REPORTS FROM THE FIELD (as of April 10)
(Killington) The hoop house is on, all new dirt and compost mixture has been brought in this year. Tomato plants are planted in this mixture and look good. Seedlings from the heated garage, where I use florescent lights, will be moved to the hoop house next. Lettuce in 4 inch pots is ready for 8 inch pots and will be ready for someone's kitchen May first. Lots of outside clean up to do due to last fall's wet weather.
(W. Rutland) It’s been wet and cold, I burnt a serious load of wood and am glad I cut a big load more in reserve. Sure feel bad for those who are burning oil or propane. Luckily the garlic has not sprouted with the warm weather in March.
(Plainfield NH) We just finished pruning blues, uncovering matted row strawberries. Strawberries look OK, with decent amount of green tissue surviving the winter. Berries on plastic and floating row cover don’t look quite as good, with more dead leaves. Land is drying out, will spread manure and do some primary tillage later this week of April 10th. Greenhouse activities are keeping us very busy; aphids are our biggest problem this year (so far). Rises in fuel costs and plastic will make pricing tricky this year, balancing our margins with what the public will be willing to pay. First two tomato greenhouses have plants in the ground (pot culture) that are about to start blooming.
(Stamford) Things are just beginning to green up around here. Still way too early for me to do any field work. All of the seeds for our ever widening selection of eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes have been sown, starting April 1. New selections this year include a round "Kyoto" eggplant and a purple jalapeno. Plans also include a large choice of edible ornamental peppers for potted plant sales. Interest in heirloom and ethnic varieties continues to grow, and the current high fuel prices have heightened my awareness of alternative energy sources.
(Madison NY) Harvested salad greens from a Feb. 15 hoophouse sewing this week. Voles have been ransacking the spinach. Turnips, pearl onions and carrots still a few weeks away. Got a good chunk of spading done in last week’s dry weather. Strawberries seem to have over wintered well despite the lack of mulch and are now under row cover.
(Little Compton RI) For the first time in 25 years of farming, we are starting off with a mini-drought in early April. We plowed some soils with a fair amount of silt loam (usually very wet and sticky) and were creating a bit of a dust storm. It is an uneasy feeling at best. We took a hard look at the Haygrove Tunnels at the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference in December. The head salesman said they would hold up in 50 mile an hour gusts. Having been through that this week and seeing and feeling it rattle our well-built quonset houses, I am more incredulous than before. After many years of trying tomato grafting we finally figured out the detail we were missing. We got a hold of some high clear 10 x 20 inch domes and went from 40% success rate to 95%. The domes provided an evenness of moisture and heat retention we just couldn't replicate in our mini-bench greenhouse using misters to boot. The devil is in the deals when it comes to tomato grafting.
(Kinderhook NY) This is the earliest we have been able to plow up even some of our wettest land. It was a good opportunity to get an early start with some deep tillage followed by the planting of our cover crops. It was also warm for the time of the year and we all got a nice tan on our faces.
(Argyle NY) We continued with 2 local winter markets all winter, so it doesn't seem like the season had a complete stopping, but it added a new dimension to the farming lifestyle. Markets are getting stronger each week, with more hoop-house greens available, fresh-dug parsnips, and continuation of root cellar crops. With the dry weather, we chiseled all the fields, got our first seedings in the ground on April 1st for peas, carrots, beets, radishes, etc, and are working on cover crops for areas that won't be used for a while. With no rain in the forecast, we may even have to start up irrigation this week! Greenhouse crops look great and the new radiant heated benches in there are in full use for the first time and we're amazed at the low propane usage. Love those daffodils!
A VIDEO ON GRAFTING GREENHOUSE TOMATOES
I recently made a 20 minute video featuring Mike Collins of Old Athens Farm explaining how and why he grafts greenhouse tomatoes. Mike has 15 years experience with grafting, and he grafts about two thousand plants a year. In the video he demonstrates both side grafting and top grafting, and he explains how to establish plants with two leaders in order to manage the extra vigor that results from putting a variety like Buffalo onto a rootstock like Maxifort. This video is not professionally produced but it gets the info across. To order a copy (available on CD only at this time) send $10, payable to University of Vermont, to me at: UVM Extension, 11 University Way, Brattleboro VT 05301-3669.
COMMENTS ON CONSUMER TOMATO PREFERENCES
(Fred Forsburg, Honeyhill Farm)
After reading the tomato variety report that you sent me from Maine, I’d say these data and that of others tomatoes may be significantly affected by growing conditions, soil, etc. Jet Star is one of our old favorites but we replaced that with Pink Beauty, a variety that was so far down the list in the Maine trials that its taste test results were not revealed! Beyond that we never have unmarketable fruit from Pink Beauty; it lives up to its name. It was the only tomato that stood up to our wet conditions in 2004 when all others failed. Additionally during our trials this past summer our extension agent could not tell the difference in the flavor between Pink Beauty and Prudens Purple (considered by many to be the best) and neither could we. Thus, we consider Pink Beauty our Farm’s favorite hybrid. We will grow more than 15 heirlooms this year also. We too have taste tests at the market. There is a man I call Dumper Don. He comes and dumps tomatoes at $1 a basket when others are at $2 and me at $3. Sure his tomatoes are beautifully red and perfect spheres but taste like “red bags of water”!! When I see someone running from old Dumper as if they were a thief I offer them a free taste of any tomato we sell. Invariably they leave his tomatoes in our trash and buy ours. Mixing metaphors my old saying is “you cannot judge a tomato by its cover”.
CONTROLLING BACTERIAL CANKER, ETC., IN THE GREENHOUSE
(adapted from Christine Smart, Cornell University)
Bacterial diseases, particularly bacterial canker, have been a significant problem in tomato production in New York over the past three seasons. Control of these diseases (bacterial speck, spot and canker) begins with the production of disease-free transplants. My laboratory has been identifying specific strains of the pathogen over several years, and has seen some locations where the exact same strain of the pathogen appears on a farm two years in a row. Thus, the pathogen may be surviving from year to year on the farm. There are several cultural practices that should be used to eliminate the pathogen.
Before planting, clean and disinfect all greenhouse tables, benches, floors, hoses, flats, containers and anything else that could come into contact with the plants. It is important to do thorough cleaning even if you had no disease last year. Bacteria could still be present in the greenhouse and spread to healthy transplants under optimal environmental conditions. There are many products available for greenhouse cleaning. Many growers use a bleach solution (5 gallons Clorox/100 gallons solution), a hydrogen dioxide solution such as ZeroTol or a quaternary ammonium compound such as Green-Shield.
Seed can be treated to kill seed-borne bacteria. Hot water seed treatment at 122º F for 25 minutes is recommended for tomato seed. Seed can also be treated with a chlorine solution (1 quart Clorox, 4 quarts water, with a half teaspoon surfactant) for 1 minute with continuous stirring. Seed should then be rinsed for 5 minutes in running water.
If possible, use new flats to avoid carrying-over pathogens from the previous season. Use only sterilized soil or potting mix. Keep the greenhouse weed-free. Many pathogens survive on weed hosts and then move to transplants in the greenhouse. Scout greenhouses weekly for any sign of disease. Remove diseased plants immediately. If a diseased plant is identified in a flat, remove the whole flat. Keep foliage as dry as possible. Bacteria love a moist environment. Water in the morning when possible so that foliage may dry during the day. Do not brush or trim wet plants. This will increase the chances of disease spread.
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