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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week



Permalink I want to start producing culinary herbs in Illinois for restaurants and grocery stores. Do you have any advice?

Answer: ATTRA has produced a number of publications that will help you research herb production. You can find these publications by typing "herbs" in the search box on the ATTRA website at www.attra.ncat.org.

You will see that these publications deal with outdoor and indoor production of herbs and each method has its pros and cons. Since you are in Illinois, you will most likely be doing the majority of your production indoors, or at least in seasonal high tunnels. The longer you have production during the year, the more likely you are to get wholesale accounts. Grocery store chains typically won’t do business with an herb producer that only has product available for three to four months a year.

A good place to start your research is to go to the closest grocery stores to see who they are currently buying from. Then you can do research on those companies to learn their strengths and weaknesses. While you are at the stores, talk to produce managers and clerks and get their opinions about the herbs they are currently selling. Pay attention to what they say they don't have or what they would like to have instead of what they are currently getting.

For the restaurant trade, you can contact (or visit personally) people at the major wholesalers in your area. Check the local telephone directory listings under "Produce Wholesalers." Inquire about who they are currently buying from so that you can research those companies, and ask the wholesalers about the pros and cons of those herb companies. You can also visit with the chefs or the appropriate personnel at as many restaurants as you care to go visit. Start with the high-end restaurants and see what they say about the herbs they are using. If you have any friends in the restaurant industry, ask their opinions as to which restaurants you should survey.

I encourage you to get to know the Organic Trade Association at http://www.ota.com. Do a search for "herbs" to get insight about people and companies in the organic herb sector.

Regarding production in greenhouses or high tunnels, see the NRCS webpage about its high tunnel cost-share program at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/financial/eqip/?cid=stelprdb1046250.

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Permalink How can I manage Canadian thistle, dog bane, and multiflora rose in my permanent pastures in Wisconsin?

Answer: Canadian thistle can be controlled by clipping the thistle at the flower bud stage, most likely around mid-July for Wisconsin. By so doing, you have let the plant expend energy in growth and producing a seed head, which is demanding upon its root reserves. When you clip it at the bud stage, it will regrow, but in the northern climes, it will not be able to produce seed before it is killed out by frost in the late fall. After two or three years of this, the plant is weakened enough that it dies out. You can tell the stage of this debilitation each year by noting how tall the thistle plant is when it starts to bud. Healthy plants will be two to three feet tall at bud. Plants that are on their way out will be less than a foot high. It is a good way to monitor your progress.

Of course, the second principle behind this is to never let the thistle produce viable seed. However, if it does, it is still better to clip the thistle in the mature seed stage than to not clip it at all.

Dogbane and multifora rose can be treated the same way. Clipping in the early flower stage will go a long way to controlling these two weeds.

Additionally, if you have access to a no-till drill, one could consider haying your field and then immediately drilling in a cover crop mix such as hairy vetch, oats, cow peas, tillage radish, and annual ryegrass in the worst areas of the weed infestation. This would put competition and shading pressure on the weeds and hasten their demise.

For more information, see the following ATTRA publications on pasture management:

Pastures: Sustainable Management
https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=247

Pastures: Going Organic
https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=179

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Permalink What equipment is best to streamline the washing process in a small-scale produce operation?

Answer: Small farms can save time and labor by utilizing mechanical washers for produce. The best type of mechanical washer depends on the type(s) of crops that will be washed. Small farms commonly equip their wash stations with wet-brush pack lines due to the number of various crops these units can handle, including cucumbers, winter squash, pie pumpkins, ornamental gourds, apples, peaches, peppers, melons, and root crops.

Barrel washers are ideal for many root crops such as potatoes, parsnips, carrots, beets, rutabagas, celeriac, and sunchokes. However, unlike the wet-brush washer, barrel washers are not ideal for root crops that can bruise more easily, such as turnips and winter radishes.

Barrel washers are made in various sizes and can be constructed from different materials. Despite these differences, they are all designed so that as a barrel (usually motor-driven) rotates, roots are rolled through either a water spray or a water bath. Some units have a final rise sprayer located at the outlet of the barrel.

Wet-brush washers and barrel washers can both be included in a more efficient packing line that can include an in-feed belt, an absorber section, a packing table, and sizers for sorting crops that are round in shape. The book Wholesale Success contains more information on each of these separate components, as well as information wet-brush washers, barrel washers, and other crop-cleaning units.

Barrel washers and wet-brush washers are available for purchase. In addition, plans are available for do-it-yourself construction of barrel washers. For more information on on-farm construction and considerations for improvement, visit the forum at http://farmhack.net/forums/root-washer-improvement. This forum is located on the FarmHack website, an open-source site for sharing farm and equipment information. This site also includes plans for a low-cost pedal power root washer at http://farmhack.net/tools/low-cost-pedalpower-rootwasher.

For additional information, consult the following resources:

Slama, Jim and Atina Duffy (editors). 2013. Wholesale Success: A Farmer’s Guide to Food Safety, Selling, Postharvest Handling, and Packing Produce. FamilyFarmed.org. Available at: www.familyfarmed.org.

Grubinger, Vernon. 1999. Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-Up to Market. Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service (NRAES).

Growing for Market, a publication for market farmers
www.growingformarket.com

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Permalink I recently acquired 15 acres of pasture with very overgrown grass. Can I manage this overgrowth with my 30 goats?

Answer: At the present growth stage of your pasture, it would be more suited to initial grazing with cattle from a neighboring farm, if that's a possibility. I would recommend the following, in order of preference:

1. Mob graze it with cattle at about 200,000 animal-pounds per acre. This will require changing fences a minimum of three to four times a day. Take the top one-third of the grass off and let the rest be trampled in to the soil. For example, this would mean you would run 150 600-pound yearlings on one half acre and move them four times a day. You could set your four fences up and use a batt latch gate http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9S9IMQtgm8 to automatically move the cattle. Let the cattle move back to the stock waterer during the successive moves—they will not regraze the trampled pastures. That way, you only have to move the portable water daily. This method is preferred because it will get organic matter into the soil and also store up any moisture for the drought months of July and August. It is extremely good for increasing soil microorganism populations and, therefore, for the overall health of your soil. This may require more labor than is available, but it would be the ideal way to graze down this tall grass.

2. Rotationally graze the pasture with less stocking density. I would recommend 60,000 to 90,000 animal-pounds per acre with daily moves. You would still get a fair amount of trampling, which is what you are striving for.

Once this initial grazing is completed by the cattle, you could graze the pasture with your goats for the remainder of the season. I would recommend that you not regraze until the grass is fully recovered.

When grazing with goats, be aware of parasites and take precautionary measures to them. Generally, when grazing ground where goats or sheep have not grazed before, you will do fine the first year, see a few problems the next year, and have big problems the third year. The main parasite that you will have to worry about is the Barber Pole Worm, or Haemonchus contortus. A combination of measures is necessary to achieve effective control:

1. Graze with a 35-day grazing rest period, a paddock period of four days or less, and leave a six- inch residual height.

2. Score your goats at least monthly (twice per month is better) using the FAMACHA technique and deworm the goats that score 4 and 5, and possibly 3. Do not blanket deworm all of your goats—this creates a population of super worms and leads to a completely anthelmintic-resistant worm population. Use one dewormer until it is no longer effective and then switch to one that uses a different mode of action (for example, from Valbezin to Ivormec).

3. Other measures, such as copper wire particles, multi-species grazing, and feeding sericea lespedeza.

Fencing for sheep and goats is also important. In my opinion, with any kind of stocking density at all, you will need electric nets to keep the critters in. Most people do not even have luck with three or four strands of poly wire to corral sheep and goats. With tall, green grass you will have to either mow or run a wheel track to install the netting without grounding it out on the vegetation. Be sure to get a fence charger that will be large enough to handle the net. A 12-joule charger will handle about nine nets in green grass. This is a minimum.

For more information on grazing, consult the following ATTRA publications:

Irrigated Pastures: Setting up an Intensive Grazing System that Works
https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=449
Even though you are not irrigated, the principles are the same. This short publication will give you a good start.

Paddock Design, Fencing, and Water Systems for Controlled Grazing
https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=249

Pastures: Sustainable Management
https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=247

Grazing Calculator: Extended Cow Calf Pair
https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=451
This is an indispensable tool to keep track of your stocking rate when using cow-calf pairs.

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