Sustainable Farming on the Urban Fringe

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Farm Calls: Exploring Exotic Mushroom Cultivation

This week Extension Agent Amy Rowe fields a question from a grower interested in getting into the commercial production of mushrooms.
"Where can I find information on cultivating shiitake, maitake, and several oyster varieties (blue, white, and pink)?"
Cultural practices for exotic mushrooms are both unusual and highly demanding.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Motivating Farmers to Attend Worthwhile Extension Programs

“The itinerant teacher will be expected to give as much thought to the economic side of agriculture as he gives to the matter of larger acreage yields.”

Congressman A.F. Lever of South Carolina,
US House of Representatives Report No. 110
creating Cooperative Extension Work, 1914

There’s a lot to chew on in Congressman Lever’s statement. With the creation of Cooperative Extension, Congress intended for educators to be mobile, traveling to farmers for the purpose of teaching the most economical methods of distribution as well as the best methods of production. There was an expectation that thought be given to what amounts to a curriculum for farmers. Following from that is the expectation that thought be given to how to motivate farmers to engage in programs that provide value to their lives and livelihood.

You might think that there is an easy, single answer to what motivates farmers to engage in worthwhile Extension programs: Profit. However, there’s more to it than that. In fact, we may be inadvertently presenting programming in ways that actually lead to disengagement.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Farm Calls: Vegetable "Seed Saving" for Small Farms

This week a training coordinator from the Beginning Farmer Incubator asks,
"Does Rutgers Cooperative Extension have "seed saving" information or recommendations that you can share?"
Seed production involves choosing the right varieties for seed saving as well as possessing detailed information in harvesting, processing, and storage. These are not skills you can learn from a "fact sheet." There's a lot that can go wrong, resulting in wasted time and money. I recommend a comprehensive resource guide geared for farmers, gardeners, and agricultural professionals:
The Organic Seed Grower: A Farmer's Guide to Vegetable Seed Production
(J. Navazio, 2012)
. Funding support was provided by Northeast SARE.

This 400-page hardcover grower's guide offers detailed, practical information for small to medium-sized farmers on the techniques of producing appreciable quantities of vegetable seed using sustainable and organic production farming techniques. It's a useful resource for both the non-organic as well as organic growers. It has over 35 crop specific chapters on growing, required isolation or bagging, harvest timing, and extraction methods. It instructs on how to avoid seed-borne diseases. It deals with minimum plant population sizes to maintain genetic integrity.

Author John Navazio has been affiliated with the Organic Seed Alliance and Washington State Extension. Citations include Vince Rubatzky (UC Davis retired) who received his Ph.D at Rutgers; Ed Ryder, the productive USDA lettuce breeder in Salinas; and Harry Paris, Israel's well-regarded cucurbit breeder who got his Ph.D. at Rutgers under Professor Bernie Pollack, of Ramapo tomato fame.

If you are serious about producing your own seed or if you work with growers interested in learning the skills involved, pick up a copy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Organic Farm Calls:
Squash Vine Borer and IPM Thresholds

Recently, an organic grower with a variety of squash crops under low tunnels called Ag Agent Meredith Melendez about wilting plant symptoms.

The various vine and bush varieties were decimated by squash vine borer (SVB) larvae root damage. Ornamental gourds were especially hard hit.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Farm Calls: Which fruit crops are best suited
for an organic Pick-Your-Own?

Last week Meredith Melendez, Mercer County Ag Agent, fielded this question from a grower who currently runs a CSA and is considering adding PYO (pick-your-own) fruit to the farm's portfolio.

Rutgers Cooperative Extension Agents, including the Agritourism Team, weigh in with specific answers and solid advice.

They offer small-fruit crop suggestions, discuss the special problems related to organic cultivation of these crops, and comment on how agritourism activities can add to the farm's bottom-line.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Farm Calls: Raised Bed Mulch Layers for High Tunnels

This week a small-farm grower contacted us.
"We own high tunnels and needed information about making beds. Searching the web we found your Rutgers High Tunnels Construction website. It is a great site. I am particularly interested in the bed maker ya'll used. What brand was it and what was the cost? Knowledge about farm equipment in tunnels seems few and far between."
High Tunnels can benefit farms of all sizes through season extension and better quality crops. Rutgers County Agent Wes Kline owns and uses compact, raised bed mulch layers specially manufactured for the narrow rows and tight spaces found in high tunnels. The Nolt's Model RB436 is the most compact we know of in our region for this application.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Farm Calls: Evidence-Based Agriculture and Full Moon Frosts

This week, Morris County Ag Agent Pete Nitzsche comments that North Jersey spring temperatures have farmers discussing the relationship between the occurrence of a full moon and frost.
There's good reason for concern. As Dave Robinson reports in his May 4, 2013 summary,
...low temperatures were at or below freezing at one or more locations on 16 April days. Six days saw a location fall to 25° or colder. The first of these days was the 2nd, when cold air drainage resulted in the valley locations of Walpack (Sussex) dropping to 18° and Pequest (Warren) 20°. On the 3rd, Pequest reached 21° and Kingwood (Hunterdon) 22°.
Radiation frosts happen when freezing conditions occur on clear nights with little or no wind, when the outgoing radiation is greater than the incoming, and cooling air temperature near the surface creates a stable temperature inversion near the ground. These same conditions create a crystal clear atmosphere, which makes a full moon appear exceptionally bright.

But, is there evidence that a frost is more likely to occur on a night with a full moon than one without?

Questions or Comments?

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