Models for the Future of Fruit and Vegetable Plots

Penn State Extension partners with seven growers across the Commonwealth to provide on-farm demonstrations for new, young, and minority farmers.
Models for the Future of Fruit and Vegetable Plots - Articles

Updated: September 22, 2017

In This Article
Models for the Future of Fruit and Vegetable Plots

Penn State Extension partners with seven growers across the Commonwealth in a "Models for the Future" project to provide on-farm demonstrations for new, young and minority farmers. Strawberry, blueberry and vegetable model plots illustrate best management practices and create learning centers for new farmer networks.

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

Founded in 2011, Good Work Farm feeds 125 families through Community Supported Agriculture Shares (CSA).

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."

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 plotsallow 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.

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."

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
ryeCucumbernoneOnionnonenone

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.

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

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
4.75.7*705278
Fertility Recommendation (lb/A)limeNP2O5K20
1100050110
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
Recommendations0110
Amendmentsapplied nutrients 2015
lime4000
white potash (0-0-50) 286 lb/A142
Balance00-32

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

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.

DateMaterialRate/Acre
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
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 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 plotsallow 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.


Dave King and his son Eli.

Harvest Valley Farms is a fourth generation family farm. The farm is now owned and operated by Larry, Art, and David King.

In May 2005, Art's son, David King, graduated from college and joined the two brothers in partnership. Harvest Valley Farms believes in growing the highest quality produce, using the least amount of chemical pesticides and synthetic-fertilizers necessary. These applications are greatly reduced by the long term process of building the soil structure and health. Harvest Valley Farms has their own market location, along route 8 between Butler and route 76 PA. The market is open week-days and sells over one-hundred and sixty varieties of their own fruits and vegetables alongside other locally grown produce.

Harvest Valley Farms is a fourth generation family farm. The farm is now owned and operated by Larry, Art, and David King. In May 2005, Art’s son, David, graduated from college and joined the two brothers in partnership.

Harvest Valley Farms believes in growing the highest quality produce, using the least amount of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers necessary. These applications are greatly reduced through the long term process of building the soil structure and health. Harvest Valley Farms has their own market location, along route 8 between Butler and route 76 PA. The market is open week-days and sells over one-hundred and sixty varieties of their own fruits and vegetables alongside other locally grown produce.

Site Description

The model plot site is one third of an acre and sits just off Deer Creek road in Gibsonia, PA. Harvest Valley Farm's soils are diverse. The majority of the site is a Wharton silt loam (WhB), with parts in Gilpin silt loam (GIC). The site has an annual average precipitation of 37.61 inches. They are located in plant hardiness zone 6a, with a frost free date of May 26. Deer pressure has been high in the past. A solar powered electric wire has been strung along the perimeter of the plot.


Map for Harvest Valley Farm, Gibsonia, PA with demonstration field delineated.

Plot History

Crop 2014Crop 2013Crop 2012
onionMix cover crop of mostly RyeMix cover crop of mostly Rye

Rotation

Primary goals for the vegetable rotation are soil building and reducing disease pressure. In order to build soils, five cover crops are included during the seven year rotation. 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

Harvest Valley seeded tomatoes in the greenhouse on April 21. One third of the tomato seed was hot water treated at 122° F for 25 minutes to reduce the possibility of the seed being contaminated by bacterial disease. The rest were not hot water treated. Mt Merit late blight resistant tomato was used for the entire plot. All new greenhouse flats were used in order to reduce the possibility of disease contamination.

Tomato Soil Fertility

The soil was sampled on April 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.

The Penn State soil nutrient level report indicated that Harvest Valley Farm's pH level is 6.8 and recommended that 50 lb/A of Nitrogen (N) and 65 lb/A of Phosphate (P2O5) be added to the soil for Fresh Market Tomato production. Magnesium was also found to be low, and it was recommended that 25 lb/A be incorporated into the soil.

Tomato Soil Preparation

Field preparation began on May 8 by plowing in the 18" winter rye cover crop. Biotello biodegradable mulch was laid using a raised bed plastic mulch layer on May 28. The tension was loosened in order to not stretch the biodegradable mulch too tight, which can cause the mulch to rip. Covering wheels were also straightened slightly so as to not nick the mulch. The mulch laid with no apparent problems and looked good going into planting. Fertilizer was applied by a spreader attached to the mulch layer. The application was 150 lbs. of 3-2-3 MicroStart60 (composted poultry manure) and 300 lbs. of 19-19-19/A.

Soil Health Management

An additional sample soil sample taken on April 8 was sent to Cornell Soil Health Lab for a Soil Health analysis including Organic Matter, Soil Texture, Active Carbon, Wet Aggregate Stability, Available Water Capacity, Surface and sub-surface hardness interpretation, and root health.

Below is a summary of the Cornell Soil Health analysis, a score of 54 indicated that overall soil quality was in the low range. The test also showed a Root Pathogen Pressure value of 5.3 which is in the medium range. While suboptimal, this level is not considered a constraint.

Sudangrass cover crop (variety Pioneer 877F) was seeded on June 8 at a target rate of 40 lb/A drilled (56 lb/A broadcast). The cover crop was seeded using a seed drill at an actual rate of 40-50 lbs/acre.

On July 15 the Sudangrass was approximately 3 ft tall with a biomass of approximately 4,129 lbs of dry matter/A before being mowed with a tractor driven brush hog. After mowing, Ammonium Sulfate was broadcast at a rate of 100 lb/A to provide enough Nitrogen for regrowth. The Sudan regrew to 5 feet tall with a biomass of 5,606 lbs of dry matter/A before mowing again on August 17 with a flail mower. A final mowing was done on September 23 with a flail mower and incorporated by disc. The field was chisel plowed and disked, and rye planted at the rate of 150 lbs per acre on October 27.

Tomato Culture

Harvest Valley planted 1.5 rows of heat treated Mt Merit tomatoes on May 31 and 2.5 rows of untreated Mt Merit tomatoes five days later into the biodegradable mulch. Beds were on 5 ft 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 6 foot untreated oak tomato stakes, with one stake every two plants, and trellised using the Florida weave technique. Tomato plants were not suckered, as the King's have found that the benefits are not worth the cost in labor.

Irrigation

Irrigation was supplied by a single line of drip tape per bed at. 45 GPM/100 ft which runs at 8 psi and 4 hours per irrigation. In order to provide the tomato crop with sufficient water, Harvest Valley's crops are irrigated with approximately 2 inches of water per week when there is not sufficient rainfall. Due to local weather patterns, the need for irrigation was minimal during the early part of the 2015 season. The first irrigation date for the tomato plot was on July 30.

Weed Management

Alongside the use of mulch to manage weeds, annual ryegrass was seeded on June 2 for between row weed suppression. A layer of straw was added on top of the rye after seeding. The ryegrass was maintained by weed whacking once at midseason. Tomatoes were also hand weeded on June 2.

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 half 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, so weed management is also essential.

The model plot rotation at Harvest Valley 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 Harvest Valley 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 the model plots was designed to improve overall soil health.

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

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.

Disease symptoms of Early Blight were first noted in the plot on June, 19. After determining that disease was present, Larry began spraying the tomato crop on a 5 day schedule. All sprays were applied with an Air Blast sprayer.

DateMaterialRate per Acre
19-JunRevus Top/Copper6 oz/1 lb a.i.
24-JunPrevacure1.5 pt
26-JunRevus Top6 oz
29-JunRevus Top/Copper6 oz/1 lb a.i.
1-JulDithane/Bravo/Tanos/Copper3 lb/2 pt./8 oz/1 lb a.i.
9-JulDithane/Bravo/Tanos/Copper3 lb/2 pt./8 oz/1 lb a.i.
16-JulPrevacure/Copper1.5 pt/1 lb a.i.
22-JulRevus Top/Copper6 oz/1 lb a.i.
28-JulRanman/Copper2.5 oz/1 lb a.i.

Tomato Leaf Tissue Testing

Tomato tissue samples were taken and sent to Penn State Ag Analytical Services 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%
PhosphorusP.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 23, shortly after first flower. See results below.

Results of the first tissue test were near ideal. Nitrogen was good, Phosphorus was just slightly low, and Potassium was in range.

An acre of tomatoes generally needs 0.5 lb N/A/day. After flowering begins, a low Nitrogen, high Potassium fertilizer is generally recommended to achieve a 2:1 ratio of Potassium to Nitrogen during fruit filling. In this case, a bit more Phosphorus was recommended as well.

A second tissue test was taken on July 22, at fruit set.

The results of the second tissue test indicated that Nitrogen levels had dropped, while Potassium was high.

Dave began fertigation on July 30. A 4-10-40 fertilizer was used and applied at a rate of 6.25 lb/A/day for the first week, and then at a rate of 12.5 lb/A/day on 8/5 and 8/12.

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.

  • Date:
  • Data Collected By:
  • Tomato Variety:
% Diseased Tissue (0 to 100%)Check which disease(s) were observed on each plant (if any)
PlantLeaf 1Leaf 2Leaf 3Early BlightLate BlightSeptoria Leaf SpotBacterial Speck/Spot
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

Additional Notes:

  • Walk the Plot. Do you see any of the following diseases in the field?
Early BlightLate BlightSeptoria Leaf SpotBacterial Speck/Spot

Early Blight was identified as present in the planting on June 19.

Tomato Yields

Tomato yield was monitored for a period of 4 weeks during peak harvest, from August 18 through September 2. For the hot water treated Mt Merit tomatoes, 4 blocks of 6 plants were flagged to be skipped over by the farm's harvest staff. Plants were harvested for marketable and unmarketable yield by weight.

Mean # marketableMean weight marketableMean # unmarketableMean # marketable
8/13*249.614.53.5
20-Aug22.758.7123.1
26-Aug13.54163.9
2-Sep30.83.80.7

*data from two plots only; the workers beat us to the first two plots!

Total yields were relatively low in the plots due to weather extremes experienced during the growing season. In addition, blossom end rot rendered a high proportion of fruit unmarketable.

Interactive Budget

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


Arturo Diaz, Field Manager, is key to making sure best practices are put into place on the farm.

Twin Springs Fruit Farm is located in Orrtanna, which is in the heart of the Adams County Fruit Belt.

The farm is owned by four individuals; two growers and two marketers. The growers working with Penn State on this project are Michael and Jesse King along with field manager, Arturo Diaz. Twin Springs produces a variety of tree fruits, berries, field crops, and greenhouse crops on 95 acres. Twin Springs makes an effort to employ sustainable and environmentally conscious practices, including IPM and the use of organic fertilizers.

Project Participation

What Twin Springs Fruit Farm hopes to learn from this project

Twin Springs Fruit Farm is interested in learning more about integrating new IPM techniques and practices successfully. They currently are in the process of acquiring more land that needs improvements in soil health. They hope to come out of this project with a recipe for success, including the use of cover crops to provide a more sustainable way of farming.

What Twin Springs Fruit Farm hopes to share by participating in this project

They are eager to share all of the practices of this study, whether stories of success or failure. With the ever-changing ways of farming, it is important for all growers to stay on top of new, innovative practices to support food security. They plan to share their experiences through hosting study circles and having their model plots serve as 'on farm' demonstrations.

Twin Springs Fruit Farm is located in Orrtanna, which is in the heart of the Adams Country Fruit Belt. The 95 acre farm is home to a variety of tree fruits, berries, field crops, and greenhouse crops. The growers involved in the model plot project include Field Manager Arturo Dias and Michael and Jesse King, who are next generation owners.

Twin Springs has been marketing their produce primarily at markets in Bethesda, Maryland and Washington, DC since the early 1980s. Consumers' growing demands for organic products have motivated Michael, Jesse, and Arturo to use sustainable and environmentally conscious farming practices. IPM is currently used in all three production greenhouses as well as in the field. The growers manage weeds with biodegradable plastic and cover crop rotations that also improve soil health.

Site Description

Twin Springs Fruit Farm soils are primarily silt loams. The tomato plot in Year 1 of the 3-Year Model Plot Project was a Highfield Channery silt loam, which is well drained with no frequency of flooding. Mean annual precipitation is between 35-50 inches, and the water table is reached at greater than 80 inches. The farm is located in plant hardiness zone 6b, with a frost free date of May 10. This site is on a western facing slope of approximately 3-8%. The farm is irrigated from a well on the property. Deer pressure has been low.


Soil survey map for Twin Springs Fruit Farm at 936 Orchard Rd., Orrtanna PA. (Source: United States Department of Agriculture)

Plot History

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

Twin Springs Fruit Farm leased this site from Adams County Winery beginning in spring of 2012, harvesting cash crops of onions and carrots in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Plot Description

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

Survey soil map for Twin Springs Fruit Farm vegetable plot. Location near 253 Peach Tree Rd, Orrtanna, PA. Approximately half mile away from Twin Springs address.

Rotation

The primary goals of the vegetable rotation are to improve soil health and reduce overall disease pressure. The plot will alternate between cash and cover crops on almost a half year basis to build up the soil and ensure that a profitable crop is being produced each season. No crop family will be planted in the same area during the course of the six rotations in order to reduce both disease and pest pressure.

Tomato Transplant Production

Michael and Jesse seeded their tomatoes into new flats in their greenhouse in early March 2015. Mt Merit tomato variety was selected to provide late blight resistance. BHN589 was included as Twin Spring's standard beefsteak variety in the model plot so that we could make fruit quality and yield comparisons. Prior to planting, the Mountain Merit seeds were hot water treated to reduce the risk of seed borne bacterial diseases such as spot and speck. The seeds were treated for 25 minutes at 122 degrees F.

Tomato Soil Fertility

The soil was sampled on April 21, 2015. Fertility analysis was conducted by the Penn State Ag Analytical Lab. Each sample was analyzed for pH, Mehlich buffer lime requirement, and for phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and calcium by the Mehlich 3 (ICP) test

Penn State Ag Analytical results:

Plant Nutrient Needs
NitrogenPhosphatePotash
50 lb/A110 lb/ANONE

In order to meet the nutrient needs of their tomato crop the growers 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, not what is in the soil. To get a better estimate we accounted for what nitrogen might be available based on organic matter content.

Adjusted Fertility Recommendations
Field Orange: TomatoAcre(s)
1/3
2014 Fertility LevelsOMpHNP205K20
3%7-133384
Recommendation (lb/A)limeNP205K20
501100
Nitrogen credits
OM (20 lb per % over 2%)20
Prior Legume Cover Crop
Prior Compost
Prior Manure
Subtract above from recommendations02000
ADJUSTED FertilitylimeNP205K20
Recommendations0301100
AmendmentsApplied nutrients 2015
Fertilizer Mix4896
Lime0
Balance0+18+140

Twin Springs was credited 20 lb/A of N due to their OM percentage being at 3.0%. See conversion on table. Nutritional status, based on plant tissue tests, was further adjusted by seasonal fertigation.

A soil health analysis was conducted by the 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.

Results from the soil health test showed that the surface hardness, aggregate stability, and active carbon were possible limiting factors for plant growth. The test also showed a Root Pathogen Pressure value of 7.0. This result indicated a constraint and suggests that special management attention will be necessary to control disease incidence and spread. Overall the soil was scored at a 61, which is a medium soil health level.

Tomato Soil Preparation

In order to prepare the soil for tomato production, residue from the fall carrot crop was disked in during the first week of May and allowed about two weeks to break down. On May 15 the field was chisel plowed, and the recommended phosphate and nitrogen were applied. On that same day, the plot was disked again, and a biodegradable black mulch was applied to the rows. The tension was loosened in order to not stretch the biodegradable mulch too tight, which can cause the mulch to rip. Using mulch reduces weeding, and improves water efficiency among other benefits. A biodegradable mulch also helps reduce or eliminate future removal and disposal costs.


Black mulch applied May 15, 2015.

Weed suppression by mulch through the 2015 season


July 12, 2015


July 19, 2015


August 2, 2015


August 9, 2015

Tomato Culture

The Kings transplanted their tomatoes on May 15 into the biodegradable mulch. Beds were on 5 ft centers with 24-inch spacing between plants. Row cover was not used due to warmer May temperatures with no risk of frost. Tomatoes were staked every 2 plants, alternating between new 6 foot untreated oak stakes and 6 foot metal stakes. Plants were trellised using the Florida weave technique.

A closer look at the tomatoes right after being planted in the black mulch.

Irrigation

Irrigation was supplied by a single line of drip tape per bed at. 45 GPM per 100 ft. In order to provide the tomato crop with sufficient water (one inch per acre per week) the crop was irrigated daily for one-half hour when rainfall was not sufficient. The drip line also allowed for timely application of fungicides to protect roots from soil-borne diseases in addition to fertigation based on plant nutrient analyses.

Weed Management

Oats were seeded between beds as a method of reducing weed pressure in the plot. The between- row cover crop was maintained by one mowing early in the season.


Oats growing in between rows prior to mow down in early season.

Tomato Disease Management

Pathogen Exclusion

Many pathogens can be carried over to the next year by seed. Tomato seed was not saved. All seed was purchased from reputable sources. All tomato seed was hot water treated at 122° F for 25 minutes to reduce the possibility of the seed being contaminated by bacterial disease.

Bacterial pathogens can overwinter on stakes and cause disease the next year. Wooden stakes in the plot were new. In an effort to reduce costs, Twin Springs reused metal stakes, although this is not advisable, as they may harbor disease from years past.

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 number of pathogens so weed management is also essential.

The model plot rotation planned for Twin Springs will ensure that no crop family comes back to the same area for six years. The crop rotation used in model plots was also designed to improve soil health and to promote diverse microorganisms that compete with plant pathogens.

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 the root zone while keeping the plant foliage dry. At Twin Springs, all tomatoes were on drip irrigation, well-spaced, and trellised to allow for maximum air flow.

Choosing Less Susceptible Varieties

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

Protective Sprays

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. Adams County reached threshold values for Early Blight and Septoria in late June. Twin Springs began their spray schedule on June 17th, rotating materials of similar chemical classes.

Disease symptoms of Bacterial Speck/Spot were first noted in early July while disease scouting. The Kings began preventative sprays every 7 to 14 days in mid- June.

Tomato Leaf Tissue Testing

Tomato tissue samples were taken on May 18, at first flower, and sent to the Penn State Ag Analytical lab for analysis to track plant nutritional status and make any necessary fertility adjustments. Results from the tissue test indicated that all nutrients but nitrogen were in a sufficient range. Copper levels were excessive, which was likely due to contamination from protective spray applications.

Recommendations were based on the following nutrient levels for optimum tomato production.

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

A second tissue test was taken on July 22, at fruit set.

The second tissue test indicated that Nitrogen was continuing to fall while most other nutrients seemed to be maintaining. It was recommended that Nitrogen be applied at at least the. 5lb/A/day rate. Again, the high copper levels are attributed to spray application.

Twin Springs started their regular fertigation regimen on July 20 with Magnesium Sulfate (20lb), Potassium Nitrate (15lb) and Iron (1lb) at a 2% dilution through drip. After receiving the tissue analysis, they switched to straight Calcium Nitrate (50lb) at 2% dilution through the drip, and the crop responded well.

Tomato Disease Pressure

Disease scouting was conducted once a week for six weeks from July 13 to August 26. Particular attention was paid to detecting early blight, late blight, septoria leaf spot, and bacterial speck and spot on both the Mountain Merit and BHN-589 varieties.

On each scouting date, the entire plot was walked for a presence/absence assessment using standardized methods and data sheets. Scouting included selecting 10 plants per variety that were evenly distributed within the plot. Penn State scouts paid close attention to areas where disease generally starts to appear (i.e., wet and low spots). Three leaflets were examined throughout each plant (one low on the plant, one at mid-level, and one in the upper canopy) for disease symptoms. The percent of affected tissue for each of the 3 leaves per plant was recorded, as well as the diseases observed. A separate data sheet was used for each variety. Bacterial speck and spot developed in both varieties in early season on the lower leaves. By mid-August lower leaves had as much as 70 percent coverage, while the upper canopy had small patches of disease.

Tomato Yields

Tomato yield was monitored for a period of 5 weeks during peak harvest, from August 6 to September 1, 2015. For each variety (Mt Merit and BHN 589), 4 blocks of 5 plants were flagged to be skipped over by the farm's harvest staff. Plants were harvested once a week for marketable and unmarketable yield, determined by weight. Below are the results given in pounds and averaged according to the 4 blocks per plot. Note: The yield and fruit quality of Mt. Merit was more severely stressed by a late summer heat wave than that of BHN-589.

Mountain Merit Variety
DateMean weightMean weight marketableMean weight unmarketable
6-Aug5.354.281.07
13-Aug13.6511.482.17
20-Aug9.757.452.3
26-Aug2.231.480.75
1-Sep18.28711.28
Accumulated Total49.2631.6917.57
Average Weight9.856.343.51

6.34lb fruit x (43,560 sq ft)/(1 Acre) x (Mt. Merit model plot)/(40 sq ft*)=6,904.26 lbs marketable fruit/A

BHN-589 Variety
DateMean weightMean weight marketableMean weight unmarketable
6-Aug3.853.10.75
13-Aug9.4363.43
20-Aug6.984.832.15
26-Aug1.931.180.75
1-Sep36.4528.857.6
Accumulated Total58.6443.9614.68
Average Weight11.728.782.94

8.78 lb fruit x (43,560 sq ft)/(1 Acre) x (BHN-589 model plot)/(40 sq ft*)=9,561.42 lbs marketable fruit/A

*40 square feet calculated from 5 repetitions of 4 plants spaced 2 feet apart, with 5 feet between centered rows.

Sample unmarketable harvest based upon whether the fruit were over-mature, highly discolored, or had disorders such as blossom end rot.

Interactive Budget

The Interactive budget from "Models for the Future" tomato plotsallow 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.


Brett Saddington talking with Dr Rob Crassweller about ideal tree fruit density.

Bedminster Orchard is located on 16 Acres in Perkasie, Pa and is owned and operated by Brett Saddington.

Brett got his start in growing tree fruit by working at other orchards and farms in the Bucks County area, and quickly discovered that he wanted to start his own operation. He began Bedminster Orchards on his own in 2007. He grows a variety of tree fruit, including 18 varieties of white and yellow peaches; 25 varieties of apples and a few varieties of nectarines, in addition to tomatoes, strawberries, and other seasonal produce. Brett markets his produce through local farmers markets including the Doylestown and Ottsville Farmers Markets, as well as on farm sales. Brett utilizes Integrated Pest Management techniques in growing his produce, and strives to produce the best quality product possible for his customers.

Brett Saddington got his start in growing tree fruit by working at other orchards and farms in the Bucks County area, and quickly discovered that he wanted to start his own operation. He began Bedminster Orchards on his own in 2007.

Site Description

Bedminster Orchard soils are a Penn Klinesville Channery silt loam (PkB) with about 34 inches to bedrock and the water table at greater than 80 inches in the site used for Apple planting. Other soils are Readville Channery silt loam, considered somewhat poorly drained with the water table at 6-36 inches. Mean annual precipitation in the area is 36-50 inches. The farm is in plant hardiness zone 7a with a frost free date starting on May 30.


Soil survey map for Kellers Church Rd Bedminster PA. Model plot in PkB soil.

The apple site is on a Northern to neutral facing slope of about 3%. The site is higher than surrounding areas with good air drainage. Deer pressure is high but managed by an eight foot high tensile wire deer fence. Drip irrigation is from a pond on the property. There are cedar trees on neighboring properties that pose a threat for cedar apple rust. However this plot is upwind and slope from the trees. The Apple plot at Bedminster Orchard is approximately 258 ft. long 60 ft. wide.


Apple model plot at Bedminster Orchards, Bedminster PA. Apple plot is delineated

Plot History

The field had been used for vegetables for one year prior to the establishment of the plots. Prior to 2014 the plot area was in brush. In spring 2015 a nice crop of clover was carpeting the area.

Bedminster Orchard Plot History
Winter Cover 2014Crop 2014Winter Cover 2013Crop 2013Winter Cover 2012Crop 2012
clovervegn/an/an/an/a

Basic Summary

The following is a basic outline of site plans for Apple model plots included in the project. However, based on grower and site requirements, slight adjustments were made as necessary.

  1. Spacing will be 3.5 feet x 13 feet = 957 trees per acre (43,560/45.5)
  2. Each site will have 4 rows of 62 trees = 248 trees (124 Crimson Crisp & 124 Gold Rush)
  3. Turn-around area and anchor posts will need 30 feet space at both ends of the rows.
  4. Total trees to order will be 992 trees (4 sites x 248)
  5. Preferred rootstock: Geneva 11
  6. Second rootstock choice: B.9
  7. Preferred size: largest possible and well branched
  8. Shipping date Spring 2017
  9. Support system - 4 wire with 12 ft posts (3-4 inch line posts, 5-6 inch end posts)

Spring 2015 Soil Pre-Plant

To prepare the plot for planting in spring of 2017, many steps will have to be taken according to results of the soil and nematode testing. Cover crops will be rotated for two seasons to increase organic matter in the soil and combat any nematode issues.

The soil was sampled in fall of 2014 and a fertility analysis was done by A&L Eastern Laboratories. The original analysis and recommendations for the plot was in preparation for a blueberry crop.


Bedminster Orchard, Soil Test Results 2014

No fertility or pH adjustments were made during the 2015 season.

The nitrogen recommendation was 50 lb/A in order to successfully grow the sudangrass cover crop used for pre-plant biofumigation. Because nitrogen availability goes up and down based on microbes mineralizing it, most nitrogen recommendations are based on plant needs, not what is in the soil. To get a better estimate we needed to account for what nitrogen might be available from the organic matter, cover crops, compost and manure that was applied in the last three years. In this field the organic matter was 5%. Organic matter has about 20 lb of available nitrogen per % OM. Because the Penn State recommendation assumed only 2% OM, Brett gave himself a credit of 50 lbs. of N/A for the additional % OM he has. A good clover cover crop can have 120 lb/A of nitrogen in the plant material. But only about 40% of this nitrogen will be available the year after you plow it in. A legume cover crop has about 2,300 lbs. of dry matter in the first 6 inches of a good cover. Legumes are generally 3.5% nitrogen. So the six inch clover crop in Brett's field would contain about 80 lbs. of N. About half of that nitrogen would be available the first year and so Brett gets another credit of 40 lbs. N/A from his clover cover crop.


Bedminster Orchard, Fertility Calculations 2015

An additional soil sample was taken on April 9, 2015 and submitted to Cornell Soil Health Lab for a Soil Health analysis including Organic Matter, Soil Texture, Active Carbon, Wet Aggregate Stability, Available Water Capacity, Surface and sub-surface hardness interpretation, and root health.

The overall soil health score was a 58, falling in the Medium range with improvements in the physical and biological soil conditions recommended. The test indicated a Root Pathogen Pressure value of 6.7, which is considered low. However, management for disease will be of high priority in the plot. A summary of the soil health assessment is below.


Bedminster Orchard, Soil Health Test 2015

Spring 2015 Site Clean Up

This is a virgin site and so no specific clean-up is needed. However, there is a significant thistle problem, and patches were initially sprayed with Stinger in June of 2015, prior to cover crop seeding.

Spring 2015 Antagonistic Cover Crop

A soil sample was taken on April 8 and submitted to Virginia Extension for a Nematode Diagnostic Assay Report. Results showed presence of Helicotylenchus (Spiral), Hoplolaimus (Lance), and Mesocriconema (Ring) nematodes. It was concluded that Lance nematodes were a problem and that control options were advisable. A cover crop rotation protocol was followed in order to help control the nematode problem prior to planting.


Bedminster Orchard, Nematode Test 2015

Sudangrass produces large amounts of organic matter helping to increase soil structure, water retention and drainage. It can also help reduce nematode pressure because when chopped and incorporated into the soil it acts as a 'biofumigant', releasing compounds into the soil which are antagonistic to plant diseases, nematodes and weed seed.

In 2015, the Sudangrass cover crop (variety Pioneer 877F) was seeded on June 15 at a target rate of 25 lb/A drilled (35 lb/A broadcast). Variety 877F was chosen for it efficacy in biofumigation. Cover crop at Bedminster was seeded at an actual rate of 60 lb/A.


Sudan cover crop, just prior first mowing, July 2015.

On July 25 the Sudex was mowed down by flail mower. 75 lb/A of ammonium sulfate was added to support regrowth of the Sudex crop and to begin the nutritional plan for the following rapeseed crop. Prior to mow down, the sudangrass was approximately 5.5 feet tall with a biomass of 1,942 lbs. dry matter/A.

The summer sudangrass crop was followed by rapeseed as a winter cover in late August/early September. The rapeseed was incorporated in April 2016, and a second rapeseed crop was planted for the summer. As with the sudangrass, the rapeseed covers were mowed with a flail mower, incorporated, and cultipacked. Following two years of bio-remediation, a slow growing endophyte-enhanced fescue mix was planted in fall 2016. The well-established sod out-competes broadleaf weeds that may serve as reservoirs for viruses associated with tree decline.

After two seasons of cover cropping the model plot sites, populations of parasitic nematodes across all sites were zero. During the final sampling, two fallow fields adjacent to the Scholl Orchard and Rock Springs model plot sites that were not cover cropped were also sampled for nematodes. These adjacent fields each contained dagger nematodes.

Trees were planted in Spring 2017, and they are being trained to a tall spindle training system. To continue ensuring trees are off to a good start, leaders were regularly tied to a trellis support system. Trees were scouted weekly since early June to prevent damage from mites, aphids, leafhoppers, Japanese Beetles, and diseases, along with weeds, that could reduce tree growth during this important establishment phase. To streamline scouting, Penn State orchard scouts utilized Penn State’s new orchard scouting mobile app. The app allows the scout to enter scouting data into a spreadsheet on their phone or tablet, and can easily be shared with others that need access to the data. The sheets also automatically calculate block averages of all the pests and populate the results to a summary page. These features reduce the need to perform tedious calculations and data transfer by hand.

Trees received two applications of calcium nitrate in the spring, and are under drip irrigation to promote excellent growth in the establishment year. Vigorous shoots directly beneath the leader are also being pruned, so the leader does not have any competition for growth. This will allow trees to develop an optimal tree structure for fruiting in subsequent years.

Interactive Budgets

The Interactive budget from "Models for the Future" apple 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.

Joe and Sara Bozzelli founded Five Elements Farm in 2007.

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.

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.

McCleaf’s Orchard is a fifth generation farm originally founded in 1888 and located in Biglerville, Pennsylvania.

The 52 acre farm produces various types of fruits and vegetables each year--apples, peaches, pears, berries, tomatoes, asparagus, and onions--just to name a few. The owners, Corey and Vicky McCleaf, focus heavily on soil health by using various cover crops on a yearly basis to maintain a sustainable soil. They also use IPM methods and stay up-to-date on agricultural innovations to provide the best quality produce. McCleaf's Orchard is Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified and a Pennsylvania Preserved Farm.

Why McCleaf Orchards is involved in this project

Corey and Vicky believe in the importance of on-farm applied research trials to demonstrate sustainable production practices, as commercial pilot studies allow unique opportunities for grower and community input and successful technology transfer. They have been involved in three prior on-farm investigations, including a successful USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant project with model pilot orchards, which was the motivation for this beginning farmer project.

Corey and Vicky are original members of the Penn State Extension Young Grower Alliance (YGA) and continue to be active because of the opportunities for experiential learning along with networking with other young growers. In Corey's words, "a day away from the farm on a YGA tour is not a day "off", rather it is a day "on"—a unique opportunity to learn from other growers!"

McCleaf's Orchards has hosted a number of tours, and as part of this grant, hosted 3 bilingual study circles for Hispanic/Latino growers. They believe in the value of mentorship and plan to share what they learn in addition to other resources related to the project.

McCleaf’s Orchard is a fifth generation farm located in Biglerville, Pennsylvania. Since 1888 the family has maintained the same goal on their land: “to grow quality food our children will eat.” Corey McCleaf, 6th generation farmer, and his wife, Vicky, currently own and operate the 52-acre farm.

McCleaf's Orchard sells directly to the consumer via farmers markets in Washington, D.C., local restaurants, and their CSA. They also support local gleaning efforts and a regional food hub. Crop diversification allows regular rotation of a variety of crops, including everything from arugula to kiwiberries and tomatoes and cherries raised in high tunnels. Corey and Vicky rely on IPM for their wide array of fruits and vegetables and they use organic methods when possible. In an effort to meet the farms energy needs in a sustainable manner, Corey and Vicky successfully submitted a grant proposal to cover some of the costs of transitioning their cold storage facility to solar power. The farm is Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified and was designated a Pennsylvania Preserved Farm in 2008.

Site Description

McCleaf's Orchard's strawberry plot is a Penn Silt Loam soil (PcB). This soil holds many nutrients and drains well. The water table is reached within 200 inches below ground, and there is rarely a chance of flooding. Yearly, the orchard receives about 55 inches of rainfall, which is immediately absorbed by the soil. Bedrock may be reached anywhere from 20 to 40 inches. The site is frost-free 185 days per year.

The plot is relatively flat with a 3-8 percent slope. It lays central to the farm and has low deer pressure. Drip irrigation is supplied from a well that pumps 40 gallons per minute.

Plot History

Winter Cover 2014Crop 2014Winter Cover 2013Crop 2013Winter Cover 2012
FallowOnionsFallowKaleTurnips

Vegetables were previously grown in this site, including kale in 2013 and onions in 2014. Turnips were a winter cover crop in 2012. No compost was added 2012 to 2014.

Plot Description

The "Models for the Future" strawberry plot is indicated below by the orange rectangle. The field is 1 acre, and 1/3 will be maintained as a model plot.

Rotation

Grasses were planted during the 2015 season to reduce the potential for soil-borne diseases and viruses transmitted by plant parasitic nematodes as well as to reduce weed pressure. Sorghum sudan was planted in the summer of 2015 and winter rye in the winter of 2015-16, prior to transplanting berries in July 2016. Strawberries perform best in soils that have never been planted to strawberries or have had adequate rotation. Strawberry disease problems tend to be reduced when soil health is optimized. For example, black root rot is common in strawberry plantings with highly compacted soils. The cover crops used in this model plot were chosen with the goals of increasing organic matter and improving overall soil health.

Soil Health and Fertility

The soil was first sampled on April 21, 2015. The Penn State Ag Analytical lab conducted the fertility analysis. The sample was analyzed for pH, Mehlich buffer lime requirement, and for phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and calcium by the Mehlich 3 (ICP) test.

No additional Nitrogen credit was given in 2015 due to an organic matter level of 1.8%. No legumes, compost or manure were in the field in the past two years and so no credit was available for residual nitrogen.

A second soil test was taken on May 13, 2016. Results are shown below. Kathy Demchak, Penn State Extension small fruit model plot advisor, visited the site later in May and based on cover crop growth and soil nutrient levels, recommended 60 lbs per acre of nitrogen and 110 lbs per acre of potash.

In 2015 and again in 2016, a Soil Health Analysis was conducted by the 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 2015 the analysis indicated a need to increase organic matter. Other constraints such as aggregate stability and low respiration numbers resulted in the soil receiving an overall rating of 60, which is medium quality. After a year of sorghum sudan and rye cover crops, improvements were observed in surface hardness, aggregate stability, and respiration--all of which are important to strawberry establishment.

Surface hardness decreased from 148 p.s.i. to 40 p.s.i., decreasing compaction within the soil and making it easier for strawberry roots to grow. A decreased surface hardness also helps to prevent runoff and erosion, as well as increase infiltration. Aggregate stability increased from 9.8% to 14.3%, which is still considered a low rating, but is a good indicator of biological health improvement. Aggregate stability contributes to improved plant germination and health. Lastly, respiration improved 0.02 mg, which indicates a higher rate of metabolic activity and cycling of nutrients is now taking place. Overall, the soil improved a total of 9 rating points, for an excellent quality rating.

2015 soil health report:

2016 soil health report:

Nematode assays were conducted by Virginia Extension in May 2015. No nematode problem was detected.

Soil Preparation and Weed Management

Preparing the soil for planting strawberries was crucial during the summer and winter of 2015. There was a special emphasis on weed management and cover crop timing due to a yellow nutsedge problem and a small thistle patch in the field. The plot was disked in the spring and left fallow until July. Then, glyphosate was applied on July 21 at 3qt/A of 41% material. Glyphosate was applied at a higher rate to eradicate the thistle and suppress the nutsedge. After 6 days, Corey disked the plot to prepare a seeding bed for the cover crop and to rip up the newly-germinated nutsedge seedlings. The nutsedge started in a wet area of the field that has since been ameliorated with drainage tile.

Soil Health Management

On July 29, 2015, sorghum sudangrass was broadcast seeded as a cover crop at a high rate of 50 lbs per acre. The sudangrass benefits the plot by suppressing nutsedge growth and returning organic matter to the soil when cultivated.

On September 14, 2015, the sudangrass was 24 inches tall with a biomass of 908 lbs of dry matter per acre before being mowed with a flail mower. Sudangrass was incorporated immediately after mowing with a disk, leaving no more than twenty minutes between mowing and incorporation. The field was cultipacked directly after the cover crop was incorporated in order to seal in the volatile compounds that suppress soil-borne diseases. Another short bare fallow followed, in order to reduce the weed seed bank. Germinated weeds were knocked out with a shallow disking prior to sowing the winter cover crop.

On September 29, winter rye was seeded. Germination was spotty, and parts of the field were re-seeded in mid-December. Winter rye creates more biomass compared to oats and can help trap any nitrogen that might otherwise leach over the winter. It continues growing in the spring, providing competition for weeds, although it should not be allowed to get larger than boot phase.

On May 13, 2016, the rye was 28 inches tall with a biomass of 3238 lbs of dry matter per acre before being turned under 8 inches with a mold-board plow.

Bed Preparation

To prepare for the strawberry transplants, 60 pounds of nitrogen and 110 lbs of potash were applied on June 15, 2016, prior to laying black plastic and irrigation lines. The plastic mulch was applied with a raised bed plastic mulch layer that simultaneously laid two irrigation lines (shown below). Using mulch reduces weeding and improves water efficiency among other benefits. To further suppress weeds, the irrigation was turned on for a few days to encourage weed germination under the plastic. This was followed by 3 weeks of no irrigation, which suffocated the weeds.

Strawberry Culture

The beds were irrigated again beginning three days prior to planting the strawberries into the mulch. The strawberries were planted on Thursday, July 7, 2016, using a time saving tool (shown below) that cuts directly through the mulch and carefully positions the roots for optimum soil contact.

Plot Maintenance

Disease and pest scouting will begin two weeks after planting. During July and August, the flowers will be pinched and supplemental irrigation will be applied to ensure the berries receive a minimum of 1 inch per week. Runners will be cut as needed when they reach over the edge of the plastic. Regular plot maintenance will continue in the fall with runner removal and weeding to maintain bare row middles. Row covers for winter protection will be applied in late fall.

Interactive Budget

The interactive budget from "Models for the Future" strawberry plotsallow 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.

Instructors

Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education

More by Lynn Kime