Vermont Vegetable and Berry News – March 15, 2006
Compiled by Vern Grubinger, University of Vermont Extension
(802) 257-7967 ext.13,
(adapted from UMaine Extension)
Dormant pruning of raspberries is best done in late winter or early spring. The first step is to remove canes that have emerged outside of the 18-inch row width. Do not leave stubs when removing canes. Maintaining narrow rows assures adequate light and air inside the canopy, promoting healthy growth and minimizing fruit and cane diseases. Next, remove all the old canes that fruited the previous summer; they have gray peeling bark, and won’t fruit again. Then, remove small, spindly canes and any canes with signs of insect or disease injury. Leave only the most vigorous canes with the greatest height and diameter. Ideally there will be 4 to 5 canes per foot of row, but in my experience sometimes the strong canes are not uniformly distributed. I think it is more important to leave the strongest canes than it is to leave exactly 4 or 5 canes per row foot. Be sure to remove all pruned-out canes from the field because they may harbor pests.
The USDA’ s new Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) will make grants on a competitive basis to farmers market councils, farm coops, non-profit groups, and others involved in direct marketing from producers to consumers. The FMPP is designed to increase the profitability of small and mid-sized farms, improve consumer access to quality food, and support local food systems by developing, improving or expanding domestic farmers' markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture programs, internet sales, and other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities. FMPP funding will be available to cooperatives, local governments, nonprofit corporations (many farmer's market associations are non-profit entities), public benefit corporations, economic development corporations, regional farmer’s market authorities, and tribal governments. The limit for each proposal is $75,000.  Instructions on how to apply are in the FMPP guidelines at:  Applications must be sent to AMS no later than May 1. For more information contact: Errol R. Bragg, AMS/USDA, (202) 720-8317; E-mail:
Laura Sorkin, Cave Moose Farm
Many vegetable farmers rely on plastic mulch to control weeds, warm the soil and retain nutrients. Some biodegradable mulches have been introduced as alternatives to plastic but little has been written comparing them. This study, funded by a NE-SARE farmer/grower grant, compared crop yields and cost of 3 mulch materials: black plastic, a cellulose-based biodegradable film called Agrofilm, and paper mulch. There were 3 different plots randomly placed in a 6 acre field of clay-loam soil amended with compost and an average pH of 6.5. Each plot had 3 adjacent rows: black plastic, Agrofilm, and Kraft Paper. Plot one and two were planted May 20.  Plot one consisted of Expert and Baby Pam pumpkin.  Plot two had Bush Delicata and Metro butternut winter squash.  Plot three was planted June 3 with Festival watermelon. Transplants were used in all plots. A mix of ½ cup Pro-gro and greensand was added to each planting hole and overhead irrigation was provided. One application of liquid fish and seaweed fertilizer was made.
The plastic mulch cost $73 for a 4’ x 2000’ roll, the BioBag Agrofilm cost $335 for a 4’ x 4000’ roll, and the paper cost $200 for a 4’ x 1500’ roll (all with shipping). Including labor at $20/hr for laying the mulch, and disposal fee of $15/cu yd (for plastic only), the total cost per foot of using the mulches was about 19 cents for Agrofilm, 21 cents for plastic, and 35 cents for paper. Although the Agrofilm was more expensive to buy, it avoided the labor to remove the plastic as well as disposal fees, so total cost was similar to plastic. The total per-foot cost of the paper was much higher because it was expensive to buy and it took much longer to lay since it tore easily using the mulch layer. We had to remove the rear discs that were designed to throw dirt over the edges and instead hoe dirt by hand to tuck it in.
Yield was measured as pounds of fruit per $ of mulch cost, and this varied by crop. Pumpkins: 2.71 lb/$ plastic, 3.19 lb/$ Agrofilm, and 0 lb/$ paper. Winter squash 2.98 lb/$ plastic, 1.78 lb/$ Agrofilm, and 0 lb/ $ paper. Watermelon: 11.16 lb/$ plastic, 6.2 lb/$ Agrofilm, and 0.8 lb/$ paper. The paper mulch in several plots tore just a few days after laying and no effort was made to weed these rows; consequently there was zero yield. We do not recommend the paper mulch.
The results are less clear for yields from plastic and Agrofilm. Plastic yield was slightly better than Agrofilm yield with pumpkins, but plastic yield was almost twice as high with both winter squash and watermelon. It is possible that the plastic retained more heat which resulted in larger fruit in some crops. For farmers looking for a cost-effective alternative to plastic mulch, the Agrofilm may be a good option for some crops such as winter squash. The Agrofilm began to degrade in mid-July and was nearly disintegrated by September, by which time it had eliminated weeds below, most likely from heat and smothering, and weeds were not a problem for the remainder of the season. We simply tilled the remnant crop under and were able to spend time on other fall chores.  We plan to use the biodegradable mulch for squash and possibly flowers next year, but we will continue to use the plastic for our melon crops.
These two guides include extensive updates of pest management information and many handy reference charts. By now you should have received a copy, if you ordered one as part of your Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association membership. If not, please contact Doug Johnstone at or (802) 885-3083. Copies of either guide are available from my office for $15 including postage, payable to UVM. You can also order a copy of the proceedings of the 2005 New England Vegetable and Fruit conference, which contains over 100 articles, for the same price.
UMaine Extension compared 16 tomato varieties for yield, quality and disease tolerance in 2005. The trial included indeterminate field varieties: Jet Star, Supersonic, Ultrasonic, First Lay II, Big Beef, Lady Red, Ultraboy, Better Boy and Brilliante, as well as the greenhouse varieties Boa, Cobra, Buffalo, Trust and Geronimo. Transplants were set into raised beds covered with black plastic in the tunnels on May 15. Plants were fertilized, pruned to single stems and trellised. In general the field varieties had higher yields than the greenhouse varieties. Jet Star had the greatest yield of premium fruit and total marketable fruit. Brilliante had the second highest yield of premium quality fruit, but was in the middle of the pack for total marketable fruit. A panel of at least 25 people rated Better Boy as best tasting; Trust had the lowest taste rating. Overall, the researchers ranked Jet Star, Brilliante and then Cobra as top picks based on yield, fruit quality, disease, and sensory evaluations. Trust, Ultrasonic and Betterboy had the lowest overall rankings. Call or e-mail me for a full copy of the report.

William Gillies Cleland IV passed away at home in West Hartford on March 3, 2006. He faced his battle with cancer with great courage and grace. Born November 6, 1942 in North Plainfield NJ, Bill discovered Vermont at an early age. After spending summers here he realized that Vermont was a special place and it became his home. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1964 and attended graduate school at Antioch in 1968. Then, while making a livelihood and acquiring skills as a mechanic, carpenter, and truck driver, Bill came to appreciate the heart and soul of Vermont from many Vermont farmers he met.  Their wisdom, kindness, and humanity inspired Bill to become a farmer. After moving to his farm in West Hartford, Bill married Jinny Hardy in 1979. They divorced in 2001. Together they founded Tanyard Farm, a working family farm. Bill strongly promoted and supported organic farming and family farms. He was part of Vermont Quality Meats, Deep Root Cooperative, and the Norwich Farmers Market. He delighted in working with and teaching young people, including more than 100 farm apprentices over the years. After he became paralyzed in 2004, Bill continued Tanyard Farm with the help of a dedicated apprentice. Bill and his zest for life will be missed.