Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Strawberry Row Covers Update

This just in from Dr. Barclay Poling about row covers:

"In trying to decide whether now is a good time to pull covers, or not, I always begin by thinking about the "crop stage" and how hardy the plants may be in mid-December.

Unlike last year, we have not had as much good hardening weather, and so I believe the idea of delaying the cover application has been justified. Right now, I think uncovered Chandler plants could handle cold temperatures in the upper teens, but mid-teens and lower would make me nervous.

In looking ahead into next week, I see that areas of the Piedmont like Gibsonville, NC (near Burlington) could experience a minimum of 18 F on Wed morning (12/23), whereas at Clayton (southeast of Raleigh) we will reach a minimum of 20 F. Leading up to Wednesday we will have a series of what I consider ideal hardening off temperatures (40's in day, 20's in night). It is best to allow the plants to be fully exposed to these kinds of outdoor air temperatures before pulling the winter blanket. In the milder Clayton area, we will not pull covers at all this winter unless there is a severe freeze threat, and a forecast in the low teens or single digits will tell us to go ahead and cover. We will then leave the covers in place through January, provided that we do not encounter a week of abnormally mild temperatures. The row covers can really elevate temperatures during the day, and if the forecast is for a week with daytime highs in the 60s we will pull the covers to the side.

In colder areas, like Gibsonville, NC and through the Piedmont, foothills and mountains, it is typical for strawberry plasticulture growers to pull covers in mid-to-late December. Pulling this late will help harden plants off for winter - all those days in late Nov and early Dec with day temperatures in the 40s, and nights in 20s are perfect for hardening off.

Other important factors in deciding "when" to actually pull the cover (if at all), depends on the variety and how far along the crop is right now. Chandler is a very cold hardy variety by comparison to Camarosa, and it it can grow "too well" under row covers if you are not careful. If you have large Chandler plugs that are nearly touching in the row the last thing you want to do is stimulate more plant development with row covers. Row covers work against you they cause the plant to produce too many crowns and ultimately flowers. As a rule, if I see a plant with 5-6 inch diameter on the plastic at Thanksgiving, I am quite satisfied -- this is what I refer to as a nicely balanced plant. If I see plants that are 8-9 inches in diameter, then I know to hit the brakes! Row covers will force even more plant development and I have seen situations where row covers can cause so much branch crown development that the flower numbers per plant are truly excessive. When bloom counts on Chandler get above 80 in the spring, you're in trouble. Ideally we would control plant development well enough so that you would not get in excess of 60 berries per plant and many growers would much prefer a plant with around 45-50 fruits (better berry size). At Thanksgiving time it has been my experience that the 6 inch diameter plant on the plastic is just about right.

So, to summarize this discussion on when to cover up:

1. Look at plant development in late Nov (Thanksgiving) and determine if your plant size is small (3-4 inch dia), medium (5-7 inch), or larger (8 inches and higher)

2. If the plant size is small, then you would want to apply rows covers earlier than later. If the plants are in the right range of around 6 inches, then the main idea is to simply offer "cold protection" as needed. If the plants are relatively hardy in mid- December, then you are will want to protect the crop from temperatures in the mid-teens and lower as they may not be hardy below this level. But, if the temperatures are not threatening, then there is no hurry to cover. In this advisory I have indicated that with temperatures in Gibsonville heading into upper teens in the middle of the week next week, I would probably then plan to cover by next Tuesday (12/22). At Clayton, we are not going to worry about low 20s. When covers are applied in late December in Piedmont, Foothills and Mountains, it is customary to leave the covers on for about the next 5-7 weeks (unless we get a Jan. thaw of some kind). I do not like to leave covers on too late into the winter. Ideally, you would get them off again in late winter to keep the plants in more of dormant condition (usually 2nd week in Feb in Raleigh area). I generally don't recommend that covers be left on through early March (when you begin to see new blossoms in this area). With larger plants (e.g. 8 inches and higher), you need to be extremely careful with Chandler - it can become a "beast" by next spring and your pickers are not going to like picking all that small fruit. Thus, with larger plants at this time of year you need to use the covers strictly for protection against extremes in temperatures and then try not to leave the covers on for any extended period.

3. Row cover weight - we still stick to 1.5 oz covers for the Mountains and 1 to 1.2 oz for the piedmont and sandhills. In eastern NC we do not use row covers for extended periods - just for protection against serious freezes. By the way we have seen some excellent yield benefits associated with pulling covers in mid-December at the Upper Mountain Research Station in Laurel Springs. We seem to get the best overall yields and fruit size with 1.5 oz covers pulled in mid-Dec vs. mid-Nov, or mid-Jan., in this colder location (3,000 ft elevation). It is interesting that last year we did a Camarosa trial in Salisbury, NC with 1 oz covers pulled in mid-Nov, mid-Dec and mid-Jan, and there was no difference! We are repeating that trial again at Salisbury in 2009-2010.

4. Chandler can grow too aggressively in winter under covers, and so if you already have large plants now, watch out! With the more cold sensitive Camarosa, the practice by growers in the Piedmont has been to pull covers even in early November. We have a lot more to learn about with managing Camarosa with row covers in colder regions, and I look forward to the data set that will be coming out of the Salisbury (Piedmont) research station next spring to give us some better guidance on row cover timing and duration with this variety (we also have different weight covers in this study).

I'll be back with some actual photos from Clayton in an advisory this Sunday. Please email your questions. For the next few days I will be traveling (again) and the cell number is best.

Have a good weekend!

Barclay Poling"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chef's Think Local is Hot in 2010 (again!)

The results are in from the annual National Restaurant Association survey of American Culinary Federation member chefs. The results are a comprehensive culinary forecast including a menu trends prediction report. More than 1,800 professional chefs ranked nearly 215 culinary items as a "hot trend," "yesterday’s news," or "perennial favorite" on restaurant menus in 2010.

The results are exciting!

Ranking in the Top 20 Trends are:
#1 Locally Grown Produce, #2 Locally Sourced Meats and Seafood, #3 Sustainability, #10 Sustainable Seafood, #12 Organic Produce and #20 Fruit/Vegetable Children's Side Items.

View the entire What's Hot in 2010 Chef Survey.

If you are looking to market your produce to restaurants this survey is a valuable guide!

Some of the specific items on the list of What's Hot Produce are:
#1 Locally grown produce, #3 Organic produce, #5 Micro-veggies/micro-greens, #6 Heirloom tomatoes, #7 Specialty potatoes, #8 Fresh herbs, #11 Root vegetables, #12 Fresh beans, #15 Ramps (a WNC Local Favorite!) and #17 Jerusalem artichokes. Just to name a few.

Last year's list was had many similar items. View my post from last year and the What's Hot in 2009 Chef Survey here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

ASAPs 2010 Family Farm Tour

Farmers: Are you interested in participating in the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project's (ASAP) 2010 Family Farm tour?

The Family Farm Tour will take place on June 26-27 here in WNC. The tour application is available online at the following link:

Family Farm Tour Application

Applications are due by January 15, 2010. Early application will be helpful for scheduling farm visits especially for applicants who have not participated in the past.

Questions may be directed to Mike at

Monday, November 30, 2009

New OMRI Approved fungicide

Many WNC producers battled this year with foliar diseases on their vegetable crops. Because of our wet season, we not only had trouble with bacterial spots on our peppers and tomatoes and downy mildew on cucurbits, but also the dreaded late blight on tomatoes.

There is a new material that organic and conventional growers can add to their toolbox for control of some of theses problems.

Marrone, Bio Innovations has just received their Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) registration for Regalia. Regalia is a bio fungicide made from an extract of Reynoutria sachalinensis, giant knotweed. Regalia activates the internal defense system of the host plant that prevents the growth of some foliar pathogens, such as powdery mildews, gray molds and even some bacterial pathogens. You can read the press release from Marrone here.

Disclaimer: Because this material is so new, I don't know if Regalia has been tested at NCSU efficacy trials or how well it will work for us here in WNC.

Has anyone tried Regalia, yet?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fee Waivers Available!: SSAWG Conference

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group's (commonly known as SSAWG) "Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms" conference is coming up January 20-23, 2010 in Chattanooga, TN!

If you or someone you know is a current or future farmer who could benefit from atttending the
SSAWG conference on a fee waiver, please visit for information on how to apply.

I was lucky to attend this conference this past January and had an awesome time. Chattanooga is a great place for this conference. It is a very walkable town with a lot of interesting things to see and do.

The SSAWG conference is an invigorating and informative conference that brings together farmers, researchers, students and advocates of sustainable agriculture. A truly remarkable experience for all who attend.

Here are some comments from folks that have attended this event (from the SSAWG Conference webpage):

“Good practical info with real examples delivered by people with real experience.”

“I learned a ton about many different aspects in profiting off a farm operation.”

“Most useful thing was the affirmation and validation from others like myself. Renewed confidence in my initial decision to farm.”

I hope to see you there!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sustainable AgricultureConference in Black Mountain!

We are so lucky this year to have the Carolina Farm Stewardship's 24th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference (CFSA-SAC) in WNC! Last year I had an outstanding time at CFSA-SAC! Read about my experience here and here.

The CFSA conference registration deadline is Nov. 25. Don't delay!

Only six days to go to sign up at the pre-conference rate for CFSA's 24th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Black Mountain, NC. Dec. 4 to 6. Register today! (

Time is running out to reserve your place at this year’s conference. Day-of registration rates are 20% higher-- if any spots are open. Don’t miss this chance to lock in to the biggest sustainable agriculture conference in our region.

Besides a wide array of skill-building and policy workshops and panels, this is the premier opportunity to network with Carolina sustainable farmers and foodies --- and in a relaxed retreat setting. It has never been more important for us to get together as a movement, meet each other and pool our efforts. Don't miss this special weekend event. Come join us in the beautiful mountains to move the farm and food movement forward!

Already registered? Spread the word to others, bring a friend, and help this community grow.

Full workshop descriptions and speaker bios are at our website: The conference site, Blue Ridge Assembly ( is a majestic, historic retreat center with miles of hiking trails aside mountain creeks to peaks as high as 4,375 feet! On-site lodging is affordable and includes cabins, quads and rooms. We have yoga and breakfast each morning, and, of course, an all local and organic menu.

Lodging and food packages, farm tours and the children's program still have openings, but could sell out soon. Contact us if you have any questions, 919 542 2402.

We look forward to seeing you there!

P.S.: We are pleased to announce that Tim LaSalle from the Rodale Institute will be speaking on a Saturday morning panel, as well as at the Saturday keynote.

***An exciting event just in from Debbie Hamrick***

If you direct market your agricultural products through farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, on-farm stands, or are just interested in farmers markets, then you are invited to a Listening Session to be held at Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference on Saturday December 5 in Black Mountain, NC. The Listening Session will be from 3:30-4:40 pm in the Blue Ridge Center Chapel.

The 2009 Farm to Fork Summit Direct Marketing Working Issues Team identified their main “game changer” as “Develop a NC Direct Marketing Network - a structured network whose mission is to enhance existing local efforts and encourage new innovations in direct marketing across the state.” To see all of the ideas from the Direct Marketing WIT and other Farm to Fork Summit WITs, go to:

Do we need such a network? What are the potential benefits? What is the process for developing a direct marketing network and who should be involved? North Carolina enjoys a national reputation for its strong direct market farmers and as interest in buying local continues to increase dramatically, now is the time to examine how we can all work together to everyone’s benefit.

For more information, contact the Direct Marketing WIT facilitator, Debbie Hamrick, or Cell: (919) 302-9538.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hops Informational Meeting November 18

Come learn about the challenges and opportunities of growing hops, an exciting and new crop for Western NC!

Topics to be covered include:
  • Site Selection
  • Soil Fertility Requirements
  • Trellising Systems
  • Weed Management
  • Disease and Insect Management
  • Economics and Budgets
Current hops growers will be present to discuss their experiences!

When?: Wednesday November 18 from 1—5 pm
Where?: Camp New Life at the Mountain Research Station, Waynesville, NC
How much?: Meeting fee is $5. Payment accepted at the door.

Please RSVP to the Haywood County Extension Office:
Phone: 828-456-3575 or E-mail: or

Friday, November 6, 2009

Physiological, Nutritional and Other Disorders of Tomato Fruit

Tomatoes with 'rain check', due to excessive rainfall.

Tomato producers face challenges every year. Some of these problems are pests and diseases, but some are related to nutrient deficiencies, some are caused by environmental conditions or genetic variations and some are physiological in nature.

The publication "Physiological, Nutritional, and Other Disorders of Tomato Fruit" by Dr. Stephen M. Olson of the University of Florida is an excellent resource. Dr. Olson describes these problems and gives possible causes or explanations for them, as well as possible control measures. The publication has some great pictures!

(Heather, I know you're reading this. You must be very proud!)

Asparagus Disease

Recently, an organic asparagus grower brought in some diseased ferns. The grower was going to mow off the ferns and burn them, but wanted to identify the problem first to make sure that was the correct thing to do and to minimize problems next year.

It wasn't hard to find the reddish, circular lesions on the stems and discolored needles.

Lesion on asparagus stem.

Discoloration of asparagus fern.

Some of the lesion were older and inside of them, dark black fungal structures were present.

My initial thought was that it had to be either Cercospora blight(Cercospora asparagi) or Purple Spot (Stemphylium vesicarium). The NCSU factsheet on Commercial Asparagus Production mentioned Cercospora blight as a problem in NC, but did not mention Purple Spot.

After looking under the scope, I didn't find any spores that looked like the ones produced by Stemphylium vesicarium, but I did see some other, very elongated spores that almost looked like leaf hairs. Sorry I didn't take a picture, but here is a link to another Cercospora species' spores.

After doing a little more research I found an APSnet Feature Article on Economically Important Asparagus Diseases in the United States. This article stated that Cercospora blight and Purple Spot are easily confused, so I decided to send it into the NCSU Plant Disease and Insect Clinic.

During the next few days, the lesions got larger and coalesced.

Luckily for me, Dr. Averre, whose pictures were included in the above article, was available to do the diagnosis! He identified that the problem was, in fact, Cercospora blight.

There are no known sources of resistance to Cercospora blight, though Jersey Gem does have tolerance to Cercospora. As a result, management must include an integrated approach of sanitation and fungicide applications. Fall removal or burial of the year's fern residue can delay the onset of disease development. This was just what the grower was going to do! Heavily infected ferns should be removed.

Cultural management techniques that reduces leaf wetness are very important for the management of Cercospora blight. These techniques include:
  • Using drip or furrow irrigation to decrease leaf moisture. If overhead irrigation must be used, it should be scheduled so that the foliage has time to dry before nightfall.
  • Increasing row spacing. This will improve air circulation within the planting.
  • Plant asaparagus in areas with good air movement to encourage leaf drying.
To learn more about asparagus production in NC, review the horticulture leaflet Commercial Asparagus Production.

Also, Oklahoma State University has a nice factsheet on Cercospora blight of asparagus.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Free Workshop: Sustainable Agriculture with Joel Salatin

Interested in organic gardening or pursuing a career in sustainable agriculture? The Western Piedmont Community College (WPCC) Sustainable Agriculture Program and Burke County Cooperative Extension will host a workshop entitled “Entrepreneur’s Guide to Success in Sustainable Agriculture with Joel Salatin”.

Events will include a panel discussion, farm projects tour, exhibits by area organizations involved in sustainable agriculture and a presentation by Joel Salatin.

Salatin is the owner/operator of Polyface Farms in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A third generation alternative farmer, Salatin
carries his message of environmentally sustainable farming practices to audiences nationwide. Salatin’s farming methods have been profiled in the film Food, Inc. and in the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by investigative journalist Michael Pollan. Salatin has written several books about farming including You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise.

This free workshop will be held on Monday, November 16 from 1-5 P.M. at the Burke County Cooperative Extension Office in Morganton.

Registration is from noon to 1 P.M. and space is limited, so be sure and arrive early. For more information about this event or if you or your organization would like to have a free exhibitors table, please contact Chip Hope at or 828 448-3554 or Donna Teasley at or 828 439-4460.

This event is being held in conjunction with WPCC’s Fall Speakers Forum. This year, the theme is “Food for Thought: Reinventing Our Food System for a Healthier World”. Speakers on international food issues will appear at Western Piedmont’s Leviton Auditorium from Monday, November 16 through Thursday, November 19. Joel Salatin, author and food activist Anna LappĂ© and Joel Bourne of National Geographic will speak at 7:15 on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings respectively. Chip Hope, Coordinator of WPCC’s Sustainable Agriculture Program, will speak on Wednesday, November 18 at noon. For more information about the forum, contact Mary Charlotte Safford at or 448-3539.

**All events are free and open to the public. Sign Language Interpreters will be at each event. Western Piedmont complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and will make every effort to honor reasonable requests made by individuals with qualifying disabilities. Accommodations must be requested three (3) business days in advance of school events or activities through the Disability Access Office in room 103 Hildebrand Hall or call 828.448.3153.**

Monday, November 2, 2009

Biochar Webinar Nov. 3

Well, it seems like webinars are all the rage these days! Here is another one:

Webinar: Introduction to Biochar

November 3, 2009
12 – 1pm ET
The webinar will address the questions of:

– What is biochar?
– How can it be used for soil amendment and carbon reduction?
– What are the opportunities for agriculture and forestry?

Presentations will be given by:

Julie Major
Agriculture Extension Director
International Biochar Initiative


Joseph James
Founder and President
Agri-Tech Producers

The webinar is free, but pre-registration is required. To register, visit:

For more info about the webinar, visit the NC Altenative Crops and Organics Blog.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Getting Started in Farm-Scale Biodiesel Production Webinar

Are you interested in making your farm even more sustainable by producing your own biodiesel?

The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) will host "Getting Started in Farm-Scale Biodiesel Production" webinar on November 5. The webinar will begin at 11 a.m MST (I am pretty sure this will be 1 pm EST- correct me if I'm wrong!) and will last for 60 minutes.

The presenters for the webinar are Al Kurki and Rich Dana, biodiesel specialists with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

The presenters will present the basics of biodiesel production and show home brewers the precautions to take to avoid potential problems associated with poor-quality fuel.

Other topics to be presented include:

  • The advantages and disadvantages of biodiesel;
  • The chemistry of biodiesel and step-by-step instructions to make your own fuel;
  • Types, prices and trade-offs of biodiesel processors and equipment;
  • Oilseed production and processing; and
  • Examples of farmers and ranchers making their own fuel.

Please register in advance at

Strawberry Plugs Needed

This in from Dr. Barclay Poling:

Dear Growers and Agents,

I was contacted earlier today by Mark Seitz (Area Specialized Agent, Jones County), who has a strawberry producer needing several thousand plugs of Camarosa or Chandler (for replant).

Mark's contact information: (please call or email Mark and he will get you in touch with the grower)

work: 252-448-9621
mobile: 252-670-9836
work fax: 252-448-1243

If you have any leads, please get in touch with Mark.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Important: Postively I.D. the Insects on Your Farm

This week in my Transitioning/Beginning Organic Production class we talked about insects. We had 2 great presenters. First up was Diane Almond from Honey Bees and Heather Farm in Fletcher. Diane discussed pollinators and the importance of maintaining pollinator habitats on your farm or garden. Diane's talk had me on the edge of my seat!

Second up was Amanda Stone, agriculture agent in Buncombe County who works with the Green Industry. Amanda's presentation included, not only a peek into her insect collection, but insect management techniques in organic systems, which includes increasing biodiversity, employing cultural methods and mechanical means and finally the use of OMRI-approved materials. One aspect of Amanda's discussion was the importance of scouting. Scouting for insects, mites and disease problems is the foundation for Integrated Pest Management or IPM. Scouting for insects on your farm lets you know what is on your crops, when they arrive, how many are present and if there has been changes in severity of infestation, and will help you to decide whether or not to take action.

Interestingly, this week a grower sent me some pictures of a "worm" he found in his Napa Cabbage. Because I had never seen this before, we sent the images to the NCSU Plant Disease and Insect Clinic. We got results just a day or so later!

Syrphid fly maggot (larva) found on Napa Cabbage. Photo courtesy of Michael Porterfield.

Syrphid fly maggot (larva) found on Napa Cabbage. Photo courtesy of Michael Porterfield.

The entomologist at NCSU informed us that it was the larva of a syrphid fly (some call these hover flies or flower flies - check our Debbie Roos photo an adult and some other incredible photos of syrphid flies and larvae).

The syrphid fly is actually a good guy, a beneficial insect, in the farm or garden! When syphids are present, you can just about guarantee there are aphids present as well. Syrphid larvae can do a remarkable job of cleaning up low aphid populations. Each larva can consume up to 400 aphids during their development!

Syrphid fly larvae do not cause damage to the plant. Syrphid fly larvae may cause a problem if they are present on your crops at the time of sale. At the point of sale, essentially all insects are considered "insect contamination". For folks selling directly to consumers, education may be the key to overcoming this notion. For growers who are not selling directly, know the level of contamination that your market will tolerate.

It was a great thing that the grower was scouting his fields! As a result, the grower was able to positively identify the larvae and decide whether or not to take action. We also learned more about biocontrol on the farm and syrphid fly and aphid relationships.

Please take the time to scout your fields as often as possible, you will learn a lot about your crops!

**Special thanks to Dr. Mark Abney for doing a bang up job identifying the syrphid fly and to Michael Porterfield for taking these great images!**

Monday, October 5, 2009

Farm City Day 2009 a Success!

The first Saturday in October marks Farm City Day, an annual event started in 1955 by the NC Cooperative Extension Service and Kiwanis International to raise awareness of the dependence of farm people and city people on one another for products and services essential to modern living. Farm City Day was designed to create a mutual understanding of farm and city life and to encourage cooperation and exchange of ideas between the two groups with the goal of creating appreciation and good will.

The weather was beautiful again this year! As a result there was a great crowd of people that came out to Jackson Park to take part in the festivities. This year our Henderson County Cooperative Extension office decided to reward the children that visited all of our informational booths. They received a card listing activities and after they completed each the activities they received a stamp. After gaining all of the stamps, the kids were entered into a drawing for some great prizes.

The NC Cooperative Extension Activity Card that the kids had to complete to be eligible to win a prize.

For my activity, I wanted the kids to learn about science and agriculture. To make this effective, I decided that the kids needed to get their hands dirty. So, I had each of them plant a pumpkin seed. I know it is late in the season to be planting pumpkins, but that isn't the point. Plus, I made it clear that they needed to have their seedling survive throughout the winter and transplant it into the garden next spring. I know what you're thinking, "Fat chance". But, maybe a few will actually do it.

My Farm City Day Booth. Teaching kids about agriculture in Henderson County.

The soil the kids used to plant their pumpkin seed and a description of how a seed grows into a plant.

I made the kids reach into the pumpkin to get their seed. One little girl said matter-of-factly, "that is the most perfect place for those pumpkin seeds."

This little boy was very proud of his pumpkin seed.

Overall, 96 kids planted a pumpkin seed!

Some of the most memorable comments I received from the kids about planting a seed included my first visitor, a little boy, who was very hesitant to get into the soil. He told his mother, "I don't want to get my hands dirty". Well... farming is not for everyone.

Another classic comment was from a little boy that was attending with his dad. After planting his seed he said, "I really like this, Dad". I thought that was just too sweet.

I also had a small pumpkin and gourd patch that I let the kids enjoy. They really like the small sized pumpkins and the pumpkins with the "goosebumps".

A father and daughter enjoy the pumpkins. I love how this little girl is holding her pumpkin seed in one hand as she plays with the pumpkin with the other!

Oh, I forgot to mention my praying mantis! I was lucky to catch it on Thursday. It was clinging to the side of the office and I had to get it to show off to the kids at Farm City Day. They loved it!

I took the opportunity with the praying mantis to teach the kids about beneficial insects.

One of the most exiting things was when we caught a large katydid and put it in the praying mantis's cage. She must have been hungry because within a few seconds she caught the kaydid and started eating.

Starting, of course, with the head!

She methodically devoured the katydid. Ripping one leg off at a time to suck out the contents and then crunch on.

Sounds gruesome, but the kids really enjoyed this! I was surprised to hear about all the people that have seen praying mantises this Fall.

Overall, it was a great day! Thanks to my co-workers who made the NC Cooperative Extension activity cards a hit.

A special thanks to the Farm City Day organizers for another successful year!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Haywood County Fair

The Haywood County Fair began this week in Waynesville. The fair features carnival rides, camel rides, square dancing, live, local music, tractor pulls, local craft exhibits, livestock shows, bingo and more!

This year I was involved with the fruit, vegetable and horticultural competition. I was impressed with the entries, especially this late in the season and after all of the rain we have been experiencing. Jim, a fair volunteer who has been involved for many years, has been keeping track of the number of entries in the vegetable and plant and flower competition. Jim calculated that vegetable entries were down more than 11% and flower and plant entries were down more than 21% from last year!

Still, the entries were outstanding and it was very hard for the judges to decide on winners.

This year the top prizes in the vegetable competition went to...

Blue Rosette: Hardneck garlic

Red Rosette: Herb bouquet with basil, sage, rosemary, parsley and more

White Rosette: Potatoes

Some honorable mentions were beautiful pink tomatoes (no pic- sorry!),

Oxheart carrot,

Braided carrots,

A fingerling potato shaped like a puffin,

American chestnuts,

and a 1-pound apple!

In the Plant and Flower competition the top prizes went to...

Blue Rosette: A perfect lavender rose, with not a spot of black spot!

Red Rosette: Angel Wing Begonia

White Rosette: A stunning Wildflower Basket

Some honorable mentions in this category were:

A festive vegetable arrangement,

and a gorgeous Dahlia Basket!

The Haywood County Fair runs from Sept 29 - Oct 4. Go check out the fun!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Downy Mildew: Hops

Hops are a new crop to western North Carolina. As with all new crops, it is going to take some time to figure the ins and outs of hops production. We are learning from our current hops growers about when and how to harvest, yield per bine, how to dry the hops cones, what varieties work well for WNC and how to control mites, leafhoppers and other pests.

In addition, as you all know, WNC is very humid and sometimes wet! As a result, we struggle with the control of plant diseases. Hops are no exception. Upon my last visit to the hops yard, I found some leaves exhibiting symptoms that had me concerned. I had discovered what I initially thought was downy mildew, caused by the fungal-like organism, Pseudoperonospora humuli, on some lower hops leaves.

Downy mildew causes angular lesions, bound by leaf veins.
Note: the large circular lesion is not caused by downy mildew

Underside of leaf infected by P. humuli

Underside of leaf infected by P. humuli

Upon inspection using my hand lens, I was able to confirm that there was downy mildew sporangia emerging on the underside of the leaf surface. Because I love learning about plant diseases, I had to take a closer look using a dissecting microscope (about 20-45x magnification).

The fuzzy growth of P. humuli on the underside of the leaf surface.

Sporangia (spores) and sporangiophores of P. humuli on underside of hops leaf.

Sporangia (spores) and sporangiophores of P. humuli on underside of hops leaf. You can really see the football/lemon shaped spores at this magnification.

After the dissecting microscope, I had to take a closer look at the sporangia and sporangiophores using the light microscope. Check out these beautiful pictures of P. humuli up close and personal (200-600x magnification)!

Football/lemon shaped sporangia and dichotomously branched sporangiophores (note the pointy ends upon which the sporangia are borne).

Another picture of the sporangia and sponrangiophores of P. humuli.

P. humuli sporangia. Note the small raised bump at one end of the sporangia. This is the papilla and is characteristic and diagnostic of this pathogen.

Strategies for the Management of Hops Downy Mildew

To manage downy mildew of hops it will take an integrative approach using some or all of the following strategies.
  • Host Resistance. One of the most effective management strategies for hops downy mildew is to plant resistant varieties. There is no variety that is immune to downy mildew, but 'Fuggle', 'Cascade', 'Newport' and 'US Tettnang' are resistant. 'Centennial', 'Willamette', 'Chinook', 'Liberty', 'Cascade', 'Bullion' and 'Brewer's Gold' are tolerant. 'Late Cluster', 'Galena', 'Horizon' and 'Nugget' are susceptible. Interestingly, many of the varieties that are resistant to downy mildew are susceptible to powdery mildew and vice versa. For a complete listing of varieties inlcuding disease susceptibility, pedigree and chemical characteristic, see the Compendium of Hop Diseases and Pests edited by Walter Mahaffee, Sarah Pethybridge and David Gent. This book is a must have for a hops producer!
  • Disease Free Stock. It is always important to purchase disease free plant stock! Ask your supplier.
  • Pruning. P. humuli overwinters in dormant crowns and buds of hops. During the winter and spring, P. humuli may spread into developing buds and cause the new shoots to be systemically infected. Pruning helps to reduce downy mildew levels in already infected plantings. Pruning hops yards as late as possible in the spring can help to reduce the amount of downy mildew in the yard, however if you do it too late you may reduce yield by dealying training.
  • Manage Moisture. Moisture on the leaves favors disease development, so using practices that reduce leaf moisture will also help to manage the disease. Avoid overhead irrigation.
  • Reduce Inoculum. Stripping diseased leaves after training may help reduce disease in the upper plant canopy.
  • Early Harvest. Early harvest may be beneficial in minimizing cone infection. Downy mildew favors the cool, wet weather that occurs late season in WNC.
  • Timely Fungicide Application. Many hops growers rely on fungicide use for downy mildew control. Because P. humuli produces so many spores (progeny), it is impoprtant to employ tactics to prevent fungicide resistance. To read more about fungicides for the management of downy mildew of hops visit Oregon State Extension's Factsheet. Some organic fungicides include copper products and Sonata (Bacillus pumulis strain QST 2808).
If you suspect you have downy mildew in your hops yard. Let me know, I will do my best to help you confirm it and come up with a strategy for control.

I would like to thank Dr. Kelly Ivors and Landis and Dreama for letting me use their awesome microscopes and camera to take these incredible pictures!!

Monday, September 21, 2009


Radial cracking of tomato due to excess rain

We have been experiencing some very rainy weather conditions in WNC for the past few days. Some places are reporting better than 8 inches of rain just in the past 3 days!

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued flood warnings to Henderson, Polk and Transylvania Counties on Sunday night. This afternoon the NWS issued another flood warning until 5:30 pm to Transylvania, western Henderson, Haywood, Buncombe, Swain, Madison and Jackson Counties in WNC.

Some considerations that are important to make during heavy rains are:

1. Equipment. Please make sure that if there is heavy rain or the possibility of flooding 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. Also, don't forget to move port-o-johns! You don't want yours floating down the river!

2. Flooding and flood contaminated produce. 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.

Hopefully you have purchased Noninsured Crop Disaster assistance Program (NAP) insurance. If your crop had been flooded and you have NAP insurance, please contact your local Farm Service Agency for assistance.

Here is a document from the Food Science Dept. at NCSU that talks about flooded crops:

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Beginning/Transitioning to Organics Course

NC Cooperative Extension is presenting a new and exciting course this fall!

Beginning/Transitioning to Commercial Organic Production, begins on Tuesday 22 Sept (the first day of Autumn!). This is a nine-week course that will be held on Tuesday evenings from 5:30 - 8 pm at the Buncombe County Cooperative Extension office in Asheville.

The topics to be covered include:
  • Intro to organics and organic production in NC (with Dr. Jeanine Davis)
  • Soil fertility and management in organic systems
  • Crop rotation and cover crop design
  • Weed management
  • Insect management
  • Disease management
  • Post-harvest handling and food safety
  • Marketing (with Megan Ray from ASAP)
  • Certification paperwork and Q & A (with Tony Kleese of the Earthwise Company in Wake Forest, NC and Eastern Carolina Organics)
The fee for the entire nine-week course in only $25, which covers the fee for an extensive, informational notebook.

To register or for more information, contact me at

I look forward to seeing you all there!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ingles Wants to Buy Local, Organic Produce!

Ingles Market and NC Cooperative Extension Service would like to invite you to an informational meeting regarding how and why to sell your produce to Ingles. The meeting will be held on Friday September 18 from 2 – 4 pm at the Haywood County Cooperative Extension Office located on 589 Raccoon Rd. in Waynesville, NC (located across from the Mountain Research Station).

Representatives from Appalachian Harvest, Albert’s Organics and Ingles Market will discuss exciting marketing opportunities for producers interested in the commercial production of organic produce. Though this meeting will focus on marketing and selling commercial organic produce, representatives will also discuss opportunities for selling conventional produce.

Speakers include:

Robin Robbins- Sales & Marketing Manager for Appalachian Harvest

George Borzilleri- Senior National Account Manager for Albert’s Organics

Brent Biddix- Senior Organic Produce Buyer for Ingles Markets

Jim Ray- V.P. Ingles Markets/ Produce Department

This is an exciting opportunity for growers who are interested in expanding their markets and selling produce to Ingles!

If you plan to attend, please call the Haywood County Cooperative Extension Office at 828.456.3575.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Organic Production Training

I am in Chapel Hill (hold your groans Wolfpack) for an advanced organic production training for extension agents. This is a unique program that has brought together agents and educators from Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and North Carolina with the goal of creating a network of agriculture professionals with expertise in organic production. The training is funded by a Southern SARE grant that was put together by Dr. Elena Garcia (U. Arkansas), Dr. Jeanine Davis (NC State) and specialists at Clemson and Auburn.

On Tuesday, we spent time in the classroom learning about the following topics:
  • A brief overview of organic certification, including National Organic Program Standards, transition time and the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) - Taught by Tony Kleese of the Earthwise Company in Wake Forest, NC
  • How to answer questions about controlling disease and insect problems organically - Taught by Debbie Roos, agriculture agent in Chatham County, NC and creator of the Growing Small Farms website, which many of us use regularly (I know I do!)
  • How to help a grower design a crop, cover crop, and crop rotation plan - Taught by Richard Boylan, area specialized agent in Watauga and Ashe Counties, NC
  • Successful extension programs in organics, with examples from Debbie and Richard
The topics and speakers were outstanding! Debbie and Richard are great examples of successful agents with successful programs. They are inspiring and energizing. It was great to hear about these agents' programs and to get ideas for programs we can do in WNC.

Today we spent all day touring farms in Chatham County and learning from successful, sustainable growers about their techniques and opinions.

The first farm we visited was Timberwood Organics in Efland.

Here we met Ray Christopher, an impressive and experienced farmer who was happy to see us, but definitely had his mind on surfing.

Ray showed us his chard production...

Lettuce transplant production...

Bok choy production...

and squash production, which was remarkably disease free for a fall planting.

Next, we were off to Peregrine Farm in Graham, NC. An intensive vegetable and cut flower operation, which utilizes high tunnels.

Here we met the man, the legend, Alex Hitt and his equally impressive wife, Betsy. These two are rock stars in the world of organic production. They have been growing for more than 25 years and are extremely knowledgeable and excellent teachers. Below Alex is explaining his motto of "Farm Smarter Not Harder" and the interesting structure of Peregrine Farm, which started as a corporation funded by members of the community. Today, Alex and Betsy are the sole shareholders of Peregrine Farm and have diverse marketing avenues including local tailgate markets, Weaver St. Market, and local restaurants.

Here we saw Zinnias and other cut flowers. I learned about the soldier beetle, seen below. Debbie taught me that soldier beetle adults feed on soft-bodied insects like aphids and the soldier bug larvae feeds on grasshopper eggs. Cool!

The Hitts have a passive solar greenhouse where they start better than 250,000 transplants per year!

Alex explained that the insect balance on Peregrine Farm is amazing.
He also stated that other than a few foliar diseases on tomato and Zinnias, one of the biggest disease problems they struggle with is Southern Stem Blight (Sclerotium rolfsii) on tomato and pepper. To control it, sanitation is key. Diseased plants are culled as early and carefully as possible and burned. Irrigation is buried deeply in areas with problems in order to discourage water from the area where mycelium is actively growing. This helps to retard fungal growth and discourage the spread of the fungus.

Alex also described weed management on Peregrine Farms. He stressed that weed management really is crop dependent. Here are some of the techniques they use:
  1. Dense planting, to shade out weeds. Ex. lettuce is grown on 3 rows/bed and cultivated only once
  2. Landscaping mulch,
  3. No-till,
  4. Mowing,
  5. Cultivation and wheel hoeing, and
  6. Flame weeding (beets and flowers that take a long time to germinate)
Here is peppers grown using no-till.

Finally, Alex showed us his coolers. He stressed that no matter how great a job you do prior to harvest, if you do not handle that produce properly post-harvest, all of your hard work was wasted. They have 2 coolers, one for cool season flowers and vegetables (32 degrees F) and one for warmer season crops (45-50 degrees F).

Read more about Peregrine Farm at Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group's website.

Next, we moved onto Benjamin Vineyards in Graham, NC.

Here we met Nancy Zeman, who treated us to wine samples...

and her husband Andy who showed us around the vineyard where they practice "sustainable winegrowing".

It was a great treat to taste the different varieties of muscadines, especially coming from WNC where muscadines are harder to find.

Next, we were off to Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) in Pittsboro, where they have a Sustainable Agriculture Program (2 year associates degree, 1 year certificate or continuing education classes). At CCCC we met the Land Lab (student farm) manager, Hillary, a graduate of the program. Hillary explained that they have 1 acre in production that is split into 8 production blocks.

About half f the blocks are in produce and the other half are in cover crops. Below is some buckwheat.

Hillary was particularly proud of the tomatoes that she was cultivating from suckers. Her third generation planted in the high tunnel. She explained that she simply took suckers a few inches in length, stripped any flowers, placed them in a vase with willow cuttings (known to have rooting properties) and in 7-10 days she had plants ready to be transplanted. Very impressive!

We got to see the BCS rototiller and hand tools that are used on the farm. All the beds were made by hand. Tony Kleese explained that the BCS is a great/essential tool for small scale (less than 2 acres) agriculture. It has a PTO shaft and you can easily mount other equipment on it, like a mower.

The CCCC Land Lab was truly an impressive site. The farm is expanding to twice its size in the next year. There are also plans to make the program even more holistic, bringing in a culinary program and new crops, like southern apple varieties and other perennial crops. They even have a pizza oven!

Our final stop for the day was at Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO) where Sandy Kronik and Todd Dunke explained how they market and distribute organically grown produce in the Carolinas. ECO is farmer owned; 80% of the sales go back to the farmers!

At ECO products are pooled from diverse growing regions throughout the Carolinas in order to meet a demand for a steady stream of high-quality, seasonal produce year round.

As you can tell, it was a busy day. But, I certainly learned a great deal - much more than I could fit here!

One of the most impressive things about today was that every farmer we met was not only focused on organic and sustainable production practices and high-quality produce, but also on a high-quality of life. Each grower stressed the importance of taking time to take care of themselves, because, afterall their hard work and energy must also be sustainable.

Special thanks to all the farmers, agents and specialists involved in this training.

If you want to learn more about organic production of vegetables, please consider taking the Transitioning to Organics nine-week course this fall starting on 22 Sept.