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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What information can you give me on no-till vegetable transplanters?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information on sourcing or building a no-till vegetable transplanter.

The following resources reflect current research and practice with no-till vegetable production. Steve Groff and Dr. Ron Morse, both mentioned on Rodale’s No-till website, have developed no-till translanters. I am sure with a few phone calls you could obtain plans or advice on converting a no-till planter or transplanter to a no-till transplanter.

Steve Groff, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Steve has customized an RJ Equipment carousel transplanter for no-till transplanting of tomatoes into killed cover crops. This transplanter has a spring-loaded 20-inch, turbo coulter, followed by a double disk opener and a short shoe to place the transplant in. Angled press wheels tuck the soil firmly around the plant. The package leaves virtually no soil showing after the crop is planted, giving good full coverage mulch for the whole season. Pictures of the transplanter can be found at the Cedar Meadow Farm website at:

RJ Equipment
75 Industrial Ave.
PO Box 1180
Blenheim Ont. N0P 10
According to Steve Groff’s website, RJ Equipment is custom-making no-till transplanters.

Dr. Ron Morse
Professor of Horticulture
Virginia Tech.
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Dr. Morse is conducting research on no-till cover crop mulch systems for organic vegetable production. He has modified a Holland transplanter to perform no-till plantings.

Transplanter and Stalk-Chopper Modifications
: Customized tools handle heavy cover crop residue. Sustainable Farming Connection.

Darren Shenk
Agricultural Resource Conservationist
Southeastern Pennsylvania Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D)
Willowdale Town Center
688 Unionville Road Suite 200
Kennett Square, PA 19348
610-925-4920 x120
The RS&D has developed a horse drawn no-till transplanter that will be available for Spring 2008 use at no charge. The funds for it were made available by the Southeastern
Pennsylvania Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D). Tobacco, pumpkins, broccoli, and cauliflower have been planted successfully without tilling.



Permalink What information can you give me on wireworm control options?


Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for information about control of wireworms.

Life Cycle and Biology
Wireworms are the larvae of click beetles. There are many species of wireworms found in agricultural fields, such as Agriotes spp, and Limonius spp. Others include the Pacific coast wireworm, Limonius canus, the sugarbeet wireworm, Limonius californicus, or the dryland wireworm, Ctenicera pruinina. The adults are slender and cylindrical in shape, yellow to brown in color, and average between ½" and 2" in length. In the east, the eastern field wireworm (Limonius agonus) occasionally develops in corn fields under very clean cultivation on sandy soils. The adult beetles are not pests but the larvae can cause severe damage to seeds and young root systems. The life cycle of the wireworm can last up to five years depending on the species. Most of this is spent in the larval stage with the greatest feeding damage occurring in the second and third years.

Adults mate in early summer and the eggs are laid singly or in clusters below the soil surface in grassy/weedy areas (1). The eggs hatch within a month and the larvae feed on plant matter, growing slowly and taking between three and five years to mature. The larvae are initially white with dark jaws, then turn dark yellow to brown as they mature. In late summer, the mature larvae move deeper into the soil and create small cell hollows where they pupate. They may emerge within a month or overwinter and emerge in spring.

Management Considerations

Soil temperatures are important in wireworm development and control. Larvae start to move upward in the spring when soil temperatures at the 6-inch depth reach 50°F. Later in the season, when temperatures reach 80°F and above, the larvae tend to move deeper than 6 inches, where most remain until the following spring (2). Because the female beetles fly very little, infestations do not spread rapidly from field to field.

Wireworms are difficult to control. There is no silver bullet, organically acceptable insecticide that will provide good control. Not only do wireworms have an extended larval stage, they also feed on many different crops. Oats, wheat, barley, and clover are especially susceptible. Horticultural favorites of wireworms are beans, brassicas, carrots, corn, cowpeas, lettuce, melons, onions, peas, potatoes, strawberries, and sweet potatoes. Wireworm populations tend to build up on grass and sod, in fields that have been in continuous cereal production, or that have not been in annual crop production for years (3). Adult females of the corn wireworm prefer to lay eggs in grassy undisturbed soil (4). Since rotations to grasses are key to sustainable soil fertility management in many systems, eliminating sod crops and small grains from a rotation scheme should not be done without thorough planning for alternatives. Baiting is a good way to confirm wireworm presence but does not give a reliable estimate of the density of the population.

Monitoring by Baiting (5)

The most direct way to detect wireworms in a field is by general observation during plowing or disking of a field, particularly where old alfalfa, clover, or pasture is being taken out. Wireworms can also be detected by baiting, using carrots, packets of untreated corn and/or wheat seed, or ground whole wheat flour, provided they are used when soil temperatures are 50°F 4 to 6 inches deep. Baiting does not give a good estimation of the density of the population. If baiting shows the presence of wireworms, take soil samples to estimate the wireworm density. Use a 6-inch post hole digger and a shaker/sifter to sample. Take samples in the spring when soil temperatures are 45°F or higher at the 6-inch level or in late summer at the 18-inch level.

Management Options

Summer fallow along with frequent tillage helps reduce populations, although frequent tillage has negative impacts on soil organic matter. Crop rotation to alfalfa or another wire worm-tolerant host may help to decrease populations in the long run. Rotation to non-host crops such as lettuce, alfalfa, sunflowers, and buckwheat will reduce wireworm populations and is recommended. Most importantly, avoid planting highly susceptible crops like grains, grasses, pasture, carrots, and potatoes following sod (6). Such practices as shallow tillage, shallow seeding, seeding with a press drill, and clean summer fallow are all helpful in reducing future wireworm damage (7). Cultivation eliminates food sources, desiccates the larvae and pupae and exposes them to predation, but at the cost of increasing the rate of oxidation of organic matter in the soil. Larval populations are most dense close to the surface in early spring when temperatures begin to warm up, and again in early fall. Disking or tillage at these times is more effective than at other times, when larvae burrow deeper down, sometimes as much as two feet deep. Populations usually decrease following cultivation but may persist for 3-4 years if the land is weedy (1).

If you have access to a lot of water, all stages of wireworms can be killed by flooding the land so that the water stands a few inches deep for a week during warm weather, when the soil temperature at six inches is 70°F. (6)

As you can see, treatment options are very limited. Use of parasitic nematodes is an option if the area to be treated is not too large. Ron Engeland, in Growing Great Garlic, The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers recommends the use of beneficial nematodes (Steinernema feltiae) applied in a water spray at the base of the plant for wireworm control. For best results, he recommends that they be applied the year before garlic is planted (8). It may be worthwhile to partner with another cooperative extension agent and experiment with treating small plots to establish cost/benefit data relative to using parasitic nematodes for wireworm control. There is also a formulation, Lawn Patrol, of the beneficial nematode, Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, that the manufacturer claims is effective against wireworms and other soil-dwelling beetle larvae. Adequate soil moisture (i.e., watering the soil after application of nematodes) is critical to nematode effectiveness.

Wireworms are attracted to carrots. These may be used to catch the insects if a relatively small area is planted, or for spot infestations. Plant nearly full grown carrots every 3 feet in the garden. Every 2 to 3 days pull up the carrots, remove and kill the wireworms and replace the carrot. Pieces of potato may also be effective (9).

A team of scientists in Canada have experimented with using a fungus, Metarhizium anisopliae to control wireworm biologically (10). They concluded that the fungus has potential for control of wireworms in a field situation, but unfortunately, there are no commercial products now registered for use on wireworm that contain the particular strain of this fungus most effective against wireworms. Contact information for the researchers is:

Todd Kabaluk,
Project Leader
Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre
Box 1000 Agassiz, B.C.V0M 1A0ph.
604-796-2221 ext. 215
fx. 604-796-0359

Dr. Mark Goettel
Lethbridge Research Centre
Box 3000 Lethbridge, ABT1J 4B1
ph. 403-317-2264
fx. 403-382-3156

Dr. Bob Vernon
Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre
Box 1000 Agassiz, B.C.V0M 1A0
ph. 604-796-2221 ext. 212
fx. 604-796-0359

Sue Blodgett of Montana State University is also researching the efficacy, formulation, and soil persistence of Metarhizium strain F52 in small grain and potato field plots. Her contact information is:
Sue Blodgett
Montana State University
Department of Entomology
410 Leon Johnson Hall
Bozeman, Montana 59717-3020

A research team in Wales, UK examined using fodder rape and mustard as green manures for control of wireworms on potatoes (11). There was a slight trend toward lower wireworm (and slug) populations in the black mustard (Brassica nigra) treatments, which consisted of growing the mustards for six weeks, then rototilling them into the soil prior to planting potatoes. It should be noted that this experiment was done on non-organically managed land that had previously been in pasture.

As noted above, there are limited options when it comes to organic management of wireworm infestations. Many of the options available are not optimum because they can damage the soil quality (multiple shallow cultivations) or farm finances (keeping the field fallow and weed free for 2-3 years). It’s possible that combining trapping (using carrots) with use of predator nematodes around the bait could provide some control of wireworm damage, but this would be an experiment you would have to undertake on your farm with no guarantee of success. Row covers might provide some control by limiting access to the plants by egg-laying females, but that is assuming that the wireworm adults do not emerge under the row cover, mate and oviposit on the carrots. Another long-term, experimental strategy, would be fostering bat populations. Wireworm adults, known as click beetles, are active at night and have few predators as a result. However, bats are insectivores and increasing bat populations may help reduce the number of adults and subsequent number of wireworms in the soil. As I said, this is a long-term strategy, since there is a “wireworm bank” of larvae in the soil that may take up to 3 years to mature to adult beetles. At the very least, the bats will help manage a host of other night-flying insect pests, such as cutworm and armyworm moths. You may wish to access ATTRA’s Farmscaping to Enhance Biological Control, which has information about increasing bat habitat.


1) McKinlay, R.G. (ed.) 1992. Vegetable Crop Pests. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. p. 33.

2) Jensen, A., and B. Stoltz. 2002. PNW Insect Management Handbook. Wireworms Supplement.

3) Sandvol, Larry E. et al. Wireworms in Potatoes. College of Agriculture, University of Idaho. 2 p.

4) Sorensen, K.A. 1995. Wireworms on Sweetpotatoes. Insect Notes #24. Department of Entomology, NCSU.

5) Godfrey, L.D. 2000. Entomology, UC Davis. UC IPM guidelines for potato.

6) Metcalf, R.L. and R.A. Metcalf. 1993. Destructive and Useful Insects, 5th ed. McGraw- Hill, New York, NY.

7) Glogoza, P. 2001. Wireworm Management for North Dakota Field Crops. NDSU Extension Service.

8) Engeland, Ron L. Growing Great Garlic. 1991. Filaree productions, Route 1, Box 162, Okanogan, WA 98840.

9) Spring, A., and Eric Day. Department of Entomology. Virginia Tech., Blacksburg, VA.

10) Kabaluk, T., M. Goettel, B. Vernon, and C. Noronha. 2001. Evaluation of Metarhizium anisopliae as a Biological Control for Wireworms.

11) Frost, D., A Clarke, B M McLean. 2002. Wireworm control using fodder rape and mustard – evaluating the use of brassica green manures for the control of wireworm (Agriotes spp.) in organic crops. ADAS Pwllpeiran, Cwmystwyth, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 4AB, June.



Permalink What information can you give me on energy efficient options for my dairy farm?


Answer:. I am pleased to provide you with information on dairy energy efficiency, including housing, feed storage, and small scale methane capture.

Dairy Housing

Modernization of the following systems provides the most cost-effective means of reducing energy use on the farm, including the dairy barn itself;
• water heating and space heating systems,
• lighting,
• ventilation fan motors,
• milking equipment (pre-coolers, energy efficient compressors, variable speed pumps),
• electrical component cleanliness (clean contacts waste energy and pose a fire hazard),
• solar fencing,
• solar or wind generated water pumps, and
• timers on heating components (OMAFRA).

After addressing these areas of concern, you can begin to ascertain other areas that need treatment, such as manure handling.

Compost Bedding Dairy Barns are an integrated approach solving many farm problems, including the problem of manure handling. This design also utilizes the heat of aerobic fermentation to heat the barn space. Compost is spread on fields seasonally, and nutrient loss is much less than with spreading raw manure. However, the compost bedding process requires aeration twice a day and ventilation to remove moisture. Maintaining a compost bedding space requires constant attention, and sufficient equipment to aerate the pack twice daily. Compost bedding barns reduce the need to purchase and ship bedding materials such as wood shavings, which represents not only a cost savings but an energy savings as well. Endres and Janni (2008) suggest the following practices to ensure a successfully composted bedding pack:

Keys to Success with Compost Dairy Barns

• Provide at least 80 to 85 sq. feet per cow for Holsteins and similar-sized breeds and 65 sq. feet for Jerseys. Some producers provide 100 sq. feet per cow.
• Use fine, dry wood shavings or sawdust for bedding. Alternative bedding materials are being investigated.
• Aerate the pack twice daily 10 inches deep or deeper to keep it aerobic and fluffy. Biological activity helps dry the pack.
• Add bedding when it begins to stick to the cows (Have bedding supply available so you don’t end up adding fresh bedding too late).
• Enhance biological activity to generate heat to drive off moisture, and ventilate the barn well to remove the moisture.
• Use excellent cow prep at milking time.

Whether a compost bedding barn or a conventional barn with timely manure removal is more efficient depends on your own particular circumstances, such as frequency of removal, available land for disposal, pasture nutrient load (namely phosphorus), and personal preference. In addition to considering the energy and monetary cost of inputs such as bedding and time, consider the amount of tractor time needed to remove manure vs. aerating compost bedding twice daily.

To assist you in determining energy efficient practices, you can access the on-line NRCS Energy Estimator for Animal Housing at This interactive tool will allow you to input your farm data and energy costs. The tool with then recommend practices to conserve energy and estimate savings based on your location.

Winter Forage Storage Options

There are many factors that go into determining which forage storage system has the least carbon footprint. Energy is used in forage production and storage to

• prepare the field,
• fertilize,
• plant,
• cut,
• rake,
• bale or ensile,
• transport,
• store,
• and feed the forage.

Ineffiencies in any of these tasks can increase the carbon footprint of the evolution.

Factors that influence energy use in harvested and stored forage systems
• Harvest management – produce high quality forage by harvesting at proper stage of maturity. Efficient harvest management can ensure that the highest amount of solar capture through photosynthesis actually makes it to the feed bunk.
• Minimize storage losses – nutrients in stored hay can be preserved with proper storage, reducing the energy costs associated with supplemental feeding
• Scale-appropriate forage handling system – choose the type of system (hay bales, silage, and baleage) appropriate for your farm scale

Corn silage systems have a higher potential than hay systems to maximize energy use on a per unit basis, because the energy captured in silage is denser than in hay, although more overall energy may be used in producing silage. Grass or alfalfa silage would require less energy inputs than corn silage, due to the perennial nature of these crops. Grass or alfalfa silage does not require annual tillage, planting, or fertilization. However, the ratio of energy output per unit input is slightly lower than corn silage. High quality grass or alfalfa silage can be an excellent source of energy for lactating dairy cattle if properly produced and fed.

Round Hay Bale Storage Options
• Shed storage – longest life, least amount of dry matter loss
• Tarp on bales stacked outside – short life, low dry matter loss
• Plastic wrap with bales stacked outside – shortest life, low dry matter loss
• Stacked bales outside on rock pad – long life, intermediate dry matter loss
• Stacked bales outside – least cost, most dry matter loss

Long-cut Grass Silage – a low input method of making high quality feed

Unwilted, long-cut grass has been successfully ensiled in piles and covered with white plastic. According to Allan Nation (2005), the grass is cut and blown with equipment such as an Alpha-Ag Lacerator and blown into a wagon, then stacked on the ground and covered with plastic. The plastic is weighted along the sides with rock or soil, and the air is then vacuumed from the plastic enclosure. Silage made this way can produce high quality feed and will not spoil during feeding as long as it is fed out every day.

The New England Small Farm Institute and UC Extension has also done some research with this system and has resulted in successful deployment of this technology by many farmers in New England (Markesich, 2002). Please see these resources (listed below) for more information on making long-cut grass silage.

Methane Digesters for Small Dairies

Methane digesters can are less feasible for dairies with herds under 100 cows. The capitol investment required limits this technology to herds approaching at least 300 cows in size, although some resources suggest herds as low as 100 cows may be feasible (Barker, 2001). I have annotated several on-line resources below, including a paper from Jones, et al (1980) that includes a worksheet for determining the feasibility of methane digestion. You can download the form and enter you data to ascertain the feasibility of a methane digester for your operation.

I have also referenced a publication by Gary Baron on a small-scale digester that was constructed in the Philippines. The paper includes design details and instructions, including a link to a design chart. This small design might be feasible for small dairies and could produce enough gas to power barn lighting, domestic hot water, or cooking.

Seasonal Dairying

Dairying in the U.S. has traditionally produced milk on a year-round basis with a feeding system of silage, hay, and grain. However, seasonal dairying is becoming more popular. It was first practiced in New Zealand where little grain is grown and government subsidies disappeared years ago. Seasonal systems match the reproductive cycle of the cows to availability of forage. The highest nutrient requirements of the cow—during calving and lactation—are timed to occur in the season of highest forage quality and quantity, usually spring and summer.

In seasonal dairying, since all the cows dry off at once, it is not necessary to milk for a couple of months during the year. The idea is to avoid the period of highest cost milk production. In very hot, humid climates, summer might be the time to dry off the cows. In northern latitudes, this will likely be the winter months. Seasonal dairying can be a tool to increase dairy energy efficiency by maintaining dry cows during the peak energy-use months of the year.

Keys to Success for Transitioning to Seasonal Production
• Estrus synchronization
• Heat detection
• Get cows bred within narrow window of time (approx 6 weeks)
• Maintain cows on high plane of nutrition from growing pasture and high quality stored forages
• Adequate facilities for calving, calf raising, and breeding in one season
• Culling of late breeders

References and Resources:

Balsam, John. 2006. Anaerobic Digestion of Animal Wastes: Factors to Consider. Updated by Dave Ryan. Butte, MT: NCAT-ATTRA.

Barker, James C. 2001. Methane Fuel Gas from Livestock Wastes: A Summary. Biological and Agricultural Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.

Baron, Gary. A Small-Scale Biodigester Designed and Built in the Philippines.

Composting Bedded Pack Barns for Dairy Housing. University of Minnesota Extension.

Endres, Marcia I and Kevin A. Janni. 2008. Compost Bedded Pack Barns for Dairy Cows. University of Minnesota, St. Paul.

Ensave, Inc.
65 Millet Street, Suite 105
Richmond, VT 05477
(800) 732-1399
EnSave, Inc. is an agricultural energy efficiency consulting firm. Since 1991, EnSave has supported the American agricultural sector with innovative energy efficiency and resource conservation solutions. EnSave provides agricultural producers and food processors with cost-effective ways to reduce operating costs while saving energy and conserving our nation's natural resources by designing and implementing energy efficiency programs. EnSave also provides energy audits directly to producers. EnSave's clients include state and federal energy and environmental agencies, investor-owned utilities, and rural electric cooperatives. EnSave implements its programs by developing relationships with equipment manufacturers, local equipment dealers and the local agricultural community. Ultimately, these programs promote economic investment in the rural economy and improve the quality of America's land, air, and water.

Jones, Don D., John C. Nye, and Alvin C. Dale. 1980. Methane Generation From Livestock Waste. Department of Agricultural Engineering, Purdue University.
Includes a worksheet for determining the feasibility of methane digestion.

Markesich, Kim Colavito. 2002. Farmer research groups tackle real world issues, in Journal, vol.9 no 2. University of Connecticut College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Nation, Allan. 2005. Tips on how to make direct-cut vacuum silage. The Stockman Grassfarmer, November issue.

NRCS Energy Estimator: Animal Housing.

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). Options to Reduce Energy use on the Farm.

University of Wisconsin Extension Forage Resources. Silage Harvesting & Equipment.



Permalink What can you tell me about heirloom watermelon varieties?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information regarding heirloom watermelon varieties. I have listed below a few of the many, many varieties of heirloom varieties of watermelon. Seed Saver’s Exchange sells seed for heirloom varieties. You can order their catalog by calling the number listed at the bottom of the page. Baker Creek also sell a lot of open-pollinated/ heirloom varieties of watermelon. I have listed their number below, under further resources.

100 days — The rind is tough, medium green with darker stripes, cylindrical in shape with blunt ends. Can reach twelve inches by twenty five inches and up to fifty pounds. Does extremely well in Southeastern U.S. and has a medium red colored flesh with very high sugar content and white seeds.

Moon and Stars: 100 days. Named for the moon and stars speckled skin. A spectacular watermelon, with fine flavor, introduced by the Henderson seed company in 1926. The skin is deep green, speckled with hundreds of golden yellow stars and a few half-dollar sized moons. Even the foliage has yellow "stars". The fruit is red. Melons are medium sized 25 pounds and slightly oblong

Sugar Baby: 79 days An icebox type of watermelon widely adapted, produces an abundance of small 8 x 8-1/2 inch fruits. Sugar Baby Watermelon rind is tough, thin, and dark green. It has a very sweet, firm, bright red flesh with small dark brown seeds.

Further Resources:

Heirloom seed sources:
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
They have over 50 varieties of heirloom watermelons and many other heirloom/ open pollinated seed. Call to order a calatog.
Phone: (417) 924-8917, or by fax at (417) 924-8887.
Mailing address:
2278 Baker Creek Road
Mansfield, MO 65704

Seed Savers Exchange
3094 North Winn Rd.
Decorah, IA 52101



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