Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What I love and don't love about my "pick your own" or "U-pick" fruit farm

I want to tell you what I love and don't love about my "pick your own" or "U-pick" fruit farm business. Here's why. I got into this business when, as a young man, I was working for a small retail corporation, then a larger one, and a larger one. Ownership changed so often I couldn't follow the tracks. Old employees were feeling forced "out to pasture" before they were fully vested in their retirements. I was rebellious, wearing thin white socks under my YSL suits. I had to get out of there. With lots of help from my family, I did.

I intend to post occasional thoughts about this. Here's the link to follow:

Monday, September 23, 2013

From the National Garden Bureau: How to Store Your Summer's Harvest of Potatoes and Onions

Photo courtesy of The National Garden Bureau
The National Garden Bureau always publishes great tips on our favorite subject - gardening!

"During the winter months, when the ground is covered by a thick blanket of snow, there’s something particularly satisfying about still being able to eat food from your garden. Many summer-grown crops including potatoes, onions, garlic, beets, carrots and winter squash, can be stored with relative ease to nourish you right through until the next growing season. Even a modest-size garden can yield a substantial crop of winter keepers.

"To be successful storing these keeper crops at home, here are a couple factors to keep in mind:..."

To learn more, read the rest of The National Garden Bureau's article on How to Store Your Summer's Harvest of Potatoes and Onions.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

New York will research juneberry production

"One of the largest juneberry research nurseries will be established at the Cornell Willsboro Research Farm," reports Nursery Management magazine. Read more about the juneberry super fruit research at Cornell.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Can I dump used coffee grounds in my garden?

Instead of dumping used coffee grounds in the trash or washing into the garbage disposal, you can add them to your compost pile. They've been pulverized into tiny bits, so they will decompose rapidly.

You can also sprinkle coffee grounds around such acid-loving plants blueberries, cranberries, apples, pears, citrus, strawberries and bananas. A quarter-inch application every month or so will help to keep the soil a little on the acidic side.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why and how you should add Epsom salt to your garden.

"Why and how should I add Epsom salt to my garden?" is a question I'm frequently asked.

Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate. Magnesium is important for producing chlorophyll and fruit. It also strengthens cell walls and improves plants' absorption of vital nutrients such as sulfur, nitrogen and phosphorus.

Sulfur is vital to plant growth. It helps plants produce enzymes, vitamins and amino acids.

Magnesium deficiency may be difficult to detect without taking a soil sample. Some plants such as roses, tomatoes and peppers exhibit deficiencies more readily than others. Common symptoms include yellowed or misshapen leaves and stunting.

Magnesium is often deficient in soils with alkaline pH, high potassium and calcium content. Take a soil sample to your regional Cooperative Extension Service for testing. It's the best way to determine whether your soil needs magnesium. If the test shows severe magnesium deficiency, the service may recommend addition of dolomite lime to the soil. But don't rely on dolomite lime alone to correct the problem. Add Epsom salt, too. If the soil test shows adequate magnesium along with high potassium and calcium content, you should still add Epsom salt to your garden.

Epsom salt has the advantage over other sources of magnesium because it is highly soluble. The salt granules can be sprinkled around plants. Diluted with water, the Epsom salt solution can be poured around plants or sprayed on their leaves. The foliar spray delivers maximum rapid results.

How much Epsom salt you should apply depends on the size of the plant and the method of application. Vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers benefit from 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt granules at planting time. Sprinkle the granules around the transplants. Larger plants such as roses and shrubs will benefit from 1/2 cup of granules applied in spring and again in fall. Depending on plant size, apply 1/2 cup to 1 cup of granules around grape vines, fruit and nut trees at the drip line because that's where the feeder roots are. The drip line is the outer circumference of the leaf canopy.

For foliar spray, add 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt per gallon of water. Apply generously two or three times during the growing season.

Gardeners often report better plant color, stronger growth, improved fruit set, better tasting fruits and vegetables. Epsom salt applied to tomatoes may help to prevent blossom-end rot.

Epsom salt can be purchased at grocery and drug stores.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Biobest N.V. Announces Innovative "Flying Doctors Concept" Using Bumblebees

In a recent press release, Biobest N.V., a Belgian company specializing in sustainable crop management, announced they're "off to a flying start" in 2013 "with a brilliant new system for delivering biological plant protection, replacing costly spraying. Biobest, a pioneer of biological control using bumblebees, presents the innovative 'Flying Doctors' concept.

"Bumblebees, already used in the pollination of crops such as strawberries, can be used to bring microbial 'medicine' to plants to control grey mould and other major diseases, which cause huge yield losses annually."

This is genius! Read more about Biobest's "'Flying Doctors' system."

John Marshall

Thursday, January 31, 2013

How To Grow AAS Winner Watermelon 'Harvest Moon' F1

Watermelon 'Harvest Moon' F1. Photo courtesy All-America Selections

The mission of All-America Selections is "To promote new garden varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America." To do that, AAS tries to "inform gardeners about the AAS Winners", so the organization produces great information about how to grow them.

I recently wrote about the new Watermelon ‘Harvest Moon’ F1 AAS Winner in this blog, so here are some gardening tips I want to pass along to you.

AAS reports, "The first ever hybrid, triploid seedless watermelon to win a coveted AAS Award! Similar to the popular heir-loom variety, 'Moon and Stars', 'Harvest Moon' is an improvement in that it features healthy, shorter vines that produce medium-sized fruits and sweet, crisp pinkish-red flesh. 'Harvest Moon' retains the familiar dark green rind with yellow dots, but is seedless, earlier to ripen, higher yielding and better tasting. As one judge said, 'What's not to like?!'"

AAS® Winner Data
Genus species: Citrullus lanatus
Common name: Watermelon
Unique qualities: First hybrid triploid watermelon bred specifically for the Home Garden market. Note: Triploids require planting with a diploid pollinator in a ration of three triploids to one diploid and perform best if started indoors with a consistent soil temperature of 90 degrees F. until germination.
Fruit weight: 4.5 pounds
Fruit Size:  18 to 20 pounds
Fruit shape: Elongated round
Fruit color: Dark green rind with large and small yellow spots; flesh is red/pink
Plant type: Large vigorous spreading and trailing yellow spotted vines
Plant height: 15 inches
Plant width: 3-5 feet
Garden location: Full sun
Garden spacing: 3-5 feet
Length of time to harvest: 100 days from transplanting
Closest comparisons on market: ‘Moon and Stars Red, ‘Moon and Stars Yellow'

As with most melons, they should be planted in average, well-drained soil. pH should range from 6.1 to 7.5. Your local Cooperative Extension Service can help you determine your soil pH.

If you're thinking you'd like to plant watermelons next season, you should definitely include 'Harvest Moon' F1.

Photos are courtesy of All-America Selections.

John Marshall

Monday, January 14, 2013

Transplanting 4-year old muscadine vines

I have 2 muscadine vines that are 4 yrs. old that I want to move to another location. I have not been getting that much fruit off of them.  I have some oak trees that were about 15 ft from my vines and now the oaks have grown much faster than anticipated and are blocking a lot of sun light (I think this is my problem) what do you suggest?  I don't want to cut my oak down, and want to keep my vines because what fruit they make is very sweet. 
You may be able to transplant them. Winter is the time to do it. Muscadine grapes are shallow-rooted, and the roots tend to run horizontally a few inches under the soil surface. Soften the soil by thoroughly moistening a 5' radius around the trunk. Gently tug on the vine to raise it a bit and see where the roots run. Then you can carefully remove the roots from the soil. Try to get as much as you can.

Move the plants to the new site. Keep the roots moist until transplanted. 

John Marshall

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Conversation About Pruning A Young Muscadine Grape Arbor

Young muscadine arbor
John, Thanks for posting the muscadine pruning videos. They are very informational. I was hoping you could answer a question about our muscadine growing/pruning situation. We have four Southland variety muscadines growing up four separate 8 ft arbor posts. Each post has wire running up all four sides. The vines get to the top and then we train them across the arbors in all directions. We let them grab onto each other to form a kind of natural canopy overhead. (Arbors are about six feet away from each other.)

We planted them last February and they did really well this year in terms of vines, and okay in terms of fruit. Most of our fruit actually came in the late Fall. Which surprised us. Anyway, it is getting time to prune, and I'm not sure how to go about it, since we can't really grow them in the T-shape due to our space limitations. If you could give me a recommendation on how to prune, it would be much appreciated. I can send you a picture or two if it would help. Right now, each plant has two to three "main" trunks from which most of the vines are coming.

In your case, I think you could do with only one main trunk per plant. At the top of each trunk you should choose a vine to train as a horizontal arm to cross the top of the arbor. Prune the ends off the arms when they begin to meet. Don't let them overlap.

Once these horizontal arms are formed, choose well-spaced side shoots along the length of each arm to train as fruiting spurs. Cut each shoot to 4 inches in length. Those short spurs will produce their own fruit-producing side shoots during the coming growing season. Next winter, prune those to 3 or 4 inches in length. And so it goes year after year.

As the vines grow older, you'll need to go back and do some renovation pruning, but that's another issue.

So I should have like an 8 ft tall trunk?

It appears that the segments (vertical and horizontal posts across the path) are not connected in any way. Am I correct?

Nevertheless, if the top of the arbor is 8' tall, each trunk should be 8' tall. It seems from the photo that you want the arms to extend across the path. If so, I recommend you have one main trunk growing up each post. Then have one arm from each trunk growing horizontally across the top and meeting in the middle. On those arms,  you'd establish fruiting spurs as described before.

Actually, I think you don't even need a trunk growing up every post. One trunk per segment and one arm growing horizontally across the path would be sufficient. Each trunk would easily produce an arm to extend across the path. As young as your vines are, you could remove the extra vines, especially those growing closest to the building and transplant them elsewhere.

Yes, the two arbors are not connected. So you are saying I should grow two of them to the top, then send one arm across each path? So it would be a 90 degree angle going up the post, then across the arbor top?

So then off the arm, the fruiting spurs would come. Won't these fruiting spurs be really long each year? Should I just let them hang down from the top of the arbor? If so, maybe I would nee to send the arms the other direction (in between the arbors) otherwise I would have a wall of vines blocking the pathway. Maybe then I should just do two plants, catty-corner from each other, and send them in between the arbors?

I guess for the year, I will need to keep a main trunk supported higher up on the plant. Maybe for a few more years until the trunk gets big enough. Right now it is pretty flimsy towards the top.

Yes. You could grow one trunk per vertical post to the top of the post. (Or you could have one trunk growing up one post and no trunk on the opposite post.) Then grow one arm from each trunk at a 90 degree angle (horizontally) to the center of the arbor. When they arms meet at the center of the arbor (above the path), cut the growth tips out of the arms so they don't overlap. They should butt-up to each other.

Then from those arms the fruiting spurs grow.  You see, when you cut the growth tip off of each arm, the arms will be stimulated to produce lateral growth along their lengths. Let all those lateral vines grow during the first growing season. The following winter (pruning season), select lateral vines that are about 8 inches or more apart. They will be the permanent foundation of future fruiting spurs. Prune them short to about 3 buds. Remove entirely any lateral vines between the selected spurs. This will give you enough room between the selected spurs (the permanent foundation) to reach your hand in and pick in the future.

The next growing season, those 3 or so remaining buds on the selected spurs will produce new growth. The following pruning season, prune the new growth to 2 or 3 buds. So it goes year after year.

Yes, the buds on those fruiting spurs will produce long vines during the growing season, but they can be shortened. Most of the fruit will be produced near the base of the spurs way up high, so you can trim the long vines that grow down and get in your way without harming the maturing grapes. When you trim them back, just make sure you leave enough foliage to feed the maturing grapes.

Got it. Thanks so much, John. This really helps

So regarding the pruning I will do very soon, should I select a main trunk and prune it at the top of the arbor? Then train the main arms this season (cutting them off when they reach each other)? I guess I would select which branches would become the main arms by picking the strongest looking ones?

Yes to all.

And here's a final question regarding which plants I should keep. In the picture, the two plants close to the house are in a bed with blueberries. The other two plants are in a bed that has rotating vegetables (anything from carrots to tomatoes to potatoes to peas, lots of stuff, changing year-to-year). I know the grapes and blueberries are both shallow-root plants, but since they are both perennial, do you think it would be better to leave those plants in place and move the plants that are in ever-changing vegetable beds? I guess it's a question of competition with blueberries vs. being in an oft-disturbed vegetable bed.

Companion planting can be a good idea, but some plants don't make good companions. Check around on the internet or in books on the subject to see what might work for you.

Another thought: Most vegetables prefer full sun. Blueberry shrubs nearby might not allow sufficient exposure.

Still another thought: Blueberries like low pH. Some vegetables might prefer higher pH than what blueberries need.

A Question About Pruning A Tangled Muscadine Grape Vine Mess

We have a bronze scuppernog that was 4 years old when we planted it and is now 6 years old, with some bad advice it has become a tangled mess. It has 6 main branches and is on a wire trellis that has been weighed almost to the ground. I was going to prune it back and put it on a steel pipe trellis. Should I prune it all the back to the main branches or just cut off all but two branches and prune them the right way? It was covered in small clusters this past spring but they got no bigger than the head of a pin.Thanks.
Without being there and pointing out specifics, the best advice I can give is that you should carefully examine your vine. Choose 1 good trunk that is relatively straight, or if crooked can be straightened by lashing it to a sturdy stake. From that trunk, choose two sturdy arms extending in opposite directions down the trellis. Remove everything else. It may seem radical to cut off so much, but new vines will be produced this growing season. Even if you make a big mistake, it will only be temporary.

It's kind of like what an art professor told me once; to carve a bird, visualize a bird, then remove everything that doesn't look like that bird.

If the undeveloped clusters were flowers, then you don't have adequate pollination. You'll need a pollinator variety. If the undeveloped clusters were tiny grapes, there are other potential causes.
John Marshall  

Friday, January 4, 2013

Results of Community Poll Ending Jan. 1, 2013 About Pesticide Preference

Our Community Poll asked the question, "What kinds of pesticides do you use?"
  • 50% of respondents use only organic pesticides.
  • 50% of respondents use "organic pesticides and chemical pesticides. Whatever works."
  •  Zero percent use synthetic pesticides only.
Obviously, gardeners prefer organic pesticides, but 50% of them will resort to other stern measures to protect their crops.

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