February 15, 2000
Compiled by Vern Grubinger, University of Vermont Extension
(802) 257-7967 or

(notes from a presentation by Paul Arnold at the Vermont Farm Show Vegetable and Berry Growers Meeting)

Paul and Sandy Arnold grow 6 acres of highly diversified organic vegetables, tree fruits and berries in Argyle, NY, about 30 miles northeast of Saratoga Springs. They direct market all their crops at farmers' markets and adhere to organic practices but are not certified. The frost-free period on their farm is approximately May 31-Sept. 21. Over the past several years they have shifted from the matted row system to the annual bed system of strawberry production, patterned after the California plasticulture system. They now fall-plant 1200 strawberry plugs which produce strawberries for harvest the following spring. Plugs are ordered in early spring and scheduled to be delivered and planted on or about September 6th. They have tried planting earlier, but plugs set out in August start to produce runners instead of forming multiple crowns. It is the latter that make the plants end up like small bushes with consistently large fruit that are easy to find and pick compared to a matted row.

Before planting, raised beds are formed 4 feet apart using hiller disks,  then a thick layer of weed-free chopped hay or straw is put down over the entire area. This mulch helps to suppress weeds, conserve moisture, and add organic matter. They find the best row spacing is 12 inches on a staggered double row with the rows being 8-10" apart. They hand-plant directly into the organic mulch. They don't use plastic mulch, even though the experts say it is necessary for success with this system. No soil fertility amendments except compost are needed on their farm due to the high levels of soil organic matter and nutrients. Fall irrigation is essential during dry conditions to establish the plugs and give optimum growth for formation of multiple crowns.

When night temperatures start to go down into the 40's, a floating row cover is applied over the field and left on until it's time to apply straw for winter protection in late November. Then they remove the row covers and apply 4 tons/acre of clean straw, which assures they do not import rye or weed seeds. In March, when the straw is no longer frozen to the plants, it is raked into the walking paths by hand and the row cover is re-applied. Plants tend to flower about a week earlier in this system compared to matted rows, so it is important to check for blossoms weekly in April. The rowcover is taken off at 10% bloom.  They use overhead irrigation or multiple layers of row covers to protect the blossoms from frost. Picking is also about a week ahead of the matted rows.

Their average yield over the past 4 years using the variety Chandler has been 13,500 lb/acre, but new varieties with higher yields are being offered each year. In addition to excellent yields, the annual bed system allows a spring and/or summer crop (or cover crop) to be grown in the field prior to planting strawberries, unlike with matted rows. After harvesting, the strawberries are turned under and a late season crop can be planted in the very rich soil after the mulch has decomposed. The Arnolds also find that the annual bed system avoids problems with gray mold that they had with matted rows. This system also eliminates blossom picking and summer weeding. The Arnolds are happy to reply to email inquiries ( but please, no phone calls. They say "we are glad to help and advise even though we're not experts!" Strawberry plugs are available from: Jersey Asparagus Farm (800-499-0013), and also from Davon Crest Farm (800-207-9862). Group orders may be advisable to save on shipping costs.

The December 1999 issue of HortIdeas reports on Brazilian research that shows cows milk to be an effective control for powdery mildew on summer squash (Crop Production, 18(8), Sept. 1999,  489-492). In most cases sprays containing at least 10% or more milk applied twice a week were at least as effective as conventional fungicide sprays in reducing the percent of zucchini leaf area infected by powdery mildew in a greenhouse severely contaminated with the disease. In 5 different experiments when plants were sprayed with plain water, 32 to 69% of the leaf area was infected compared to 1 to 30% when a 10% milk solution was applied. When sprays containing 30% or 50% milk were applied, the area of powdery mildew infection was even further reduced, but an innocuous mold was seen on plants. As an edible product, I assume that milk is exempt from pesticide regulations, but check with the Ag. Dept. before trying this commercially.

(adapted from an article by Carol A. Miles, Washington State Extension)
Bacterial leaf spot of peppers, bacterial canker of tomatoes and black rot on brassicas have unfortunately become common place vegetable diseases.  Due to the rapid progress of these diseases, they can be quite devastating to the crops they attack.  Generally, these diseases are seed-borne.  Although seed companies inspect and treat for diseases, bacterial diseases are very hard to control because the preventative treatments are generally surface treatments (applied to the seed coat) and the disease is often within the seed.

Recent research has shown that a simple hot-water treatment can eliminate many bacterial diseases.  The hot-water procedure is more effective than chemical applications and cheaper too.  When buying seeds and plants, look for hot-water treated material.  If none is available, you can conduct the treatment procedure yourself.  The key to the hot-water treatment is keeping the temperature exact throughout the procedure.  Therefore an accurate thermometer is essential.  Raising the temperature only a few degrees can greatly reduce seed germination.  Also, it will be necessary to constantly stir the water bath to keep it at a uniform temperature. Ideally, a stirring hot plate should be used.  However, a good wooden spoon and a diligent hand can accomplish the same task.  Just keep stirring!

Recommended hot-water treatments for bacterial diseases: Tomato seed: 122 degrees F for 25 minutes, or 125 F for 20 minutes. Pepper, cabbage and Brussels sprouts: 122 F for 25 minutes. Cauliflower and broccoli: 122 F for 20 minutes. Recent experiments at University of Massachusetts showed that treating tomatoes at 125 F for 30 minutes resulted in as much as a 59% reduction in germination.  So temperature and timing are critical.  If you are treating a large volume of seed for the first time, you may want to do a test run and germinate the hot-water treated seed to make sure you are comfortable with the procedure.  Be fore-warned, once you have conducted a hot-water treatment, the seed company's liability and guarantees will be null and void.

Some tips for following the hot-water procedure are: Place the seed in a cloth bag (a piece of cloth will do, tied securely), and add a sinker, such as a bolt.  Bring a half-filled pot of water to the appropriate temperature, and submerge the seed. Keep the water stirred to avoid hot spots
Keep a constant eye on the temperature, and if it gets too high, add a little cold water to bring it down quickly. Thus, keep a flask of cold water at hand. Thermometers, 0-220 F scale, are available for $6.83 ea., cat. #14-983-15B, from Fisher Scientific, 711 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15219, 1-800-766-7000.

There will be an all-day meeting on March 4, in Boscawen NH just north of Concord. For program info give me a call or contact Chip Hardy at (603) 465-2241 or

March 30-31, 2000, Holiday Inn, Marlboro, MA  508-481-3000. Registration: $98.00 for Thursday, $49.00 for  Friday. Deadline: March 22. Register by email to or call:  Kathleen M. Carroll at (413) 545-0895. Thursday, 9 am: ‘Products Used to Manage Weeds in the Landscape', John Ahrens, Weed Scientist Retired, Connecticut Experiment Station. 1 pm: ‘Products Used to Manage Insects in the Landscape' Dr. Mike Raupp, University of Maryland. Friday, 9am: ‘Products Used to Manage Diseases in the Landscape' Dr. George Hudler, Cornell University.

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program of USDA published these color bulletins in 1999.  All are available on the web in .html and as Adobe Acrobat files (.pdf). See or give me a call and I'll mail you a hard copy.

‘Diversify Crops to Boost Profits and Stewardship'This 12-page bulletin helps farmers and agricultural educators begin thinking about how to diversify with new cash crops, cover crops and agroforestry. The publication features factors to consider before diversifying, specific diversification strategies and expert sources of information.

‘Reap New Profits: Marketing Strategies for Farmers and Ranchers'. This bulletin offers snapshots of  alternatives to marketing commodities through conventional channels, and includes practical tips on how to get started in alternative marketing enterprises, peppered with numerous examples of people using such strategies in the field. The bulletin describes how to break into farmers markets, establish pick-your-own operations and farm stands, begin entertainment farming, open a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, join or start a cooperative, sell to restaurants or through mail order and the Internet. It also lays out ways to direct-market meat and process and add value to farm products.

‘Put Your Ideas to the Test:  How to Conduct Research on Your Farm or Ranch.' Farmers and ranchers seeking to cut production costs or improve stewardship of natural resources often experiment with new methods. Designing and carrying out simple research tests in a more organized fashion, however, can provide reliable, valuable answers to production questions. This bulletin describes how to conduct research at the farm level, with practical tips for both crop
and livestock producers as well as a comprehensive list of more in-depth resources.