Models for the Future: Good Works Farm

Founded in 2011, Good Work Farm feeds 125 families through Community Supported Agriculture Shares (CSA).
Models for the Future: Good Works Farm - Articles

Updated: October 6, 2017

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Models for the Future: Good Works Farm

Good Work Farm

Located on twenty acres in Zionsville PA, about four acres are in vegetable production each year to meet the needs of 100 full shares. Anton Shannon and Lisa Miskelly are committed to building and sustaining their soils and so every year they grow soil building cover crops on an area equal to their vegetable acreage. Draft power helps them reduce their fossil fuel inputs. To keep their work horse team in feed they currently have 12 acres in hay and pasture.

About the Farmer Lisa Miskelly

Lisa did not grow up on the farm. A political theory graduate and urban gardener Lisa gained her farm experience working on farms throughout the northeast. With seven years of working on farms under her belt Lisa was ready for farm ownership coming to Good Work Farm last year.

Lisa was drawn to farming by the concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). "I was interested in social justice and the therapeutic aspects of gardening. When I learned about CSA and saw the involvement from the community I realized there was a way to build community and make a living from farming."

About the Farmer Anton Shannon

A Lehigh Valley native Anton came back to the valley after studying philosophy in college and apprenticing at Kimberton CSA. Farming at Kimberton, "I was instantly hooked. I fell in love with the craft, work, art, & business of farming." Anton participated in The Seed Farm Incubator, a program which supports new farmers with training as well as access to equipment, land, infrastructure and mentoring during the first years of farm start up. "Here, with a lot of help, I was able to turn a dream of farming into a concrete business plan and eventually a Community Supported Agriculture farm: Good Work Farm.

What do you hope to learn with this project?

"We are interested in working with Penn State Extension on this project because we are committed to growing high quality vegetables and berries, and using practices which support the health of our soils, our farm, our products, and our customers. We are interested in collaborating with the Penn State Extension project team to learn about what management practices have been determined to be successful for growers and researchers."

What do you hope to share by participating in this project?

"We are also interested in being a farm that is a gathering space for other growers to teach and learn about practices that we have each found to be successful on our farms, and to be a part of the resource and idea exchange present in our farming community."

What do you think is important about working with new and next generation farmers?

"I want to see more farmland in this area growing food and increase the amount of local food available for our community."

Good Work Farm, Model Plot Case Study - Vegetables

Founded in 2011, Good Work Farm feeds 125 families through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program. Located on twenty acres in Zionsville PA, about four acres are in vegetable production each year to meet the needs of 100 full shares.

Site Description

Good Work Farm soils are a Gladstone gravely loam (GeB) which are considered well drained with 60-100 inches to bedrock, more than 80 inches to the water table and no frequency of flooding. All areas are considered prime farmland. Mean annual precipitation in the area is 40-48 inches. They are in plant hardiness zone 6b/7a with a frost free date starting on May 30.

The site is on a SE facing slope of about 3-5%. The whole farm is in a cold air drainage area, which leads to some frost risk. Deer pressure is high, but is managed by a 3-D electric fence. Irrigation is from the stream on the property.

Soil survey map for Good Work Farm. 4791 Rock Rd Zionsville PA.

Plot History

Winter cover 2014crop 2014Winter cover 2013crop 2013Winter cover 2012crop 2012
Rye/vetchMillet grazednonecornnonesoy

Good Work Farm took over management of the Zionsville Rd. Property in 2014 and planted millet in field 'Yellow', followed by a rye/vetch cover crop planted in late fall. No compost or manure has been applied in the last two years. Lumax was the last herbicide used in 2013.

Plot Description

The Models for the Future vegetable rotation plot is located in field 'Yellow.'

Map for Good Work Farm. 4791 Rock Rd. Zionsville, PA with demonstration field delineated.

Rotation

Primary goals for the vegetable rotation are focusing on soil building and reducing disease pressure. In order to build soils, five cover crops are included during the seven year rotation. In order to manage disease, as well as pest pressure, crop families are rotated and best management practices are applied. The rotation is designed as a seven year rotation with six cash crops. In order to demonstrate a variety of crops, the rotation was started at two points.

Tomato Transplant Production

Lisa and Anton seeded the first succession of tomatoes in the greenhouse on March 22, 2015 and a second succession on April 7, 2015. All tomato seed was hot water treated at 122oF for 25 minutes to reduce the possibility of the seed being contaminated by bacterial disease. Mt Merit late blight resistant tomato was included as one of the varieties (15 plants). The majority of their tomatoes are heirloom varieties in order to meet the demands of their CSA market. Transplants were started in new greenhouse flats in order to reduce the possibility of disease contamination.

Tomato Soil Fertility

The soil was sampled on April 6, 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.

In order to meet the nutrient needs of their tomato crop, they first considered the history of the field to see if they could get any nitrogen credits from manure, legumes, compost or organic matter. Because nitrogen availability goes up and down based on microbes mineralizing it, most nitrogen recommendations are based on plant needs rather than what is in the soil. To get a better estimate we need to account for what nitrogen might be available from the organic matter, cover crops, compost etc. Costs and availability of several different nutrient sources were then considered to see what would best meet their needs and budget.

Field: Yellow Tomato(lb/A)
2014 Fertility levelsOMpHNP2O5K20
2.66.2*646250
Fertility Recommendation (lb/A)limeNP2O5K20
400050115
Nitrogen Credits (lb/A)
OM (20 lb per % over 2%)0
Prior Legume Cover Crop0
Prior Compost0
Prior Manure0
subtract the above from recommendations
ADJUSTED FertilitylimeNP2O5K20
Recommendations400050115
Amendmentsapplied nutrients 2015
Lime2000
feathermeal (13-0-0) @ 385 lb/A50
sulfate of potash (0-0-50) @ 230 lb/A115
Balance000

2015 soil fertility applications based on soil test. Note that no credits were given for nitrogen because there had not been a nitrogen fixing cover crop, compost or manure and organic matter was at 2.5.

Sample calculation

(115 lb K20 needed)/A x (1 lb fertilizer (sulfate of potash 0-0-50))/(0.50 lb K20 ) =
(230 lb fertilizer (sulfate of potash 0-0-50))/A ÷ (50 lb)/bag =
(5 bags)/A x $43/bag = $215/A

(50 lb N need)/A x (1 lb fertilizer (feathermeal 13-0-0))/(.13 lb N) =
(385 lb feathermeal)/A
÷ (50 lb)/bag =
(8 bags)/A x $40/bag = $320/A

Total cost for feather meal + sulfate of potash = $535/A

(115 lb K20 needed)/A x (1 lb fertilizer (6-0-4))/(0.04 lb K20) =
(2875 lb fertilizer (6-0-4))/A
÷ (50 lb)/bag =
(57 bags)/A x $19.90/bag = $1083/A

Total cost if used 6-0-4 product (standard practice) to meet nutrient needs $1083/A.

By doing some extra math and cost comparisons Good Work Farm saved $548/A!

Tomato Soil Preparation

In order to prepare the soil for vegetable production the rye cover crop was plowed under using a moldboard plow on May 4, 2015. This incorporates the large amount of green material into the soil. The field was then disked the following day, May 5. Because Good Work Farm relies on draft power, cultivation events are less aggressive, often requiring additional passes. The plot was disked again on May 10. The calculated amounts of lime, feather meal and sulfate of potash, as well as approximately 75 lb. of Penn Valley compost per bed were then hand spread and incorporated using a spring tooth cultivator. Materbi biodegradable mulch was laid using a raised bed plastic mulch layer (brand Nolts) on May 10, 2015. The tension was loosened in order to not stretch the biodegradable mulch too tight, which can cause the mulch to rip. Mulch was laid only a week before planting, as biodegradable mulch can become brittle to plant into if laid too far in advance. Covering wheels were also straightened slightly so as to not nick the mulch.

Soil Health Management

A rye/vetch cover crop was incorporated in the 2nd entry of the vegetable plot by moldboard plow on June 12, and was then disked on June 24. Sudangrass (variety Pioneer 877F) was then seeded on June 24 at a target rate of 40 lb/A drilled (56 lb/A broadcast). Cover crop at Good Work was seeded using a tractor driven seed drill at an actual rate of 40 lb/A.

Field disked and ready for Sudangrass seeding.

Sudangrass at about one month's growth.

Tomato Culture

Lisa and Anton planted their tomato transplants into the biodegradable mulch during a period of May 11 to May 19, 2015. Beds were on five ft centers with twenty-four inches between plants. The transplants were dipped in a regalia biostimulant dip prior to planting. Tomatoes were staked using new, six foot, untreated oak tomato stakes, with one stake every three plants and trellised using the florida weave technique. All Heirloom tomatoes were suckered once. The Mt Merit tomatoes were not suckered.

Tomato plot, June 11, 2015

Close up of Biodegradable mulch used in the plot

Irrigation

Irrigation was supplied by a single line of drip tape per bed at. 45 GPM/100 ft. In order to provide the tomato crop with sufficient water (one inch per week) the crop was irrigated five hours per week when sufficient rainfall was not available.

Weed Management

Annual rye grass was seeded as a cover crop between mulched beds to further improve soil health and reduce weed pressure.

Tomato plot in late July. Annual Rye seeded between rows has filled in nicely.

Tomato Disease Management

Pathogen Exclusion:

Many pathogens can be carried over the next year by seed. Tomato seed was not saved. All seed was bought from reputable sources and was hot water treated at 122oF for 25 minutes to reduce the possibility of the seed being contaminated by bacterial disease. Always purchase seed from a reputable source.

Bacterial pathogens can survive on stakes and cause disease the next year. Wooden stakes were not re-used. Instead all new stakes were used in the plot.

Reducing Inoculum:

Rotation is key. Crop groups (both cash and cover crops) should not return to the same field for a minimum of three years to break-up disease cycles. Many pathogens cannot survive in the soil on their own once the crop residue is thoroughly decomposed. Weeds in the same crop groups can host a lot of pathogens, and so weed management is also essential.

The model plot rotation at Good Work Farm ensures that no group comes back to the same area for six years (see rotation).

Creating an Unfavorable Environment:

As most bacteria and fungi require wet conditions (or high relative humidity) to infect and cause disease, it is important to space plants well, maintain good air circulation, and drip irrigate to help keep the plants dry. At Good Work Farm all tomatoes are on drip irrigation, well-spaced, and trellised to allow for maximum air flow.

By improving soil health you will also promote diverse microorganisms that compete with plant pathogens. The crop rotation used in model plots was designed to improve soil health and results here.

Choose Less Susceptible Varieties:

Mt Merit late blight resistant tomatoes were included in order to have a variety with some known disease resistance.

Disease tracking and Protective sprays:

Good Work Farm follows Organic approved practices. Transplants were dipped in Regalia prior to transplant and a rotation of Actinovate (Streptomyces) and copper (Champ WG) was used to protect the crop once disease pressure had reached threshold for the region. Using the Tomcast and Simcast models provided by NEWA, as well as USABlight mapping in combination with regular disease scouting, disease pressure was tracked so that growers could spray accordingly.

Disease symptoms of Early Blight, Bacterial Spot and Septoria were first noted in the plot on June, 24. After determining that disease was present, Anton and Lisa began a spray rotation that included copper, Actinovate, and Regalia.

The Bacterial Spot infestation proved to be the most severe in the crop, greatly reducing plant foliage and reducing overall production. The most likely source of the bacteria is the greenhouse, or wooden greenhouse benches.

Tomato Leaf Tissue Testing

Tomato tissue samples were taken and sent to Penn State Ag Analytical lab for analysis to track plant health and make any necessary fertility adjustments. Recommendations were based on the following nutrient levels for optimum tomato production.

NutrientSymbolFertility Level
NitrogenN3.5-4%
PhosphorusP0.8-1%
PotassiumK3+%
CalciumCa2.5-3%
MagnesiumMg0.5-.9%
SulfurS0.3-1.2%
ManganeseMn40-500ppm
ZincZn20-50ppm
BoronB25-75ppm
CopperCu5-20ppm

The first tissue sample was taken on June 17, shortly after first flower.

Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Calcium were measured as just slightly low. However, Anton and Lisa did not include fertigation or side-dressing as part of their cropping plan, and because the organic amendments used in the plot mineralize slowly, no fertility recommendations were made.

A second tissue test was taken on July 24, at fruit set.

Levels of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Calcium were found to be lower. Additionally, Magnesium and Zinc were slightly low. The high level of Copper here is attributed to Copper spray application.

Tomato Disease Pressure

Disease scouting was conducted approximately once per week, starting on June 24 and continued through August, following the protocol below.

Vegetable Model Plots - Disease Scouting, Tomatoes

Disease scouting should take place once a week throughout July and August (can start as early as end of June). We will be focusing on detection of Early Blight, Septoria Leaf Spot, Late Blight, and Bacterial Speck and Spot. Some information regarding disease symptoms and identification is included.

On each scouting date, the entire plot should be walked for a Presence/Absence assessment using the instructions and the worksheet provided.

On each date, randomly select 10 plants per variety that are evenly distributed within the plot (i.e. don't focus on visible trouble spots, or edges only, etc). Keep in mind where diseases generally start to appear (i.e. wet and low spots). For each plant, examine 3 leaflets throughout the plant for disease symptoms (one low on the plant, one at mid-level and one in upper canopy). Using the spreadsheet provided, record the percent of affected tissue for each of the 3 leaves per plant, as well as the disease(s) observed. A separate data sheet can be used for each variety. Scouts can refer to the percent coverage diagram below to help with their evaluation.

Both Early Blight and Bacterial Spot were identified as present in the planting on June 24. Mt Merit was found to be free of disease symptoms until July 14, when minimal presence of Early Blight and Bacterial Spot were first noted.

Bacterial Spot infestation.

Interactive Budget

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

This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70017-22852.

Authors

Soil Health Cover Crops Vegetable Production Greenhouse Production FSMA and GAPs

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