MESSAGE FROM THE ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT, David Marchant, River Berry
While spring struggles to gain a foothold here in northern Vermont, I would like to touch on a couple of topics. The first is that I am excited about serving as President of the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association (VVBGA). If you are reading this and are not a member I encourage you to join. There are many benefits of membership, including an Agriview subscription, the New England Extension vegetable and small fruit recommendations, the American Vegetable and Fruit Grower, free website advertising and lots of valuable production information at our twilight and annual meetings.
Second, fill out your Census of Agriculture Survey, it’s not too late! We are trying to get more recognition and access to support and funding. The more surveys that are filled out, the better represented we are. Our produce industry is growing significantly and we want to be able to show the legislature that we are a 30 to 40 million dollar industry and not a side note to the rest of agriculture. This year we are becoming involved at the legislature. Nancy Christopher of Lakeside Berry Farm is keeping us informed on bills that are of interest to our members. Nancy used to be a state representative, so she knows her way around Montpelier. We will be meeting with the new administration so that they better understand our industry and our needs.
Third, we are continuing our advertising campaign with Vermont Public Radio. If you are interested in advertising your farm business on VPR, fill out the forms that were sent to you or contact our treasurer Doug Johnstone, 677 Skitchewaug Trail, Springfield VT 05156. Our organization will also be advertising with an emphasis on buying Fresh Vermont Produce.
Finally, check out the VVBGA website (click on link to ‘Association of Growers’ at www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry). Here you can read about all the benefits of membership, obtain an application form, and read about member farms and their products. These free web listings are a great way to let the public know about your farm business. Lets hope for lots of warmth, plenty of sunshine, and ample rain this season!
REPORTS FROM THE FIELD (as of April 14)
(Brandon) Last remnants of the late snows melted with the recent warmth. Sunshine giving all greenhouse crops a much needed boost. Now seeding our first sweet corn plugs, with a goal for transplanting into the field at end of April. Labor greatly reduced using a simple drop seeder constructed of two pieces of Lexan (prototype from plywood worked well, but figured moisture would get to it) and a wooden frame to hold the seeder above a plug tray ...for trays needing two seeds per cell we are using a 3/8" thick top sheet with 7/16" holes drilled with whatever cell pattern is being used . For single seed cells we use a 1/4" top sheet with the same 7/16" holes. The irregularities of corn seed prevent this from being as consistent as with a pelleted lettuce, but for corn we are seeking a general population per acre, and this method works fine for that purpose. We place this top sheet over a second sheet drilled with a slightly larger hole size to accommodate any inconsistencies in drilling. With the two trays slightly offset, seed can be dropped en masse onto the seeder unit and the extras brushed off. Slid back to their matching pattern, the corn drops into the cells. We had in the past been filling162-cell trays by hand at a rate of about 6 per hour. The drop seeder allows one person to do about 30 trays per hour.
(Starksboro) I expect to start plowing April 14. We will also uncover the strawberries. I have noticed that the winter rye that I planted on the last acceptable date last fall (Oct. 15) has not wintered as well as usual. I imagine that’s because it got so cold right after Halloween. It looks like we should get some of the spinach that we had to forfeit
(Plainfield NH) After receiving 18 inches of snow the first week of April the ground is finally getting bare. We removed a small amount of strawberry mulch on April 12, but fields still too soft to start any serious field work. Greenhouses progressing as normal although the propane bill this year has us hyperventilating. Experiencing more soil fungal problems this year, probably as a result of not being able to get the ventilation and watering correct – the last two weeks have been pretty gray here.
(W. Rutland) Back to business. Snow on all fields is now down to 6 inches. Greenhouse work continues and I am going through a lot of wood for heating this year. Still better than burning that propane or Arabian crude. Speaking of that you see those oils fields a burning on the TV? That fire could heat my greenhouses for a bunch of years. I bet it will be May 1 before my fields are workable. Guess a dry year is followed by the wet, can anybody hear bugs, and disease coming?
(Grand Isle) Ice has left the farm pond and the edges around the lake are melting. It looks like we will be raking mulch off the strawberries, sweet william and spinach about 2 to 3 weeks later than last year. All the greenhouse plants are looking good. Fortunately the furnaces kept going on those many cold nights. We are excited to start a new year. It is heartening that restaurants have called to see when the asparagus should be up. We are guessing by mid May.
(Chittenden) Snow and mud will slow me down outside, but the hoop house lets me control the weather. Beefsteak and Jet Star tomatoes are planted in the ground in the hoop house and a great selection of Asian greens, vegetables, and flowers, in seed trays line available space. Soon the house will be full.
(St. George) It hasn't snowed in days.Ground starting to dry out from the deepest mud season in memory. Another long spring making us appreciate our automated wood heat system for the greenhouses that saves cash and provides an excuse to do some timber stand improvement.
(Little Compton RI) Peas are in the ground about a week. Round two by April 16th. Peach trees looking good after the most stressful winter in their history. Got my peach leaf curl spray on in time by March 18th. There is a wild scrubby brush that grows around here called "shad tree". After years of looking at calenders and sticking thermometer into the soil and always worrying if I was late or early. I have come to rely on the shad tree to give me my best indication of soil temperature -- when the buds swell it time to spray the peaches and plant peas.
A little aside on green sprouting potatoes. Jim Gerritsen of Wood Praire Farm in Maine gave me an update on his latest findings. He now starts green spouting about four weeks before field planting. Week one, get your potatoes up to 70 or 75 degrees in ‘Euro’ crates or any container that has slits in the sides to lets light in. The bottoms have to be open or slitted as well. We put the crates in a greenhouse tomato house. The goal is to break dormancy and allow the secondary sprouts NOT just the king sprouts to get started. This is important for overall production per hill. The next step, week two, is more difficult because now you must somehow lower the temperature to 50 to 55 degrees without sacrificing light or humidity. This must be done for the next three weeks! We are thinking of setting up some old flourescent lights in a insulated garage. If near planting time and you’re not ready you can postpone things a bit by lowering temperatures to mid 40s. Another good rule of thumb is to have your spuds the same temperature as the soil when they go in the ground. And also don't cut your seed piece until just before planting and certainly not way at the beginning of the green spouting process.
SUMMARY OF MAINE MELON TRIALS
(adapted from an article by David Handley and Mark Hutton, UMaine Extension)
Ten melon varieties were evaluated in 2002. Transplants were set out June 10 into black plastic on raised beds with drip. It was a hot and dry year and all varieties did well except Minerva which had very low yield. The varieties (with comments) are listed in order here from highest to lowest total yield. Starsweet (attractive shape, deep suture, course netting, soft flesh, bland). Athena (slightly oblong, green tint to rind, medium netting, little suture, bland flavor). Eclipse (variable netting, no suture, great interior color, poor flavor). Starfire (fair suture, course netting, soft flesh, musky, good flavor). Starship (similar to Starfire, not as sutured, good flesh color, good flavor). Fastbreak (round to oval, similar to Earliqueen, soft flesh, good flavor). RML 8793 (large fruit, medium course netting, light suture, large cavity, pale flesh). Earliqueen (oval, deep suture, small cavity, good flavor). Sugar Bowl (slightly oblong, deep suture, great flavor and flesh color, small cavity). Minerva (large and late). Earliqueen and Fastbreak were the earliest and are good choices for the early market but they pick out early. Starfire was the next earliest. Starsweet was one of the most attractive melons but with soft flesh and bland flavor. SugarBowl had the highest brix reading.
SOIL IS A MELTING POT OF MICROBES
(adapted from the one and only Tomato Magazine)
Healthy agricultural soils typically contain between 10 million and 1 billion organisms per gram of soil. That means there’s a lot of metabolic activity going on in the soil. In other words, your soil is alive. There are six “functional groups” of organisms in the soil: heterotrophic (aerobic) bacteria, anaerobic bacteria, yeasts and molds, actinomycetes, pseudomonads, and nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The heterotrophic bacteria is a large group in most soils; these microbes utilize at least one carbon source and also use oxygen. The anaerobic bacteria do not require oxygen, and although they have a bad reputation because they can generate bad odors they play an important role in certain micro-environments. The yeasts and molds, or fungi, are important to the development of soil structure. While bacteria can be thought of as the glue that sticks soil particles together, fungi act as the ‘rebar’ to reinforce soil aggregates. Actinomycetes are a type of bacteria that are responsible for the ‘earthy’ smell of soil. They make many positive contributions to soil fertility by helping to form crumb structure and by producing antibiotics to help protect territory from ‘bad’ microbes. The pseudomonads are ‘nutritional acrobats’ producing an array of enzymes that help break down complex compounds into nutrients that are available to plants. Nitrogen-fixers can take N from the air in the soil and change it into a form that crops can use. They are much like the microbes inside legume root nodules, except they’re ‘naked’. While we have been very good at providing N,P,K for crop growth, too often we forget the important roles that microbes play in soil fertility!
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