My February Gardening and Farming News Roundup

My February Gardening and Farming News Roundup

After a flurry of conferences in November, December and January, I have now updated my Events page.

Events where I will be presenting workshops, that are still to come:

Pasa Sustainable Agriculture Conference, Lancaster, PA, Feb 8-11, https://pasafarming.org/conference/

Organic Growers School Spring Conference, Mars Hill, NC, Feb 24-26 https://organicgrowersschool.org/conferences/spring/

Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, NC, March 26-April 1 2023 www.folkschool.org

Mother Earth News Fair, Lawrence, Kansas, April 29-30, 2023.  (Sat-Sun)

Mother Earth News Fair,  Erie, Pennsylvania, July 15-16, 2023

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Daylight Savings Time

Have you ever wondered if farmers really did want DST? The answer is probably not. Read the interesting article in The Modern Farmer

https://modernfarmer.com/2022/03/daylight-saving-time-farmers/

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Millet is Having a Moment. Is the Ancient Grain Ready for a Resurgence?

Also see this article in the Modern Farmer, about 2023 as the UN Year of Millets. This drought-tolerant grain deserves more attention.

https://modernfarmer.com/2022/12/year-of-millet/

Jean Hediger grows Proso millet on her Nunn, Colorado farm
Photography courtesy of Jean Hediger

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Jumping Worms are also Having a Moment

Invasive Jumping Worm
Matt Bert, Piedmont Master Gardeners

The January newsletter of the Piedmont Master Gardeners (The Garden Shed) has this sobering article about Invasive Jumping Worms by Cathy Caldwell. The article includes the all-important information on how to distinguish an invasive jumping worm from any other kind of earthworm (it’s not hard!), and what to do if you find one.

https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/invasive-jumping-worms/

WSLS.com/Destructive jumping worms spotted throughout Virginia

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Climate-Resilient (Heat-tolerant) Vegetable Varieties

by Jon Braunfeld

Heatmaster tomatoes.
Jon Braunfeld, Piedmont Master Gardeners

Another article in the January Garden Shed has helpful information on heat-tolerant vegetable varieties. In good time for us to order seeds and try some tomato varieties alongside our usual ones

https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/climate-resilient-vegetable-varieties/

Fruit for the Month: December – Quince

 

Quince fruits
Photo Emilian Robert Vicol from Com. Balanesti, Romania
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

We’re back in my monthly series about small fruits that can be grown sustainably in the Mid-Atlantic and other places with a similar climate. We are in the dormant period for most fruits, meaning fewer to harvest, none to plant, but still plenty to prune and care for, and new plantings to plan for next year. I give links to some useful publications. We have a focus fruit, and then more about others that need attention during the month.

Quinces are the focus fruit for December

Quinces are large yellow aromatic fruits like fuzzy apples, growing on large shrubs. They are ripe when the fruit are golden-yellow and have a good smell. I was taught to wait until they develop a split from top to bottom. They are usually cooked, rarely eaten raw. The easiest way I know to cook them is to bake them whole, until the flesh is soft. This does take a while, but is almost no work. They make delicious jellies and fruit butters.

The Harvest to Table website has a lot of good information on How to Plant, Grow, Prune, and Harvest Quince.

The UK Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has great info. This thorough website includes a monthly calendar of activities, written for the United Kingdom, where quinces are harvested from September. For comparison when reading British websites, the UK fits in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6 through 9. (Remember this scale refers to winter temperatures only, not summers!) The coastal areas are zone 9, most of southern England is zone 8, northern England zone 7 and the central Scottish Highlands are zone 6.

Reasons to grow quince

Quince trees are easy-care, not prone to many peat or disease problems. As well as being productive, they have attractive blossoms in late spring. There are options for spaces of all sizes, and can even be grown in large pots if necessary.

Harvesting quinces

Start harvesting quince fruits in October or November, when they have turned from light yellow to golden yellow and are very aromatic. Leave them on the tree as long as possible to develop their flavor, provided there is no danger of frost. Use pruners to cut fruit from the tree with an inch or two (2-5 centimeters) of stem attached. Handle ripe quinces gently – they are hard but do bruise easily.

Storage of quinces

Only store undamaged fruits. Store quinces in a cool, dry, dark place in shallow trays. Make sure the fruits don’t touch, and don’t wrap them at all. Allow the quinces to mature for 6-8 weeks before cooking. You may want to keep quinces away from apples and pears as the aroma can spread to other fruits. See the Special Topic for December below.

Quince fruit storage problems

Fruit in storage needs to be monitored for rots and disorders. Fungal diseases usually attack damaged fruit and are worse in poor ventilation. Clean your storage spaces and containers thoroughly each summer to reduce the risk of brown rot.

Discoloration is not always caused by rots; some disorders appear in storage too.

  • Scald: Dark blotches resulting from gases emitted from the fruit.
  • Bitter pit: dry, brown sunken spots which appear during storage. Like water core, it is related to insufficient calcium during growth.
  • Core flush (pink or brown flesh around the core): usually the result of carbon dioxide build-up, if ventilation is poor (common in apples stored in plastic bags).
  • Water core: a disorder giving flesh a glassy appearance. It is caused by sap accumulating in the gaps between the fruit cells. It may disappear during storage, or it may get worse, leading to browning and the breakdown of flesh.
  • Internal browning: Pears and quinces are prone to this disorder that is found at harvest time or may develop during storage. It can be caused by environmental conditions during fruit development, poor storage conditions or internal rots.
  • Shriveling: caused by high temperatures or a lack of humidity, or both. If necessary, damp down the floor occasionally to maintain a moist atmosphere, or lay damp burlap over the fruit.

Choosing quince trees

Quince trees (Cydonia oblonga) come in many shapes and sizes, to suit all gardens. You can buy large spreading trees for attractive specimen trees in an open space, or half standards that suit smaller gardens. Compact forms grow well in large containers. An 18in (45cm) container is the smallest feasible, and 2ft (60cm) would be best. To keep quince bushes small, prune the top and roots each winter.

Quince trees reach a height and spread of 12–16ft (3.75–5m), depending on the rootstock, site, and soil type. Quince trees can be bought as grafted plants, on ‘Quince A’ (semi-dwarfing) or ‘Quince C’ (dwarfing) rootstock, or on their own roots, and are best bought as two-year-old trees with the first branches already formed.

Quince trees do not need a second tree to pollinate them. They are self-fertile and usually start bearing fruit when 3-6 years old.

  • Serbian Gold is a very good cropping quince with a good resistance to leaf blight. The fruits can be large and often apple shaped.
  • Champion is greenish-yellow, with tender flesh and a delicate flavor.
  • Cooke’s Jumbo is a large, yellowish-green fruit with white flesh, 6-8” (15-20cm) in diameter.
  • Orange, and Apple both have orange-yellow flesh, smooth golden skin and rich flavor, with high aroma.
  • Pineapple has white flesh and smooth yellow skin and a slight pineapple flavor.
  • Smyrna has large fruit with light yellow flesh and tender lemon-yellow skin.

Consult your Extension Service and local plant nurseries for which kinds do best in your area. Prices can vary widely, and quality may vary too. The Harvest to Table site has good variety descriptions.

Quinces are often confused with the shrub Chaenomeles (Japanese quince), the fruit of which is also edible (but small).

Where to plant quinces

Quinces tolerate a range of soils, but do best in a deep, fertile, moisture-retaining soil. They grow well when near ponds and streams, but will not do well if waterlogged. Add plenty of organic matter to light or shallow chalky soils before planting and mulch well afterwards.

Although hardy, quinces need a warm, sunny, sheltered spot, as the flowers open early and are susceptible to frost, and also, good sun exposure is needed for the fruit to ripen. Avoid planting in frost-pockets. In zones 8-9 they can be grown in the open. But further north or in colder or exposed sites, they are best planted in a sheltered spot, such as against a south- or south-west-facing wall.

How to plant quinces

Plant quince trees between November and March, while they are dormant. If planting more than one, bush trees should be spaced about 12ft (3.5m) apart, and half-standards about 15ft (4.5m) apart.  Stake the trees for the first 3-4 years. See the RHS step-by-step guides for full planting details.

Care of quince trees

Quinces flower early in the year, so if frost is forecast during bloom, protect the blossom on smaller trees with rowcover or burlap, removing it during the day to allow pollinating insects access to the flowers.

Feed quinces in early spring before growth starts. Avoid overfeeding if fire blight can be a problem in your area, as lush new leafy growth is susceptible to this bacterial disease, Erwinia amylovora.

Propagation of quince trees

There are several methods of propagating quince, including budding (chip and T-budding), grafting, hardwood cuttings and layering of low branches, and by removing suckers. Root cuttings are also possible for ungrafted trees.

Pruning quince trees

Quinces fruit mostly on the tips of the shoots that grew the previous year, with few fruiting spurs. Prune quinces in winter during dormancy. Remove dead, diseased, dying or damaged branches, and any congested or spindly ones. Maintain well-spaced branches on a single stem, removing surplus branches as they grow. Once established, only light pruning is needed, apart from the removal of any crowded or low branches. The branch framework should be along the same lines as for tip-bearing apple trees.

For good crops, prune every winter, thinning out to improve light and air reaching the center. Remove no more than a quarter of the oldest branches, cutting back to the point of origin or to a shoot that is one-third of the diameter of the branch being removed. Prune out crowded branches, very vigorous shoots and spindly branches. If side shoots are less than 9” (23 cm) long, they can be left unpruned to bear flowers and fruit at the end of the growth the next season. Longer side shoots should be pruned back to about 6” (15 cm) long. Head back drooping and leggy branches. Remove any suckers around the base, and prune off any unwanted shoots on the main stem.

Black knots on branches and trunks are natural and should not be removed.

Quince fruits are not usually thinned unless there is an over-heavy crop that threatens to break the branches.

Common problems of quince trees

Codling moth can do extensive damage.
Photo UK RHS
  • Many of the insect pests that attack apples and pears, including codling moth and winter moth caterpillars, also attack quinces, but rarely cause serious problems.

    The caterpillar of the codling moth can burrow into quinces in summer, leaving fruit ridden with tunnels and frass. You can hang pheromone traps in the branches of trees in May to lure and trap the male moths, disrupting mating. You can spray a biological control on the fruit and the soil around the trees in the fall to kill caterpillars leaving the fruit.

  • Fire blight is a serious bacterial disease that infects plants through their flowers. It is spread by splashing of rain or irrigation water. Cut out infected shoots (with a margin for safety) and burn them or put them in the trash.
  • Brown rot (shown here on apples) . Photo UK RHS
  • Brown rot is a fungal disease causing fruit to brown and rot in patches. Attacks are worse in wet weather. Remove and destroy all infected fruit, and prune out branches that have become infected.
  • Powdery mildew is another fungal disease. It shows as a white powdery coating on the leaves. Remove and destroy infected leaves. Milk sprays can be effective.
      • Quince Leaf Blight. Photo UK RHS

    Quince leaf blight is a fungal leaf spot disease, showing as red-brown spots on leaves which then wither and die. Fruit may be spotted and distorted. Prune out affected leaves and stems and destroy them.

    Rake up and dispose of affected leaves in the fall to prevent the disease overwintering. Prune out any dead shoots in the dormant season. Feed and water plants well to encourage more leaf growth.

    Rots may develop where fruit cracks or splits if a drought period is followed by heavy rain.

  • This information comes from Harvest to Table and the UK RHS, who have  good photos of quince problems and suggestions on what to do.

Other small fruits still available in December

Persimmons ripening on a tray. We have many this year, that will feed us into December. Pam Dawling

Persimmons – we have a banner year!

Dried and frozen fruits, jams, jellies, chutneys, other preserves.

Stored apples and pears.

Wintergreen is a frequently overlooked native wild fruit. The tiny berries often persist through the winter (I guess they’re not too popular with wildlife. . .)

Frozen medlars can be eaten when picked from the tree

Other fruit care in December in the mid-Atlantic

Drip irrigation works well for raspberries, such as these fall-fruiting Caroline. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Cut fall raspberry canes to the ground after the leaves have dropped. Weed raspberries.

In colder areas, you may cover strawberries with hoops, polypropylene rowcover or slitted plastic and clips. Weight down the edges with sticks, rocks or sandbags.

Read books: See my reviews of Levy and Serrano Cold-hardy fruit and nuts, and Blake Cothron’s Berry Grower. The RHS recommends Harvesting and storing garden fruit by Raymond Bush (Faber and Faber 1947, ISBN 54053000473672). Plan more fruit and place orders for delivery after the coldest part of winter.

Special Topic for December: Fruit storage

If handled carefully and stored in suitable conditions, fruit from your garden will store for weeks, or even months.

 For comparison with other stored fruits:

  • Quinces will keep for 2-3 months, after maturing.
  • Mid-season apples keep for 4-8 weeks
  • Late season apples need to mature for 4-5 weeks and can then last several months
  • Pears will store between 2 weeks and 3 months, depending on storage conditions

For example, varieties that store well includes:

  • Dessert apples: Cameo, Crispin, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Goldrush, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Idared, Jonagold, Macintosh, Pink Lady, Red Delicious, Rome, Winston. There is a long list of other less well-known storing apples here.
  • Cooking apples: Bramley’s Seedling, Cortland, Lane’s Prince Albert. Also see the Washington State Extension list here.
  • Dessert pears: Bartlett, Conference (needs maturing after picking) and Doyenne du Comice (also needs after-ripening)
  • Cooking pear: Catillac

Suitable storage places include basements, garages, or sheds, if they are:

  • cool, with a temperature of 37-45°F (2.8-7°C) for apples and, if possible, cooler for pears (pears can be stored in a fridge salad compartment).
  • frost free
  • well-ventilated
  • dark
  • slightly humid
  • free from rodents

Five steps to storing fruit (from the RHS)

  1. Gather containers such as crates, slatted shelves, papier-mâché trays or shallow wooden or cardboard boxes. Ideal containers allow good air movement through the sides and over the top.
  2. Select undamaged, medium-sized fruits, ideally with their stalk intact. Those picked just under-ripe usually store best
  3. Lay the fruit in a single layer not touching each other. Place fruit gently to avoid bruising. If necessary, apples can be stacked on top of each other.
  4. Keep different cultivars (varieties) separate as they ripen at different rates. Ideally, keep mid-season cultivars away from late-season ones so that they do not speed up ripening. Likewise, do not store fruit planned to keep a long time near any produce that is sprouting or rotting. They emit ethylene which speeds up ripening.
  5. Label the boxes. Keep fruit away from strong scents that may taint them such as paint, and onions. Quince have a very pungent smell and are best kept away from other fruit

Check stored fruit regularly: 

  • Pears can ripen and pass their best quickly so check daily. In warm conditions they will soften slightly when ripe but, in cooler storage, ripeness will be indicated by a subtle change in color and they’ll then be ready to bring into the kitchen for a day or two to soften before eating
  • When one tray of fruit is reaching optimum ripeness, remove it from storage promptly as the ethylene released may speed up the ripening of the remaining fruit in storage
  • Discard any fruit that show signs of rot to prevent disease spreading

Prolonging storage

Wrapping apples individually in newspaper or tissue paper can help them keep longer but will slow down the task of regular inspection.

If no suitable storage conditions are available, small quantities of apples can be put in plastic bags in the fridge to store for a few weeks. Fill a bag with 4.5-7lb (2-3kg) of fruit, pierce several holes in it and fold the top loosely to allow air circulation.

Storing some pears loose in the salad compartment of the fridge can help to delay ripening until after those in storage have been used.

 

Flowers Against Aphids – The Research Continues

I missed Giving Tuesday, but I do have a donation button for anyone who is able to support my work! I appreciate the help, as blogposts don’t exactly pay for themselves.

September-sown Borage flowering in our hoophouse in January. Photo Pam Dawling

It’s late November as I write this. Starting last fall (2021) we sowed a range of flowers to attract beneficial insects, to plant in our hoophouse in hopes of reducing the early spring aphids. Aphids can get out of control in early spring in our greenhouse and hoophouse, as they become active before their native predators, such as ladybugs, emerge from hibernation. In January we get bad aphids on the lettuce and, of the flowers we planted to attract beneficials, borage was the only one flowering. It was not enough. We did three sprays of soapy water at 5 day intervals to kill the aphids. We also have a particular problem in our hoophouse and in our greenhouse on the eggplant, pepper and tomato transplants from mid-April to mid- to late- May depending when we manage to get them under control.

Young eggplant struggling against lots of aphids.
Photo Pam Dawling

Most flowers in our trials were annuals, and they flowered and died. We still have four yarrow plants and one bushy shungiku. Shungiku is Glebionis coronaria, (formerly called Chrysanthemum coronarium, Ismelia coronaria, Xanmthophthalmum coronarium, or Pinardia coronaria), and commonly called Crown Daisy. Most chrysanthemums are perennial with poisonous leaves, but shungiku is an annual. Our plant seems not to know this.

September-sown shungiku (chrysanthemum greens) in January.
Photo Pam Dawling

Shungiku is the eastern Japanese name for the edible chrysanthemum, also known as “garland chrysanthemum” or “chop suey greens” in English. It is known as “Kikuna” in western Japan, “tong hao” in Chinese, ssukgat in Korean and cải cúc or tần ô in Vietnamese. There are various colors of flowers. Ours are yellow, not banded with other colors. We bought seed from Small House Farm. Bevin Cohen says it does attract bees, butterflies and predatory insects, and would probably do well in the winter hoophouse, and could be provoked into bolting early in the spring.

After our research and trials, we decided it isn’t worthwhile growing the annuals, as they didn’t flower when we needed them (except this shungiku!). We might try borage again, as it was quick to flower last year, and other people have done well with borage. Ours died. We also decided (as recommended by a reader) to leave some overwintered brassicas to flower. We are starting to find bolting mizuna, so that may be perfect.

Bolting mizuna in our hoophouse
Photo Pam Dawling

Two of the four yarrow plants have flowers (in November) and we will keep them. Having perennials seems a good way to get flowers in early spring. These plants were too young to flower last spring. We still have some seeds of the perennial phacelia, so we could try that again, although perhaps it isn’t cold-hardy enough.

Anti-aphid yarrow flowering in our hoophouse in late November, 13 months after sowing. Photo Pam Dawling

If you want to read the trials and research that led us to this point, see two posts from February 2022: More on Insectary Flowers. It was too cold for predators in early February, even with enticing flowers. Ladybugs showed up in late February and we had borage flowers for them, but no other flowers. We had sowed at the very beginning of September and the very end of October. After that, we started more flowers in our greenhouse on February 1. We noticed that plants in pots dry out very fast in the hoophouse, and they have to be hand-watered, as the drip tape doesn’t do it. It’s probably better to get the flowers in the ground in the hoophouse and greenhouse as soon as they are big enough.

Earlier in February, I posted Growing flowers to attract aphid predators in early spring

I listed aphid predatory insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, aphid parasites, damsel bugs, braconid wasps, rove beetles, syrphid flies, and spined soldier beetles, as are attracted to plants with small flat open flowers, like alyssum, dill, yarrow, buckwheat, sunflowers, and cosmos.

On a big scale this is known as Farmscaping, and you can read about it in a publication from ATTRA; Farmscaping to Enhance Biological Control . You can use this publication to make a specific plan to tackle particular pests. Ladybugs are a good general help because they eat the eggs of many different pest species.

A ladybug on the leaf stem of a sunflower planted to attract beneficials. Photo Pam Dawling

Organic Integrated Pest Management involves tackling pest problems one step at a time with ecologically-based practices, starting with actions chosen to reduce the chances of the pest ever getting a grip on your crops. You can find various listings of steps online and in print. They are all in basic agreement – start with prevention, follow with avoidance, and finish with pest-killing if needed. I recommend the ATTRA Organic IPM Field Guide. Each of the 22 pages is a poster, complete with good photos and concise clear info.

eOrganic has many articles on Insect Management in Organic Farming Systems that explain ways to tackle pest problems with ecologically-based practices, starting with actions chosen to reduce the chances of the pest ever getting a grip on your crops.

A pepper leaf with tiny aphids.
photo Pam Dawling

That post describes the lifecycle of aphids, starting in spring with eggs hatching into wingless females that give birth via parthenogenesis to more females. Within a week, one female can produce 100 clones, which can repeat the process at the age of one week.  This continues until adverse weather or predators trigger production of a generation of winged female aphids that moves to new plants. Later in summer male aphids are born and females lay fertilized eggs that overwinter on host plants, to hatch the following spring.

There is a chart in the post, giving details of the flowers we chose, where we found the seed, and which months we decided to plant them in.

Our first sowing, in September, was of borage and shungiku (Chrysanthemum greens) only. We thought having some flowering plants in large pots would enable us to move them to the trouble spots, but plants in pots dry out too fast. The borage flowered with pompom-like clusters, much more compact than spring outdoor borage does.

Anti-aphid flowers yarrow in pots in January (October sown)
Photo Pam Dawling

The second sowing, in late October, included Meadowfoam, Tidy Tips, Phacelia and Yarrow. Those plants were still small at the beginning of February. No flowers, no help against January lettuce aphids.

The third sowing was February 1, and included borage, shungiku, Meadowfoam, Phacelia, Tidy Tips and yarrow.

The September-sown borage and shungiku both had trouble with cold temperatures during January – three non-consecutive nights at 10F (-12C). Some of each got cold-damaged.

By February, no beneficial insects had been seen on the borage flowers, and no aphids had been killed as a result.

Shungiku in November with a bee.
Pam Dawling
Shungiku with spider, in November. Pam Dawling
Shungiku with a fly in November. Pam Dawling
This looks like a leaf-footed bug on the shungiku in November. Not good news to have this pest around! Pam Dawling

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The background to these 2022 trials included a lot of research. In July 2021 I posted Controlling Aphids in Early Spring

Climate change is making the problem worse: for every 1degree Celsius rise in average temperature (about 2 F degrees), aphids become active two weeks earlier.

Organic Integrated Pest Management

I have a blog post about our organic integrated pest management, a 7 step method of pest management which starts with actions least harmful to the ecosystem, only employing biological controls such as botanical sprays and selective pesticides if necessary after all other steps have been insufficient.

Pepper plant with aphids and ants farming them.
Photo Pam Dawling

Applying these principles to dealing with early spring aphids

  1. Prevent infestation Control ants (which farm aphids for their sweet excretions). Try repellents, or trap crops of nasturtiums.
  2. Cover or protect physically with fine mesh netting.
  3. Provide habitat for natural enemies. Plant for a continuous supply of insect-attracting blooms, that flower early in the year and attract predators such as ladybugs, lacewings, syrphid flies (hoverflies), damsel bugs, big-eyed bugs, and spiders. Grow early flowers with pollen and nectar they can use as alternative foods. Sow seed in fall for earliest bloom.
  4. Monitor crops at least once a week
  5. Introduce natural enemies: We do have an aphid parasite in the hoophouse as we do find mummies, but not enough to control an aphid outbreak in spring. Parasitic wasps for aphids include Aphidus colemani from Arbico Organics; Aphidus ervi from Arbico; a predatory gall-midge, Aphidoletes aphidomyza, (cost $125 including shipping per week, perhaps $375 total); Green Lacewings (more affordable); Ladybugs, notorious for flying away.
  6. Hand pick and kill. Handpicking aphids is likely impossible, so blast them off the plants with a water jet from a hose.
  7. Use biological controls. Failing success with the methods above, a soap spray can be effective, although aphid predators will also be harmed. We use 3 Tablespoons (15 ml) per gallon (3.8 l) of biodegradable Murphy’s Oil Soap, in a sequence of 3 sprayings 5 days apart.

Also see that post for details about Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa), a spring flowering wild annual in the aster (sunflower) family; Meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii), a fast-growing bushy annual commonly known as poached egg plant and Douglas’ Meadowfoam; Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), a low spreading, shrub-like annual; Borage, a warm-season annual, taking only about 8 weeks to flower from sowing; Sweet Alyssum, a small annual; Shungiku, described above. We considered, but did not plant two biennials: Dill and Angelica, as they sound quite large. The perennials we chose, are also large (30” tall, or much more, and might need staking), but the advantages of having permanent working plants won us over. Yarrow is hardy to zone 5. Common Yarrow (with flowers that range from white to red) is hardy down to zone 3. It attracts an array of beneficial insects. Phacelia is particularly useful in early spring if it has overwintered as it is an early pollen source for bees coming out of hibernation. Sow in the fall for early spring blooms But it winter-kills at approximately 18˚F (-8˚C), and I think that’s what happened to ours. We also considered Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare (common fennel) but it blooms from mid-summer to frost. Too late and too tall for our goal of attracting spring aphid predators in the hoophouse. Coyote bush, (Baccharis pilularis), also called chaparral broom, is a native shrub related to sunflowers, that sounds way too much of a space hog. And Dandelions – I just couldn’t bring myself to risk planted this sturdy weed in the hoophouse!

That post also includes details of natural enemies you can buy, and how to make a soap spray if none of those efforts work. Also there you will find the approach we decided on as the Best Options for our Hoophouse and Greenhouse in April and May

November photo of shungiku flowering in our hoophouse alongside Yukina Savoy, senposai and Hakurei turnips. Pam Dawling

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Way back in July 2016, I posted  Insectary Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects

This post covers insectary flowers outdoors and in, at various times of year. At the end of April we sow several plug flats of different flowers to plant out in Insectary Circles at the ends of our outdoor raised beds.

See my July 2017 Mother Earth News post Insectaries: Grow Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects In late May or early June, we transplant IPM

flowers in our outdoor Insectary Circles in the vegetable garden to attract pollinators and pest predators. We use circles cut from plastic buckets to surround these clusters of flowers so that inexperienced helpers don’t pull them out as weeds.  We use a combination of sunflowers, dill, borage, cosmos, calendula, tithonia (Mexican sunflowers), zinnias.

Cindy Conner suggested leaving parsley and celery plants to overwinter and flower early.

Challenges in Vegetable Production

 

Harlequin bugs.
Photo University of Maryland Extension Service

 At the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference, in Durham, North Carolina, November 5-7, I facilitated a Farmer Round Table on Working Through Production Challenges. I started the event by providing stickers and asking participants to fix them on a chart, which had a circle divided into 16 segments, labeled Land & Space; Weather; Capital, Infrastructure & Equipment; Time Use & Planning; Quantities; Prioritizing; Labor; Crops & Varieties; Planting; Weeds & Pests; Harvest, Wash & Pack; Contingency Plans; Learning; Resources; Support; and Other Stuff.

Production Challenges chart from my workshop at CFSA

 

I asked people to use red or pink stickers for their three worst production challenges, orange or yellow for their next worst, and green or blue for topics where they had once had a problem, and have since found a solution. (The reason for the varying colors is that I didn’t know how many people would be there, and used stickers I had on hand!)

Honestly, we could have made a full-day workshop, trying to cover all the challenges! Apologies to the people whose problems never got mentioned out loud.

We started with the category of Weeds and Pests as that had the most red and pink stickers, and spent a bit of time towards the end on labor challenges and a tiny bit of time on solutions that people had found to various problems. In fact, we spent most of the workshop talking about insect pests, from nematodes up by size, through flea beetles to potato beetles, Japanese beetles and harlequin bugs.

To make up for weed and pest management topics we didn’t get to, here are some updated resources from my first book, Sustainable Market Farming. This will also be useful to owners of my book, (as the links are now 9 years old), and anyone else looking for pest, weed and disease biological management.

Golden Glory zucchini. Open, disease-resistant plants
Photo Pam Dawling

Resources on Plant Diseases

Why Things Bite Back, Edward Tenner. See the chapter on vegetable pests, accidentally introduced weeds and deliberately introduced exotics to better understand the “revenge of unintended consequences.”

Identifying Diseases of Vegetables, Pennsylvania State University. Good photos and symptom lists.

ATTRA Sustainable Management of Soil-borne Plant Diseases

Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web

Dr. Elaine’s Soil Food Web video: How it Works, is on her website.

eOrganic Disease Management in Organic Farming Systems

Biopesticides for Plant Disease Management in Organic Farming Systems:

Ohio State Biopesticide Controls of Plant Diseases: Resources and Products for Organic Farmers in Ohio

University of Massachusetts Vegetable IPM Guidelines

Purdue University Disease Management Strategies for Horticultural Crops Using Organic Fungicides

Debbie Roos has a wealth of searchable information on her Growing Small Farms site, including Disease management links

Environmental Protection Agency Biopesticides Page

Damping Off Diseases Tom Clothier (not organic)

Cornell, Treatments for Managing Bacterial Pathogens in Vegetable Seed

University of Illinois Extension, Vegetable Seed Treatment. The first two pages describe hot water treatment for killing diseases on seeds. After page 3, it’s not organic.

Mushroom Mountain, information and mycorrhizal fungi granules for plant roots:

Resources on Sustainable Weed Management

Cover of Manage Weeds on Your Farm
SARE

 

Manage Weeds on Your Farm: A Guide to Ecological Strategies, Charles Mohler, John Teasdale and Antonio DiTommaso, published by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE). Includes profiles of many, many weeds. $24 or free (large) download

 

eOrganic Weed Management Topics

 eOrganic, Manage the Weed Seedbank – Minimize Deposits and Maximize Withdrawals

ATTRA Sustainable Weed Management for Small and Medium-Scale Farms

The University of Maine Quackgrass Management on Organic Farms

CEFS logo.

Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), Weed Management on Organic Farms

University of Illinois, Managing Weed Seedbanks in Organic Farming Systems,

I’ve lost track of a wonderful document based on pictures and charts (see the earthworm snag the weed seed on page 52!): here’s an old link: www.mosesorganic.org/attachments/research/10forum_weeds.pdf

Oregon State: Biological Control of Weeds

MDPI: Bioherbicides: An Eco-Friendly Tool for Sustainable Weed Management

SARE logo

SARE, Vinegar as an Organic Herbicide in Garlic Production, Fred Forsburg, 2004 project

Resources on Sustainable Pest Management

Garden Insects of North America, by Whitney Cranshaw.   Stock Image

Garden Insects of North America, Whitney Cranshaw

Farmscaping Techniques for Managing Insect Pests, Brinkley Benson, Richard McDonald and Ronald Morse

eOrganic Farmscaping: Making Use of Nature’s Pest Management Services

Farmscaping with Dr McBug, Richard McDonald

ATTRA Farmscaping to Enhance Biological Control

Cornell Organic IPM

eOrganic Insect Management in Organic Farming Systems has many useful short articles on specific facets.

ATTRA Organic IPM Field Guide an attractive 9 page poster format introductory document.

ATTRA Biointensive Integrated Pest Management

Cornell University New York State Vegetable IPM Resources

NRCS Conservation Practice Standard 595 – 1 Integrated Pest Management

SARE Handbook, Manage Insects on Your Farm: A Guide to Ecological Strategies:

Building Soils for Better Crops, book from SARE

SARE Handbook Building Soils for Better Crops

Cornell University Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management

Cornell University Biological Control: A Guide to Natural Enemies in North America

Growing Small Farms: Organic Pest Management

ATTRA Greenhouse IPM: Sustainable Aphid Control

Root-knot nematode—Meloidogyne brevicauda Loos
Photo: Jonathan D. Eisenback, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

ATTRA Nematodes: Alternative Controls

Beneficial insects and other IPM resources, BioControl Network, TN

Arbico Beneficial Insects

University of Kentucky listing Vendors of Beneficial Organisms in North America

Nematode-resistant food crops and cover crops

Golden Frills and Scarlet Frills, two Juncea mustards that resist nematodes. Photo Pam Dawling

A few weeks ago I wrote about clearing tomato plants, and mentioned our hoophouse troubles with nematodes. Nematodes are tiny soil-dwelling worms that have a wide host range and are hard to control. They move only 3’–4′ (1–1.2 m) per year on their own, but people move them on shoes, tools, etc. We have had peanut root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne arenaria) since 2011 when we found them in spinach transplants we were growing for outdoors in early spring.

My article on nematodes in Growing for Market  in November 2014 describes our discovery of the beasties and our first attempts to deal with them.

White Russian kale in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

In my August 2014 post Good news – great hoeing weather! Bad news – more nematodes in the hoophouse I wrote about solarization to fight nematodes in our hoophouse (scroll down to the end of the post). The post includes a photo of our first attempt at solarizing – a  bit of a How Not To! Be sure to use UV-inhibited polyethylene. This year we somehow got some construction plastic mixed in. It doesn’t work! It goes cloudy (thus not heating up the soil) and it shatters into little pieces.

There is info on dealing with nematodes from Garry Ross in Hawaii, where nematodes are a fact of daily life, in my post Cold weather, snow, thinking about nematodes from February 2015.

My most thorough blogpost about nematodes was in 2018 for Mother Earth News:  Managing Nematodes in the Hoophouse.

Solarizing with clear plastic. Photo Pam Dawling

My post Solarization and crop choices to fight nematodes in August 2019 includes a photo of a much better way to solarize an individual bed. In that post I gave a list of nematode-resistant food crops, and also talked about cover crops. There is a photo of nematodes on cucumber roots there too).

Food crop choices to fight nematodes

Most resistant and most helpful are the Juncea group of mustards. I did some research into more Juncea options in Solarization and crop choices to fight nematodes. We don’t like very pungent greens, so we have not yet taken the route of planting a whole bed of Juncea types. Instead we have mapped and flagged the nematode-infested areas of our beds, and try to be mindful of what we plant in those spots. Three of our seven beds have no nematodes so far.

Open-pollinated Yukina Savoy.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

This year we looked at the nematode map we had made and decided to focus our attention on the bed with the highest number of nematode patches, and grow the most resistant winter crops (of the ones we like to grow) there. That’s the frilly mustards (Ruby Streaks, Scarlet Frills, Golden Frills, all Juncea mustards, and Mizuna, a Japonica mustard), Yukina Savoy (variously reported to be Brassica juncea,  Brassica rapa pekinensis, and Brassica rapa), and Russian kales (Brassica rapa).

Mapping nematode areas

See the post with info from Gerry Ross I mentioned above. We have previously tried for a “Two years good, One year bad” strategy. This was to grow nematode-resistant crops in the infected areas for two years, then try risking one year of susceptible crops. That was a bit demanding on careful management, and we haven’t kept that up.

Nematode map 2022

Cover crop choices to fight nematodes

French marigolds and sesame to deter Root Knot nematodes in our hoophouse. Photo Pam Dawling

A reader asked about cover crop choices to fight nematodes. In June 2019 I wrote about using marigolds, sesame, Iron and Clay cowpeas as warm-weather nematode resistant cover crops. We’ve also used winter wheat (in winter!), and white lupins (not worthwhile, in my experience). See that post for a few other ideas on nematode-fighting cover crops, and why we decided against some options. At that time, we decided not to grow sunnhemp (Crotolaria) because it is poisonous, although newer varieties of Crotolaria have lower toxin levels. More recently we have been growing sunnhemp, after I saw it growing so well in North Carolina. It is a warm-weather legume, so it is feeding the soil while tackling the nematodes. It does grow tall in the hoophouse, and we have taken to chopping it down with hedge shears to an ergonomic elbow-height every few weeks whenever it gets too tall. The cut tops create a nice “forest-floor” mulch effect. You can almost feel the extra organic matter nurturing the soil! (High OM levels deter nematodes.) 60-90 days to maturity.

Sunnhemp cover crop at Nourishing Acres Farm, NC.
Photo Pam Dawling

We previously used soybeans as a short-term leguminous summer cover crop, but they do not offer the nematode resistance. Iron and Clay, Mississippi Silver and Carolina Crowder cowpeas are all nematode-resistant and can be grown in summer instead of soybeans. Sesame is a legume that is particularly good against peanut root-knot nematodes.

Iron and Clay southern peas flowering in September. Photo Pam Dawling

See Our Organic Integrated Pest Management post for an organized approach to pest management, including nematodes.

A Florida reader gave me information about partridge peas, which I have not yet tried: After terminating cool-season brassicas and celery between April and June, their late spring sowing of partridge peas were too late this year to be productive, because the hard seed was very slow to germinate. Partridge pea could be a good cover crop for mid- to late-summer, if you scarify those hard seeds to speed germination.

Some cover crops can be alternate hosts for pathogens like cercospora, rust, or bacterial leaf spot, so be on the lookout for new problems while solving old problems. In the deep south, beans, yard-long (asparagus) beans, and cowpeas can succumb to heat, nematodes, rust, bacterial spots, and other pathogens and pests. Senna (tall) and Partridge pea can provide “chop-and-drop” organic matter as sunnhemp does. Sunn Hemp can host foliar pathogens (some possibly seed-borne), in Florida, and does not reliably form nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots, even when inoculated. Even so, it is useful as a fast warm season green manure cover.

The flower Gaillardia (blanket flower) is a quick-to-compost, chop and drop option for late winter to late spring, It decomposes quickly, and can provide a quick green manure. Gaillardia is nematode-resistant, great for beneficials and pollinators, but is susceptible to some foliar pathogens later in the season. You can sow Gaillardia in August, or even later in fall for early spring flowering.

Due to climate change, and the more year-round activity of nematodes, pathogens, and pests in Florida, they’ve been including more nematode-resistant grasses into their rotations. We all need to be thinking more about warmer-climate options, as climate change continues to push pathogens and pests farther north, earlier each year.

Farmer and gardener health and wellness

A crew member string-weaving peas in our hoophouse in February. Photo Wren Vile

Raising food is good work, right livelihood, outdoor work in the rain, sunshine and fresh air. The physical tiredness at the end of the day can bring good sleep. Farmers contribute to production of healthy food, and get to enjoy extremely fresh food from very local farms.

And yet – some days this is not the whole story. Farming can be hard on the body, the brain and the emotions. It can be stressful trying to get a good outcome from a situation that went outside our control and took a turn for the worse. Some things we can control, others we cannot. Some things we will be able to do a better job of dealing with next time they come around. Our work is not punching out identical widgets. Seasons change, tasks change. Only for a short time each year do we need to know how to decide if a watermelon is ripe. Once in a hundred years we need to know how to deal with a one-hundred-year flood (hmm!). I have written about being prepared for and dealing with disasters in The Year-Round Hoophouse. Being prepared and having a plan of what to do when things go wrong is a very good way to manage mental and emotional stress.

Hauling sweet potatoes uphill the hard way. Sometimes we use the truck!
Photo Nina Gentle

Musculoskeletal health

First let’s talk about physical health of the musculoskeletal kind. Overdoing the hard work, making the wrong move, going beyond the limits of our bodies, and wow! Pain! Maybe even injury. After many repeats of the same action, inflammation and problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and over time, maybe arthritis too. Musculoskeletal pain affects bones, joints, ligaments, tendons or muscles. See the Cleveland Clinic information page.

Common symptoms include aching, stiffness, burning sensations in the muscles, fatigue, muscle twitches, pain that worsens with movement and sleep disturbances.

Home treatment can include hot and cold compresses, over-the-counter pain relievers (NSAIDs), strengthening and conditioning exercises, stretching exercises, and stress reduction techniques.

Professional treatments can include local injections with anesthetic or anti-inflammatory medications, physical or occupational therapy, acupuncture or acupressure and relaxation/ biofeedback techniques. Most people I’ve seen at physical therapy are there for sports injuries. Sports medicine offers many good exercises for people whose work has injured their bodies.

Prevention is definitely better than cure. I’m a firm believer in doing some stretches and strengthening exercises every morning. Yoga is great too. Going to the gym? Some farmers make time for this, others don’t. Here’s some more prevention tips: limit repetitive movements, or vary them, use good posture and practice correct lifting techniques. (I recommend the Alexander Technique). Alexander Technique teachers help you identify and change harmful habits of posture and body use, and learn to move more freely.

I have written some articles in Growing for Market magazine that are accessible for those with a Full Access subscription on the website. I wrote about stretching in April 2008. Julie Bradley Law wrote an article: A wintertime reset for our most important tool: our bodies. It is free to access, and recommends a few weeks of winter rest, yoga and attunement. Designed by a farmer.

AgrAbility Tool Box

For those with limited physical abilities, AgrAbility provides Assistive Technology, Resources, News, Training, Services in your State. The Toolbox: Agricultural Tools, Equipment, Machinery & Buildings for Farmers and Ranchers with Physical Disabilities is a resource that contains assistive technology solutions for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with disabilities.

Physical illness

Remember to get checkups. Be aware of ticks, mosquitoes, and rodents and the pest-borne illnesses they can cause. Read about Public health issues caused by pests. The EPA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have collaborated to create a thorough List of Pests of Significant Public Health Importance

Pests and diseases and climate change: as the climate chaos intensifies pests will move into new geographical ranges. We need to learn about the Zika virus, (cases in Florida and Texas in 2016-17, but none in the continental US since then). Chikungunya is another mosquito-borne virus. In 2014 and 2015, a few local-transmission chikungunya virus disease cases were found in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most of the cases in the US are travelers returning from countries where the disease is endemic.

Internal physical trouble

Let’s keep in mind the symptoms and treatment of heat stress. Heat stress happens when your body can’t cool itself enough. Physical activity during very hot, humid weather, and insufficient replacement of water and electrolytes cause heat stress. It can lead to heatstroke, which is a serious, life-threatening condition.

Home-made rehydration solution

Here is our recipe (“salty lemonade”):

  • 8 oz water
  • 8oz fruit juice (or mix concentrated lemon juice to usual lemonade strength)
  • A pinch (1/8 tsp) salt
  • 2 pinches (¼ tsp) baking soda

During watermelon season, a plate-sized slice of watermelon seems to do the trick!

Crimson Sweet Virginia Select watermelon.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

At the other end of the risky weather is extreme cold, especially if it is wet and windy. Livestock farmers are more at risk of hypothermia, trying to save their animals under terrible conditions. Vegetable farmers don’t suffer the same degree of risk.

Our lungs are vulnerable to dusts, pollen, sprays, toxins, microbial pests like the Coronavirus, flu, prions (mad cow disease) and anthrax.. Good masks can guard against all these, as well as asthma and allergies. There are also some specific agricultural problems like farmers’ lung, an allergic disease usually caused by breathing in the dust from moldy hay, or other moldy crop.

Mesothelioma

You may remember hearing about problems with vermiculite in some potting mixes. Some vermiculite naturally includes asbestos. Farmers are at risk of exposure to asbestos through contaminated soil, vermiculite and dust from these products on farm equipment. The Mesothelioma Center provides free information: books, packets and a Patient Advocacy program that works with people individually to help them find local treatment, legal help, and support groups. If you may have been exposed to asbestos they help you find free care and support. They will send you a free printed guide to mesothelioma. Sign up at their website.

Mesothelioma Info pack

The site has a special section for farmers: Farmers and Asbestos.

Mental health

New Mental Health Resources for Farmers in Stressful Times

by Matt Kneece, CFSA South Carolina Policy Coordinator Aug. 5, 2022

“However rewarding, the farming lifestyle often brings a compounding mental load that can be difficult to deal with. Fortunately, the stigmas around mental health and farm stress are breaking down, and farmers don’t have to deal with it alone. . . There are loads of resources to support producers’ physical health, but programs to support mental health are just as critical.”

South Carolina Farm Bureau is now offering access to a new program called AgriWellness including three online counseling sessions free of charge.

North Carolina Agromedicine Institute has compiled a list of resources here.

Another great resource is available through Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA, which offers a crisis hotline for farmers. When crises begin piling up, one of the most important things farmers can do is reach out for help as soon as possible. RAFI-USA’s hotline is designed to be a type of rapid-response available for farmers who need to talk to someone on short notice.

“Farming is a challenging job that can easily be impacted by factors beyond farmers’ control,” said Lisa Misch of RAFI-USA. “Anything from crop failure, natural disasters, market price changes, or family emergencies could lead to a farm crisis. If you are in crisis and need someone to talk to, please call toll-free at (866) 586-6746. The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.ET” They also provide in-depth assistance from a farmer advocate if you are in danger of losing your farm and/or home.

“In addition to the new therapeutic resources featured above, mental health experts have recommended several tips to farmers dealing with farm stress. Pursuing a healthy diet, staying active, cultivating social support, and getting enough sleep are all great steps toward protecting your mental health.”

I hope you will never need it, but if you get to that point, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-799-4889 (deaf/hard of hearing) or text 741741 to the Crisis Text Line.

New 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Dial just 988. Available 24 hours. English or Spanish. Learn more The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 160 crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 9-8-8. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Veterans Crisis Line
https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/
1-800-273-TALK (8255), press ‘1’ Text 838255 Chat also available

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has info on warning signs, how to have a conversation with a loved one you are concerned about, suicide loss, and more.

SC Farm Stress Management Resource Guide

I’ll leave you with this Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service link to Farm Stress Management Resources. There are educational resources, worksheets, articles, podcasts, links to support organizations, and other stress management websites.

I also took part in an interview with Jordan Marr for a podcast with The Ruminant: Audio Candy for Farmers, Gardeners and Food Lovers. It’s about farmers’ struggles with mental health problems, trying to cope with the many and varied stresses, while the public wants farmers to appear competent and blissful with all that time in the Inspiring and Nurturing Outdoors.

The Farmers Aren’t All Right. Podcast from the Ruminant. Episode 92.

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/theruminant/posts/1369936529736669

Clearing Tomato Plants

These tomato plants have served us well, and their time is up. We have pulled them out of the ground and left them suspended in the twine to wilt, before hauling them to the compost pile. The bed behind the tomatoes is being solarized to kill fungal lettuce diseases. Photo Pam Dawling

Here in Virginia, we pull up our two beds of tomatoes in the hoophouse at the very end of July or early in August. I realize this will horrify people in colder climates. I’ve been there. Every tomato plant was to be cherished until the frost took it. But in hot, humid Virginia, we have harvested from these plants for nine weeks, and the outdoor plants are coming in strongly. We don’t need the hoophouse ones; they’ve grown taller than we can reach, and we’ve lopped the tops off with hedge shears several times. Fungal diseases are to be reckoned with, and we only manage a two-year rotation in each bed, as far as nightshades go. In the past, we grew “high summer” food crops or seed crops, and needed to get the tomatoes out to make way for the new crops. Nowadays we only grow cover crops in the summer, until it’s time to prepare the beds for fall planting.

String-weaving diagram from Extension.org

We use the Florida String Weaving method of supporting our tomatoes. One thing I like about this method is that it is easy to take down, and all you have to store for next year are the stakes, which take less space than cages, or individual T-posts. We have a descriptive list of steps, and also a Worksheet – see below.

Another feature of our life with our hoophouse tomatoes are the Peanut Root-Knot Nematodes. When we pull our tomatoes, we examine the roots and carefully remove the ones with nematode lumps in them, usually to the parking lot on a dry sunny day, to die in the heat and be run over by cars. We don’t even want to send them to the landfill, because we don’t want to do anything that increases the number of nematodes anywhere. Nematodes need a film of water to survive, and the parking lot deprives them of that.

Cucumber roots with nematodes (see circles). We forgot to take photos of the tomato roots.
Photo Pam Dawling

We spread the tomato clearance job out over a week, doing one step each day, so we don’t have to be in the hoophouse after 11 am, when the temperature becomes unbearable. After harvesting all the fruit (ripe and unripe, separately) in the first bed, we pull up the plants and check the roots. If we see nematode lumps, we carefully cut off the roots and take them outside. We mark the area with a blue flag in each corner, and later measure the distance from the end of the bed and mark the problem area on a map of the beds. This is in case the flags mysteriously fall out.

When we plan the winter crops, we plant the more nematode-resistant crops in the infested areas.With the non-nematode infected plants (most of them) we shake the soil off the roots to speed up the wilting. Plus of course, we don’t want to be removing precious topsoil from the hoophouse! We leave all the plants still hanging in place in the rows of twine, to dry out for a couple of days. We are going to haul them to the compost pile, and it’s a lot less work (fewer cartloads) once the plants have wilted.

Cutting down through the layers of twine in preparation for clearing string-woven tomatoes. Photo Pam Dawling

The second day, we collect up the plant labels and put them in either the “Successes” bucket or the “Failures” bucket according to whether we want to grow that variety again. We cut the twine, pull out the long pieces and collect them in a trash bucket. We don’t try to save the twine, partly because it would take a lot of time, and partly because we don’t want to use twine that might be infected with fungal diseases. The easy way to remove the twine is simply to cut downwards beside a stake, through each of the pieces of twine, then go to the next stake and do the same, but this time gather the twine in the non-knife hand. Next, slice down the other side of the same stake, to reduce struggle, and make the lengths of twine easy to pull out! We use sisal twine, so we let the small pieces, which were wrapped around the stakes, drop to the ground. Most of them will get collected up when we pull the stakes, and a few will go with the plants to the compost pile.

Gathering the lengths of twine after cutting at both sides of each tomato stake. Photo Pam Dawling
Tomato clearance, after cutting and pulling the twine, and removing the stake extenders in the near bed. The bed to the right still has the extenders in place. Photo Pam Dawling

The third day we pull up the stakes. To reach the full height we needed, we have tied an extension stake onto each one, so first we remove those, then we pull the stakes that are in the ground. We like to use a T-post puller for this job, as it gets the wood posts out nicely without breaking them off in the ground. We only use the wood stakes for hoophouse tomatoes once, and the next year we use them outdoors, often for the snap peas. This is to reduce spread of diseases. When we pull out the metal T-posts we scrape the soil off, then spray them down and scrub with a brush.

Our (welding-repaired) T-post puller makes fast effective work of removing wood stakes too. 15 seconds per stake.
Photo Pam Dawling
When I’m collecting things togethe, I throw them into clusters as I work, and make them ready to move easily. Photo Pam Dawling

The fourth day we haul the wilted plants to the compost pile. We make a little effort to keep the zipper spiders in the hoophouse, but they have minds of their own! We do gather up any egg cases we see, and hang those on the metal framework of the hoophouse, to provide spiders next year.

A large zipper spider in our hoophouse in early August. Photo Pam Dawling
Zipper spider egg cases overwintering in our hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

On day 5 we rake and (if in time) sow a summer cover crop. We like to use soy as a warm weather legume that will supply some nitrogen, but it needs 6 weeks to be worthwhile. If we are a bit late, we’ll just sow buckwheat. We need our first bed for fall and winter crops on September 6. The others won’t be needed until Early October or later.

The steps for the second bed happen one day later than they happen in the first one. See the worksheet to get the full story.

Hoophouse Tomato Clearing Worksheet

If you live in a cooler climate than I do and you want to learn about keeping tomato plants growing (and accessible) in a hoophouse, read Andrew Mefferd’s book The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook. There he explains the lower and lean method of supporting tomato vines.

And I’ll close out with this photo which shows a tomato stem that I accidentally broke when doing the first round of stringweaving. I bandaged it back together with electrical tape from our drip tape first aid box. In the past I have also repaired stems with band aids. It works really well and the plants recover to live a normal productive life.

Yes, this really works! Tomato stem repaired with electrical tape 5 months earlier.
Photo Pam Dawling

Caring for your Okra Crop

 

Carmine Splendor okra plant.
Photo Pam Dawling

Okra is a long season crop, so cultivation or mulch to keep weeds down will be needed. We hoe until hot weather arrives and then mulch with spoiled hay (avoid using organic mulches earlier in the season, as they keep the soil cool and delay the harvest). During the rest of the growing season, the okra bed becomes a useful repository for any undiseased mulch-like materials from other beds, even quite large plants like sunflowers.

Okra has a great ability to withstand drought compared to other vegetables, but for good growth and production, you’ll need to water at least 1” (2.5 cm) a week. If there is an extended dry period and you can’t water everything, okra will be the last to suffer.

Okra bed in June.
Photo Pam Dawling

Catching up

See Okra Planting Time for info on varieties, crop requirements, yield, sowing, transplanting, intercropping, and Chris Smith’s wonderful book The Whole Okra. However, if you haven’t sown your okra seed yet, time is of the essence. Okra needs 55-60 days of hot weather to produce the crop. If you are in the deep South, go ahead!

Black plastic mulch, rowcovers and transplanting can all help get the crop going earlier, as can growing in a hoophouse or caterpillar tunnel, if you are a real fan of okra. The yield per area is low, so this would be an unusual choice for the prime real estate offered by a hoophouse!

Our first Cow Horn okra pod, in late June.
Photo Pam Dawling

In Sweet corn, potatoes and okra, I reported that we started harvesting our okra that year a little later than it might have been because we had to replant. The first planting had leggy seedlings due to not enough light soon enough in their lives. Then we transplanted replacements with novice helpers, and they didn’t plant them deep enough. The feeble stems couldn’t take it. We made an attempt to hill them up to give more protection to the stems. Another mistake we made was over-watering. When we pulled up some of the dead plants for our postmortem, they reminded me of retted flax stems – the fibers were still there, with the soft tissue rotted away.

Succession Planting and Renovating Okra Plants

Generally only one planting of okra is made each year, although it is possible to sow in spring and fall in hot climates, using a fast-maturing variety for the later sowing. Or sow only in the summer for a fall crop, and don’t fight cold spring soil temperatures.

In hot climates, okra plants benefit from being rejuvenated in the middle of the summer, by cutting them back (with a machete, or tree loppers) to 6” (15 cm) stubs after the first heavy harvest (perhaps in the fifth week of harvesting) and after market prices start to decline. For large areas, use a tractor mower.

The plants will produce again in the fall, when prices have risen again, and fall yields can be higher than spring crops. Side-dressing at this stage can also boost production. As well as revitalizing the productivity, this process keeps the plants at a manageable height.

Alternatively, to avoid losing all your crop at once, lop progressively along the row, perhaps cutting 5% of the plants each day, starting after they reach shoulder height. Other growers tell of cutting back plants to a height of 4’ (1.2 m), which causes the plant to branch more.

Rotations

Okra is about the easiest vegetable to fit into a rotation as you are unlikely to have any other mallow-family crops to worry about, and you are unlikely to be growing a huge amount. Cotton, hibiscus and the fiber plant kenaf are also in the mallow family, but do not cross-pollinate with okra.

Pests and Diseases

Okra has few serious pests or diseases, if the weather is warm. In cool weather, stressed okra plants may suffer from verticillium and fusarium wilts, soil-borne diseases that cause plants to wilt and die. Fight soil-borne diseases by avoiding soil splashing onto the plants – use drip irrigation and mulch. Foliage blights may occur, but generally they do not reach serious levels. Blossom blight can be a problem in long rainy periods.

Old varieties of okra tend to have deeper root systems and are more tolerant of root-knot nematode, to which okra is very susceptible. If you have nematodes, choose heirloom varieties. Okra will do fine after grains, such as sweet corn, or following a winter rye cover crop.

Corn Earworm larvae come in many different colors. And they can bite!
(Photo: J. Obermeyer Purdue Extension)

Insect pests may include Japanese beetles, stink bugs, aphids, corn earworms, flea beetles, blister beetles and cucumber beetles. You may see ants climbing the plants to drink nectar but they don’t seem to cause damage. Grasshoppers may strip the leaves in late summer in bad grasshopper years.

Harvest

3-9 days after flowering pods will be mature (it takes 40 days from flowering to mature seed).

For maximum yields it is important to harvest at least every second day. If pods are missed, they will mature and limit the future flowering and therefore the yield.

We harvest six days a week, using pruners, or a small serrated knife. The stems are quite tough. Some people find their skin is irritated by the spiny leaves and like to wear long sleeves when harvesting. We cut Cow Horn at 5” (13 cm) or bigger. Some years we have attached a piece of card to special pruners for the job, showing the size to cut. Do not make assumptions about toughness without testing with a thumbnail, or snapping off the tip. We’ve also been surprised to find it necessary to show new people the difference between a rounded “empty” pointed flower bud, and an angular firm pod.

Our harvest starts in mid-July and runs until frost, a period of 12 weeks or so. At the end of the season, we find we need to dig out the massive trunks and consign them to a spot on the edge of the woods that we call “The End of the World.”

 

Post-Harvest

Okra does not like to be chilled! Here we need to deal with the American tendency to store almost everything in the fridge. Chilling injury of okra causes dark damp spots on the pods, which lead to pitting and slimy breakdown. Okra can be stored at 45-50°F (14-15°C) in unperforated plastic bags for up to 15 days. This compares favorably with only 2 days without a bag, or 7 days in a perforated bag. The plastic bags keep the humidity high.

 

Pickled garlic scapes, okra and beets.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Okra is very tasty pickled – if you have high yields, time to do the pickling, and a demand for off-season value-added products, go for it.

Seed Saving

Cow Horn okra plant marked for seed saving.
Photo Raddysh Acorn

Saving seed from okra for your own use is a simple matter if you are only growing one variety. We have saved seed by decorating chosen plants with colored plastic surveying tape, like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Then we don’t pick from those plants for eating. We wait until the pods are big and dry, then harvest them before they split and shed their seeds, and put them in bags or cardboard boxes indoors to dry further and until we have time to deal with them. Mature okra seeds are greenish black. For small quantities, just twist the pods and break them open over a container of some sort. Seeds can be screened out of the mixture and/or winnowed. Empty pods make good weed-free mulch.

Okra is outcrossing but can self-pollinate. Okra varieties need to be isolated from each other by 1/8 mile (200 m) for home use, or ¼-½ mile (400-800 m) or greater for seed for sale. A plant population of 10-20 plants is needed for genetic diversity, and more than 20 plants is better for seed for commercial sale. It takes 30-50 pods to provide one pound of seed (66-110/kg).

Breaking dry okra pods to release the seeds.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

 

Fruit for the Month: June

Blueberries.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

This is another post in my new monthly series, about small fruits that can be grown sustainably in a mid-Atlantic climate. I’ll talk about planting, pruning, harvesting and care of the plants, according to the season. I’ll give links to useful publications. I’ll have a focus fruit, and then more about others that need attention during the month. We do grow apples and pears, and some other tree fruit, but I’m not writing about those as I don’t have much recent experience.

Blueberries are the focus fruit for June

June is the month in our climate, to harvest blueberries. Blueberries are a great crop to grow, as they are not troubled by many pests or diseases (apart from birds). While you are harvesting take notes (or photos) of the various varieties you have, and when and how well they are producing, so that you will know which ones to propagate from in the winter, if you want more.

See my article about blueberries in Growing for Market magazine

See ATTRA Blueberries: Organic Production available free online, for a wealth of information from choosing varieties, planting, details on pests and diseases you might encounter. Updated 2022. Also search the ATTRA site for other info on blueberries, such as soil management (blueberries need acid soil), living clover mulches, and honeybees and alternative pollinators.

Harvesting blueberries

Blueberry harvest. Note “berry bucket” hanging around the worker’s neck. Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

I recommend harvesting two days a week, in the mornings, once the dew has dried, to avoid spreading fungal diseases. Blueberries don’t deteriorate or over-ripen as quickly as softer fruit, so if you can only find time once a week, that will be OK. Or if you are selling blueberries, once a week may work better for your sales. Blueberries don’t crush as easily as strawberries or raspberries, so if you have lots you can put them in buckets or crates. We usually harvest into homemade berry buckets with long rope handles, that we can hang around our necks, freeing up both hands for picking berries. Our berry buckets are made by cutting plastic gallon jugs and adding rope through holes we punch near the top. Full berry buckets get emptied into a bigger bucket.

Only pick the berries that are purple-black all over. Check the back of each each ripe-looking blueberry to make sure it’s ripe all over. The area around the stem is the last to change color. Really ripe blueberries will “tickle” from the bush into your hand

Do not wash fruit before refrigerating, as this leads to rot.

Types of blueberries

We grow Northern Highbush blueberries here in winter-hardiness zone 7a (suitable for zones 3-7) and we like to have a crop we can harvest standing up!  There are also lowbush blueberries, which are popular in cooler climates, such as Maine. Rabbiteye varieties are better to the South, in the region roughly south of Interstate 40 (mostly zones 6-9). Rabbiteyes are taller plants, with smaller berries than highbush types. A new hybrid type, Southern highbush, is adapted to the southern rabbiteye zone and the coastal South (zones 6-10). Look into these if you are in the right area: they have a lower chilling-hours requirement, and flower and fruit earlier than highbush or rabbiteye varieties. As the climate changes, fruit growers are challenged by traditional crops no longer getting enough winter chilling hours to fruit. (Chilling is the number of accumulated hours at temperatures below 45°F/7°C in the dormant season.) Balance this with your changing frost dates, as earlier flowering will not be an advantage if your last frost is going to cancel the fruit. Remember that all blueberries are self-fertile but will produce better crops if you plant several compatible cross-pollinating varieties.

Young Blue Crop northern highbush blueberry.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

At our farm, Duke has been a very reliable early fruiting highbush variety, whereas Spartan has not worked out. We like to have several varieties with different ripening dates, to extend the harvest. Blue Crop, Blue Jay, Elliott and Chandler also do well here. If I was starting over, I’d also try some Southern Highbush varieties.

We have bought good plants from Finch Blueberry Nursery in Bailey, North Carolina, as well as from a more local source in SW Virginia (now retired). If you only want a few plants, buy potted blueberry plants locally. Otherwise, order bareroot plants shipped to you. In Virginia Edible Landscaping offers a wide choice.

When to plant blueberries

If you are planning to plant blueberries, here are some considerations. Generally you will want o buy young bushes and plant them in the dormant season. In warm areas, plant in late fall so the plants get roots established before your early spring thrusts them into opening buds. In cooler zones, plant in early spring, so that winter does not kill them.

New blueberry plant with winter wire mesh protection. Photo Kathryn Simmons

As with all perennials, clear the area of perennial weeds the previous year, and reduce annual weeds, for instance by growing a good cover crop, which will smother emerging annual weeds and also feed the soil. Get a soil test, and follow the recommendations to amend the pH to 4.8-5.5 using sulfur in spring or fall before planting. I like the pelleted sulfur, that looks like lentils, because it is easy to spread, and no dust gets in your lungs. Depending on your soil type, you might need 430-1750 pounds of S per acre, or 1-4 pounds per 100 sq ft. Work in some good compost before planting.

Plan space between the rows that will let you walk, mow or whatever you need to do even once the bushes have reached full size. 8-12ft is recommended. Ours are a bit closer than that. In the row you can either plan for a hedge effect, or leave yourself access space. You can plant blueberries on raised beds or wide ridges. You can move bushes later in life, if you find they are competing too much.

Blueberries six years after planting. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Plan how you will cover the soil. I recommend landscape fabric topped by bark mulch or woodchips. This combination works well to keep perennial weeds at bay (wiregrass!). If you are avoiding plastic, you can use double layers of overlapping cardboard topped by 3” of organic mulch: chips, sawdust, straw or spoiled hay. Blueberries don’t do well with plastic mulch that is impervious to water, as it encourages the roots to grow just under the plastic, where they can easily get overheated and die. Some people like to grow a living mulch, perhaps mowing it to mulch closer around the plants once it dries. A hybrid model has mulch in the rows and a cover crop between the rows.

Blueberries have shallow roots, so you will likely need some irrigation method. I like drip irrigation, but overhead sprinklers work too.

You will, of course, have some annual care to provide. Each spring, expect to provide some source of nitrogen and potassium, as needed.  I’ll cover that another time. Each winter, prune for strong branches and good levels of production, and remove any perennial weeds.

Blueberries showing Tenax fencing and basket balls on posts to support roof netting. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Pests to watch out for include big ones like deer, groundhogs, birds and uninvited humans. We have a triple fence, with wire netting in the ground against burrowing animals, 7’ tall Tenax deer fencing, and seasonally, Avigard flexible bird netting over the top. For our newer blueberry planting we make a temporary hooped structure and cover just with the bird netting, held down to the ground with 6” soil staples. This planting is nearer our buildings than the older one, and is not visited by deer or groundhogs.

Blueberry netting on PVC electrical conduit hoops. Photo Pam Dawling

Smaller pests include blueberry maggots, blueberry stem borers, cranberry fruitworms, cherry fruitworms, Japanese beetles, leafrollers, leafhoppers, and aphids. Our perhaps, like us, you will not be troubled by any of these.

Diseases include mummy berry, Botrytis grey mold, Anthracnose, stem blight, stem canker, rust, phytopthora root rot, Phomopsis twig blight, blueberry stunt and several viruses. A Cornell University blueberry diagnostic tool offers a step-by-step exercise to help figure out what diseases may be affecting your crop.

Propagate blueberries by layering a low branch, as you see here with Chandler variety. Photo Kathryn Simmons

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Other small fruits available in June

Two rows of floricane raspberries with a willow and grapes in the background. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Cherries, red raspberries, strawberries, Juneberries, gooseberries  mulberries. Blackberries, apricots, peaches, plums.

If you live in Virginia or nearby, see this produce calendar

Other fruit care in June

New grape vine in May. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Grapes: Mow, weed, water in drought. If you have young vines, remove side branches from the trunks, and fruitlets. Your goal is to first grow strong plants, then produce grapes after that.

Strawberries: Prepare for new strawberries in early June: Disk or till the area for new strawberries if using bare-root plants, and prepare the beds with compost, driptape, and landscape fabric.

June 16-July 16: If using bare-root transplants, plant new strawberry beds.

Late June/early July (after fruiting): Dismantle two-year-old beds. Renovate carry-over strawberries by mowing or shearing/clipping weed and mulch, but don’t compost them. . Plant new strawberries if using bare-root transplants, perhaps rooted runners in the paths of older beds.

Rainbow and Kathryn spread hay over the new strawberry bed. Photo Luke Stovall

All fruit: Water all fruit crops. Weed, mow aisles as needed. Weed and mulch rhubarb, lop flowers. Record condition and fruiting dates of new grapes, blueberries. Note best varieties.

Which Vegetables are Genetically Modified (GMOs)?

Our first sweet corn of the season. Bodacious. Early July. Not GMO
Photo Pam Dawling

Recently we were given a gift of sweet corn from somewhere warmer than central Virginia. It wasn’t Organic, so I wondered if it was genetically modified. I try to avoid eating GMOs, because I don’t support the practice of inserting bits of other organisms in existing crops. Corn varieties often have Bacillus thuriengensis (Bt) inserted in their DNA with the goal of killing caterpillars that eat corn kernels.

USDA Organic symbol

Anything certified USDA Organic is not allowed to have any GMOs in it, so that’s one way to avoid getting GMOs. Growing your own food is a certain way to avoid GMOs, if you don’t buy GMO varieties or suffer cross-pollination from GMO crops.

Non-GMO Project symbol

The Non-GMO Project is the U.S. organization that provides testing and labeling for absence or presence of GMO in products. The “Non-GMO Project Seal” certifies that the product contains 0.9% or less GMO ingredients.

I’m going to skip ahead to talking about which vegetable crops are available in genetically modified varieties, because there are not many, and I’m not interested in worrying people! Then I’ll go into details.

The Big Three GMO Crops in the US

Edamame soy beans (soy for fresh eating). Not GMO.
Photo Raddysh Acorn

Soy, canola and corn are the three food crops in the US that are most likely to be genetically modified. Starting with corn (maize): 92% of all corn grown in the US is GMO. Of corn grown, only 1% is sweet corn. Of sweet corn grown in 2018, 10% is GMO. When you see a field of corn, it is almost certainly GMO, unless you are looking at an Organic farm.

What is field corn? “Corn (such as dent corn or flint corn) with starchy kernels that are used especially as livestock feed or processed into food products (such as cornmeal, corn oil, and corn syrup) or ethanol,” (Merriam Webster). Of the field corn in the US, 40% goes to make ethanol for vehicle fuels, 40% goes to livestock feed, and 20% goes into processed foods for humans.

In 2000, GM StarLink corn was recalled, when over 300 different food products were found to contain a genetically modified corn that had not been approved for human consumption (only animal feed). It was the first recall of a genetically modified food.

What about wheat? Farmers have shown a distinct preference for not growing GMO wheat. This is because much of the wheat grown in the US is for export, and people in many other countries refuse to eat GMOs.

Which Other Vegetables Might be GM?

Here is a 2013 article published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology. “Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and public concerns—a review” by A. S. Bawa and K. R. Anilakumar

There are only a few vegetables that have any GMO varieties. Some have been tried and failed. All vegetable seed is non-GMO unless labeled, and when purchasing GMO seed, you have to sign waivers. When searching on line, try various labels: genetically modified, GM, genetically engineered, GE, transgenic.

Gentry yellow squash in our hoophouse in late May. Not GMO
Photo Pam Dawling

Summer Squash and Zucchini

To avoid zucchini yellow mosaic virus and watermelon mottle virus in summer squash and zucchini, GM varieties were created, starting in 1995. When I researched GM squash varieties in July 2017 for an article I wrote, I found mention of ten summer squash and zucchini, but now there seem to be fewer. On the Bayer/Seminis website for their squash varieties, in 2017, these all helpfully had a “B” icon (Biotech). The names sound like B-movies: Conqueror III, Destiny III, Liberator III, Patriot II, Prelude II, XPT1832 III yellow squash and Judgement III, Justice III, SV0474YG, SV6009YG zucchini. The website has been updated, as have the variety offerings, and they are less prominently labeled. ZW-20 virus-resistant yellow crookneck squash is a current transgenic line.

In 2005, about 13% of the zucchini grown in the USA was genetically modified to resist three viruses; the zucchini is also grown in Canada (Johnson 2008).

Mexican researchers in 2004 wrote a paper Assessing the risk of releasing transgenic Cucurbita spp. in Mexico. Localities with native wild relatives of transgenic squash were at risk of the greatest trouble from cross pollination. The genetic legacy of ancient squash lineages was at risk. Gene flow between crops and their wild relatives was widely documented. The authors urged much caution about where and when GMO squash should be permitted.

GM squash also poses a risk that its virus genes or the proteins they produce could interact with other viruses to produce new diseases. And, as with any genetically engineered crop, the squash poses the risk that its new genes might cause it to spread and become difficult to control.

Sugar Beets

The USA extracts 90 % of its sugar “needs” from US-grown sugar beet and sugarcane. Of the domestically grown sugar, half comes from sugar beet, and half from sugarcane. After deregulation in 2005, sugar beet resistant to glyphosate (RoundUp) was extensively adopted in the USA. 95% of sugar beets grown in the US are GM. The sugar produced from GM sugar beets is highly refined and contains no DNA or protein—it is just sucrose. In 2008, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a division of the USDA, performed a court-ordered environmental review of the modified seed and announced that there was no risk to other crops such as beets (beetroot) for fresh eating and pickling, or related crops such as Swiss chard.

Hawaiian Papayas

Since 2010, at least 80% of papayas grown in Hawaii are GM, to get around the devastating problem of papaya ringspot virus.

 

Jubilee tomato in our hoophouse in early June. Not GMO
Photo Pam Dawling

The ‘Flavr Savr’ Tomato

Consumers in the northern regions of the U.S. rely on tomatoes shipped in from the South if they want fresh tomatoes beyond the summer. To survive shipping, tomatoes are picked at the “mature-green” stage. They have already absorbed all the vitamins and nutrients from the plant that they can, but have not started to ripen. To ripen the green tomatoes, they spend 3 to 4 days in rooms where ethylene gas is released, and are then shipped at temperatures not lower than 50 degrees, to preserve what flavor they have.  These tomatoes are probably still a few days away from being ripe.

Calgene, a biotechnology company, developed a tomato with a gene that slows the softening process that happens with ripening. Pectin gives tomatoes their firmness. The pectin in ripening tomatoes becomes naturally degraded by an enzyme and the fruits soften, making them difficult to ship.

The scientists “reversed” the tomato softening gene and reintroduced it into the plants. Reducing that enzyme in tomatoes slows cell wall breakdown and keeps the fruit firmer for longer. In order to tell if their “Flavr Savr” gene was successfully inside the plants, scientists attached a gene that makes plants resistant to the antibiotic kanamycin. By exposing the plants to kanamycin, they could tell which plants had accepted the Flavr Savr gene. Once in a tomato plant, the Flavr Savr gene attaches itself to the gene activating the softening enzyme. When the Flavr Savr gene is there, the “softening” gene cannot give the necessary signals to produce the enzyme that destroys pectin.

Production of the Flavr Savr stopped in 1997. Production costs were too high, and consumers did not find a benefit. See Whatever Happened to the Flavr Savr Genetically-Engineered Tomato

A ladybug on a potato leaf, looking for pests to eat. Ladybug larvae eat eggs such as Colorado Potato Beetle eggs. Not GMO
Photo Kathryn Simmons

NewLeaf (and other GM) Potatoes

 The NewLeaf GM potato was brought to market by Monsanto in the late 1990s. It was developed incorporating Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacteria to kill Colorado potato beetles. The target audience of fast food retailers rejected it and food processors ran into export problems. It was withdrawn from the market in 2001.

In 1998, a safety study (Ewen and Pusztai 1999) of GM potatoes with incorporated snowdrop bulb lectin (GNA) gene (Lectin acts as an insecticide), showed significant changes in the intestines of rats fed GM potatoes. The tested potatoes were not a commercial variety and not intended for human consumption, but the public were alarmed.

In 2010 Amflora was developed by BASF Plant Science for production of pure amylopectin starch for manufacturing waxy potato starch. It was approved for industrial use in the European Union in 2010, but was withdrawn in January 2012 due to rejection by farmers and consumers.

In 2011, BASF requested approval for its Fortuna potato as feed and food. The potato was made resistant to late blight by adding resistant genes that originate in the Mexican wild potato Solanum bulbocastanum. In February 2013, BASF withdrew its application.

In 2014, the USDA approved a GM potato type, Innate, developed by the J. R. Simplot Company that contained 10 genetic modifications that prevent bruising and produce less (carcinogenic) acrylamide when fried. The modification uses RNA interference (deactivating genes already present), rather than introducing genetic material from other plants or animals. Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank, and Atlantic potatoes are examples of varieties using this technology. McDonald’s announced that they have ruled out using Innate.

In 2017 scientists in Bangladesh developed a GM variety of potato resistant to late blight.

Arctic Apples

In February 2015 Arctic Apples became the first GM apple approved for sale in the US. RNA interference is used to reduce the activity of polyphenol oxidase, preventing the fruit from browning.

Mushrooms

In April 2016, a white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus), genetically modified using the CRISPR technique, received the go-ahead, as the USDA considers it exempt because the editing process did not involve the introduction of foreign DNA, just deletion from a gene coding for an enzyme that causes browning, reducing the level of that enzyme by 30%.

 The Problems with GMOs

When GM varieties are planted on a commercial scale, resistant weeds and pests can evolve. The emergence of resistant insects can negate the effects of a Bt GMO. Also, if herbicide spraying becomes more frequent on herbicide-tolerant GMO varieties, weeds can develop resistance to the herbicide. This can cause an increase in herbicide use or an increase in the amount and types of herbicides used on crop plants. It is not a coincidence that herbicide producers are behind this research.

Further investigation is needed to learn if residues from herbicide- or pest-resistant plants could harm soil organisms. Another uncertainty is whether the pest-resistance of GE crops can cross to related weeds, creating resistant weeds. Possibly insect-resistant plants can cause increased death rates to one specific pest, decreasing competition and allowing previously minor pests to become a major problem. Also, it could cause the pests to move to another plant that had been unthreatened. A study of Bt crops showed that beneficial insects are also exposed to harmful quantities of Bt. It is possible for the effects to reach further up the food chain to affect crops and animals eaten by humans.

It is possible that virus-resistance can lead to new viruses and new diseases emerging. Naturally occurring viruses can recombine with viral fragments, forming new viruses.

The main concerns about adverse effects of GM foods on human health are the transfer of antibiotic resistance, toxicity and abnormal immune responses. A known allergen may transfer from a GM crop into a non-allergenic crop and create a new allergen. Patients allergic to Brazil nuts and not to soybeans showed an allergic response towards GM soybeans.

  A Law on our Side

In January 2022 the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard became mandatory. The new Standard requires food manufacturers, importers, and other entities that label foods for retail sale to disclose information about BE food and BE food ingredients. This rule is intended to provide a uniform national standard for providing information to consumers about the BE status of foods. The Final Rule was published in December 2018

 

Bioengineered Food symbol

The BE Food Disclosure must be placed on either the main information panel on the label, or an alternate panel “likely to be seen by a consumer under ordinary shopping conditions.” For bulk foods, retailers are responsible for displaying the BE food disclosure on or near the bulk item. Now you know what to look for!