Compiled by Vern Grubinger, University of Vermont Extension
(802) 257-7967 ext. 13 or


Members of the Vermont vegetable and berry growers association are eligible to apply for grants of up to $500 to test out new ideas on their farm. To apply, a simple proposal must be submitted to the board of directors prior to their February 15, 2005 meeting. The proposal should describe the project objectives, methods, and include a budget of expenses such as: materials, hired services, phone calls, printing, and other such costs, and up to $100 for the grantee's own labor. Funds for permanent hardware or tools will only be granted at the discretion of the Grant Committee. For more information contact Hank Bissell (802) 453-4591 or


That’s the topic of a new 8-page booklet by Ruth Hazzard and PamWestgate of UMass Extension. The real title is ‘Organic Insect Management in Sweet Corn: Scouting, Thresholds, and Management Methods for key Caterpillar Pests in Sweet Corn.’ The information in this fact sheet was developed through research and field trials over the past ten years, and involves using organic foliar sprays for European corn borer and fall armyworm, and individual ear treatments for control of European corn borer. It also contains practical information on identifying and keeping an eye out for pests, as well as use of Trichogramma parasitic wasps to control European corn borer. Includes 20 color photographs and list of other information resources. Call or e-mail me for a free copy.


This one-day, hands-on workshop takes place on January 5, 6, and 7, 2005, in Manchester ME, Durham NH and Burlington VT, respectively. Those of you that have attended in the past know that this event is always practical and useful. This year the topics are: IPM case study from Europe: how to incorporate biological control with other IPM tools to keep pests below damaging levels; pH management: diagnosing symptoms, the latest testing and managing techniques; Conventional versus biologically-based management: costs/benefits and pros/cons; Grower to grower discussion; and the latest on chemical and biorational pesticides. Registration fee of $50 includes lunch, snack, IPM guide, and a hand lens. Add $5 for parking permit at UVM or UNH. Add $25 more for the latest edition of the 2005-06 New England Greenhouse Floriculture Guide. Make check to UVM Entomology Lab and send by Dec.20th to: Margaret Skinner, 661 Spear St., Burlington VT 05405-0105. Questions? Contact her at:
(802) 656-5440 or

(from Brian Caldwell, NOFA-NY)

Suppose you grow two varieties of garlic: Music and Russian. Music averages 4 cloves per bulb and Russian averages 8 cloves. Say the two varieties have about the same total yield, and are planted at the same spacing, etc. You save your own seed from large bulbs. Then the salable yield for each is reduced by the amount that needs to be set aside for next year's seed. Since you use the larger bulbs for seed, let's say that the salable yield of the Music is 2/3 of the total, and that of the Russian is 5/6. This means that in order to get the same income from an equal area of both of these varieties, you need to charge 25% more per pound for the Music garlic than the Russian--simply because a greater proportion is used for seed. In reality, there may be other variables: you may plant the varieties on different spacings, and they may not give the same total yield. But the proportion of the crop used for seed has a big effect on the price you need to charge, and the profitability of the crop. This effect is even stronger if you buy your garlic seed, since it is usually expensive.

(adapted from UMass Extension)

Growing media represents from 4 to 6% of the costs of production for most potted crops and bedding plants. It is often assumed that costs associated with mixing or purchasing growing media are not worth calculating because growing media is a relatively small expense in relation to larger costs such as labor and energy. In reality, the opposite is true. Many of the managerial and labor problems affecting growers are directly related to mixing and handling growing media. Thus, it is important for growers to determine all the costs associated with preparing your own media or purchasing a commercial mix.

About 1/4 of commercial greenhouse operations in the U.S. mix their own media. Growers who do this have control over the selection of ingredients and the quality of the final product, and they can choose from many media recipes tailored to specific crops, container types, etc. Alternatively, some growers choose to modify a commercial soilless mix by adding ingredients to alter the physical and nutritional properties of the medium, reduce cost, and/or increase consumer satisfaction after sales.

Ingredients are a major cost associated with making your own growing media. Buying the main ingredients such as peat, vermiculite, or compost in bulk quantities can reduce costs. Smaller growers should try to team up with nearby growers if necessary to get ‘truckload’ prices. Additional costs come from supplemental fertilizers, limestone, and/or wetting agents added during the mixing operation. Then, what are your equipment and labor costs for adequately mixing the growing media? Thorough mixing is required for preparing a uniform growing medium, and this operation becomes critical when a few ounces of trace elements are mixed in a cubic yard of growing medium. Will a soil mixer save you money over time? Don’t forget to consider the cost of labor and parts necessary to keep the equipment working properly. Are there extra labor costs associated with handling the medium, i.e., moving and storing the final product, if you make your own mix versus buy it ready made?  Finally, if you make your own mix there will be a cost for having it tested for nutrient content, pH, soluble salts, etc. to assure its quality.

Approximately 75% of greenhouse operations in the United States use a commercially-prepared growing media. There are a number of reasons to purchase rather than prepare your own medium: 1) batch-to-batch consistency of commercial mixes, 2) management and labor have more time to focus on production issues, 3) less money is tied up in equipment and raw materials for media preparation, and,  4) the convenience of purchasing a finished, ready-to-use mix.  The decision of whether to mix your own media or purchase a commercially-formulated mix should be based on an analysis of economic, managerial, and production issues. After calculating all costs, you can make a sound decision on whether to buy or prepare your own mix.


If you make your own mix or use an organic potting mix, it’s a good idea to test it well in advance of using it. But when you send samples to a soil test lab, don't request a regular field soil test, since potting mixes are very unlike soil in the field - they are much higher in organic matter and are also usually much higher in nutrient content. It's better to get a greenhouse soil test that, at a minimum, measures pH, soluble salts (electrical conductivity), and all major elements, including nitrogen in the nitrate and ammonium forms.

A common test for media used in greenhouse production is the saturated media extract (SME) method. Unlike field soil tests that extract nutrients with weak acid solutions, this procedure mixes the sample with distilled water at a standard dilution before it is analyzed. Since different labs may use different dilutions, stick with one lab. The SME test at UVM’s Ag Testing Lab costs $25 and requires a quart of mix. It's a good idea to test your mixes frequently - having results from mixes that perform well can be helpful to compare to tests if you get a mix that doesn't do so well.

'Bioassays' are another way to test the quality of potting mix. Just sow some fast-growing crops in the mix several weeks before you plan to use it. Cress, oats, beans are just a few to consider. Some growers also like to test their mixes with slower-growing crops. Onions can be useful for bioassays as they seem to require a very high quality mix for good germination and growth. It makes sense to include any key crops that you will grow as part of your pre-season bioassay.

 (for web links to more info visit and click on ‘meetings’

January 7, 2005. Hands-On Greenhouse IPM Workshop, Burlington VT. (see info above)

January 11-13. NJ Vegetable Growers Assn. Meeting and Trade Show. Atlantic City, NJ. (609) 985-4382.

January 17-19. Farmers’ Direct Marketing Conference, Syracuse NY. (315) 475-1101

January 26. Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Assn. Farm Show Meeting, Barre VT.
stay tuned for program in next issue....

January 28-30. NOFA-NY Annual Conference. Syracuse NY. (607) 652-NOFA

February 1-3. Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference, Hershey PA. (717) 694-3596

February 12. NOFA-VT Winter Conference, Randolph Center VT. (802) 434-4122

February 14-17. Empire State Fruit and Vegetable Expo, Syracuse NY. (315) 687-5734

February 15. Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Assn. Annual Meeting, Rutland VT.
program in next issue...

February 16-19. North American Berry Conference, Nashville TN. (814) 355-1912