VERMONT VEGETABLE AND BERRY NEWS - September 1, 2001
Compiled by Vern Grubinger, University of Vermont Extension
(802) 257-7967 ext. 13 or vernon.grubinger@uvm.edu
www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry

REPORTS FROM THE FIELD (as of Aug.28 )

(Brandon) To control blackbirds in my sweet corn Iíve tried guns with scare bombs, guns with shot, and machine distress calls. Not very effective this season. Ironically, worst damage was right next to the bird machine. Maybe there is a correlation between this and the younger generations of humans enjoying heavy metal. Otherwise, crops have been decent, with enough corn to go around. Couldn't make it to twilight meetings this season, as we were busy moving pipe around.  The transplanted acres of sweet corn were quite successful this year, both in yield and quality.

(Putney) Blueberries are fantastic, we trickle irrigated, which wasnít all the cause of it, itís a good blueberry year all around- not the biggest crop but quality is excellent, berries staying firm and nice, and prices are good too (thatís what makes a good crop!). Had a bumper crop of raspberries, going through picking every other day kept quality high. Pick Your Own was really  strong this year, aided by the combination of good weather and crop quality. Strawberries were also really good this year - we trickled all our small fruit acreage this year and it makes all the difference. Right now we are trickling fall raspberries and renovated strawberry beds. Trickle is great when you have PYO, because you donít have to overhead irrigate at night and lengthen the wetting period. We are picking the Paula Red apples every other day to get all the color and the largest we can get. They are just great in size color firmness. I sound like an optimist for once.

(S.Royalton) Still very dry, we received an inch of rain Aug. 20 which was the first rain of any help since the beginning  of July, and we have resorted to using our wash water to water some crops where feasible. Despite of the lack of rain well established crops have done well. The onions sized up very well due to early waterings, field peppers are ripening to assorted colors and melons coming on strong; at least the early and late varieties aren't all ripening at once. Insect pressure has been low a few squash bugs starting in summer squash and zucchini and Mexican bean beetles starting to appear.

(Norwich) We havenít had any rain - virtually nothing for 2 months. Been waiting to get winter rye and vetch planted in fallow fields but itís too dusty. Crops that are irrigated are doing OK. Fortunately we have the Connecticut river, because even our large pond is down several feet. Irrigating is sapping labor from everything else, so weíre behind on cultivating, fall planting and many small things that should be getting done. Where we have drip it is a labor saver. All my melons collapsed within 2 days, not sure why. The pumpkin crop looks good, even where it didnít get any water; most are now ripe. Outdoor tomatoes just starting to ripen. Weíre about to plant Chandler strawberry plugs we bought in, also made some plugs from our own Jewels. Have had a terrible time with carrot rust fly - over 50% loss. The corn has been good, no ear worms and very little corn borer.

(E. Hardwick) This is the driest season weíve had in 13 years here. Fields that are away from the river have very small squash and cabbage, the plants wilt every afternoon. Other than that, great season, lots of heat and lots of sunshine. Weíve had 5 or 6 spells above 90 degrees - we had none last year. Our neighbors tell us the river is lower than itís ever been. Been picking outdoor tomatoes since the first of August. Zuke, cuke crops are tremendous, and the markets are good. Potatoes grew well because they had water in early July; they  went down in mid-August to early blight, but the size is tremendous. The onion crop is huge this year because of the heat. Seems like less clubroot on crucifers than we usually get. Flea beetles havenít been bad, cabbage worms controlled with B.t., early carrot flavor is good.. Deer and moose are out of the woods and damage has been tremendous. We had a touch of  frost last weekend, on the driest fields has some damage to basil and the tops of melons. Grain is good and dry and easy to combine.

(Argyle NY) Back to irrigating but with a little less enthusiasm. Most crops are looking good as we head into the fall season. Getting control of a few places with weeds is our big concern for now as a few fall workers seem to be finding us now that the summer help is gone.  No real insect problems except tarnished plant bug and very little disease due to the dry weather.

VEGETABLE RESEARCH AND TEACHING AT THE UVM HORT. FARM
S. Burlington, VT, Thursday September 13th, 2 to 5 pm

There has been renewed activity in the area of vegetable research and teaching at UVM during the past few years. Come see some of the experiments that a recent addition to the Plant and Soil Science faculty is conducting.  Dr. Buddy Tignor and his graduate student, Nate Sands, will discuss heirloom tomato cultivar trials and alternative cover crop research utilizing potatoes as a model crop.  Additionally, student farmers that operate the Common Ground Educational Farm will explain this experiential learning opportunity that provides hands-on experience for undergraduates, as well as 3 tons of produce for the Chittenden County Emergency Food Shelf and the Salvation Army in 2000. The UVM Horticultural Research Center also has resources such as the Cary Award Collection of outstanding landscape plants for New England.

Directions: Take Exit 13 from Interstate I-89 onto I-189 West. Turn left (south) on Shelburne Road (U.S. Route 7) and go 1 and ½ mile south. Turn left at the traffic light onto Green Mountain Drive after the state highway sign indicating the UVM Hort Farm. Travel 1/3 miles on Green Mountain Drive and turn right onto the Horticultural Research Center access road. Questions? Contact Buddy Tignor at Milton.Tignor@uvm.edu or (802) 656-0466.

USDA FORMS FRUIT AND VEGETABLE ADVISORY COMMITTEE
(From Great Lakes Vegetable Grower News)

The USDA has formed a Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee to examine the full spectrum of issues facing the fruit and vegetable industry and how the agency can tailor its service to the industry. Nominations to be considered should be forwarded to the Deputy Administrator of USDA's - Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Fruit and Vegetable Programs. All nominations should be received by Sept. 20, 2001. Industry members will be appointed by the secretary of agriculture and serve two-year terms.

SPECIALTY CROP BLOCK GRANTS

The U.S. recently approved an agriculture economic assistance package that includes $169 million in specialty crop aid.  The specialty crop block grants will be provided for growers through a state system allocating funding based on specialty crop production. Funding will be distributed to state departments of agriculture for distribution to specialty crop growers. Vermont is slated to receive $120,000, according to an article in The Vegetable Growers News.

PUMPKIN AND WINTER SQUASH HARVEST AND STORAGE (from UMass Extension)

Pumpkins in many fields are starting to turn orange.  If the current warm sunny weather continues, more and more fruit will color up in the next few weeks, well before peak market demand.  Pumpkins may need to be held for several weeks before they can be marketed.  There can be extra work involved in bringing fruit in early, especially for growers who normally have pick-your-own harvest, but we recommend that growers harvest as soon as the crop is mature and store under proper conditions, if it is feasible.

Attention to curing and handling will go a long way toward improving the life of winter squash and pumpkin fruit.  In fields where pumpkins are turning orange, it is worthwhile to cut and windrow the pumpkins and bring them in out of the field.  This will allow the handles to cure and will protect fruit from insects, vertebrate pests, and diseases. Pumpkins are not marketable if the handle is broken off or dried up. If you need to leave pumpkins in field for pick-your-own, cut the handles from the vine to save them from advancing powdery mildew and reduce shrinkage.

As long as pumpkins are starting to turn color, they will ripen off the vine.  If necessary, pumpkins can be ripened in a well ventilated barn or greenhouse.  The best temperatures for ripening are in the seventies or even low eighties during the day.  Night temperatures should not drop below the sixties.  In a greenhouse, temperature can be managed with ventilation on sunny days.  Unless it is quite cool, heat is not likely to be needed if the house is closed up at night.

Often it is not feasible to harvest pumpkins early and store them until they can be marketed, and so they must be Ďstoredí in the field.  If vines are healthy, storage in the field can be successful for a few weeks.  If the vines die back, damage to the fruit from sun and insects is more likely.  In any case, it is important to scout for insects feeding on the fruit, which may include squash bug nymphs or adults, or striped cucumber beetle. Control them if damage is evident. In fields that have a history of Phytophthora blight, Fusarium fruit rot, or black rot, field storage may increase the incidence of these problems, particularly if we have a period of wet weather or a major storm.  This has been one of the causes of significant losses in recent years, and one reason that we recommend bringing fruit in as soon as it is mature.

Winter squash is also maturing in some fields.  Fruit that are free from disease and haven't been subject to much chilling (below 50 degrees ) should be selected for long-term storage.  Sorting fruit in this manner requires extra labor and may not be economical, but it should not be too difficult to separate bins of squash according to good and poor fields or areas of fields.  Fruit from fields where Phythophthora is present are not the best choice for storage.

Storage life depends on the condition of the crop when it comes in and your ability to provide careful handling and a proper storage environment. All fruit placed in storage should be free of disease, decay, insects, and unhealed wounds. When harvesting squash and pumpkins, it is important to handle the fruit with care to avoid bruising or cutting the skin.  Despite its tough appearance, squash and pumpkin fruit are easily damaged.  The rind is the fruit's only source of protection.  Once that rind is bruised or punctured, decay organisms will invade and quickly break it down. Place fruit gently on pallets or in pallet boxes.
A period of curing can contribute to storage life. This may be done in windrows in the field -- especially with a series of  warm, dry days -- or by placing squash in a warm dry atmosphere (70- 80 degrees) such as a greenhouse for up to two weeks. This pre-storage treatment permits rapid drying of the outer cell layers, and when combined with a dry atmosphere for storage inhibits infections that can take place at this time.  Removal of the stem from squash (butternut, Hubbard, etc.) will also decrease the amount of fruit spoilage because the stems frequently puncture adjacent fruit, facilitating infection.  Furthermore, any clean cuts during the curing period often heal over and are no longer a source for injury or infection.

Take care to avoid subjecting squash to chilling injury.  Chilling hours accumulate when squash is exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees in the field and in storage.  Injury increases as temperature decreases and/or length of chilling time increases. Chilling injury is of particular concern with squash intended for storage because it increases the likelihood of breakdown. After curing, move squash or pumpkins to a dry, well-ventilated storage area. Pressure bruises can also reduce storage life, so avoid rough handling, tight packing, or piling fruit too high.  Fruit temperature is kept as near to the temperature of the air as possible to avoid condensation which can lead to rot.   Ideally, the storage environment should be kept at 50-55 degrees with a relative humidity of 50-70 percent.  Low relative humidity increases water loss, resulting in reduced weight, and if excessive, shriveling of fruit.  High relative humidity provides a favorable environment for fungal and bacterial decay organisms. Under the right conditions, sound disease-free pumpkins or squash fruit should have a storage life of 8-12 weeks or more. Even if it is difficult to provide ideal conditions, storage in a shady, dry location, with fruit off the ground or the floor, is preferable to leaving fruit out in the field.

As you plan for storage and marketing, keep in mind that the market for pumpkins seems to get earlier every year.   Fall decorative displays include pumpkins, and those displays begin showing up as Labor Day approaches.  One of the best solutions to early-maturing pumpkins may be finding an early market.