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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink How much brassica should be used in the soil solarization with biofumigation technique?


Answer: It is very important that you identify the pest, in this case nematodes, correctly, otherwise, any control measures may end up wasting time and money, not to mention being ineffective in controlling the pest. Have you positively identified the problem as nematodes? From the pictures you sent, it’s possible that you have root knot nematode (rkn), or a close relative to this pest. How did you positively identify the problem?

If the problem is actually root knot nematode, then you must change your planting rotation. Use of poor or nonhost cover crops within the rotation sequence, may in some cases offer an effective approach to nematode control. Two leguminous cover crops adaptable for managing soil populations of sting or root-knot nematode include hairy indigo (Indigofena hirsuta) and American jointvetch (Aeschynomene americana). If Sorghum is also a popular cover crop restoring large amounts of soil organic matter, but is a good host for sting nematode but not root-knot. These strategies, if used in combination with the mustard fumigation, may provide some relief to the nematode damage. However, I should emphasize that if you continue to plant tomatoes, or other hosts to the rkn, then you will continue to have nematode problems.

I talked with Rick Boydsten, USDA/ARS (Agricultural Research Service), Prosser Washington on Friday, September 10, 2010. He has been working in biofumigation research for several years. He suggested using a mix of two mustards, Brassica juncea (Indian mustard and other common names), and Sinapis alba (white mustard), which is the scientific name of the Idagold mustard cultivar that you'll be planting. Seed blends of mustards can be had from High Performance Seeds (Dale Geis, Company Head, 509-750-4850), among other companies.

Dr. Boydsten noted that most farmers will flail mow and then incorporate (disc) immediately to get the mustards incorporated, and some will irrigate to "cap" or seal the brassicas (and glucosinolates) in the soil. Your plan to use 1 lb of brassica plant reside per square foot sounds reasonable, but, as Dr. Boydsten noted, you may want to consider chopping it up into small pieces in order that the biofumigation effect occurs relatively quickly and intensely. Your rate comes out to 43,560 lbs/acre, or roughly 21 tons biomass per acre, which seems adequate. Dr. Boydsten mentioned that the researchers are studying the best mustard-seeding time for producing the most biomass, which is thought to be important for many of the crop’s biofumigation benefits—so the more mustard biomass, the greater the biofumigation benefit.

Dr. Boydsten also noted that canola and camelina (both mustards) don’t have sufficient glucosinolates, which are the precursors to the chemical biofumigant, to be effective biofumigants.

The use of the Solarguard film is likely to increase the effectiveness of any biofumigation. If the soil is slightly moist, that will also help.

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Permalink What are the benefits of feeding sprouted grain to dairy cattle? Is it cost-effective?


Answer: Grain that has sprouted (if free of mold and other microorganisms) can be fed to cattle with no negative consequence. But in terms of delivering energy and nutrients to livestock, it is generally not advantageous to sprout grains before feeding. Generally, the nutritional quality of the grain is not improved by sprouting them. Germination of the seed utilizes starch (stored energy) that would have otherwise been available to the animal. Since the germinating seed uses up starch, the remaining nutrients (protein, vitamins, and minerals) become more concentrated in the sprouted grain. However the total amount of these nutrients is not actually higher.

Sprouting can increase the amount of carotene (vitamin A precursor) in grains and before the development of commercial vitamin supplements sprouted grains were used as a source of essential vitamins, particularly for poultry during winter months. However the amount of sprouted grains needed in order to affect the vitamin A status of dairy cows is likely impractical, particularly if those animals already have access to pasture or high quality forage.

In a nutshell, sprouting grain for cattle is not cost effective. Sprouting reduces energy content of grain. Sprouting does concentrate the amount of protein and vitamins remaining in the sprout, but does NOT increase the nutritional value of grain.

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Permalink How Can I Control or Treat Blossom End Rot?

West Virginia

Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service regarding blossom end rot in your tomatoes.

Blossom end rot is a physiological disorder of tomatoes and other vegetable fruits that is typically a result of Calcium deficiency and dry soil conditions. The drought that you mentioned can exacerbate this problem. This disease does not spread from plant to plant in the field, nor from fruit to fruit in transit. Since it is physiological in nature, fungicides and insecticides are useless as control measures.

Calcium chloride can be used in an emergency situation and is allowed by the National Organic standards for this purpose. However, it can be toxic to plants, so extreme caution should be used when spraying it and follow the directions on the label. Below are some preventative and cultural tips to employ next year.

  • Plant healthy tomatoes into the field. They should not be excessively hardened nor too succulent when set out.
  • Plant tomatoes in warm soil when possible. Tomatoes planted early in cold soil are likely to develop blossom end rot on the first fruits, with the severity of the disease often subsiding on fruits set later.
  • Irrigate evenly and sufficiently on a weekly basis. Irrigation must be sufficient to maintain a steady even growth rate of the plants. Mulching of the soil is often helpful in maintaining adequate supplies of soil water in times of moisture stress.
  • Avoid excessive use of nitrogen fertilizer. The succulent early growth from this can cause blossom end rot. Use of fertilizer low in nitrogen, but high in phosphate.

Sherf and Woods. 1997. Blossom End Rot of Tomatoes. Cornell Cooperative Extension

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Permalink What are some resources I can utilize as I plan a greenhouse business?

New York

Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for information on sources for business plans for greenhouse production. Here is a list of resources on planning a greenhouse business, including links to sample business plans.

Greenhouse business planning, budgets and economics:
Greenhouse Interactive Crop Budget, from Rutgers University New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.

Budget for greenhouse tomatoes, from Mississippi State University Extension. [PDF/562K]

Economics of Organic Greenhouse Vegetable Production, from ATTRA's Organic Greenhouse Vegetable Production: Horticulture Systems Guide.

Greenhouse Design, Management and Economics, from ATTRA's Greenhouse & Hydroponic Vegetable Production Resources on the Internet.

Starting a greenhouse business, from Alabama A&M and Auburn universities. [PDF/233K]

Starting a greenhouse business, from Mississippi State University Extension.

Business plan templates:
Greenhouse Vegetable Example - Preparing a Business Plan: A Guide for Agricultural Producers, from British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands.

Business planning guide and templates, from New England Small Farm Institute.

ATTRA's Agricultural Business Planning Templates and Resources.

General farm business planning:
ATTRA's Market Gardening: A Start-Up Guide.

Writing an Agricultural Business Plan, by Vern Grubinger.

Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses, from Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture.

Business planning resources, from Beginning Farmers: An Online Resource for Farmers, Researchers and Policymakers.

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