Question of the Week

Permalink What should I be considering in preparing my vegetable plots for winter?

Answer: While winter may be the least attractive season for your vegetable plots, there are still a lot of important things that occur during the winter months. Fall is the time to put your farm’s plots to sleep so that they may be ready to spring into motion when winter begins to thaw.

There are a number of options and, as always, they will differ depending on your own needs and the specific climate that you function within.

Winter is a time when your soil can get some necessary TLC: all vegetable plots can benefit from regular regiments of cover cropping, compost, and mulch.

Cover Cropping

There are a number of things that happen when a bed is nicely cover-cropped before the winter months:

• the soil is protected from the elements, such as wind and rain erosion and extreme temperatures • soil texture is maintained—roots aerate the soil; microorganisms find a suitable climate to live, eat, excrete, and die in; and water retention is elevated • nutrients are replenished and protected from leaching caused by winter rains (legumes in particular replenish nitrogen in the soil) • weeds are suppressed

Furthermore, when you are ready to plant in the spring, the cover crops can either be incorporated as green chop in compost or used as mulch.

In Situ Compost In Situ (in place/in bed) compost is simply building a compost pile directly on top of your vegetable plots in the fall, hoeing it under the spring, and planting directly on top of that. In situ compost follows the same theories as thermophillic compost in that it is a balance between carbon and nitrogen that is most conducive to the micro- and macro-organisms present in the pile. Bury green chop and other nitrogenous materials (such as chicken manure) under a generous layer of straw and let it sit over the winter. Covering the bed with plastic may help speed the process.

Sheet Mulching
Another interesting option, especially if you are putting in new beds or a new border, is to sheet mulch. Essentially, sheet mulching is a cold composting process that builds new beds and suppresses weeds. To create a sheet mulch bed, lay cardboard over the area you wish to grow on, wet it thoroughly, and then begin to layer materials. You can be creative, but the general idea is to build compost on top of the bed. Alternate layers of green material (nitrogenous) with brown (carbonaceous) like you are making lasagna. Cap it with a layer of mulch and let it sit over the winter.

Trench Compost Trench composting is similar to in-situ and sheet mulching. To trench compost, dig a trench and fill it with compostables, before capping the trench with soil and straw. In the spring, either dig in the soil and plant directly into the new compost, or dig it out and place it on a bed next to the trench, thus utilizing the trench as a pathway.

Mulching invites some similar beneficial aspects of cover cropping—specifically, protecting the soil from the elements. Layering finished compost over a vegetable plot and then capping that with straw or decayed leaves will help maintain the tillage and nutrient integrity of your plot.

Plant or Leave Hardy Crops Depending on where you live, there are certain crops that can grow outside year round without cover. Quickly maturing plants like radish, lettuces, and spinach can be planted, grown, and harvested before killing frosts. Also, certain Brassicas like broccoli, kale, and especially Brussels sprouts prefer cooler weather. Certain root crops, such as garlic, parsnips, turnips, carrots, and onions, are planted in to the fall for spring harvest, and many of the same root crops are planted in the spring for late fall and winter harvest.

For more information on cover crops, see the ATTRA publication Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures at . This publication summarizes the principal uses and benefits of cover crops and green manures. Brief descriptions and examples are provided for winter cover crops, summer green manures, living mulches, catch crops, and some forage crops. It also addresses management issues including vegetation management, limitations of cover crops, use in crop rotations, use in pest management, and economics of cover crops.

For more information on compost, see the ATTRA publication Compost—the Basics. This publication gives a basic overview of the benefits of building your own compost, and general instructions for doing so.

For more information on cold hardy crops, see the ATTRA publication Specialty Crops for Cold Climates. This publication discusses ways that specialty crop farmers can continue to market products into the colder months by cultivating certain hardy crops and implementing season extension techniques.

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Permalink What seasonal adjustments should I make in my rotational grazing plan?

Answer: Rotational grazing gives the livestock manager flexibility in responding to the changing forage supply. During periods of rapid plant growth, cattle are moved quickly through paddocks. Alternatively, if equipment is available or the work can be hired, excess forage can be harvested for feeding later. During periods of slow plant growth, delayed rotation allows plants in each paddock a longer time to recover after each grazing period.

Various strategies or specialized forages can delay having to feed harvested forages. In late fall, stockpiled fescue or other winter grasses can be strip-grazed. Grain and stalks left in corn or milo fields after harvest, offered as strips, provide another source of good-quality feed into the winter months. Small grains, grown alone or with brassicas, are a third option in some parts of the country for extending the grazing season.

In some regions, providing excellent grazing through the hottest summer months is the biggest challenge. Native grasses, summer annuals, and interseeded legumes can offset this slump. However, the costs of establishment — in time and money — are justified only if the resulting increase in livestock production translates into sufficient profit. A good resource for learning more about extending the grazing season with alternative forage systems is the publication Extending Grazing and Reducing Stored Feed Needs, by Don Ball, Ed Ballard, Mark Kennedy, Garry Lacefield, and Dan Undersander.

To explore this topic further, refer to the ATTRA publication Rotational Grazing.

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Permalink What hazards do I need to be aware of when producing my own biodiesel?

Answer: Making biodiesel is relatively simple; some say it is easier than making beer. However, there are caustic, toxic, volatile, and flammable chemicals involved. The potential for personal injury and property damage is very real. Neither the author nor anyone else associated with this publication is responsible for potential mistakes, injuries and damage. Do not rely solely on this publication for information about making biodiesel; carefully study other publications and start small.

Wear an appropriate respirator when making biodiesel. The only approved respirators for methanol are respirators with external air supplies. Other necessary equipment includes heavy rubber gloves, safety goggles, and clothing that will protect your skin from chemicals, especially methanol. Methanol can be absorbed through the skin and cause illness, blindness, and debilitation.

Heating the oil to remove the water and transferring the heated oil are two potentially dangerous steps
in the process of making biodiesel. When heating the used oil, be careful to keep it from spattering and
making the floor slippery. Be cautious about using burners or electric heaters, just as if you were
cooking. Hot oil will melt plastic buckets, creating a mess. Be careful to cool hot oil to below 120 degrees
before pouring it into a plastic bucket.

Do not use anything that comes in contact with biodiesel or the chemicals used to make biodiesel for food production. Making biodiesel requires a well-ventilated area to reduce the danger of fire and explosion and exposure to methanol. Methanol can vaporize and, when mixed with the proper amount of oxygen and an ignition source, can ignite with an invisible flame. When making biodiesel in larger quantities, make it outside or in a place where there is no chance of a spark or flame coming in contact with the methanol. Any wiring in indoor areas where methanol is used must be explosion-proof.

You can learn much more in the ATTRA publication Biodiesel: Do-It-Yourself Production. This
publication provides an introduction to home biodiesel production, and includes lists of equipment and
materials needed to make small batches. It describes biodiesel and includes cautionary notes and
procedures for making test batches and 5-gallon batches.

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Permalink Is lablab a good cover crop option in a hot, humid climate?

Answer: Lablab (Lablab purpureus) is a vine native to Africa that has been used there and throughout Asia for many years. It is a monotypic genus, meaning that there is only one species within the genera: Lablab purpureus, formerly known as Dolichos lablab. While there is only one species, there are several sub-species, landraces, and cultivars due to local adaptation. The vines can either be annuals or short-lived perennials. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, but the seeds must be cooked to destroy cyanogenic glycosides that can cause vomiting, shortness of breath, debilitation and convulsions.

As a cover crop, it is quite effective at smothering weeds and fixing nitrogen. Due to its initial slow growth, weeds should be controlled during its establishment. Once it starts actively growing, it is an aggressive competitor and will crowd out and shade newly emerging weeds. Once cut and dried, Lablab biomass contains around 50 pounds of nitrates per acre.

Some of the climbing types can grow to be 25 feet long, but unsupported in field conditions, they usually attain 40 inches or so in height. Although it's a cover crop and food source for both humans and animals, it can also be very ornamental. Its flowers are quite showy, and then they are followed by purple seed pods. The seeds are either white or black depending on the variety, and some of the wild types have mottled seeds. The seeds have a peculiar feature: an elongated white hilum. The showy flowers attract pollinators, but the vine is subject to the same complement of insects that attack beans.

Lablab prefers acidic soils of a range from pH 4.5 up to about 7. It doesn't tolerate flooding very well and can be quite drought tolerant after establishment. It requires a minimum of about 30 inches of rainfall per year. In addition to Rhizobium, Lablab also inoculates successfully with the Vigna group of the Bradyrhizobium. Bradyrhizobium has been shown to enhance yield components of hyacinth beans, such as shoot dry weight and overall yield, without significantly influencing pod size, which means the increased yield was from a higher number of pods produced per plant.

Hyacinth bean also relieves soil compaction more quickly than grasses. Lablab roots increase interconnected pore space in compacted soils three times faster than grasses like sorghum. Lablab also reduced soil ped size, although sorghum and wheat did not. This research suggests that since Lablab increased porosity and reduced ped size in compacted soil, it would also increase the infiltration rate and reduce runoff, which would also serve to hasten the compaction repair process.

Lablab benefits from root associations with vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhiza, especially Glomus mosseae. In field studies, G. mosseae increased dry matter, rhizobial nodulation, and phosphorous uptake. The additional nodulation led to an enhanced uptake of nitrates.

Lablab requires greater amounts of heat units than crops like clover or winter peas. It should be grown in areas suitable for its production, or it will suffer yield depression. A North Carolina study showed that it wasn't an ideal location for Lablab production. First, they couldn't get good nodulation, which contributed to poor performance; this stresses the importance of inoculation. Next, the weedy control outperformed the Lablab, and indeed the weeds within the Lablab plot attained more than half of the biomass of the Lablab itself, thus stressing the necessity of early season weeding. Finally, North Carolina may just not get enough heat or UV intensity for the Lablab to thrive. Mucuna was also included in this study, and performed as poorly as Lablab.

Learn more on this topic in the ATTRA publication Cover Crop Options for Hot and Humid Areas. This publication discusses the characteristics of cover crops that are better suited for areas with hot, humid summers, like the southern portions of Texas and Florida and along the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and points beyond with similar climatic conditions. It includes a table that will allow you to make the best decision for your situation about which cover crops may suit your individual needs. It also includes a general inoculant guide for legume crops.

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Permalink How do agrihoods benefit farmers?

Answer: Agrihoods are a type of housing subdivision design that is built around a working farm, with much of the land preserved for growing food or set aside in conservation easements.

Since most agrihoods are based around a working farm, they can also provide steady jobs to the farm managers. Given the low income typically earned by many farmers (especially beginning farmers), the benefits of working at an agrihood can be significant. USDA's 2014 agricultural census estimates that 57 percent of America's farms gross less than $10,000 a year. That means more than half of all farmers in America have to rely on second, and sometimes third, jobs off the farm to cover living expenses.

Often an agrihood will hire a farm manager and pay a much higher salary than the farmer could make managing his own land. And agrihoods can provide a great first job to beginning farmers who can't afford their own land but are willing to work on the agrihood in exchange for a steady salary and great experience. Besides the salary, the farmer and his or her family are often provided with free housing on the farm, which is a major benefit. And farmers living on-site are better able to handle farm chores and deal with farm management issues than someone living further away from the farm.

Farmers in nearby areas can also benefit from an agrihood, since agrihoods often serve as an agricultural educational center. Farmers in surrounding areas are invited to participate in workshops and field days at the agrihood, with topics ranging from beginning farmer issues to marketing organic produce. The local agricultural community may also interact with agrihood residents during these workshops. Agrihoods often serve as a nexus for weekend farmers markets, which may attract surrounding farmers who sell their local produce to agrihood residents.

You’ll benefit from reading the ATTRA publication Agrihoods: Development-Supported Agriculture. This publication introduces the concept of agrihoods, describes the different types, and discusses benefits and challenges. Case studies of U.S. agrihood developments are profiled as well.

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Permalink How can I plan for rotations in organic potato production?

The most important step in organic potato production is planning a crop rotation scheme that allows a few years between potato crops on the same land. For organic production, a lengthy rotation from four to seven years generally assures good plant and soil health. A lengthy rotation also reduces long-term reliance on expensive inputs and increases the percentage of marketable potatoes.

Longer rotations can be thought of as a form of crop insurance because the rotations help prevent plant pathogens in the soil from building up to economically damaging levels. Growers must consider rotation plans with crops that are not hosts for potato pathogens or insects. The key consideration for the long-term viability of organic production is preventing problems through maintaining good soil quality.

Rotations that include cover crops have the advantage of adding organic matter and nitrogen to the soil. This generally will reduce input costs over time. Organic matter helps soils resist compact ion, al lows for better root penetration, stores more soil moisture and allows more water penetration. Cover crops and green manures may include legumes, sudangrass, and mustards.
Mustards also have been shown to play a positive role in soil pest management.

Useful characteristics for a cover crop or green manure in a potato rotation include:

• The ability to tolerate frost and grow well under cool fall conditions
• The ability to quickly produce substantial amounts of biomass as a weed suppressant
• The ability to fix nitrogen and suppress soilborne potato pests
• A compatibility with the management requirements of other crops in the rotation
• The availability of seed and a lack of planting restrictions, such as the restriction of rapeseed production in canola districts
• The ability to avoid producing and shedding seed, which leads to problems with volunteer plants.

A good rotation includes crops that are not hosts to common potato pests, as well as green manures that add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

The ATTRA publications Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures and Intercropping Principles and Production Practices provide more detailed information about these subjects. Small grains, corn and sorghum sudangrass may benefit a potato crop that follows. In Maine, some growers have used Japanese millet as a cover crop in the year prior to potatoes in an effort to reduce Rhizoctonia. The skin of potatoes with the Rhizoctonia fungus appears to be covered in dirt that won’t wash off. In parts of the West, producers rotate potatoes with mustard cover crops to prevent root knot nematode and Verticilium outbreaks.

It is important to note that legumes such as peas, beans, and crimson clover are hosts to some races of Rhizoctonia and can encourage scab in certain regions. Red clover may be a host of Rhizoctonia as well.

As often happens in agriculture, there is no clear-cut answer to the question of what rotation a farmer should use. It is a matter of evaluating the costs and benefits of a particular practice or combination of practices. In this case, producers must weigh the risk of these crops hosting and possibly increasing Rhizoctonia against the soil fertility advantages and other benefits of planting a legume.

The ATTRA publication Potatoes: Organic Production and Marketing includes a table that provides some examples of potato rotations used around the country. It is not meant to be exhaustive, simply because there are so many factors that influence the choice of rotations, including economics of the crops in the rotation, available land, weather and climate, farmer skills and knowledge, pest management and soil quality goals.

Since many of these factors are moving targets, implementing a good crop rotation is as much an art as a science because so much depends on the knowledge, skill and creativity of the farmer. When making rotation decisions, it is helpful to have additional information from local experts — be they farmers, extension agents or researchers — who know about the pest pressures and soil and climate considerations for your particular region.

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Permalink What herbs are suited to organic greenhouse production?

Answer: Most herbs will grow anywhere if you are prepared to factor artificial light and heating into your production costs. For the new producer, the best approach is to contact local restaurants, food stores, micro-breweries, and other businesses and ask which herbs they would be willing to buy, in what quantity, and for what price. In addition, explore the local community and farmers markets to see what herbs are being sold there, and which are not.

Many herbs can be grown either within a greenhouse or outside in the garden; however, tender plants such as basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, and chamomile thrive more in a controlled environment. Look for other factors, too, such as herbs that don’t require specialized lighting systems or a lot of light, such as cilantro, parsley, lemon balm, chives, ginger, and mint (Marquand, 2017).

In addition, research shows that even within rural areas of the country, the three traditional staples of U.S. ethnic cuisine—Italian, Chinese, and Mexican food—are accessible to a degree, with Japanese and Indian cuisine increasing in popularity, too. This opens up potential new markets in many areas for herbs such as turmeric, cardamom, cumin, ginger, fenugreek, and saffron. There are many good reference points and growing guides for these herbs and others too, such as Kaffir lime, Shiso herb, Thai basil, black cumin, and marjoram (Grant, 2016). Finally, with some experience and success behind you, start to look at other types of markets and the herbs to supply them. There are many different categories of herbs: fresh culinary herbs, dried culinary herbs, herb plants, decorative and fragrant herbs, medicinal herbs, and herbs for essential oils and dyes.

With the rise of mail-order certified-organic seed producers across the country, supplies of certified-organic herb seeds should be relatively easy to obtain. However, if organic seed is not available, conventionally produced, non-GMO, untreated seed may be used for an organic annual herb crop, according to section 205.204 of the National Organic Standards.

It is important to note here that the definition of "not commercially available" is summarized by a lack of organic seed form, seed quality, or seed quantity, "to fulfill an essential function in organic production." As stated previously, given that most certified-organic seed is now obtainable by mail order at a price, and that quality should not be an issue with certified-organic seed, the only factors likely to justify purchasing non-organic seed are seed form and seed quantity. This will still be subject to interpretation by the accredited certifier for a given operation.

For propagated perennial herbs, greenhouse herb producers often take cuttings from their own "mother plants." This gives producers that are already certified a decided advantage over startup businesses because they can procure organic starts at any time without a waiting period and at little cost. Growers seeking first-time organic certification or switching to a new certifier, as well as individuals planning to construct greenhouses for organic production, would do well to secure their perennial herbs early in the mandatory three-year transitional period. After certification of a greenhouse operation, any new perennial stock must come from a certified-organic source or be raised for at least one year under an approved organic management system before products derived from these plants can legally be sold as organic. This applies to foundation stock for potted-plant production, as well as perennials for fresh-cut herb production.

The newly revised ATTRA publication Herbs: Organic Greenhouse Production is a good resource for additional information. This publication discusses various marketing channels for organic herbs and assesses the economic factors to consider for small-scale organic greenhouse production of fresh-cut herbs. It also addresses production methods, including potential for hydroponic production.


Grant, Bonnie L. 2016. Asia herb garden: information on Asian herbs to grow in gardens. Gardening Know How.

Marquand, Molly. 2017. Six absolute easiest herbs to grow. Rodale’s Organic Life. January 9.

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Permalink How can I plan for alleycropping?

Answer: Alleycropping involves growing crops (e.g., grains, forages, and vegetables) between trees planted in rows. The spacing between the rows is designed to accommodate the mature size of the trees while leaving room for the planned alley crops. When such sun-loving plants as corn or some herbs are alleycropped, the alleyways need to be wide enough to let in plenty of light even when the trees have matured.

Alternatively, the cropping sequence can be planned to change as the trees’ growth decreases the available light. For example, soybeans or corn could be grown when the trees are very small. Then as the tree canopy closes, forages could be harvested for hay. And finally, when the trees are fully grown and the ground is more shaded, grazing livestock or shade-tolerant crops such as mushrooms or ornamental ferns could occupy the alleyways.

Like all integrated systems, alleycropping requires skillful management and careful planning. Both the crop and the trees have requirements that sometimes necessitate trade-offs between them. The design must allow sufficient room for the equipment needed to service each enterprise, for example. If either crop requires chemical herbicides or insecticides, the other must be tolerant of these treatments. In the case of livestock, there may be periods during and after the use of chemicals when animals must be withdrawn from the area. Animal manure is a problem when fruit or nuts are harvested from the alleyway floor. Also, livestock can cause damage even when the trees are fully grown; roots injured by hooves are susceptible to disease. And soil compaction is a danger during wet weather. These examples demonstrate how crucial planning is to the ultimate success of an agroforestry system.

Trees are planted in straight rows in many alleycropping systems, sometimes with no regard for slope or contour. There are, however, advantages to planting the trees on the contour to slow surface-water movement and reduce soil erosion. The trees can be planted in single rows or in blocks of multiple rows between alleys. The first row in a block is planted on the contour line; subsequent rows are planted below the original line according to the slope of the land. The final row of trees in one block is planted parallel to the contour line on which the next block of trees will begin. The width of the tree blocks varies, but the cropping alleyways between them have parallel edges. This design avoids creating point rows within the alleys, thus simplifying the way equipment can be maneuvered among the crops. The width of the alleys is determined by the size of the equipment that will be used.

If planting on the contour is impractical, another option is to plant trees in curved zigzags so that water running downhill is captured, or at least slowed. Islands of trees can offer some of the same advantages if they don’t interfere with cropping operations

To ensure that the crop trees develop upright, unbranched trunks, fast-growing hardwoods or pines can be interplanted as trainers. Alternatively, the crop trees can be planted close together in the rows and thinned and pruned several times as they grow. Although the trees that are harvested early may have little market value, their presence during the first years of growth increases the main crop’s value. In order to maximize the profit from the final harvest, the goal is to produce long, straight sawlogs with few lower branches. Regardless of the planting design, trees on the outside edge of a group may grow more side branches, or even a lopsided trunk, resulting in lower-value sawlogs.

More information is available in the ATTRA publication Agroforestry: An Overview. This publication presents an overview of common agroforestry practices, evaluating and planning considerations, marketing opportunities, several case studies, and an extensive list of further resources.

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Permalink What can you tell me about harvesting and handling tomatoes?

Answer: Production practices have a tremendous effect on the quality of fruit at harvest, postharvest, and during shelf life. For example, some cultivars are known to have a longer shelf life and to ship better than others. Because of this, you should consider your market before considering which varieties to plant. In addition, environmental factors such as soil type, temperature, frost, and rainy weather also have unfavorable effects on the crop’s harvest quality. For example, some tomato varieties have a tendency to crack after a rain. Therefore, choosing varieties such as Sapho and Mountain Fresh, which are resistant to cracking, may help alleviate the problem of poor fruit quality at the time of harvest. Management practices such as too little or too much water, mechanical injury, or high fertilizer rates can also affect postharvest quality.

Tomatoes should be harvested during the coolest time of the day, which is typically in the morning, and produce should be kept shaded in the field. Harvesting tomatoes requires extensive labor; harvesting may be done every day during the peak of the season along with continuous discarding of culled fruit from the field to prevent the spread of diseases and pests. Harvesting is done either by hand or with a harvesting aid; only process¬ing tomatoes are harvested by machine due to increased bruising of the produce. Produce should be graded, separating the marketable tomatoes from the cull tomatoes that show signs of bruises, cracking, spots, rots, or decay. Damage such as this can be prevented if tomatoes are handled with care at the time of harvest, harvested at proper maturity, harvested during dry weather, and handled minimally. Tomatoes should be harvested with no more than two to three stacked deep into strong cardboard or stackable flat boxes. Growers have used bread racks in the past with great success. Check with a local bakery to see if they would be willing to sell some to you.

Tomatoes are very susceptible to chilling injury; therefore, maintaining precise storage temperature is critical for postharvest storage quality. Storage temperatures differ with the maturity of the fruit. Tomatoes picked with a slight pink color all the way up to a mature red color should be stored at temperatures between 48ºF to 50ºF. These fruits will have a maximum shelf life of two weeks. Tomatoes that are picked green are best stored at temperatures between 58ºF to 60ºF and have a three- to four-week shelf life.

Proper sanitation is of great importance in preventing postharvest diseases and the spread of foodborne illnesses. Thus, strict regulations of sanitary facilities and the use of disinfectants in wash water are used to help prevent both the spread of postharvest diseases and foodborne illnesses. Disinfectants such as chlorine, at a residual of 4 ppm, or hydrogen peroxide, at a concentration of 0.5%, have been effective disinfectants in organic programs. Always check with your certifying agent to see what concentrations are allowed under the regulations.

You can learn much more on this topic in the ATTRA publication Organic Tomato Production. It focuses on the specific production challenges, including site selection (soil and climate), variety selection, sources of organic seeds and organic annual transplants, organic grafting, planting and training/staking arrangements, soil fertility and fertilization, crop rotation, and pest (insect, disease, and weed) management. Harvest and yield/productivity are closely related to marketing possibilities. While market conditions are extremely region-specific, this publication also addresses a few general principles on marketing and economics of organic tomatoes.

In addition, the ATTRA publication Postharvest Handling of Fruits and Vegetables is an excellent source for additional information on postharvest and storage considerations.

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Permalink When is the best time to plant garlic?

Answer: Fall/early winter planting is recommended in all parts of the U.S. A cold period is required in order for the mother bulb to split into cloves. The bolting cultivars of garlic require a cold period to trigger cellular division. For spring planting, which is not recommended, the bulbs need to be refrigerated at 40°F for 40 days. By planting garlic in the fall, the plants obtain significant root growth before the ground freezes. Then in the spring the plant focuses its energy on sprouting, leaf growth, and ultimately bulb development. If the garlic is planted too late in the fall to obtain significant root growth, this will ultimately detract from bulb size the following summer. Fall-planted garlic grows rapidly when the weather warms in spring.

Bulb growth in garlic, like many alliums, is dependent on the lengthening of the day and the accumulation of degree days (heat units). In northern latitudes, most growers plant garlic in October before the ground freezes. This gives the plant time to make good root development but not enough time to make leaf growth. Where winter sets in earlier, growers are recommended to plant garlic two to three weeks after the first frost (below 32°F) (Rosen et al., 1999). Where winters are milder, garlic can be planted as late as mid-December. In some parts of California, it can be planted as late as February or March. ATTRA recommends talking with local producers and your county Cooperative Extension to determine the best time to plant garlic in your region.

The ATTRA publication Garlic: Organic Production offers more information on most aspects of garlic production, including seed sources, organic fertility management, pest management, and harvesting and storage.


Rosen, Carl et al. 1999. Growing Garlic in Minnesota. University of Minnesota Extension service. Regents of the University of Minnesota.

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Permalink How can I ensure soil nutrition in high tunnel tree fruit production?

Answer: Without rain or overhead irrigation, some bulky organic fertilizers—e.g., compost—will not readily break down and move into the soil. And because the fruit crops are usually perennials, cover crops cannot be relied upon for nutrition after the initial planting. This emphasizes the need for pre-plant consideration of nutritional needs of the plants, beginning with a soil test. For instance, adjusting soil pH with lime or sulfur should occur before the tunnel's cover goes on. Likewise, if soil organic matter needs improvement, cover crops or applications of manures or composts should happen before the high tunnel is covered. Allow time for breakdown and mechanical or natural incorporation of these into the soil.

Post-planting nutritional needs are going to be met with fertigation (running liquid fertilizers in the irrigation system), by precision hand-application of compost or pelletized organic fertilizers, or by hand-application of liquid organic fertilizers via watering buckets or hoses with fertilizer attachments. Regarding fertigation, liquid organic fertilizers, like fish emulsion or compost tea, have a reputation for clogging or gumming up the drip emitters (manufacturers of some of these products are now touting some formulations as "fertigation friendly" in order to address this problem). In such cases, proper filtration is the first line of defense. If clogging still occurs, there is an organically acceptable cleaner, Cleardrip-O.

Fertigation in Organic Vegetable Production Systems is an excellent primer on organic fertigation, as relevant to perennial fruits as it is to vegetables. It discusses the necessary equipment, fertigation products, how to calculate rates, and more.

If you're going to apply dry fertilizer materials, they will have to be placed where the soil is wet from the irrigation; otherwise, the nutrients from such materials will not move into the root zone to be available to plant roots.
Lastly, it's advisable to remove the plastic cover every winter in order to insure that the trees meet their chill requirement but also to allow rain to rinse out excess salts from the fertilizers. This is also a time when manure or compost could be applied with some confidence that it will be "washed" into the soil by rain and melting snow. Compost, especially compost made from plant matter and not animal manure, contains less salt and so should be considered a superior organic fertilizer material for most high tunnel applications.

Want to learn more? The ATTRA publication High Tunnel Tree Fruit and Grape Production for Eastern Growers. This publication identifies fruits that hold the most potential for profitable high tunnel culture. It also identifies several limitations and potential pitfalls growers must recognize if such a venture is to be profitable.

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Permalink How should I prepare my soil for fruit plantings?

Answer: Important considerations in site preparation include alleviating soil compaction, enhancing fertility, adjusting soil pH, and managing weeds, pests, and diseases. Attention to the details of site preparation can help reduce weed and disease problems and assure a vital planting through soil improvement. What needs to be done depends on the previous use of the land, including crops grown; current vegetation; and the presence of pests and diseases. Many growers rip or chisel the soil to loosen layers of compaction before they plant a new orchard or vineyard because deep tillage will be disruptive once the trees are established.

Before establishing an orchard or vineyard, it is important to adjust the soil pH to best suit the crop you’ve selected. Soil tests can assess current soil conditions, including pH, mineral levels, and their relative proportions. Traditionally, pH has been adjusted through applications of lime (to raise the pH) or sulfur (to lower pH). Most fruit plants perform best around pH 6.5, although they tolerate a pH range between 5.5 and 7.2. Blueberries are an exception. They require an acid soil—ideally pH 4.8 to 5.2. Soil test results help guide applications of soil amendments, such as compost, lime, gypsum, or other rock powders, to provide good soil conditions that meet the nutritional needs of the orchard.

In general, fruit crops do not require highly fertile soils for good production, though this varies with the species. Highly fertile soils, rich in nitrogen, can promote too much vegetative growth at the expense of fruiting in trees such as apples. A nutritionally balanced soil, proper soil pH, and plentiful organic matter are the fundamentals of an organic fertility-management plan for fruits. Pre-plant soil improvement for organic fruit plantings usually involves some combination of cover cropping and applications of compost, natural minerals, or other organic fertilizers.

The perennial nature of fruiting trees, bushes, and vines allows for a more permanent, sustainable agriculture based on healthy soil. The ATTRA publication Soils and Sites for Organic Orchards and Vineyards discusses site selection and soil preparation for fruit plantings. It also describes cover crop and mulching options for orchards and vineyard floors, and discusses fertilization and the role of mycorrhizae in maintaining healthy fruit plants.

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Permalink What are my options for dealing with cucumber beetles in melon?

Answer: Cucumber beetle is a common name given to members of two genera of beetles, Diabrotica (spotted) and Acalymma (striped), both in the family Chrysomelidae. Cucumber beetles are present throughout the United States and cause serious damage to cucurbit crops. Overwintering adult insects feed on young plants, larvae in the soil feed on plant roots, and second-generation adults feed on plant leaves, blossoms, and fruits. Furthermore, adult cucumber beetles serve as vectors of bacterial wilt and squash mosaic virus.

Although cucumber beetles prefer flowers and leaves, they can also cause cosmetic damage to the surface of the melon that reduces the value of the crop. They are difficult to control through IPM strategies. They do have natural enemies, but introducing these is usually not enough to protect marketable yields of fruit; nor are insecticides particularly effective, as the two major beetle varieties either develop outside of the fields being treated or lay their eggs at the roots, where larvae are difficult to control.

Organic and biointensive IPM measures include delaying planting until beetles have already laid their first generation of eggs and using trap crops, floating row covers, parasitic organisms (such as the Tachinid fly Celatoria), and botanical pesticides. Field scouting or yellow sticky traps can help growers monitor insect populations. Trap crops provide attractive scents and colors for the beetles. These may include zucchini, squash, and pumpkins. Sow 5% or more of the land in strips alongside the crop or in adjacent plots with trap crops; these plants produce cucurbitacin, a feeding stimulant to cucumber beetles. The traps can either be destroyed or sprayed with a highly concentrated (30ml per gallon of water) citrus oil solution to destroy the adult cucumber beetle population.

The ATTRA publication Cucumber Beetles: Organic and Biorational Integrated Pest Management reports that some squash varieties have greater amounts of the cucumber beetle attractant cucurbaticin:

• Black Jack zucchini
• Big Max pumpkin
• Cocozelle summer squash
• Green Eclipse zucchini
• Seneca zucchini
• Senator zucchini
• Baby Boo pumpkin
• Super Select zucchini
• Ambercup buttercup squash
• Dark Green zucchini
• Embassy Dark Green zucchini
• Caserta summer squash
• Classic melon

Large-scale pest vacuums have also proven effective in removing beetles. Insecticides such as pyrethrums, which are derived from the extract of chrysanthemum flowers, can be used to help control beetle infestations. However, it should be noted that these generally not only have long residual activity but also are highly toxic to some beneficial insects. Moreover, their use may destabilize insect populations and result in outbreaks of secondary pests like aphids. Note that while pyrethrums are natural (though potent) insecticides that are generally approved for certified organic crops, pyrethroids are synthetic versions that are not approved for certified organic crops.

According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, Adios (a Sevin bait) has proved moderately successful in controlling cucumber beetles. Although used as a foliar spray, Adios acts as a bait because it contains a cucumber beetle-feeding stimulant along with 13% carbaryl insecticide. When Adios is sprayed on foliage, beetles are stimulated to feed on the compound and are killed by the carbaryl. In field tests, Adios has provided cucumber beetle control ranging from less than to equal to foliar insecticides. It has no harmful effect on beneficial insects, including pollinators, because insects other than cucumber beetles are not stimulated to feed on the compound. However, Adios (Sevin) is not allowed in organic production.

Note that although Adios is a formulation of Sevin, Sevin itself should be avoided because it is toxic to earthworms, pollinators, and wasps (several of which are beneficial insects) and its use can lead to secondary insect pest infestations. Neem has been found to have little effect on beetle survival or mortality, but its anti-feedant trait significantly reduced plant damage caused by beetles. Rotenone and cryolite were both moderately effective. Entomophagous nematodes can control the larval stage in the soil. More information is available in the ATTRA publications Cucumber Beetles: Organic and Biorational Integrated Pest Management and Farmscaping to Enhance Biological Control.

Learn more in the ATTRA publication Specialty Melon Production for Small and Direct-Market Growers. This publication provides an overview of production and marketing of numerous different species and varieties of specialty melons. It addresses production considerations including seed sources, planting needs, soil preparation, and insect pest and disease control. It also discusses marketing outlets for producers to sell their melons and summarizes results of current melon research.

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Permalink How can I manage grasshoppers in my grain crops?

Answer: One of the oldest insect pests of grain crops is the grasshopper. This insect can be difficult to control with organic methods, because it can move from a control area to a non-control area and vice-versa. There has been some limited success with the use of Nosema locustae, a parasitic fungus that is combined with wheat bran bait for field use. Often, the results of Nosema are seen over several years of use, with mixed results when used on large areas. Several brand names of Nosema are available and information about them can be found in ATTRA's Biorationals: Ecological Pest Management Database.

Pest scouting is an essential part of using Nosema successfully. The most effective time to use it is when the grasshoppers are young (third instar stage). Usually, when you notice a large infestation, it is too late to use biological controls. Make sure you are watching for grasshoppers before they become a problem.

Mowing around grain fields may also help control grasshoppers. The shorter plants limit their food supply and make them more vulnerable to predators. The larger the field, the wider the mowed strip will need to be.

Chickens are voracious grasshopper eaters, and on smaller acreages chickens may be an effective means of grasshopper control. However, chickens do require adequate water, housing, and protection from predators. Mobile chicken coops, sometimes called "chicken tractors," provide protection and shelter, and also allow for easy movement to different parts of a field.

Learn more in these ATTRA publications:

Disease and Insect Management in Organic Small Grains
This publication outlines various strategies that make up a good organic disease and insect management plan, as well as to describe some specific diseases and insects that affect small grain crops. Although this publication pertains to various regions of the country, the main focus is on the Plains states—where most organic small grains are grown.

Grasshoppers – Botanical Control Formulations
This brief publication discusses the use of neem, garlic, mint, and eucalyptus to manage grasshoppers botanically.

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Permalink How do I treat cytospora canker in peaches?

Answer: The two related fungi (Leucocytospora cincta and L. leucostoma) that incite cytospora canker are opportunists, invading sites where damage has occurred due to mechanical injury, cold, poor pruning techniques, improper pruning time, borers, or other causes. The first visible symptom is the oozing of gummy sap near the wound, beginning when temperatures warm in the spring. Since peaches exude this gummy sap in response to almost any wound (e.g., borer attack), it can be difficult to diagnose this disorder correctly. One diagnostic clue is that cytospora cankers usually have an elongated or elliptical shape because the fungus advances more rapidly up and down the branch than around the branch. The bark dries out and dies but usually remains intact the first year. In succeeding years the bark becomes broken, disfigured, and covered with a black fungus overgrowth. The disease progresses slowly, and a tree with cytospora can survive for many years past the initial infection.

While cytospora can be found in California (more commonly on European plums), it is a much more serious disease on peaches in the eastern half of the country where winter temperatures— especially fluctuating winter temperatures—often lead to tissue damage. In fact, it is probably the leading cause of peach tree death in much of the eastern United States.

Control is limited to cultural techniques. Management begins by choosing planting sites away from older peach and plum trees and eliminating wild or untended plums and peaches near the orchard. Because a cold-damage area is often the primary infection site, painting trunks with white latex paint to refl ect the winter sun can be helpful, although this practice is not allowed in organic production. Avoid planting on a southor southwest-facing slope because such a site can induce the trees to warm up too soon in the early spring or late winter, resulting in cold damage if temperatures fall.

Other management techniques likewise center around minimizing damage to the trees, thus denying infection sites to the pathogens. Such techniques include pruning only in the early spring when temperatures have warmed, avoiding leaving pruning stubs, removing dead and diseased branches, and controlling borers.

You can find much more information in the ATTRA publication Peaches: Organic and Low-Spray Production. This publication describes the major diseases and insect pests of peaches and discusses organic or least-toxic control options for each. It emphasizes the considerable climatic differences between the arid West, which is relatively amenable to organic peach production, and the humid East, where it is more difficult to grow peaches without synthetic fungicides and insecticides.

In addition, ATTRA’s Peach Diseases Identification Sheet and Peach Insect Identification Sheet offer a quick guide to identifying and treating peach diseases and insect pests, respectively.

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Permalink How can I provide nests for wood-nesting bees?

Answer: Commercially produced bee blocks, consisting of a wood block drilled with a series of dead-end holes, are now widely available. These types of bee nests were initially developed in the 1960s by alfalfa seed producers in the western United States to attract and manage large numbers of the non-native alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata).

More recently they have been modified to manage the blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria), a bee that is active only in the spring and will not pollinate later-flowering fruits and vegetables. Consequently, all of the nest tunnels are a uniform size and depth, which may be either too large or too small for many other species. Nest blocks with a greater diversity of hole sizes and depths are necessary to attract a variety of bees that are active throughout the year.

Under the best circumstances these nests can attract large numbers of cavity-nesting bees and boost their local populations. However, because these nests concentrate bee populations in unnaturally large numbers in a small space, they can become infested with parasites and disease spores after several seasons. Without regular sanitation or the phasing out of nest materials, these parasites and diseases threaten long-term pollinator health wherever they are used. Because contaminated nest blocks left unattended in the landscape continue to attract wild bees from the surrounding area, they have the potential to do harm. Only with proper management can these nests maintain healthy bee populations indefinitely.

Wooden blocks
Use preservative-free dimensional lumber to construct wooden nest blocks. A four-by-four is appropriate for blocks with smaller diameter holes. A four-by-six works for blocks with larger diameter holes.

In one side, drill a series of nest holes of appropriate sizes and depths. Nesting holes should be between 3⁄32 and 3⁄8 inch in diameter. Holes of 1⁄4 inch or less in diameter should be 3 to 5 inches deep. Holes larger than 1⁄4 inch should be 5 to 6 inches deep. The female bee controls the gender of her off spring and usually finishes the nest with a few male brood cells. A deeper hole ensures space for more female brood.

The holes should be about 3⁄4 inch from center to center and no closer than that to the edges of the block. Attach a backing board if you drill all the way through your block, because bees will not use a drilled hole that is open at both ends. With smaller diameter drill bits, you may not be able to achieve the 3-inch minimum recommended depth. If that is the case, simply drill as deep as you can; bees that use holes of smaller diameters will often nest successfully in ones that aren’t as deep.

Bees may avoid a rough interior, so your holes should be perpendicular to the wood’s grain and drilled with a sharp bit. You can buy paper straws to line the holes, although it may be hard to find straws that fit all diameters. One solution is to wrap your own paper straws out of parchment or newspaper using dowels of various diameters that match the inside diameters of your drilled holes. Paint the outer tips of the straws black to help attract bees.

The exterior of the block can be any color, although there is some anecdotal evidence that bees are most attracted to dark blocks, which can be achieved by lightly charring the front surface with a propane torch. Whatever the color, bees are likely to use the block as long as the holes are of appropriate diameters and depths, and hung in an appropriate location. As a final step, you can attach an overhanging roof to provide additional shelter from the rain.

Colonization is often more successful when blocks are attached to a large visible landmark such as a building. The actual height from the ground does not much matter, although if the nest is too low (less than a few feet), rain splash may dampen it and vegetation may cover it. Nest blocks should be hung in a protected location where they receive strong indirect sunlight. Direct sunshine in the morning will help bees warm themselves up to flight temperature, so you may wish to place nests facing east, allowing the morning sun to fall on the entrance holes. Direct sunlight later in the day can be detrimental, causing eggs or developing brood to overheat and die.

Since these types of nests mimic trees frequented by woodpeckers, do not be surprised if one finds your nest. To protect against damage, you might want to store your nests in an unheated building at the end of the season. Alternatively, you can protect nests over the winter by surrounding them with hardware cloth. Be sure to remove the cloth before nesting resumes because hardware cloth can disorient nesting bees and damage their wings.

Stem bundles
In addition to wooden blocks, artificial nests can be constructed with bundles of reed, teasel, cup plant or bamboo cut so that a natural node forms the inner wall of the tunnel. Cut each stem below the nodes (usually indicated by a ridge) to create a handful of tubes, each with one open end. Strap the tubes together into a tight bundle with wire, string or tape, making certain that the closed ends of the stems are all at the same end of the bundle. A variation on this is to tightly pack the stems – open ends out – into a tin can, paper milk carton, square plastic buckets or short section of PVC pipe. The bundles should be placed in a sheltered location (such as the side of a barn or garden shed) with the stems horizontal to the ground.

To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Alternative Pollinators: Native Bees, which provides information and resources on how to plan for, protect and create habitat for native bees in agricultural settings.

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Permalink How can I find a good lamb processor?

Answer: Harvest and processing of your lambs are cornerstones in the successful marketing of your product. In most cases, they are also the components in the production chain over which you have the least direct control. All of your skill in producing and marketing your lamb comes to no avail if you do not succeed in securing the successful harvest of your lambs. For this reason, employing the services of a knowledgeable and reputable meat processor is of utmost importance. Remember that the processor must have appropriate inspection for the way you intend to sell your meat. For example, if you are selling to stores, restaurants, or farmers markets, State or Federal inspection is required. Federal inspection is required when selling across state lines. See the ATTRA publication Tips for Marketing Sheep and Goat Products: Meat for more information.

Ideally, the processor should be relatively close to your farm. This limits the stress of hauling, allows you to easily view the hanging carcasses, and eases your transportation costs. Often, we producers know much more about the production part of our business than the processing end. A knowledgeable butcher who is willing to teach you the value of a good carcass and how to cut it expertly is invaluable. In my own experience, my operation has profited immensely from our meat cutter and processor. For more on lamb processing and how you can foster good relations with your butcher, see the ATTRA video Creating an Excellent Relationship with Your Lamb Processor.

Meat processors are busy people. Key to their success is keeping up plant throughput over the entire year. Anything you can do to make their life easier (especially communication) will be appreciated and earn you dividends in cooperation. Good processors are very hard to find; nurture the relationship with yours.

To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Direct Marketing Lamb: A Pathway. This publication describes an alternative to marketing lamb other than as a commodity—and capturing the economic benefits. Successful marketing techniques are described, beginning with the finished lamb and continuing through the processing, pricing, and sale of whole and boxed lamb to today's eager local foods customer.

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Permalink What are some ideas for marketing cool-season specialty crops?

Answer: For any market garden, it is important to consider which market is right for you and your farm. In order to assess the types of markets it is important to ask yourself these questions:

Is my farm location conducive to direct marketing? Are you near lucrative farmers markets, restaurants, and specialty food stores? If not, you might need to consider wholesale marketing.

Do I enjoy interacting with people? If so, farmers markets might be perfect. If not, something that does not require as much personal interaction might be a better fit.

Many of the crops described here are unique and could provide a great draw to a farmers market stand throughout the season. If you are using these season-extension techniques on your farm, chances are that your harvest season extends past the season of operation for a typical farmers market or other seasonal direct market. The following discussion describes some options for marketing specialty vegetables and fruits beyond the typical farmers market.

Winter Farmers Markets

The farmers market season is extending in many locations across the U.S., with year-round markets, special winter or holiday markets, or simply a longer season that runs through December. It is important to decide to produce for these markets by late summer/early fall. The crops that you would like to market in late fall need to be planted in the field or hoop house in late July or early August in order to achieve optimum yields in the limited light and cold days of winter. If you currently sell at a farmers market, ask the market coordinator to consider extending the market into the winter months.


Many restaurants are interested in local foods and will pay a premium. They can be a lucrative market, especially if you are located in an area with several high-end restaurants. In order to receive a price premium for your product, there are a few general guidelines. Make a personal visit to the chef, and bring a sample of one of your products—something that sets you apart. Make sure that your product is clean, you are clean, and that you visit when they are not busy—at an off-time during restaurant hours. It is generally a good idea to avoid the hours during lunch and dinner and you should always call the executive chef first.

Chefs appreciate knowing what is available every week. They also appreciate knowing what is in season. Faxing or emailing a weekly availability list that includes prices will remind chefs that you have product available to sell. When you deliver, put on clean clothes and make sure your delivery boxes are clean and presentable.

Learn more in the ATTRA publications Selling to Restaurants, and Tips for Selling to Restaurants.

Gourmet and Specialty Food Markets
Gourmet and specialty food markets will appreciate local specialty vegetables and fruits such as those described above. It is important with some of the fruits, especially the wild fruit varieties, to know the shelf life of these products and have an understanding of the post-harvest handling techniques required to keep them fresh.

These types of markets may have food safety requirements that are more stringent than farmers markets, such as a GAPs (Good Agricultural Practices) plan. They also may have standardized packing requirements that are foreign to many small growers. When approaching a specialty store, contact the produce buyer and ask what type of products the market is interested in and what the packing and food safety standards are.

For more information on GAPs, see the ATTRA publication An Illustrated Guide to Growing Safe Produce on Your Farm, as well as the ATTRA tutorial Produce Safety.

To learn more about specialty crop production, consult the ATTRA publication Specialty Crops for Cold Climates.

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Permalink How can I treat peach leaf curl?

Answer: Peach leaf curl, caused by the fungal organism Taphrina deformans, is a common disorder in peach and nectarine orchards, especially during wet springs. Infected leaves become misshapen, deformed, and necrotic, resulting in premature defoliation with subsequent re-sprouting of new leaves. This kind of stress reduces fruit yield and predisposes the tree to pest attack.

The infection period for leaf curl is when new leaves start emerging from buds in the spring. Spraying now is ineffective because infection takes place as the young leaves emerge, and the fungus develops inside the leaf. Accordingly, sprays must be applied during the trees' dormant period—after the leaves have fallen and before the first budswell in the spring. Many orchardists spray just prior to budswell during the months of February and March. Orchards with a history of severe peach leaf curl benefit from a double application: in the autumn at leaf fall and again in late winter or early spring just before budswell. The best and safest material to spray is lime-sulfur.

Severe leaf curl infection can cause the tree to shed many of its leaves and to replace them with a second flush of growth. At this time the tree will benefit from a soil application of a quickly-available soluble fertilizer such as compost tea or fish emulsion to help it recover.

There are various levels of resistance to leaf curl among varieties; however, because of the relative ease of controlling the disease, breeding for resistance has not been a priority. Redhaven, Candor, Clayton, and Frost are some of the cultivars with resistance to leaf curl, though none is immune.

To learn more, consult these ATTRA publications:

Peach Diseases Identification Sheet
Peach Insect Pests Identification Sheet
Peaches: Organic and Low-Spray Production

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Permalink What are some ideas for marketing persimmons?

Answer: Because astringency of the fruit can be such a powerful disincentive to eating persimmons, it is important that the marketer either sell only properly ripened fruit or provide good information to the end consumer about how to ripen the fruit properly at home.

Packing is another important consideration. The fruit of the American persimmon when ripe is very soft, so extreme care must be taken when packing for market, or you will be trying to sell flats of mush. Stacking more than a few fruits on top of each other will lead to an unsalable product.

Asian persimmons should be packed for market when the cultivar’s full color has developed. The nonastringent cultivars can be shipped and eaten while still a little firm, but they are still prone to bruising. The astringent types are marketed while firm because by the time they are full-ripe and nonastringent, they often need to be eaten with a spoon. So, careful handling is the rule.

Direct Marketing Ideas
Because only folks with a rural background are likely to have had any exposure to American persimmons—and many of those will have had a bad experience (probably initiated by an older sibling or someone else “in the know” who convinced the person to bite into one as a practical joke)—the challenge and opportunity will exist to introduce a clientele to something new that can be extremely delicious and nutritious. Perhaps signage that translates the Latin genus name would be a good start: “Diospyros = Food of the Gods!”

Another marketing idea helpful for all kinds of direct-marketed crops is to provide recipes and other ideas for their use.
American persimmons, most often gathered from the wild, do sometimes show up at farmers markets in their climatic range in autumn, so persimmons do have at least some minor commercial appeal already.

Relatively small amounts of frozen and canned pulp do get sold (visit www.persimmonpudding. com for sources and ideas on processing the persimmons). Jerry Lehman and other persimmon aficionados in the Midwest are leading the way to commercialization of the American persimmon and held a conference in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 2002 to that end. The information from that conference and much more about persimmons appears at Another source for marketing ideas is the Mitchell Persimmon Festival () in Mitchell, Indiana, which boasts persimmon pudding contests, persimmon fruit taste competition, and more.

Commercial Possibilities for Asian Persimmon Culture Outside California
Up to the present, commercial Asian persimmon culture has been almost exclusively a California enterprise, but growing conditions in much of the Deep South should be conducive to Asian persimmons, and the widespread survival and success of Asian persimmons as dooryard trees is at least partial proof of that. The upper- and mid-South regions are probably too risky for commercial production, as the Asian persimmon can be killed to the roots by temperatures near 0˚F and suffer significant damage any time temperatures dip below 20˚F.

Another encouraging factor for potential growers outside California is the growing populations of ethnic Asians in most American towns and cities. Until apples were introduced, the Asian persimmon, with more than 1,000 named cultivars, was the most widely grown fruit in China and Japan. So, with growing populations of ethnic Asians in the U.S., there should be a parallel growth in marketing possibilities.

Learn more about persimmon astringency problems, culture, and marketing in the ATTRA publication Persimmons, Asian and American.

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Permalink What trees can be tapped to produce syrup?

Answer: Alternative saps are becoming more popular for making syrups and other value-added products. Collecting and boiling sap from trees such as black walnuts, birches, and box elders offers a niche product that can have a higher price point than maple syrup. In addition, these maple alternatives can extend the sugaring season, as the sap run from these trees tends to occur later than maples, often hitting its peak when the volume and quality of maple sap starts to diminish.

However, the sap yield and sugar content of these trees is typically lower than sugar maples, often making it challenging to have enough sap to support the enterprise economically. For example, a 60:1 sap-to-syrup ratio would not be uncommon for trees like black walnuts and box elders, and a 100:1 ratio for birch trees. The Wild Foodism website provides information on 22 species of trees that can be tapped for making syrup.

You can learn much more on this topic in the ATTRA publication Maple Sugaring: An Introduction to Small-Scale Commercial Production. It provides an overview of maple sugaring, including business planning, financial considerations, marketing, equipment and supplies, value-added products, organic certification, regulations, and quality control. It also includes resources for acquiring more knowledge on maple syrup production and determining if maple sugaring is a viable addition to a farming operation.

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Permalink How can I improve poor soil for fruit plants?

Answer: Poor soils for fruit plants can be those that are too rocky, clayey, poorly drained, too well drained (droughty), acid, and/or infertile. Luckily, there are remedies for almost all of these, and, once established, woody plants are often quite tolerant of these conditions. Read on for some simple ideas on how to deal with soil problems.

Adding organic matter helps break up clay soils, gives life to sandy and rocky soils, improves water absorption and retention, and adds nutrients. However, there can be too much of a good thing. When planting in a clay or rocky soil, for instance, if the grower fills the hole with too much organic matter, he or she can unwittingly be producing a situation like growing in a pot: the roots don't extend beyond the nice hole with all of the good soil and can even become tangled and "pot-bound." So, in a clay or rocky soil, no more than 25% of the backfill in the hole should be potting soil or compost or some other organic matter-rich material. You want to encourage the roots to extend out into the surrounding soil. Unlike a clay soil, it's hard to add too much organic matter to a sandy soil; the roots will easily extend into the sand.

You can also encourage the roots when first planting in a clay soil by making sure that the sides of the planting hole are not perfectly round and/or glazed. A typical shovel can glaze the sides of a hole dug in clay soil, but an auger is really bad for creating that condition. The simple remedy is to score or rough up the sides of the hole with your shovel and make sure you don't curl or bend the roots when placing the plant in the hole. It's better to prune back the roots a little than to bend them, but better yet would be to dig a square hole or otherwise provide channels for root extension. In other words, avoid root constriction.

Regarding drainage, there is internal drainage based on soil texture (clay, sand, and loam) and external drainage based on topography. Clay provides poor internal drainage; a very sandy soil can be too well-drained (droughty). A sandy loam soil is best for most fruit plants, though additions of organic matter make it better still. Our common red and orange clays are indicative of some soil oxygen as these colors are the result of iron oxides (rust) in the soil, so such soils can be used for planting and made better by adding organic matter and taking care during planting as described in the preceding paragraph. Black, white, and gray clays should be avoided altogether because they are usually too wet and, wet or dry, do not provide enough oxygen for plant roots; not much can be done with them for the purposes of fruit growing.

External drainage refers to the water flow over a piece of land. All fruit species adapted to the Ozarks are intolerant of standing water, so avoid boggy spots or areas where the water drains out too slowly. Stone fruits, like plums, peaches, and cherries, are especially intolerant of poorly drained conditions.

If the soil is excessively droughty because it's sandy and/or on a slope, provide a slightly raised berm on the downside of the hole to encourage the water to collect and drain out more slowly.

Acid soils (technically, anything below pH 7) are the norm in the Ozarks; in fact, undisturbed forest soils of the Ozarks are usually around pH 5.2 to 6.0. Fortunately, most fruit plants are tolerant to anything down to pH 5.7 or thereabouts. Blueberries require a highly acid soil (ideally between pH 4.8 to 5.2), so a blueberry grower might actually need to further acidify the soil with a sulfur-based product (but do it according to a soil test). Pears are generally fine with the native pH. Other fruit plants will usually do best in soils that are only slightly acidic (pH 6.0 to 6.5), but they are generally tolerant and can perform well enough in any soil from pH 5.8 to 7.2. The grower will need to have a soil test to ascertain soil pH. The remedy for an acid soil is agricultural-grade crushed limestone applied as per instructions that will come with your soil test results.

Soil samples can be submitted to your county Cooperative Extension office, or you can buy simple soil-testing kits online. Ozark soils are notoriously poor in nutrients, but most trees, including fruit trees, are not particularly demanding. Adding nutrients in elemental form, as in most commercial fertilizers, should be done in accordance with a soil test, but annual or semi-annual applications of compost and mulch on top of the soil (don't put any type of fertilizer in the planting hole) usually provide adequate fertility for home growers. Though technically not organic or "natural," products like Jobe's Tree and Fertilizer Spikes™ are safe and effective ways to provide season-long, slow-release nutrition to young fruit plants.

Past three years of age, most fruit plants do well enough on the fertility provided by decaying mulch and maybe a shovel or two of compost. If you detect nutrient deficiency symptoms like yellow leaves or stunted growth (fruit trees should put on a minimum of about 12 inches of new growth every year), increase applications of compost or winter applications of manure. If fertility issues seem pressing, consider quick-release fertilizers like compost tea or manure tea, fish emulsion, or non-organic liquid fertilizers like Miracle-Gro™.

For more information, consult the ATTRA publication Fruit Trees, Bushes, and Vines for Natural Growing in the Ozarks. This publication discusses how to overcome common challenges of growing fruit trees, vines, and bushes in the Ozarks and suggests what to look for when choosing a variety that will thrive locally.

Note: The mention of specific products or brand names is for educational purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by NCAT, ATTRA, or USDA.

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Permalink How do I plan for production if I'm working with a food hub?

Answer: Food hubs can help agricultural producers achieve and maintain profitable businesses. A 2011 survey found that a food hub working with a median of 40 suppliers has the ability to increase producer profitability by enhancing access to commercial markets, purchasing seed, scheduling planting dates, and projecting sales for the season (Barham et al., 2012). As with any farm enterprise or marketing outlet, working with a food hub requires careful planning. This includes evaluating the relationship between working with a food hub and the goals established for the farm. It requires a careful examination of current on-farm resources, such as labor, equipment, and infrastructure, as well as what is needed in order to meet the needs of the food hub. Filtering the opportunity to work with a food hub through a farm’s mission statement and business plan will help determine whether or not the food hub is a good marketing outlet to pursue.

Costs of Production
Understanding costs of production can provide a basis for determining the success of a farm enterprise. Accurate recordkeeping and cost analysis will help determine whether producing a specific product is profitable and can help in determining labor, equipment, and infrastructure needs for selling that product to a food hub. Having accurate information on farm income and expenses will also help determine the price and revenue you will need in order to make a profit by selling through a food hub. It will also allow you to review whether or not it is cost-effective to implement certain production practices that differentiate and add value to your products, such as being certified organic or GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified. Crop and livestock enterprise budgets are important decision-analysis tools useful for understanding costs of production and developing a whole-farm budget.

Working closely with producers is a defining characteristic of a food hub. Food hub operators not only manage the supply and demand of products between producers and buyers, but also play an important role in providing technical assistance and logistical support to their producers. By providing producers with information related to production costs, including processing, distribution, and marketing, food hubs better equip those producers to determine if a product will be profitable. This requires the producers to receive timely access to information, knowledge, and tools and materials they need to succeed. Sharing knowledge and coordinating planting dates, crop varieties, harvest dates, and quantities can result in access to higher quality and more competitive markets that deliver premium prices to the producer.

Crop Planning
Crop planning is an important component for producers in working with food hubs. In order for a food hub to manage an account, they expect a certain quantity at a specific date from a producer. From a crop-planning prospective, a producer needs to determine what crop(s) and/or variety to grow for a food hub, how much to grow, where it will be planted, and dates for starting seed and transplanting that correspond to each harvest date. Many food hubs work with producers and buyers prior to the growing season to coordinate production planning. This not only provides peace of mind for the producers in knowing that there is a market and acceptable price for their products; it also allows growers to cut costs by purchasing bulk seed, fertilizer, and other supplies together. Crop planning starts with organizing the production within a single year. It relies on matching the cultural needs of crops to your farm soil types and climate and evaluating the frequency of succession plantings for a consistent supply. Using methods for extending the season and planting extra crops can help manage supply risks. Annual crop plans then become part of a long-term rotational plan for increasing soil fertility and yields.

Variety Selection
Once a food hub has established a market for a product, it will allocate the production among producers and determine how much each will supply. Although a buyer is primarily interested in a crop in general, it is important for the producer to pay attention to variety selection. A crop variety must not only be suitable for your farm's soil and climate, but must also meet the specifications of the buyer, such as size, appearance, and shelf life. The producer has the option of choosing a variety that will offer higher yields or disease resistance, as long as that choice doesn’t jeopardize either the buyer specifications or the farm’s bottom line. Evaluating varieties for better storability may also be critical in producing for a food hub, with the understanding that as a crop’s shelf life increases, quality, including taste and appearance, decreases.

I recommend that you consult the ATTRA publication Food Hubs: A Producer Guide to learn much more on this topic. This publication focuses on providing producers with information, resources, and case studies specific to understanding how food hubs can provide new marketing outlets. In includes a list of further resources that can serve as additional avenues of study.


Barham, James, Debra Tropp, Kathleen Enterline, Jeff Farbman, John Fisk, and Stacia Kiraly. 2012. Regional Food Hub Resource Guide. USDA-AMS, Washington, DC.

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Permalink How can I control flatweed in my pasture organically?

Answer: Flatweed, or false dandelion, can infest pastures that have been disturbed or have been overgrazed. Control is possible but takes a comprehensive, multifaceted approach including grazing management and possibly a low-toxicity herbicide. Creating a favorable environment for forage growth is important to prevent re-infestation.

I recommend a few options that can be combined for a holistic approach. First, if it's feasible, you can dig out the crowns if the infestation is sporadic, or use of low-toxicity herbicide as a spot treatment early in season (vinegar and citrus oil). Organic herbicides are less effective when the plant matures. For serious infestations, cultivation, cover cropping, and then replanting with perennial pasture will likely be in order, and may take two years of cultural management if pastures are heavily infested.

If cultivation is warranted, you could go in this spring with a disc, and turn the soil lightly to uproot the crowns. Be advised that false dandelion can still regrow from broken crowns, but you can help reduce the stand if you come in with an oat cover crop for the summer. You can graze the oats, and disc again in the fall and plant a diverse cover crop of something like annual rye, red clover, or crimson clover. Annual ryegrass also works well. The point of the cover cropping is to: (1) provide high plant competition to reduce the likelihood of false dandelion re-emergence; and (2) provide lots of soil carbon to feed soil microorganisms and add organic matter for building a healthy, resilient, fertile soil for the forages. Then, the following spring you could harvest the cover crop by mowing or grazing, and disc again if the weeds are still present. At this point, depending on the extent of the infestation, you could plant an annual once again, or plant a perennial pasture mix of grasses and legumes.

Then, in order to keep the pasture stand healthy, you could develop a rotational grazing plan to control the time the horses are on the pasture, as well as the recovery time needed for the pasture plants to re-grow after grazing. Basically, a short grazing period of less than four days is best, with a recovery period from 25 to 60 days (depending on the season and soil moisture: less in the spring and fall and more in the summer). Four days is good for a grazing period because after this time plants begin to regrow, and horses find it hard to resist the fresh vegetation that has not fully recovered from grazing. When the horses are re-grazing plants that are trying to grow back and recovery is not complete, overgrazing occurs and the forage plants cannot compete with the weeds.

I recommend splitting the pasture into several paddocks, as many as you can, with electric wire or poly tape. If you have nine paddocks and keep the animals on each paddock for four days, this allows about 30 days of rest for each of the other paddocks before they are grazed again. This is a good way to control grazing and ensure the forage plants have the recovery they need.

For further study, the Livestock and Pasture section of the ATTRA website offers a host of related resources, including publications, tutorials, videos, calculators, and more.

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Permalink How can I control bermudagrass?

Answer: Bermudagrass is one of the most challenging pests in sustainable agriculture. Use of the herbicide Sethoxydim should reduce the initial infestation, and following up with the subsequent recommendations will eliminate the need for further use of herbicides in the future. The use of an oil concentrate with the product is recommended for additional benefit. Remember to read the label and follow all recommendations. It is important that the applicator wear personal protective equipment such as goggles, rubber gloves, rubber boots, and overalls.

Follow up practices include:

• Solarization for control of seeds and heavily infested areas. Be persistent in digging up stolon and rhizomes after the control process.

• Black plastic and weed fiber can suppress surviving stolon and rhizomes.

• Cover cropping with sorghum-sudangrass and a legume like cowpea in the summer can outcompete and smother non-cropped areas.

• Plant a native hedgerow on the periphery border to deter the surrounding grass from creeping back in. A hedgerow will add diversity, increase wildlife and insect habitat to your farm or garden. Hedgerow options include:

Ageratina havanensis (Havana snakeroot) – 2 to 6 feet tall, deciduous
Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry) – 3 to 5 feet tall, deciduous
Eysenhardtia texana (Texas kidneywood) – 3 to 10 feet tall, deciduous
Ilex vomitoria (yaupon) – 12 to 25 feet tall, can be trimmed to hedge, evergreen
Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas barometer bush) – 3 to 5 feet tall, evergreen
Mahonia trifoliolata (agarita) - 3 to 8 ft., evergreen
Senna lindheimeriana (velvet leaf senna) – 3 to 6 feet tall, deciduous
Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain-laurel) - 5 to 10 feet tall, evergreen
Morella cerifera (wax myrtle)
Rhododendron maximum (great laurel)
Ilex glabra (inkberry)
Ilex opaca (American holly)
Juniperus virginiana (eastern red cedar)

The publication Market Farming with Rotations and Cover Crops: An Organic Bio-Intensive System, from the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, includes a section on dealing with bermudagrass that you should find very informative.

Learn more in the ATTRA publication Sustainable Weed Management for Small and Medium-Scale Farms. This publication discusses several strategies, both proactive and reactive, as alternatives to conventional tillage systems. Options include mulching, competition, crop rotations, and low-toxicity control alternatives.

Note: The mention of specific brand names or products is for educational purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by NCAT, ATTRA, or USDA.

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Permalink What equipment do I need for direct seeding and transplanting?

Answer: Direct seeding requires contact between the seed and the soil so that the crop can establish itself once it germinates. Spin seeders are used for broadcasting cover-crop seeds at a set desired rate. They can be handheld or tractor mounted. Light harrowing, raking, irrigating, or adequate rainfall will help ensure good seed-to-soil contact.

Other types of seeders should be used for crops that need to be planted in the soil at a uniform spacing and depth. These include precision seeders, pinpoint seeders, stick- or jab-type seeders, and drills. Precision seeders can be manually pushed or tractor mounted and dispense individual seeds in a furrow. Seeds can be singulated through several different mechanisms, including cups, belts, vacuums, plates, and rollers. For small-scale farms, Glaser, Earthway, and Jang are brand names of precision push seeders that use plates or rollers. The Stanhay uses belts, and the Nibex uses cups—both are available as walk-behind push seeders or toolbar-mounted seeders. Many of these single-row seeders offer attachments that can connect seeders together for seeding multiple rows, attach seeders to a wheel hoe, or mount seeders with a fertilizer attachment.

Pinpoint seeders are designed to be manually pulled and perform well for greenhouse planting. Medium- to large-sized seeds can be hand planted through a stick- or jab-type seeder that can also plant through plastic mulch. Seed drills also are available for manual or tractor-mounted seeding. Discs can be set for the size of the seed, but thinning may be necessary to achieve proper spacing between plants. Planet Jr. is a classic name associated with vegetable drills. Drills can also be used for planting grains and cover crops.

Regarding transplants, setting them out helps to extend the growing season and harvest. Many farmers transplant crops by hand using a trowel, a dibbler, or a jab-style planter, but mechanical transplanters can speed up the planting process with more accuracy and less labor. Mechanical transplanters require one person to drive the tractor while a crew of one or more people drops transplants into the soil. Many farmers have designed simple sled-type transplanters that allow the crew to sit or lie down while they transplant by hand.

Commercial transplanters have a shoe, coulter, or some other device to open the planting furrow. They also have a closing wheel that packs the seedlings, which are held on trays, in place once they are planted. Water-wheel transplanters inject water into the hole after the plant is set. Other types of transplanters include the gripper type, the carousel, the spade type, and the no-till transplanter.

Learn more in the ATTRA publication Equipment and Tools for Small-Scale Intensive Crop Production. It details equipment and hand tools for soil preparation, planting, and weed management. The use of appropriate equipment and tools, both in terms of size and practicality, can increase production efficiency and profits while minimizing the disturbance to soil and to plant health. A list of further resources and tool and equipment suppliers is included.

Note: The mention of specific brand names or companies is for educational purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by NCAT, ATTRA, or USDA.

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Permalink Can crop rotation help manage weeds?

Answer: Yes! Crop rotations limit the buildup of weed populations and prevent major weed-species shifts. Weeds tend to prosper in crops that have requirements similar to their own. Fields of annual crops favor short-lived annual weeds, whereas maintaining land in perennial crops favors perennial weed species. In a crop rotation, the timing of cultivation, mowing, fertilization, herbicide application, and harvesting changes from year to year. Rotation thus changes the growing conditions from year to year—a situation to which few weed species easily adapt. Rotations that include clean-cultivated annual crops, tightly spaced grain crops, and mowed or grazed perennial sod crops create an unstable environment for weeds. Additional weed control may be obtained by including short-season, weed-smothering cover crops such as sorghum-sudan or buckwheat. Crop rotation has long been recognized for its ability to prevent weeds from developing to serious levels.

Incorporating crops with allelopathic effects into the rotation adds another element of control. Such crops include sunflowers, sorghum, and rapeseed. Allelopathic plants are those that inhibit or slow the growth of other nearby plants by releasing natural toxins, or "allelochemicals." Weed-control ability varies among varieties and management practices. For example, sweet potatoes have been shown to inhibit the growth of yellow nutsedge, velvetleaf, and pigweed. Field trials showed a 90% reduction of yellow nutsedge over two years following sweet potatoes.

Managing croplands according to nature’s principles will reduce weed problems on horticultural crops, or row crops, in small and medium-sized operations. Creativity is key to devising sustainable cropping systems that prevent weed problems. You can learn much more in the ATTRA publication Sustainable Weed Management for Small and Medium-Scale Farms. This publication discusses several strategies, both proactive and reactive, as alternatives to conventional tillage systems. Options include mulching, competition, crop rotations, and low-toxicity control alternatives. A resource list provides sources of further information.

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Permalink I want to raise sheep. What is the best breed to buy?

Answer: What do you plan to do? Here you need to think about your farm goals. Do you want to sell market lambs or fi ne wool? Are you interested in conserving rare breeds or in selling meat at the farmers market? For goats, is it meat or milk that is your focus? Some breeds are better suited to a certain purpose than others. Choosing a breed that is well-adapted for the purpose will result in greater profitability and less stress.

Where do you live? Some breeds are well-adapted to a particular climate or region and will not do well elsewhere. For example, Angora goats thrive in the dry areas of the United States but may be very susceptible to parasites if moved to the humid South. Icelandic sheep are a great choice if you want to raise fiber in a cold climate, but heat stress may be a problem for them in the South. Consider the climate that will make the animals comfortable before choosing a breed.

What do other local producers raise? If no one else in your region is raising a particular breed, it may be because that breed does not thrive in your climate. It also might be true that a breed is just not well-known in your area, even though it is perfectly suited. In that case, you might fill a niche and create a demand by educating others about the breed. On the other hand, if no one else in your region is raising a breed, where will you need to go to purchase breeding stock? And who will buy the stock you raise? If you are raising Suffolk sheep and there are lots of 4-H members in your county who want market lambs to show, you have a ready market (assuming you have high-quality, healthy stock). Those same 4-H members may not be interested in Jacob sheep. Someone who wanted to draw people to the farm and also sell to handspinners would be VERY interested in those Jacob sheep, and not the Suffolks! So consider local availability and demand, along with farm goals and your interest in marketing.

What are your criteria for animals on your farm? This is related to the idea of the breed meeting your goals but takes it a little farther: let’s say I have decided my main focus is to raise lambs for meat. I will sell live lambs. And I want them to weigh 100 pounds in 120 to 150 days. A well-fed Suffolk might fit the bill; they are known for fast growth. On the other hand, let’s say I want animals that are parasite-resistant, hardy, and able to breed out of season. I also am interested in conserving a rare breed. Those criteria steer me away from the Suffolk and toward the Gulf Coast Sheep. But now we have to prioritize because they are NOT known for fast growth.

How do you plan to raise and market the off-spring? Again, this is an important factor in your decision. Using the comparison between Suffolk and Gulf Coast sheep, you might consider available feed and your personal values and decide that your farm is best-suited to raising sheep on pasture alone. The hardiness and parasite-resistance of the Gulf Coast breed then may make your decision easy. On the other hand, suppose your customer is a restaurant that wants large lamb chops: the larger breed would be preferred (unless you convince the restaurant of how "cool" it is to conserve a rare breed and encourage genetic diversity). An ethnic customer might be much happier with the smaller Gulf Coast lamb, available nearly year-round due to out-of-season breeding.

The question of which breed to buy is really impossible to answer without having all the background information. Then you must factor in personal preference; there is no sense in raising a breed you do not personally enjoy, no matter how many fi ne attributes it has. (For example, I will not raise Lamancha dairy goats because I do not like their ears.)

For many purposes, cross-bred animals will work better; they bring hybrid vigor and improved hardiness, as well as combining two sets of admirable traits. But the main thing to look for in breeding stock is not breed: it is health, local adaptation, and suitability for the market.

To learn more, consult ATTRA's Sheep and Goats: Frequently Asked Questions, which offers answers to many common questions about raising and marketing sheep and goats. You can find many more useful resources in the Livestock: Sheep and Goats section of the ATTRA website.

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Permalink What and when do I apply to crepe myrtles to prevent aphid damage?

Answer: Aphids overwinter as eggs and emerge in the spring, and continue to reproduce all season. They reach maturity in about 10 days, which makes for several generations each growing season. Because of their rapid life cycle, they are difficult to control with insecticides. Several species of predatory insects will feed on aphids, including ladybugs, green lacewings, and parasitic wasps.

Using insecticides will harm the good insects along with the bad, so spraying all season is seldom beneficial or economical. However, if you have an infestation and want to spray, I recommend a least-toxic pesticide such as insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, pyrethrins, or neem oil. A good source of information for least toxic and organic approved pesticides can be found in ATTRA's Biorationals: Ecological Pest Management Database.

Another useful resource is the ATTRA tipsheet Aphids — Botanical Control Formulations, which discusses the use of garlic, rosemary, papaya leaves, and mint to control aphids. Its references list can lead you to additional sources of information on this topic.

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Permalink What can you tell me about soil nutrition for high tunnel tree fruit production?

Answer: Without rain or overhead irrigation, some bulky organic fertilizers—e.g., compost—will not readily break down and move into the soil. And because the fruit crops we’re discussing are perennials, cover crops cannot be relied upon for nutrition after the initial planting. This emphasizes the need for pre-plant consideration of nutritional needs of the plants, beginning with a soil test. For instance, adjusting soil pH with lime or sulfur should occur before the tunnel’s cover goes on.

Likewise, if soil organic matter needs improvement, cover crops or applications of manures or composts should happen before the high tunnel is covered. Allow time for breakdown and mechanical or natural incorporation of these into the soil.

Post-planting nutritional needs are going to be met with fertigation (running liquid fertilizers in the irrigation system), by precision hand-application of compost or pelletized organic fertilizers, or by hand-application of liquid organic fertilizers via watering buckets or hoses with fertilizer attachments. Regarding fertigation, liquid organic fertilizers, like fish emulsion or compost tea, have a reputation for clogging or gumming up the drip emitters (manufacturers of some of these products are now touting some formulations as "fertigation friendly" in order to address this problem). In such cases, proper filtration is the first line of defense. If clogging still occurs, there is an organically acceptable cleaner called Cleardrip-O.

Fertigation in Organic Vegetable Production Systems is an excellent primer on organic fertigation, as relevant to perennial fruits as it is to vegetables. It discusses the necessary equipment, fertigation products, how to calculate rates, and more. If you’re going to apply dry fertilizer materials, they will have to be placed where the soil is wet from the irrigation; otherwise, the nutrients from such materials will not move into the root zone to be available to plant roots.

Lastly, its advisable to remove the plastic cover every winter in order to ensure that the trees meet their chill requirement but also to allow rain to rinse out excess salts from the fertilizers. This is also a time when manure or compost could be applied with some confidence that it will be "washed" into the soil by rain and melting snow. Compost, especially compost made from plant matter and not animal manure, contains less salt and so should be considered a superior organic fertilizer material for most high tunnel applications.

Learn much more on this topic in the ATTRA publication High Tunnel Tree Fruit and Grape Production for Eastern Growers. It identifies fruits that hold the most potential for profitable high tunnel culture, as well as several limitations and potential pitfalls growers must recognize if such a venture is to be profitable.

Note: The mention of specific brand names or companies is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement by NCAT, ATTRA, or the USDA.

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