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Permalink What is causing blossom drop in my tomatoes?

Answer: Blossom drop is typically associated with various stresses to the tomato plants. Wide fluctuations in temperatures—extreme highs and lows— are often the culprit. Lack of pollination can be another factor.

Growth regulators (such as Bonide products) can help remedy blossom drop, but this often leads to poor seeding and taste within the tomato. The Rutgers Extension bulletin What Causes Blossom Drop in Tomatoes? has several helpful tips on preventing blossom drop in tomatoes.
http://njfarmfresh.rutgers.edu/documents/BlossomDropinTomatoes.pdf

There are some varieties of tomatoes that set fruit despite non-ideal climatic conditions. The University of Alabama Extension bulletin Blossom Drop in Tomatoes discusses some of these "heat set" tomatoes.
http://www.aces.edu/department/com_veg/blossom_drop.pdf

For more information on growing tomatoes, see the ATTRA publication Organic Tomato Production, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=33. This publication covers tomato acreage yields, managing insects and disease, weed management, and more.

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Permalink Will agritourism work for my farm?

Answer: Agritourism combines agricultural sales with on-farm entertainment or activities that involve the customers. These can include hayrides, mazes, pumpkin patches, farm tours, a bed and breakfast, or other endeavors.

"Pick-your-own" or "you-pick" operations allow customers to wander out into the fields or orchards to pick their own apples, berries, pumpkins, or other crops. Customers check in at the farmstand when finished and pay by weight or volume. This can be a fun activity, especially for kids, and can sometimes allow customers to get larger volumes at lower prices.

There are several advantages to incorporating agritourism into your farm. Doing so can allow you to:

• Diversify your farm business
• Attract customers willing to pay for an educational and entertaining experience
• Advertise your farm and your other enterprises
• Educate the next generation about agriculture and rural communities
• Sell value-added products through an on-farm store

There are several things to consider before you decide to add agritourism to your business, such as:

• You may have less privacy
• You will be interacting with a wide range of people
• You must focus on production as well as creating an attractive and safe customer experience
• You will need customer facilities, bathrooms, and hand-washing sinks
• You may need additional insurance
• Your location is important
• You may be expected to offer a discount in high-value you-pick crops

For more information, see the ATTRA publication, Tips for Selling with: Agritourism and "Pick-Your-Own" at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=400. This tip sheet highlights advantages, considerations, useful tips, and key questions you should ask yourself when considering these endeavors.

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Permalink Which edible flowers can I use to enhance my salad mixes for market?

Answer: Value-added products, like mesclun mixed with calendula flowers, can generate excitement in the consumer and added income for the grower. Since many people are unfamiliar with using edible flowers, it is always a good idea to provide free samples and recipes. Remind your customers that edible flowers mixed in summer salads create unique colors and tastes. Often, customers will use these flowers for special events—placing crystallized violets on wedding cakes, for example. It is up to the grower to remind consumers of these special uses. As for pricing, the grower must decide what the market will bear.

Edible flowers can be used as a diversification strategy. Edibles are usually grown in conjunction with cut flowers, herbs, and specialty lettuces, in order to complement them and create opportunities for value-added products.

There are perhaps 100 types of common garden flowers that are both edible and palatable. Many seed catalogs offer edible flower selections, complete with descriptions and recipes. Some of the more popular edible flowers include:

• Bachelor button
• Bee balm
• Borage
• Calendula
• Chamomile
• Chive flowers
• Dandelion
• Daylily
• Dianthus
• Hibiscus
• Hollyhock
• Impatiens
• Lilac
• Marigold
• Mint
• Nasturtium
• Pansy
• Roses
• Sage
• Squash blossom
• Violet

Flowers are rich in nectar and pollen, and some are high in vitamins and minerals. For instance, roses—especially rose hips—are very high in vitamin C, marigolds and nasturtiums contain vitamin C, and dandelion blossoms contain vitamins A and C. Flowers are also nearly calorie-free.

For more information, see ATTRA publication Edible Flowers, at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=38. This publication discusses some of the basic production and marketing concerns for edible flowers and offers some cautions on non-edible or toxic flowers. Also included are sources of additional information on edible flowers, in print and on the Internet.

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Permalink How can I enhance my soil to reduce irrigation requirements?

Answer: With severe drought an all-too-common occurrence, some farmers turn to irrigation for a solution. Irrigation may not be feasible or even desirable. Fortunately, there are management options that can increase the soil's ability to store water for plant use. Soil can be managed in ways that reduce the need for supplemental watering and increase the sustainability of the farm.

There are several ways to enhance soil to increase water infiltration and storage of water in the soil. The amount of organic matter in the soil, soil aggregation characteristics, and the amount of ground cover all contribute to water content in soil.

Organic Matter
Adding organic matter to soil will increase water retention and reduce irrigation needs. Organic matter in soil can increase water storage by 16,000 gallons per acre-foot for each 1% organic matter. Organic matter also increases the soil's ability to take in water during rainfall events, assuring that more water will be stored. Ground cover also increases the water infiltration rate while lowering soil water evaporation.

Soil Aggregation
Soil aggregation refers to how the sand, silt, and clay come together to form larger granules. Good aggregation is apparent in a crumbly soil with water-stable granules that do not disintegrate easily. Well-aggregated soil has greater water entry at the surface, better aeration, and more water-holding capacity than poorly aggregated soil.

Some practices that destroy or degrade soil aggregates are:
• Excessive tillage
• Tilling when the soil is too wet or too dry
• Using anhydrous ammonia, which speeds the decomposition of organic matter
• Excessive nitrogen fertilization
• Excessive sodium buildup from salty irrigation water or sodium-containing fertilizers

Ground Cover
Adding ground cover reduces soil erosion and helps increase water infiltration rates. Surface cover also reduces water evaporation from soil.

For more information, see ATTRA publication Drought Resistant Soil, at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=118. This publication details some of the strategies for drought-proofing soil and the concepts that support them.

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