Models for the Future: Five Elements Farm

Joe and Sara Bozzelli founded Five Elements Farm in 2007.
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Models for the Future: Five Elements Farm

Five Elements Farm

Located in Worthington, PA, just 35 miles north of Pittsburgh, Joe is the steward of 10 acres and has 3 in production. Prior to transforming their land to an organic vegetable operation and sanctuary for the native flora and fauna, it had been in conventional corn production for quite some time. After waiting the 3 year transition period, Joe and Sara began marketing their produce in 2011, selling at two local farmers markets in Tarentum and Butler, PA, in addition to on-farm and restaurant sales. Beginning in 2015, Five Elements transitioned to a Market Style CSA model, where customers come to the farm or the Butler City Farmers Market, and use their pre-paid account to "purchase" the quantity and type of fresh produce they want. In addition to produce, Five Elements maintains a flock of laying hens for eggs. Joe and Sara are committed to sustainable practices that improve the condition of their land, the environment and their community.

Five Elements Farm, Model Plot Case Study - Blueberries

Joe and Sara Bozzelli founded Five Elements Farm in 2007. Beginning in 2015, Five Elements transitioned to a Market Style CSA model, where customers come to the farm or the Butler City Farmers Market, and use their pre-paid account to “purchase” the quantity and type of fresh produce they want.

Site Description

Five Elements Farm's soils are diverse. In the blueberry planting location, soils are a Tyler Silt Loam (TyA). This particular soil type is considered somewhat poorly drained, with only 6-12 inches to the water table and potential for runoff, although flooding and ponding are considered to be low frequency. There is generally 6 to 8 inches of topsoil before starting to move into red clay. Depth to the fragipan (restrictive feature) is about 18-32 inches, and mean annual precipitation is 36-54 inches. Five Elements farm is in plant hardiness zone 5B with an approximate frost free date of May 15. The site is on a South facing slope of about 3%.

Soil survey map for Five Elements Farm, Worthington, PA 16262. Property is delineated in red.

Site Considerations

Blueberries should be grown in an area with well drained soils that are high in organic matter and low pH. It is critical to site blueberries in an appropriate location as it is not possible to remediate a bad site later (i.e. wet feet on plants). New blueberry plantings should be on a site with irrigation and deer fencing. Avoidance of frost pockets and the ability to protect plants from frost, especially for early varieties, is recommended.

Ideal soils for blueberry production are porous, sandy loams with a pH of between 4.5 and 5. Areas being prepared for blueberry production should have soil tested 1 to 2 years prior to planting to allow time for amending the soil. In addition to pH adjustment, cover cropping can be used in advance to increase soil organic matter.

Deer pressure at Five Elements Farm is moderate, but has been managed by a 6 ft fence installed around the primary production area and the farm dog.

Readily available irrigation is critical, as blueberries have a shallow root system and are easily affected by fluctuations in moisture. Five Elements' main production areas are irrigated by a well on property, which will not be accessible from the blueberry plot. The blueberry irrigation will be supplied by a 275 gallon water buffalo/rain barrel with a 12V - 5 GPM pump. Joe can resort to additional 275 gallon rain barrels on property and/or the 340 ft. well that supplies the house if necessary. Irrigation is also available from a spring fed pond that is approximately 50 feet from the plot.

Plot History

The blueberry plot was pasture land until about the mid 2000's. Joe acquired the property in 2007 when it had conventionally grown corn stubble from the previous season and had been in the traditional corn/soy rotation for two years before that. From 2007 until 2009, the land sat fallow and most areas returned to pasture grasses and weeds. In 2011 a small mixed vegetable garden was in the project plot area. It has not been used since and returned to grass which has been mowed regularly with the residue left to decompose.

Blueberry Plot prior to preparation, July 2015.

Plot Description

The blueberry plot is located in the delineated field below. The field is 140 feet by 90 feet, or approximately one-third of an acre.

Site Preparation

April 2015 Soil Testing

The soil was sampled on May 8, 2015. Fertility analysis was conducted by Penn State Ag Analytical lab. Each sample was analyzed for water pH, Mehlich buffer lime requirement, and for phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and calcium by the Mehlich 3 (ICP) test. Soil Health analysis was conducted by Cornell Soil Health Lab including Organic Matter, Soil Texture, Active Carbon, Wet Aggregate Stability, Available Water Capacity, Surface and sub-surface hardness interpretation, and root health. Nematode testing was conducted by Virginia Extension.

June 2015 Soil pH Adjustments

To prepare the soil for amendments, Joe chisel plowed and rototilled twice over a period of several weeks. The best soils for blueberries are moist, porous and acidic with a pH between 4.5 and 5.0. A higher pH can result in unavailability of certain nutrients, most notably iron. Adding sulfur is generally needed in order to reduce pH.

The pH for Five Elements' blueberry site was 5.8. In order to bring down the pH Joe applied 1280 lb sulfur/A the last week in May, 2015.

June 2015 Soil Fertility

The first week in June 2015 Joe applied with a broadcast spinner spreader and incorporated a 5-4-5 organic amendment and sulfate of potash (0-0-50) that was locally available from Ohio Earth Food. He would have liked to supply nutrients and organic matter from compost but a locally available organic source was not readily available. He also applied 1140 lb/A Epsom salts to increase Mg.

It is important to compare several amendments to make sure to find an economic and available alternative. See sample calculations below.

Sample Fertility Calculation

Option A vita pro + potassium sulfate = $713/A

Option B Compost

Option C potassium sulfate (0-0-50) + (0-20-0) + Cottonseed meal (6-2-1) = $461/A

This option supplied insufficient N for sudan.

***note cottonseed also supplies 8 lbs phosphorus and 4 potassium

Below is a summary of the Cornell Soil Health results, taken April 27, 2015. The test also indicated a Root Pathogen Pressure value of 3.5, which is considered moderate. While not optimum, it is not considered a constraint.

July 2015 Nematode and Soil Health Management

Five Elements Nematode test showed presence of Xiphinema (Dagger), Helicotylenchus (Spiral), and Meloidogyne (Root-Knot). It was indicated that the Dagger Nematode was of concern and that measures to control were advisable. Dagger nematode has the ability to carry disease and infect plants while feeding on roots.

The plot was tilled and the Sudangrass cover crop (variety Pioneer 877F) was seeded on July 17. In addition to its biofumigation properties, Sudex was chosen as a cover crop because of its ability to grow quickly and provide a large quantity of biomass in order to compete with the weed population and turf established in the plot.

The Sudangrass was mowed down on September 10. Prior to mow down, the Sudangrass was 6 feet tall with a biomass of 4,897 lbs. dry matter/A. Sudangrass was incorporated immediately after mowing with a rototiller, leaving no more than twenty minutes between mowing and incorporation.

Mow-down of Sudan cover crop, September 2015.

It was determined that because the Sudan was seeded later than planned in the season, an additional winter cover crop with biofumigation properties could be helpful in treating the nematode problem prior to planting in the spring. After allowing two weeks for the incorporated sudan to decompose, Dwarf Essex Rapeseed was broadcast at an actual rate of 30 lbs/A ( a bit heavy compared to the target rate of 8-10 lb/A). It is ideal to seed around the 15th of September in Pennsylvania, or a bit later in colder areas of the state to ensure the rapeseed is in rosette stage going into the winter to avoid winterkill and have good spring growth.

Interactive Budget

The Interactive budget from "Models for the Future" blueberry plotsallow growers to assess the costs and benefits of cover crops and other sustainable practices in their own operations.

This project is supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Grant # 2015-70017-22852.


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