Hydroponic and loco

2021-11-22T18:55:15-05:00December 2, 2021|Grower West|

Along with microgreens, El Loco Coyote Farms grows baby and petite salad greens. Owner Ron Maes has also expanded to peppers, tomatoes and fingerling potatoes. Photo courtesy of Ron Maes

by Aliya Hall

It was Ron Maes’s 25-year background in construction finance that helped motivate him (more…)

Plasticulture strawberries: Autumn and winter management tips

2021-11-22T18:38:07-05:00December 2, 2021|Grower, Grower East, Grower Midwest, Grower West|

by Tamara Scully

As early autumn’s colder weather settles in, strawberry growers utilizing a plasticulture system are busy with fall planting of plugs into raised beds. Depending on climate, the exact timing of planting strawberry plugs each autumn varies, as the berries will need time to establish themselves before growth is stopped by cold weather.

In a recent Virginia Cooperative Extension webinar, Dr. Jayesh Samtani, small fruit Extension specialist, that the increased temperatures associated with climate change has impacted how late into autumn strawberry planting can occur.

Establishing strawberry plants in a plasticulture raised bed system allows for crown development on newly planted plugs before the winter cold inhibits growth. The goal is to have one to two branch crowns developed prior to dormancy. Strawberries require temperatures of 50º F, which is the base temperature at which they will grow, to continue developing.

Fall-planted strawberry plugs can benefit from the use of row covers to extend the autumn growth period, and row covers can provide other benefits throughout the cold weather months. Prior to using row covers, consulting the long range weather forecast is recommended.

“In order to really use row cover applications in the fall, you have to understand what kind of weather you will be facing in the coming few days,” Samtani said. “Depending on the situation, a lot of growers may not think that row covers are the best use of their time in the fall. It does take labor to put that down.

Creating Microclimates

Growing degree day (GDD) calculations add together the high and low temperatures each day, and then divide that sum in half to determine the mean daily temperature. If the mean temperature is above the crop’s base temperature, then each degree above that base level is a GDD. The days are cumulative.

Depending on the strawberry variety being grown, GDD can vary. Chandler, an old standby, only requires 650 GDD to mature. Other popular varieties can require 800 GDD. Growers in colder climates can select cultivars with lower GDD requirements. And row covers can be utilized to enhance GDD by creating a microclimate with higher temperatures.

Because row covers retain heat, they add GDD, providing the fall-planted crop extra time to grow and allowing for enhanced root development. If planting is delayed, or if the plugs being planted have poorly developed root systems, an autumn row cover can enhance crop establishment and increase spring productivity.

Row covers can also add protection from cold temperatures in winter and be used in spring to protect buds and flowers from frost. For growers who opt not to use row covers to promote fall branch crown development, row cover use in winter and spring can still bring benefits.

Once the mean daily temperature drops below 50º, strawberry crowns go semi-dormant and do not actively grow. Depending on how cold the winter is, row covers can be left on until spring. But in regions where the winter temperatures are mild, leaving row covers on all winter could promote flowering and fruiting, putting plants in more danger of damage from spring frosts.

“You probably don’t want the row covers to stay on for the rest of the winter, because you’re increasing the temperature in the microclimate, and the plants may not get very well acclimated to the cold environment,” Samtani said. “And then you don’t want to advance the plant too far ahead.”

Row covers can also create an ideal habitat for spider mites. It is advised that growers regularly check under covers to scout for these pests. Plant tissue could have decreased cold tolerance if row covers are used in winter and unseasonably warm temperatures occur, followed by another cold snap. And the humidity that can build up under the covers when it’s rainy and sunlight levels are low can promote diseases – such as powdery mildew – to develop.

Broadleaf and other weeds are also more populous when using row covers and can be treated with herbicides. Weeds in planting holes should be hand-pulled.

Freeze events are also a concern even when row covers are used. Depending on plant growth stage, the weight of the row cover and the temperature under the row cover, precautions against frost need to be taken.

Row covers range from lightweight to heavyweight. Each offers protection from cold temperatures, and as protection levels increase with heavier fabric construction, the light levels which can permeate the covers decrease. Lightweight covers allow 85% light penetration and protect crops down to 27º. The heaviest allow only 40% of the light to be transmitted but protect crops in temperatures down to 18º. More than one row cover can be used for added cold protection. Row covers can also protect against moisture loss and desiccation. “There’s pros and cons that come with row cover applications,” Samtani said.

Diseases in Plasticulture Strawberries

Dr. M. Mahfuz Rahman, West Virginia University Extension plant pathologist, discussed diseases of concern in newly planted plasticulture strawberry beds. When plugs are planted in autumn, disease symptoms may not be noticeable. Latent disease can then erupt when the plants are maturing, damaging the crop.

Two diseases of concern are Anthracnose crown rot and Phytophthora crown rot. These can be distinguished from one another by examining the crown, which will be a marbled brown and red if Anthracnose crown rot is the culprit, or a dull brown if it’s rot caused by Phytophthora.

“Many of these infections can come in on the plants,” Rahman stated. “But these are latent infections. These are symptomless at this time.”

A newer disease of concern is Pestalotia blight, which causes leaves to look scorched as they desiccate from the fungal infection. It can eventually kill the whole plant. The fruit can also have disease symptoms. It can be treated with fungicides. Highly infected leaves should also be removed in autumn and early spring.

For growers who are fall planting strawberries into a plasticulture system, management of diseases early on can be an effective tool and is possible.

With the use of row covers in plasticulture, fall-planted strawberries can receive benefits from temperature moderation to protection from browsing deer to frost protection. Knowing which row cover weight to choose, selecting the appropriate time to apply the covers to meet your growing goals and monitoring for pest and disease under the row covers can be a fruitful way to enhance productivity for your next berry season.

Thoughts on Winter Meetings and Trade Shows

2021-11-22T18:22:29-05:00December 2, 2021|Grower, Grower East, Grower Midwest, Grower West|

Over the course of my career, I have organized and developed many educational sessions for various winter meetings. When I was employed at North Carolina State University, Kansas State University and eventually Penn State, I developed workshops and seminars for organizations such as the American Society for Horticultural Science or the American Society for Plasticulture both within and outside the U.S. I have also spoken at numerous winter vegetable meetings all over the country and I always enjoyed interacting and engaging with growers, always learning from them. I am a firm believer that winter commodity meetings and trade shows should be viewed as opportunities for growers to learn about new research and advances in technology, be updated on the latest pest control strategies and the performance of new varieties, see innovative marketing strategies and socialize with fellow growers. From time to time you can go to a winter meeting or trade show at a location outside your home base – even a fun location in a warmer climate.

What makes a good winter meeting and trade show? You have to offer a top notch and diverse educational program addressing the latest issues impacting the vegetable community with outstanding speakers from both inside and outside the region who can address the topics and attract growers to attend the meetings. If you have good grower attendance, then the trade show will flourish because the industry folks will want to be in attendance to hopefully sell to their existing clients and engage new ones. The quality of the educational sessions and the size of the trade show continually feed off each other and all the great winter commodity meetings and trade shows follow this principle and have been successful for many years. I know the large regional meetings have a waiting list of companies wanting to participate in the trade show. Also, organizers of the meetings need to allow sufficient time for the growers to visit the trade shows and that will always be greatly appreciated by the vendors.

I have spoken at a variety of meetings – some were only vegetable-oriented, some for both vegetable and fruit crops and some covered a more diverse field of topics, including nursery crops, greenhouse flower crops, landscaping and Christmas trees. One such meeting is the Illinois Specialty Crop Conference, scheduled for Jan. 5 – 7, 2022 in Springfield, IL. I believe most of the crops mentioned above may in most locations have their own stand-alone meetings. Winter meetings may also have additional activities before the meetings, such as bus tours or workshops on various topics. Some meetings are may be oriented toward a specific production philosophy, such as the MOSES Organic Farming Conference, set for Feb. 24 – 26, 2022 in LaCrosse, WI. Others may be oriented toward a single crop, such as the North American Strawberry Growers Association 2022 Meeting and Conference (Jan. 16 – 19, 2022 in Nashville, TN) or the National Watermelon Association Meeting (Feb. 23 – 27, 2022 in Nashville).

Some winter commodity meetings are state-specific, such as the Kentucky Fruit and Vegetable Conference, set for Jan. 2 – 4, 2022 in Bowling Green, KY, Country Folks Grower’s own Empire State Producers Expo, taking place Jan. 11 – 13, 2022 in Syracuse, NY, and the New Jersey Ag Convention and Trade Show, scheduled for Feb. 8 – 10, 2022 at Atlantic City, NJ.

Other winter meetings and trade shows are regionally oriented, such as the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention (Feb. 1 – 3, 2022 in Hershey, PA), the Great Plains Growers Conference (Jan. 7 – 8, 2022 in St. Joseph, MO) and the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference online only (set for Dec. 13 – 17).

Almost all meetings have a printed proceeding, recordings of the summary of meeting talks and some are even offering videos of the sessions online. This is certainly handy for reviewing the sessions after the fact.

You can see the large number, diversity and location of the winter meetings and trade shows available. In addition to these, there are more statewide meetings available and opportunities to attend regional or even individual county meetings within a state put on by local Extension personnel. There are tremendous opportunities for growers to continue their education this winter and enjoy the company of fellow growers and vendors.

You can contact me with feedback on my columns or ideas for future columns at wlamont@psu.edu.