Vegetable Growing Tips from Conferences, Winter 2023-2024. Part 1 CFSA


A Spacemaster cucumber plant in our hoophouse on April 23.
Photo Pam Dawling

I love learning new things and getting tips for improving our vegetable production. My events page tells you about recent and upcoming conferences. After I get home from conferences, I usually need to dive back into work, and am in danger of ignoring things I learned. Hence this blogpost. I’ll pass tips on, and extract the gems from my hand-written notes, making it more likely I’ll do something useful with them!

CFSA SAC 2023 banner

In November 2023 I took part in the Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference. I went to an engaging workshop called On-Farm Cover Crops Research in the Carolinas by Justin Duncan from NCAT/ATTRA, Jason Lindsay from the Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network, and Steve McAllan, a last-minute substitute. I’ve got a blogpost brewing about native cover crops in vegetable production, so I’ll save the content for that post. Patrick Johnson also gave a presentation on native cover crops, which I’ll include more about in the promised post.’sorganicgardens

I also participated in a workshop on Advanced Organic Weed Management for Vegetable Growers, given by Clem Swift of Clem’s Organic Gardens, from Pisgah Forest, NC, where they have 8 acres in field production of vegetables. I hadn’t realized the workshop was mostly machinery-focused, but I learned actionable tips anyway! I watched his video on potato planting, cultivation and harvest, which is similar to the way we grow potatoes. I learned a way of covering the edges of plastic mulch by walking backwards with one foot on the plastic to tension it, hoeing soil up onto the plastic. That sounds easier than our method using shovels, but sounds like it does require looser soil than we sometimes have where we use plastic. Clem has a well-organized system of first removing perennial weeds, then cultivating early and often to deal with annual weeds, including using a double-wheeled wheelhoe with a scuffle on either side of the row. Perhaps like one of these:

Double-wheeled double-scuffle wheelhoe. Hoss Tools
Double-wheel double-sweeps wheelhoe. Sweeps available as a conversion kit from Earth Tools.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds has a Wheelhoe Selection Guide in their Tool Library

Next I attended Precise Nutrient Management for Small-Scale Farms by Kyle Montgomery of Advancing Eco Agriculture. Kyle’s goal was to help us answer the question: How could marketable yields be significantly increased with minor changes to a fertility program? Plants have different nutrient requirements at different stages of growth. Sap analysis can show what the plant is taking out of the soil. In each 24 hour period, we want all soluble nitrogen to be converted to stable forms. This was something new for me to think about. I didn’t bring away anything specific to work on.

South Wind slicing cucumber.
Photo Common Wealth Seed Growers

High Tunnel Cucumber Production by Joe Rowland, CFSA’s Organic Initiatives Coordinator, covered preliminary findings from year one of CFSA’s SARE-funded organic high tunnel cucumber project. They trialed 6 varieties of cucumbers grown on 2 different trellis types (drop lines vs Hortanova netting) to compare disease occurrence and severity and marketable yield. Three participating farms replicated the trial to see what works best throughout the region.

Excelsior pickling cucumber. Photo Johnny’s Seeds

Their standout varieties were Itachi, an Asian white slicer (low yield but good disease resistance), and Excelsior pickler (highest yield).

Itachi white Asian slicing cucumber. Johnny’s Seeds

Poniente (a parthenocarpic European slicer) had the most disease of the 6 in the trial; Shintokiwa had the least disease, but was a slow producer, with low yields. The dropline system uses a single leader, more clips, more pruning and twirling than the Hortanova, where two “rows” could be made per bed, training two leaders from each plant in a V. This gave good airflow, slowed down the height-increase compared to single leader plants, and enabled herbs to be intercropped. We grow a succession of five or six plantings of cucumber, mostly outdoors, sprawled on the ground. Only for the early crop does it seem worthwhile to us to grow them in the hoophouse. But I’ve no idea how our yield compares with trained high    tunnel cukes, and perhaps measuring it would lead me to a different plan!

 Poniente cucumber. Territorial Seeds. Note trellis.
Shintokiwa cucumber High Mowing Seeds

3 thoughts on “Vegetable Growing Tips from Conferences, Winter 2023-2024. Part 1 CFSA”

  1. I grow slicing cucumbers in my high tunnel every year here in Goochland County VA. A year ago, I ran a trial of five varieties to see if my sense of best producer was accurate. I trialed Shintokiwa, Poona Kheera, Suyo Long, Telegraph, and my favorite, Unagi, a Beit Alpha-Asian cross. All of them suffered some disease issues; I am working on better air circulation. Telegraph came in with first fruit, but Unagi was again my best producer, producing long after everything but Shintokiwa gave up. Shintokiwa was slow to produce and low yield. Suyo Long gave up the ghost relatively early in the season. Poona Kheera (another of my favorites—love its color) kept trying, but the disease pressure held it back. Long story short, this year I’m going to grow Unagi, Telegraph, and Poona Kheera, and hope better air flow keeps the little golden cuke in business.

    1. Thanks Chris, for sharing your trial results. How do you trellis your cukes? What do you do to combat diseases, before during and after they strike? Which diseases are worst on your cukes? Do you only grow high tunnel ones or also outdoor varieties? Hope better air circulation will lead to better results.

      1. I trellis my vines up lengths of sisal twine looped over my purlins, three vines per six foot compartment. I think the disease issue is downy mildew, but not sure of that; I need to pay better attention this year. I did not have these problems before we changed the film on the high tunnel two seasons ago. The new film feels like it’s less flexible, so I have been concerned that constantly opening the end to increase air flow would reduce the lifespan of the film where the wiggle wire pinches it in the channels. ::shrug:: We have vents in either end, east and west, but I don’t think it’s enough. We may have to open the end at least partway.

        I didn’t choose my varieties specifically for performance in the high tunnel. I think Shintokiwa and Diva are rated for high tunnel growth? I’m a huge fan of Beit Alpha cukes, so have been testing those for performance in the tunnel for a while now, hoping to find one that could handle the humidity in there. Unagi was a happy success! Poona Kheera is an Indian subcontinent cuke, so it had been fine until we changed the film (and thereby forced the change in the air circulation regimen).

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