Models for the Future: Scholl Orchards

On forty five acres of steep Lehigh County shale, Scholl Orchards is the perfect site for growing fruit.
Models for the Future: Scholl Orchards - Articles


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Scholl Orchards

On forty five acres of steep Lehigh County shale, Scholl Orchards is the perfect site for growing fruit.

Close proximity to Lehigh Valley markets ravenous for local food Jake, his brother Ben and his Dad can sell all the fruit they can grow locally through two farmers markets, the stand at the farm and wholesale accounts. Founded in 1948 by Jake's grandfather as a side business, Jake's dad bought additional land in Kempton in 1982. Jake was always on the farm and after he graduated in 2001 went back to farm full time. After planting more trees for years, his brother Ben was able to come back to the farm full time too and now the farm supports three families and 3-4 employees.

About the Farmer

Jake Scholl grew up on the farm. When I asked him what inspired him to farm he said, "Growing up farming is all I wanted to do." Farming was in his blood. Since 2001 he has been on the farm full time working the fields, farmers markets and managing the crew. Right now he is working hard to improve efficiency on the farm, sustain their families and improve the integrated pest management on the farm.

What do you hope to learn with this project?

"Our farm has been progressing rapidly with practices recommended in the Penn State Production Guide. We have enjoyed hosting twilight meetings at the farm. This project would help us continue to strengthen our relationships with researchers and other growers as well as strengthening modern practices. We are interested in using bio fumigant cover crops and continuing to improve our IPM and mating disruption techniques."

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

Jake is committed to helping other growers, "many have helped me."

Scholl Orchards, Model Plot Case Study - Vegetables

With close proximity to Lehigh Valley markets ravenous for local food, Jake, his brother Ben and his Dad can sell all the fruit they can grow locally through two farmers markets, the stand at the farm and wholesale accounts.

Prompted by market demands, Scholl Orchards added vegetable production to their operation in 2012.

Site Description

Scholl Orchards soils are a Berks Weikert which are considered well drained with 33-43 inches to bedrock, more than 80 inches to the water table and no frequency of flooding. Soils are of statewide importance. Soils have a high degree of shale with channery silt loam. Mean annual precipitation in the area is 35 to 50 inches. They are in plant hardiness zone 6b with a frost free date starting on May 30.

The site is on a SE facing slope of about 5%. Irrigation is from a pond on the property.

Plot History

Winter cover 2014crop 2014Winter cover 2013crop 2013Winter cover 2012crop 2012

There is no history of compost, manure or legume cover crops in the plot. In summer 2014, Sandia/btechlor herbicides were used and Round up in spring 2014. In an adjoining field there was a history of verticillium in eggplant.

Map for Scholl Orchards. 37 Red Church Rd. Kempton, PA with demonstration field delineated in red.


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

Jake seeded tomatoes in the greenhouse on March 20, 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 used for ½ of the plot (450 plants) and Mt Fresh tomato for the remainder. The majority of tomatoes grown at Scholl Orchards are round reds to meet their farmer's market customer demands. They used all 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, Jake first considered the history of the field to see if he 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. Based on Jake's Organic Matter, it was determined that he had the required amount of Nitrogen.

A summary of recommendations based on the soil test are below.

2014 Fertility levels (lb/A)OMpHNP2O5K20
Fertility Recommendation (lb/A)limeNP2O5K20
Nitrogen Credits (lb/A)
OM (20 lb per % over 2%)50
Prior Legume Cover Crop0
Prior Compost0
Prior Manure0
subtract the above from recommendations
ADJUSTED FertilitylimeNP2O5K20
Amendmentsapplied nutrients 2015
white potash (0-0-50) 286 lb/A142

Tomato Soil Preparation

On November 3, 2014 dolimitic lime was applied at a rate of 2 tons per acre. After plowing, a 0-0-62 fertilizer was applied at a rate of 285 lb/A (yielding 177 lb. actual K/A) by a vicon dog-tail spreader and then harrowed to incorporate on May 2 2015. Materbi biodegradable mulch was laid using a raised bed plastic mulch layer (brand Nolts) on May 4, 2015. The tension was loosened in order to not stretch the biodegradable mulch too tight, which can cause the mulch to rip. This was of concern in Jake's especially rocky soils. Covering wheels were also straightened slightly so as to not nick the mulch. The mulch laid perfectly with no apparent problems and looked good going into planting.

Soil Health Management

In 2015 the Sudangrass cover crop (variety Pioneer 877F) was seeded on May 28 at a target rate of 40 lb/A drilled (56 lb/A broadcast). The cover crop was seeded using a tractor-driven hydraulic-powered spreader at an actual rate of 40lb/acre.

On July 14 the Sudangrass was an average of 5.5 to 6 feet tall before being mowed with a flail mower. The Sudangrass was mowed approximately two weeks later on August 3.

Tomato Culture

Jake planted his tomatoes on May 26 into the biodegradable mulch. Beds are on 5.5 foot centers with twenty-four inches between plants. Tomato transplants were dipped in a Regalia biostimulant (1 oz Regalia per 1 gallon water) before transplanting. Tomatoes were staked using new fifty-four inch untreated oak tomato stakes, with one stake every three plants, and trellised using the florida weave technique. Jake chose to use shorter stakes to accommodate for the height of his sprayer.


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 as needed when sufficient rainfall was not available.

Weed Management

Jake chose to manage between-row weeds with herbicide. A tank mix of Roundup, Dual, and Prowl H2O was applied with a backpack sprayer once on June 17. Because the plants provided good coverage quickly, no in-hole weed maintenance was needed.

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. All tomato seed 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 overwinter 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, so weed management is also essential.

The model plot rotation at Scholl Orchards 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 Scholl Orchards 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.

Choose Less Susceptible Varieties:

Mt Merit late blight resistant tomatoes were used for 1/2 of the plot.

Disease tracking and Protective sprays:

Tomatoes were dipped in Regalia prior to transplant. Using the Tomcast and Simcast models provided by NEWA, as well as USABlight mapping and regular scouting, disease pressure was tracked so that growers could spray accordingly. Jake started a regimen of preventative sprays beginning in late June. All sprays were applied at a rate of 50 gal/acre with an IVA boom, hollow cone, high pressure sprayer.

5/27Cupro1 lb
Bravo2 pt
ProPhyt1 qt
6/10Manzate2 lb
Cupro1 lb
ProPhyt1 qt
Megafol1 qt

Disease symptoms of Early Blight and Bacterial Spot were first noted in the Mt. Fresh variety on July 7, and on Mt. Merit on July 16. Symptoms were minimal.

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

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

Nitrogen was found to be high, and it was recommended that Jake hold off on further fertility adjustments until a second tissue test was taken. All other nutrient levels were close if not within ideal range. The excess of copper was attributed to residue from fungicide applications made prior to the tissue sampling.

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

Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Calcium were found to be slightly low. Again, the excess of copper was attributed to residue from fungicide applications made prior to the tissue sampling.

Tomato Disease Pressure

Disease scouting was conducted approximately once per week from late June 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 Mt Fresh planting on July 6. 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.

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.