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.