours in advance of planting to punch holes and this should further reduce the chance of any plant damage from residual gas. The EPA DOES NOT like the idea of cutting holes in the plastic any sooner than 24 hours ahead of planting at the end of the required 2 week waiting period for methyl bromide:chloropicrin.

More info on VIF (virtually impermeable film) plastic and punching holes. Growers have shown concern with using water wheel equipment or the bicycle wheel for punching holes. Dr. Poling states: "We are not aware of any issues with punching holes through VIF plastic with water wheel equipment or the bicycle wheel (uses a protruding 1" bolt from wheel to punch a small hole). As one veteran in Florida told me this morning, in the early stages growers "wonder" about this problem, but apparently there has been no problem experienced in Florida with punching holes through VIF vs. standard poly film. I also called out to Clayton and Kirby Jones could not recall any problem last year (we used a water wheel to punch holes for plugs last fall). In any case, we do not believe the bicycle wheel will be a problem either with the 1 inch bolt - about 3/4 inch of the bolt protrudes from the wheel for punching the plastic. And, if a problem is encountered, you can fill the bicycle wheel with water."
If you would like to purchase a bicycle unit they cost about $550. Contact me for the phone number of Ronnie Martin, a grower who is making these units. Dr. Poling uses these units for his experiments.
*Special thanks to Dr. Poling and Sam Harrell for their advice and expertise.*

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Bramble Fungicide Sprays

As a result of the rain last week and the possibility of more rain from Gustav, Hanna and Ike, blackberry and raspberry growers should think about disease control options. Dr. Gina Fernandez of the horticulure department at NCSU was kind enough to pass along some information from Plant Pathologists Dr. Phil Brannen (UGA) and Dr. Turner Sutton (NCSU).

From Phil Brannen big issues for FLORICANE fruiting types:
1. Pruning wounds and cane blight. Dr. Brannen recommends suspending pruning until dry conditions are predicted for several days. Applications of Prisitine or another broad-spectrum fungicide to pruning wounds after each day of pruning is recommended.
2. Leaf spots. Leaf spots will also likely develop and early defoliation due to pathogens like Septoria and others is possible, so a preventative spray ahead of heavy sustained rains may be helpful. A broad-spectrum material, like Prisitine, would be good for control of these pathogens with application 24-h prior to rains being the ideal.
3. Orange cane blotch. Dr. Brannen suggests the consideration of copper application both ahead of and following the storms in order to suppress orange cane blotch. Copper materials are not great, but they are still the best products available for the algal disease.
4. Phytophthora. If winds are severe, tearing of roots and the entry of Phytophthora is possible. Application of ProPhyt or other Phosphonate materials are recommended. Where possible, drip-applied Ridomil Gold either before or after the rain can be used.

From Turner Sutton big issues for PRIMOCANE fruiting raspberries and blackberries:
"Anyone with fruit needs to spray asap if they haven't already. (As soon as it stopped raining would have been an ideal time)."
1. Botrytis and other fruit rots. CaptEvate (a broad-spectrum fungicide with a 3-day phi) may be a good choice than a botrytis-specific fungicide. Alternatively, Captan + a botrytis fungicide can be applied (check the phi).
2. Leaf spots. Monitor leaves of primocanes closely (at least weekly) for leaf spots or rusts. You do not want to lose a lot of leaves before frost to predispose then to winter injury. If rust is not a problem, Captan is okay and is the least expensive.
3. Phytophthora. Phytophthora is typically not a problem until the soils cool in late Sept/Oct, unless you are in very heavy wet soils. Sutton also recommends a phosphite foliar spray at this time.
*Thanks to Dr. Fernandez, Dr. Sutton and Dr. Brannen for this great information. As always, follow manufacturers' guidelines on the fungicide label.*

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Water, water everywhere!

We finally received some rain and boy did we need it! But, of course when it rains it pours. Below are 3 issues that cause concern with excessive rainfall.

1. Equipment. Please make sure that if there is heavy rain that equipment gets moved to a place where it cannot be damaged. I know a few growers who took the time to move their irrigation pumps further up the banks to accommodate the flowing rivers and creeks and I hope that everyone was able to do this in a timely fashion.

2. Flooding. With large amounts of rain flooding of fields from river, creek or stream water is a major concern. I am sure that you all remember Hurricanes Frances and Ivan! Because there is no way of knowing what kinds of contaminants are found in flood waters, crops that have been flooded CANNOT be harvested and sold for human consumption. A chlorine rinse is NOT adequate to guarantee safety of the produce. Crops intended for human consumption are considered contaminated if they have been covered with flood waters from rivers, creeks or streams. Growers should distinguish between rainwater that accumulates on a field because of excessive rainfall versus fields covered by flood waters from risen rivers, creeks or streams.
Here is a link from the Food Science Dept. at NCSU:
If you would like more information about food safety of flooded crops or have any questions please contact me and I will do my best to provide you with assistance.

3. Disease. Be on the look out for diseases that are favored by cool and wet conditions such as Late Blight of tomato and potato, Phytophthora Blight or root rot and Downy Mildew of cucurbits. If you think you have a disease problem make sure to get it positively identified so that we can get you on an appropriate spray program (if necessary or applicable). There have been no reports of Late Blight, yet, but Downy Mildew of cucurbits has been reported on cucumber in the WNC.

*Thanks to Dr. Jeanine Davis and Diane Ducharme for passing along great information about food safety issues in flooded fields.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Early Blight of Tomatoes

One of the first disease problems I have encountered in WNC is Early Blight on tomatoes. Early blight is caused by Alternaria solani, a fungal pathogen. Traditionally, symptoms of Early Blight appear as spots on the foliage. These spots have concentric circles and look like a "bull's eye" (image, right- click on image to enlarge). These symptoms first appear on older leaves of the tomato plant.

In addition, Early Blight can actually affect the stems of the tomato plants (image, below). This condition is known as "collar rot". Notice that the stem lesion begins where the plastic begins, not at the soil line. Concentric circles may also be seen in the stem lesions. Early Blight attacking stems can be an severe problem, especially in fields that are not fumigated, as plants will not be able to survive stem girdling.

In order to control A. solani and other important pathogens of tomato, prevention is key. Dr. Kelly Ivors and Dr. Frank Louws, both of the Department of Plant Pathology at NCSU have put together a comprehensive Foliar Fungicide Spray Guide for Tomatoes in NC. This is program is a holistic approach to tomato disease control and followed by many WNC tomato growers.

Other fungicides that are very effective for Early Blight on tomato are the strobilurin fungicides, azoxystrobin (Amistar, Quadris) and pyraclostrobin (Cabrio). *Strobilurin fungicides must be rotated with a fungicide that is not in FRAC group 11.* Other fungicides with good efficacy towards Early Blight are boscalid (Endura), mancozeb (Dithane, Manzate, Penncozeb, Manex II) and maneb (Manex, Maneb).
Efficacy data obtained from Southeastern Vegetable Extension Workers 2008 Vegetable Crop Handbook. Always follow application guidelines on the fungicide label!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Welcome to the WNC Vegetable and Small Fruit Blog

My name is Sue Colucci and I am the new Area Specialized Agriculture Agent in Henderson, Haywood and Buncombe Counties in Western North Carolina (WNC) with responsibilities in vegetables and small fruits.
I joined the NC Cooperative Extension Service on July 15 after finishing my master's degree in Plant Pathology at NC State in Raleigh. My project involved cucurbit downy mildew (caused by Pseudoperonospora cubensis), a common problem in NC on squash and pumpkin and a re-emerging disease problem on cucumber.
If there is anything that you would like more information about, please contact me and I will do my best to answer your questions or find pertinent information for you.
I am looking forward to working with the vegetable and small fruit growers here in beautiful WNC and blogging about the problems and questions that I am faced with.