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Question of the Week



Permalink What information can you give me on starting a new farm enterprise, including developing a greenhouse?

M.G.
Colorado

Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information regarding starting a new farm enterprise and developing a greenhouse on your farm.

I suggest to initially review the ATTRA publication titled “Market Gardening a Start-up Guide.” This publication provides an overview and an extensive resource list to spring-board you into finding more information on the topic of starting a farm. In the appendix of this publication is a list of different equipment needs for different farm sizes (in acres) this will help guide you to determine the start-up costs of your enterprise, which is the cornerstone of developing a business plan for your farm. You can access this publication on line at the following link:
http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/marketgardening.html

In this letter I will outline some considerations for starting your farm as well as a list of further resources to help you in this endeavor.

Business Planning:
I would advise you to assess your goals, land, and the resources on your land. Some considerations that may help direct your research and save time and much needed energy for starting your new enterprise are as follows:

• Identify your own personal values
o E.g. Do you want to have a certified organic farm?
o Do you want to spend more time with your family
o Do you want an enterprise that will equal your current salary,
o Is a mellow lifestyle your goal?
• What are your personal goals and vision for your property
o While this is closely related to the above bullet, you can create your goals for your property based on your personal values.
o This is often left out of business planning templates, but can be an important component in your assessment and future planning for your farm business. This is also the cornerstone of Holistic Resource Management, a goal based farm management tool. Holistic Management was founded by a group in New Mexico and it might be worth making a trip down to visit their organization. Their contact information is listed below.
o It is something that you can, and should, come back to when there is a question about what direction you want your business to go.
• Assess your property
o Consider size, location, soils, resources on your property
o E.g. You are in a semi arid climate and irrigation is essential. I am assuming at this point you are aware of your water rights on this property.
o Soil is an often overlooked aspect of farming enterprises, but it is a very important one. Optimum soil will give you more production options. In order to assess your soil, it is important to get a soil test. The county Cooperative Extension charges a nominal fee for this test. They will advise you on how to do this. I understand that you have contacted your county cooperative extension office already. I have listed their contact information below for your information.
o Water access is an issue in many areas of the country. If you have an adequate source of water, this will not be an issue for you.
• Market assessment
o Marketing is an often overlooked aspect of developing a new enterprise.
o Location, your personality, and production interests are things to consider in this assessment.
o E.g. Are you in a rural area? Do you enjoy interacting with people? If you are in a rural area with little market potential, you may need to consider wholesaling or value added enterprises over the internet. If you are close to an urban area and enjoy working with people, Farmer’s Markets might be a good option. I am not sure what the farmers market in Trinidad is like, but it is a low risk marketing tool. Please let me know if you would like more information about marketing.
• Once you have an enterprise in mind, develop a business and production plan.

There are many workbooks that are very helpful in working through the myriad of considerations, which I have briefly outlined, in evaluating a rural enterprise. I have found that there are many different strategies; some being goal based and others being enterprise budget-based.

General Beginning Farm Resources:
The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture has recently developed a goal based workbook and resource list. The workbook, titled Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses is quite helpful in taking the reader through the steps that I outlined above. The publications are quite lengthy, however they are both available to read and print from the internet and are listed below:
http://www.misa.umn.edu/Publications/BuildingaSustainableBusiness/

The University of Kentucky has developed a tool for evaluating new enterprises for a farm or family business titled “A PRIMER for Selecting New Enterprises for Your Farm.” It is a resource that works more from enterprise budgets and is based on worksheets used to evaluate the "Profitability, Resource requirements, Information needs, Marketing decisions, Enthusiasm for, and the Risk associated with a new enterprise." You can access the publication in its entirety at the following link:
http://www.uky.edu/Ag/AgEcon/pubs/ext_aec/ext2000-13.pdf

The two written resources for general information on Farm Start-up I would recommend are:
A great periodical for market gardeners is “Growing for Market.” It provides excellent practical production information for small-scale farmers, often times written by farmers. “Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-up to Market,” by Vern Grubinger is an excellent book for start-up information. It has extensive production and marketing information and is what I consider one of the premier resources for starting a market garden. I have included contact information for these publications under the Further Resources section below.

Colorado Based Information:
A Colorado-based organization called Sustainable Southwest has developed a resource list for beginning farmers in Colorado, this list provides some regional and national resources, including some on financing a new farm:
http://www.sustainableswcolorado.org/beginner_farmer_resources

I cannot emphasize enough how good it is too talk to other farmers and people in your region that are doing similar projects as you are. I would suggest asking them for a tour and if they would be willing to serve as a future resource if you have questions. They will also be able to refer you to agricultural suppliers in your region. Most alternative farmers are willing to help out within reason. Also production workshops in your region are an excellent way to network with farmers and learn hand-on production techniques.

Greenhouse Production:
I also understand that you are interested in developing a greenhouse for your farm. ATTRA has several resources on this topic.

In general, in is important to consider growing higher value products in greenhouses to offset the labor and cost of setting them up. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers work well for greenhouse production, as they are fairly high value crops and can be produced off-season for value-added marketing.

Structures:
I understand your hoop house did not weather some of the wind and hail this year. Hail is less common, and you may have been hit with a unusually damaging storm this year. If wind is common in your area, you will need to consider placement for your greenhouse. Hoop house structure. A more sturdy material for greenhouses that have more extreme weather pressure is a rigid polycarbonate material.

This material is more expensive, but it will typically weather hail and wind storms and has a 15 year life span. If you already have a structure in place for a plastic film, then it may be easier just to buy another set of film and use extra precautions to insure that it remains intact during a wind storm. The following link provides great information on how to select a site and the correct materials given your climate and property.
http://www.hort.cornell.edu/hightunnel/structures/index.htm#choose

The following is a link to a great manual on how to properly install a hoop house. It is one of the better manuals out there and I would suggest using it as you re-build your greenhouse.
http://www.uvm.edu/sustainableagriculture/hightunnels.html

Another great on-line resource for constructing and utilizing high-tunnels is http://www.hightunnels.org

This excellent on-line resource has three different plans on how to build simple hoop houses as well as cultural information on growing certain vegetables and fruits in them. It seems to be the best, comprehensive, and farmer-friendly resource about high tunnels on the internet.

An ATTRA publication that has general information on how to extend the season also includes information on hoop houses and greenhouses is Season Extension Techniques for Market Gardeners. This can be accessed online at the following link:
https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=366

Further Resources:
Useful Beginning Farming resources:
Anon. Building a Sustainable Business: A guide to developing a business Plan for Farms and rural Businesses. Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. 2003
http://www.misa.umn.edu/Publications/BuildingaSustainableBusiness/

Woods, Tim and Steve Isaacs. A PRIMER for Selecting New Enterprises for Your Farm. University of Kentucky. Agriculture Economic Series. 2000
http://kaic.psu.edu/resources/PrimerSelectingNewEnterprises.pdf

Growing for Market
http://www.growingformarket.com/
P.O. Box 3747, Lawrence, Kansas 66046
Toll-free Phone: 800-307-8949
E-mail: growing4market@earthlink.net

Grubinger, Vern. Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-Up to Market
Publication number: NRAES-104
Cost: $38.00
Length: 280 pages
ISBN: 0-935817-45-X
Date of Publication: August 1999
To order a copy: (607) 255-7654

Holistic Management International
http://www.holisticmanagement.org/
1010 Tijeras Ave. NW
Albuquerque, NM 87102
(505) 842-5252
(505) 843-7900 (fax)
email: hmi@holisticmanagement.org

Resources in Colorado and surrounding area:
Las Animas County Cooperative Extension
2200 N. Linden Ave.
Trinidad, CO 81082
Phone: (719)846-6881
Fax: (719)846-4257
Email: lasanima@coop.ext.colostate.edu
http://www.extension.colostate.edu/lasanimas/

Rio Culebra Agricultural Cooperative
Contacts: Either Linda Prim or Ryan Rose
903 Main St
San Luis, CO 81152
(719) 672-0329 or
lunalsfc@la-tierra.com
This is a Hispanic producer cooperative. They help producers research and prepare feasibility studies for organic certification, organic and grass-fed beef production.

Building Farmers Beginning Course
http://www.coopext.colostate.edu/boulder/ag/CBF.shtml
Contact: Adrian Card
595 Nelson Road,Box B
Longmont, CO 80501 Phone: 303-678-6238
acard@bouldercounty.org

Enterprise Budgets:
O’Dell et al. 2001. Selected Costs and Returns Budgets for Horticultural Food Crops Production/Marketing. Virginia cooperative Extension. Virginia State University. Publication Number 438-898
Hybrid Seedless Watermelons
Raspberries “Primocane” for Wholesale Markets
Summer Planted Eastern Strawberry Varieties Plasticulture: Pick-your-own

Bolda, et al. 2003. Sample costs to Produce Organic Strawberries in Central Coast California. University of California Cooperative Extension. Publication # ST-CC-03-01.

Adam, Katherine. 2007. Sustainable Farming Internships and Apprenticeships Database. NCAT/ ATTRA Publication
http://www.attrainternships.ncat.org/

Further Resources on Greenhouses and Hoop houses:

Greer and Diver. 2000. Organic Greenhouse Production. Horticulture Systems Guide. ATTRA/ NCAT Publication # IP078.
http://www.attra.org/attra-pub/ghveg.html

Koske, Thomas. 2005. Selling your Greenhouse Tomatoes. Louisiana State University Agriculture Center.
http://www.lsuagcenter.com/NR/rdonlyres/9DE314B8-318A-4278-A026-1E2525CF2F30/9346/pub2872greenhousetomatoes3.pdf

Greenhouse Suppliers:

Growers Supply, Inc.
1440 Field of Dreams Way, Dyersville, IA 52040
1-800-476-9715
http://www.growerssupply.com/farm/supplies/home

Griffin Greenhouse & Nursery Supplies, Inc.
5612 Pride Road
Richmond, VA 23224-1028
Tel: (804) 233-3454 | Fax: (804) 233-8855
http://www.griffins.com/

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Permalink What information can you give me on fish emulsion and turning fisheries waste into a useable fertilizer?

V.B.
Kentucky

Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information on fish-based fertilizer manufacturing.

Fish wastes include fish renderings, fish offal, and spoiled fish. These organic wastes are quickly decomposed by microorganisms and are "highly putrescible," meaning they can quickly begin to putrefy and stink if they are not handled properly. Anaerobic conditions increase the potential for putrefaction. Degradation compounds that cause malodors include ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, dimethyl sulfide, mercaptans, indoles, skatoles, and phenols. In addition, highly putrescible organic wastes combined with anaerobic conditions are conducive to the development of pathogenic microorganisms such as salmonella and E. coli.

Thus, there are special considerations for handling fish wastes to avoid putrefaction, malodors, and pathogenic contamination.

Fisheries' wastes can be converted into organic fertilizers through composting and through manufacture of fish-based fertilizers such as fish emulsion, fish hydrosylate, and fish solubles. In fact, I suggest that you consider both composting and fish-based fertilizers as options for handling local fish wastes. The following will focus on fish-based fertilizers, but I am also listing a few resources on composting of fish wastes.

Fish-Based Fertilizers
There is limited technical documentation on the preparation of fish emulsion, fish hydrosylates, and fish solubles. Nevertheless, I think you will find the following items and resource listings helpful as a starting point.

The following excerpt is from a fact sheet on organic fertilizers, published by The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, and contains a description of marine by-products used as organic fertilizers.

In Alaska, marine by-products can be a major source of nutrients. The forms are diverse, varying from fish to the shelled forms such as oysters, crabs, lobsters, and sea urchins. By-products used in agriculture are classified as liquid, dry, and fresh or frozen scraps.

Fish emulsions and oil are the main liquid by-products. To make fish emulsion, or fish hydrolysate, fish scraps are ground, digested with the enzyme papain, de-oiled, the bones screened out, and then the emulsion can be pasteurized in a dehydrator or spray-dryer to form spray-dried fish hydrolysate.

Fish soluble nutrients (FSN) are included in the "family" of fish emulsions, but are made as a byproduct of fish meal. The basic FSN manufacturing process consists of cooking the fish, pressing out the liquid, extracting the oil, evaporating some of the liquid, and acidifying to stabilize the mass. Reduction of stress at time of transplanting is one beneficial plant response to the application of the family of fish emulsion products.

Bone meal and oil are often by-products of the emulsion process. Bones are dried and ground into a meal. Bone meal is also screened from coarsely ground, dried fish meal. Fish bone meal has shown promise as a fertilizer derived from a marine byproduct as it contains Na for responsive crops, and micronutrients not present in standard commercial NPK fertilizers. Salmon bone meal and white cod bone meal are currently being used in Alaskan agriculture in small quantities. Research using salmon bone meal on potatoes and lettuce has been conducted by the University of Alaska. Analysis of Alaska salmon bone meal and white cod bone meal is given in Table 3.

Source: Organic Fertilizers, The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. http://extension.uaf.edu/ces/publicationsdb/catalog/anr/FGV-00349.pdf

A brief description of fish emulsion is provided in the following newsletter from the University of California's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC-SAREP), published in 1991.

Fish Emulsion. Fish emulsion is a secondary by-product of the fish meal industry. After removal of the solids (which become fish meal) and the oils (which go to oil products manufacturers), the remaining wastewater is usually evaporated to about 50 percent solids, making a thick, viscous end product that is bottled and sold as fish "emulsion." Since the oil has been removed, the term "emulsion" is not completely accurate. "Fish solubles" would be more appropriate, being the nonoil and nonsolid portions of the fish. As sold in gardening sections and in nurseries, this type of fish fertilizer contains about five percent nitrogen, one percent phosphate and one percent potash. The high cost and low nutrient value of fish emulsion, and handling and application problems make it impractical for use in most commercial-scale farming operations. Fish emulsion is practical as a foliar applied fertilizer for high-value crops, including ornamental greenhouse plants. It can rapidly "green up" foliage when used for foliar feeding.

Source: Marine By-Products as Fertilizers,Chaney, David, Components Newsletter, UC-SAREP Winter 1991 (Vol. 2, No. 1) www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/newsltr/components/v2n1/sa-10.htm

The following review, "Utilisation of Marine By-Products," published in the September-October 2003 issue of Electronic Journal of Environmental, Agricultural and Food Chemistry, contains descriptive text on fish protein hydrosylates using enzymes.

Hydrolysates can be defined as proteins that are chemically or enzymatically broken down to peptides of varying sizes. Chemical and biological methods are most widely used. Biological processes using added enzymes are employed more frequently and enzymatic hydrolysis is promising because it results in products of high functionality and nutritive value. Fish protein hydrolysates can be made in two ways. The first depends on the digestive enzymes of the fish itself while the second method is based on the hydrolysis of the raw material with added commercial enzymes (Mohr, 1978). The autolytic process depends on the action of digestive enzymes on the fish itself. Today much of the fish flavour, fish soup and fish paste products available on the market are prepared by enzymatic hydrolysis (Shoji, 1990). Protein hydrolysates can be used as emulsifying agent in a number of applications such as salads dressing, spreads, and emulsified meat and fish products like sausages or luncheon meat (Badal and Kiyoshi, 2001). Enzymatic hydrolysis has several advantages over other processing methods for recovering protein from under utilized fish biomass and fish by-products. However the hydrolysis process often leads to bitter taste in the product. The bitterness restricts the practical uses of these hydrolysates. The presence of bile in hydrolysis of whole fish and fish viscera may also cause bitterness in fish protein hydrolysates.

Source: Utilisation of Marine By-Products, T. Rustad, Department of Biotechnology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway. Electronic Journal of Environmental, Agricultural and Food Chemistry Vol. 2, No. 4. September-October. 2003.

The following e-mail from Neal Van Milligen with Kentucky Enrichment Inc. describes a low-tech method for preparation of fish emulsion that can be adapted to small community projects. The e-mail is in response to a query from ATTRA seeking information on fish emulsion. The method Neal describes is similar to fish fermentation methods used by the EM (Effective Microorganisms) and IMO (Indigenous Microorganisms) systems in Japan and Korea.

We have found rather simple methods to produce a fish emulsion for liquid fertilizer applications. It seems that many fish processing byproducts (heads, bones, skin, unused meat and offal) contain the necessary microorganisms to process themselves. This is not always true but often is. The byproducts should be ground up rather finely and placed in a sealed vessel (a jar or 55 gal drum, for example) and left in their own juices for about 7 days. After a couple of days the lactic acid and other materials produced by the microorganisms will reduce the pH to about 4.5 or even slightly lower. This will remain for about 3 days and then gradually return to about pH of 6. The process is complete if the pH remained low enough for long enough to render ineffective all of the bacteria, etc in the mixture.

Controlling the pH is a matter of controlling the growth and life of the bacillus and other microorganisms. The trick is when the naturally occurring microorganisms are insufficient to cause the lowering of the pH and additional bacteria must be added. It takes some skill to determine how much of what kind has to add.

The resultant mixture should be pathogen free and stable for up to 2 years if done properly and left in the seal container. When ready for use the liquid is filtered out and the solids used for one of many applications we can recommend. We have a proprietary blend of ingredients we use to eliminate the fishy odor that usually comes from this process making the fertilizer more acceptable to home owners and farmers.

The Vietnamese farm group we work with has also told us about the Vietnamese fish sauce produced in nearly every village near the coast in Vietnam. They make a human food using a very similar technique with whole fish. Each village has its own recipe and are very proud of their sauce.

If you have some one or group interested in the details of this emulsion process for their own project we would be happy to work with them. We can assist in the equipment needs, technical issues and marketing. In some cases we can provide financial assistance to support the project. We are already involved in this process in the USA and Nicaragua. We would be pleased to work in these or other areas of the world.

Regards, Neal Van Milligen, Kentucky Enrichment Inc.

The following excerpt on salmon hydosylate is taken from a brochure published by the Alaska Salmon Byproduct Utilization Project.

What is Salmon Hydrosylate?

  • Protein which has been "enzymatically" digested
  • A viscous liquid: like chocolate pudding with an odor of fresh fish and vinegar
  • It is 58% water and 42% solids
  • The solids are comprised of:
  • 32% protein – soluble & insoluble
  • 7% lipids/fats (Omega-3 salmon oils)
  • 3% ash: calcium from bone

The Five Main Processing Steps

  • Grinding—fresh salmon and waste
  • Heating—scraped surface steam heat exchange
  • Digestion—breakdown of solids with enzymes
  • Evaporation—concentration by water removal
  • Acidification—stabilization for spoilage control

Source: Salmon Hydrosylate, The Juneau Economic Development Council

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in Rome, Italy, publishes several technical papers, bulletins, and circulars that address fisheries’ wastes, wastewater, post-harvest handling, and by-product utilization. The following documents address the chemical and biological characteristics of fish fermentation, fisheries wastes, post-mortem stages of decomposition, and treatment methods.

Waste from Processing Aquatic Animals and Animal Products: Implications on Aquatic Animal Pathogen Transfer. FAO Fisheries Circular No. 956
www.fao.org/documents/show_cdr.asp?url_file=/DOCREP/003/X9199E/X9199E00.HTM

Wastewater Treatment in the Fishery Industry. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 355 www.fao.org/documents/show_cdr.asp?url_file=/DOCREP/003/V9922E/V9922E00.HTM

Freshwater Fish Processing and Equipment in Small Plants. FAO Fisheries Circular No. 905 FIIU/C905
www.fao.org/documents/show_cdr.asp?url_file=/docrep/W0495E/W0495E00.htm

Quality and Quality Changes in Fresh Fish. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 348 www.fao.org/documents/show_cdr.asp?url_file=/DOCREP/V7180E/V7180E00.HTM

Fermented Fish in Africa. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 329
www.fao.org/DOCREP/T0685E/T0685E00.HTM

Based on the aforementioned documents and resources, I hope you can gain a better sense of what is involved with processing of fish wastes into fish-based fertilizers.

Composting Fish Wastes
Composting of fish wastes is another approach you may wish to explore. Large-scale composting facilities commonly use tractor-based turning and mixing equipment to manage the process. Compost windrows are built by mixing fish wastes into large volumes of carbonaceous material (i.e., sawdust, straw, leaves) to achieve an appropriate C:N ratio. The moisture should be approximately 50%. A goal is thermophilic heating of the compost pile to achieve destruction of pathogenic organisms and bio-chemical decomposition of the parent raw organic matter. The end result is a humus-like product called compost.

This is a brief description of composting. There are many excellent publications and technical documents on making compost, the composting process, managing compost facilities, and compost quality. ATTRA has a publication titled Farm-Scale Composting Resource List, which you can request.

The following documents (below, in Resources) address the specialized nature of fish waste composting. Again, the highly putrescible nature of fish wastes requires specialized handling procedures to avoid putrefactive anaerobic conditions, malodors, and pathogenic concerns.

Here a few key practices and management strategies that can be especially important in composting of fish wastes and related offals.

  1. A hard-surface compost pad that prevents percolation and runoff of compost leachates.
  2. Readily-available carbonaceous feedstocks (e.g., sawdust, leaves, shredded wood wastes) to immediately incorporate and cover incoming fish wastes.
  3. Commercial-scale equipment and composting processes to promote thermophilic composting and PFRPs, "processes to further reduce pathogens."
  4. Microbial inoculants and topical deodorizers to control odors and flies, and to facilitate bioremediation (e.g., Effective Microorganisms from EMRO-USA; GONE from R.B. Morris Co., Inc.; BAT products from RKB Enterprises, Inc.)(2, 3).
  5. Compost fleece blankets, also known as compost covers, to shed rainfall and prevent leaching, and to promote a protected environment conducive to microbial processes (eg., TopTex, Compostex, and related brands available through Autrusa/Imants USA, Champlain Valley Compost Co., and Midwest Bio-Systems)(5).
  6. Laboratory tests to verify no detectable pathogen levels in compost, as well as compost quality. See the ATTRA resource list titled Alternative Soil Testing Laboratories (6) for details.

Resources
1) State Composting Regulations
McEntee Media Corporation: Recycling and Composting Online
http://www.recycle.cc/compostregs.htm

2) EMRO-USA
Tucson, AZ
520-792-3143
928-563-1037 FAX
http://www.emrousa.com

3) RKB Enterprises, Inc.
625 Maury Ave.
Norfolk, VA 23517
757-622-0692
757-640-0239 FAX

4) Champlain Valley Compost Co.
245 Ten Stones Circle
Charlotte, VT 05445
802-425-5556
http://www.cvcompost.com

5) Midwest Bio-Systems
28933 35 E. Street
Tampico, IL 61283
800-689-0714
http://www.midwestbiosystems.com

6) Alternative Soil Testing Laboratories
ATTRA – National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
http://www.attra.org/attra-pub/soil-lab.html

7) Information Note on the Composting of Organic Waste from Seafood Processing
Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Irish Sea Fisheries Board
Infonote Series No. 2
http://www.bim.ie/uploads/text_content/docs/InfoNote.pdf

8) On-Farm Composting of Fishery By-Products
Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture and Forestry
http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/af_fact_fish.pdf

9) Implementing Fishery-Based Compost Applications: The Next Step
Florida Sea Grant Extension Program
http://www.p2pays.org/ref/19/18664.pdf

10) Biodegradability and Nutrient Analysis During Crawfish Processing By-Products and Rice Hull Composting; Composting in the Southeast - Proceedings of the 1998 Conference
http://www.p2pays.org/ref/12/11561.pdf

11) Composting Fish By-Products: A Feasibility Study, BC Agricultural Composting Handbook, British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Food
http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/resmgmt/publist/300Series/382500-0.pdf

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Permalink What information can you give me on controlling bermudagrass in my vegetable crops?

L.D.
Tennessee

Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information on controlling bermudagrass in vegetable crops.

There are several options for controlling bermudagrass through sustainable farming practices. These options include fertility management, cover cropping, crop rotations, and the use of organic herbicides. I have suggested some bermudagrass control methods below and have also included information on a few good resources that you might be interested in reading related to weed management.

The use of fertilizers and amendments to control weeds is a non-conventional approach. Adherents of "weed-control-through-fertility management" draw on the concepts and practices advocated by Dr. William Albrecht and Dr. Carey Reams. Dr. Albrecht and Dr. Reams advised an approach to soil fertility based on the following:

• grassy weeds are an indication of calcium deficiency
• broadleaf weeds are an indication of improper phosphate-
to-potash ratio

Managing weeds through fertility is a long-term approach rather than a short-term solution. In other words, look for a shift in weed populations or an overall suppression of weeds after several years of alternative fertility management, but don't expect an immediate weed-free field after one application of some new fertilizer blend. For an understanding of this type of soil management, AcresUSA is a great resource (www.acresusa.com).

An example of a cultural method of reducing bermudagrass is spring tillage, as deep as 6 inches to pull up rhizomes. Rake up the rhizomes if you can and remove them from the plot. Follow this with a summer cover crop such as sorghum-sudan, closely spaced, and planted with high seeding rates. Sorghum-sudan produces a lot of biomass and can shade out bermudagrass. Tillage should be done again in the late summer or fall, and the upturned bermudagrass roots should lay on the soil surface to desiccate for a week or so. Plan this during a dry period if possible, as moisture can cause the rhizomes to sprout and continue to grow. A fall/winter cover crop such as annual rye and hairy vetch could then be planted. Rye and vetch will overwinter and continue to grow in the spring. The rye/vetch cover crop can be either tilled into the soil in the late spring. If you use annual rye as a cover crop, be mindful that rye has an allelopathic character, in that it produces a chemical that can impede the germination of small seeds. If you use rye, it is best to wait 10-14 days before planting small seeds, such as carrots. Large seeded crops are not a susceptible to rye allelopathic damage as small seeded crops. Again, be mindful that it may take two years or more to effectively reduce bermudagrass populations using these cultural controls.

Other cover crops you may choose, depending on your cropping system, are oats/field peas and buckwheat. Oats and field peas can be planted in the spring and terminated in the summer prior to a summer vegetable crop. Buckwheat is a summer crop that provides lots of biomass and can be followed by a fall vegetable crop.

Another way to get rid of bermudagrass is solarization. Placing a clear plastic sheet on the vegetable plots for 6 to 8 weeks in the heat of the summer causes the temperature to rise and kill the stolons and rhizomes. Make sure the plastic is air-tight and extends well beyond the vegetable plot to ensure adequate control. This method is most successful on smaller plots, and in areas that are not shaded.

Heavy mulching can assist in decreasing bermudagrass competitiveness. However, it is my understanding that your growing systems are mulched and that you are still fighting the bermudagrass. There are a few organic herbicides that do target bermudagrass. These herbicides use corn gluten meal as their active ingredient. For a list of these herbicides, please refer to the ATTRA Biorationals Database: http://www.attra.org/attra-pub/biorationals/.

Resources:

NCCE. Cover Crops for Sustainable Production.
Available from: Chatham County Center, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, PO Box 279, Pittsboro, NC 27312. 919-542-8202. Online at http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/chatham/ag/SustAg/covcropindex.html.
Publications on Cover Crops: Benefits and Challenges, Research Review, Selecting Cover Crops, Cover Crops for Organic Farms - North Carolina State University and Center for Environmental Farming Systems, Winter Cover Crops for North Carolina, Summer Cover Crops for North Carolina, Peregrine Farm's Estimated Planting Dates for Piedmont North Carolina, Local Soil Management Grower Profiles from Peregrine Farm and Maple Spring Gardens, Sources for Untreated and Certified Organic Cover Crop Seeds, Cover Crops for Organic No-till Vegetable Production, and Web Resources.

SARE. 2007. Managing Cover Crops Profitably, 3rd Edition.
Available from Sustainable Agriculture Publications, PO Box 753, Waldorf, MD 20604-0753. (301) 374-9696. Online at http://www.sare.org/publications/covercrops.htm
"Managing Cover Crops Profitably" explores how and why cover crops work and provides all the information needed to build cover crops into any farming operation. Revised and updated in 2007, the 3rd edition includes new chapters on brassicas and mustards, six new farm profiles, as well as a comprehensive chapter on the use of cover crops in conservation tillage systems. Updates throughout are based on more than 100 new literature citations and consultations with cover crop researchers and practitioners around the country. Appendices include seed sources and a listing of cover crop experts.

Seth Kroeck. No date. Soil Resiliency and Health: Crop Rotation and Cover Cropping on the Organic Farm. Barre, MA: Northeast Organic Farming Assn.
Available from NOFA-MA, 411 Sheldon Road, Barre, MA 01005. Phone: (978) 355-2853.
This book describes the tool of crop rotation and its close relative, cover cropping, for their use in building soil in nutrient level, freedom from pest and disease and general balance and health. It is convincing as well about the financial benefits, and better use of a farmer’s time, that rotation planning can bring. Kroek clarifies the theory and practice by breaking down crops into groupings according to not just plant family, but also time of planting, time to maturity, nutrient needs and other parameters. Crop Rotation and Cover Cropping gives examples of relatively simple 6-unit rotations, along with more detailed and complex 12- and 24-unit examples.

NRAES. 2009. Crop Rotation on Organic Farms: A Planning Manual. Ithaca, NY: NRAES. Available from NRAES, PO Box 4557, Ithaca, NY 14852. Phone: (607)255-7654. Online at NRAES: www.nraes.org
This book provides an in depth review of crop rotation and its many applications, such as improving soil quality and health, and managing pests, diseases, and weeds. The authors consulted with expert organic farmers to develop crop rotation guidelines and strategies that can be applied under various field conditions and with a wide range of crops. In addition, the book includes instructions for making crop rotation planning maps using Microsoft Excel and discusses intercropping and crop rotation during the transition to organic farming.

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Permalink What information can you give me on types of pumps that can be used to irrigate vegetables from a pond or stream?

M.L.
California

Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service regarding pumping and filtering for your farm drip irrigation system.

Pumps:
Refer to the table "Factors to Consider in Selecting an Irrigation Pump" at the end of the article "Irrigation Water Pumps" from North Dakota State University. Of the ones listed, the centrifugal and propeller-type pumps would be applicable to your operation as they are portable and can be used with a variety of water sources.

Given the size of your operation and the nature of your irrigation source water a portable propeller type pump seems to be the most suitable and affordable for your operation. Most drip irrigation supply places sell portable Honda pumps that work well and are affordable for small scale operations.

Filtering:
Since you are planning on using drip irrigation, it is important to include a sand media filter with your pump. They always include two tanks that are suited for removing organic material and biological contaminants commonly found in surface water.

Filters are essential to the operation of a drip system. Many devices and management techniques are available for cleaning irrigation water. Depending on the water source, settling ponds, self-cleaning suction devices, sand separators, media filters, screen filters, and disk filters are used with drip irrigation systems (Lamont-no date). Keeping a drip system free of debris is critical because most clogs will irreparably disable a system. The filtering system is typically set up between the pump and the sub-main line. Unfortunately a filtration system that filters out the debris is quite expensive. There are some economical alternatives, but even these are quite pricey compared to a simple screen filter. I would suggest calling an irrigation supply company such as Dripworks or RainFlo to discuss with a sales representative which filtration system would work for your specific scale and water source.

The Pennsylvania State University Ag Alternatives Program has a succinct information sheet on setting up a drip system for a vegetable farm. This would be a good thing to read before calling an irrigation supply store. You can access this publication at the following link:
http://agalternatives.aers.psu.edu/Publications/DripIrrigation.pdf

References:
Lamont Jr., William, et al. (no date). Drip Irrigation for Vegetable Farms. The Pensylvania State University Ag Alternatives Program.

Scherer, Thomas. 1993. Irrigation Water Pumps. AE1057. North Dakota State University Extension.

Further Resources:
Morris, Mike and Larry Schwankl. 2008. The California Micro-Irrigation Pocket Book. This is an NCAT publication, but we no longer have copies of it. You can obtain a copy from your county NRCS office.

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