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.*