The thermometer registered zero — a perfect morning for 270 vegetable and small fruit growers, employees and suppliers to meet at Maneeley’s Conference Center in South Windsor, CT, for the annual winter meeting. Speakers for the day provided a wealth of new information to those registered and the trade show allowed everyone to see what was available in the way of new seed varieties, various support groups and machinery for the upcoming season.
Mary Concklin of the UConn Extension staff acted as moderator for the morning session, first introducing Cameron Faustman, Interim Dean of the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources at UConn who extended words of welcome to the group.
The kick off speaker of the day was Rosa Raudales from the College of Agriculture Dept. of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture whose topic was Hydroponic Production of Lettuce and Herbs. Rosa began by defining hydroponics as an agricultural system in which plants are grown in an inert medium to which a nutrient solution containing all the essential elements are added. This production system has several advantages, one of which is lettuce can be marketed in a far shorter time as compared to a field grown crop. Further advantages include protecting soil chemical, biological and physical properties. There are four main production systems employed in hydroponics; the nutrient film technic, the raft system with deep-water culture, Dutch bucket or drip, and aeroponics. Each of these systems has its advantages and disadvantages and the method chosen by any operation is cost dependent.
The nutrients supplied to any given plant can be affected by the pH which has a direct bearing on nutrient solubility. An additional factor that has a bearing on the nutrients supplied to a plant is Water Electrical Conductivity (EC) which is a measurement of the ability of a solution to move an electrical charge. With any given plant there are combinations of nutrients that provide the best recipe for optimal growth.
Richard McAvoy, a member of the Dept. of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture recently toured several greenhouse operations in Holland and presented the results of a visit to some of the tomato growers seen on that trip. The greenhouses in Holland are much taller than those here in the U.S., which affords greater environmental control. The emphasis is on energy conservation and energy efficiency. LED lighting is widely used and the growers employ a variety of strategies to maximize production, much of which is very fined tuned. Air-Energy systems are employed to vent and control water content in the air and recover some heat energy. This system allows growers to optimize the vapor pressure deficit (VPD) in their greenhouse which results in increased yield and a dramatic reduction in energy use. Variations in the VPD, either too high or too low, can result in a reduction in plant yield.
There is a movement among some of the growers led by Stacia Monahan of Stone Garden Farm to re-establish an organization of Connecticut vegetable and small fruit growers to promote, advocate and educate the growers in all the varied aspects of their industry.
Brian Hurlburt, Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency discussed several of the programs his agency has to offer to the farmers of the state among which are micro loans in amounts up to $50,000.
Becky Sideman, Extension Professor and Specialist at UNH discussed “Selecting Varieties for High Tunnels”. The purpose of this study was to compare performance of greenhouse and field pepper varieties for colored bell production in unheated high tunnels. Some of the varieties selected were developed specifically for greenhouse production, both low and high tech, while others were field varieties. Seeds for the trial were planted on March 30 and, after two transplantings, were planted in a 30 inch by 60 inch high tunnel. During their growth they were pruned and trellised with the first fruit being harvested on Aug. 14 continuing until Oct. 21. Fruits were harvested once a week, weighed and evaluated. The varieties that ranked the best, Bentley and Felicia, were classified as high tech greenhouse peppers. Translating greenhouse yields compared to field varieties on a per acre basis, the greenhouse varieties would have yielded 46,000 to 66,000 lbs. per acre while the field varieties would have yielded 23,000 to 27,000 lbs. per acre.
The moderator for the afternoon session was Jude Boucher, long time vegetable extension specialist at UConn.
Henry Greseczyk from the Greseczyk Farms in New Hartford, CT, gave the audience some ideas about improving sales at farmers markets. Henry suggested using the entire display area and avoid a cave-like arrangement which serves to impede traffic flow. Utilize the higher parts of the display area, get customers looking up and not just down at a table. CSA can be part of a farmers market and has the potential of increasing sales in that area when potential customers see other customers walking away with bags full of produce. Eggs can be part of the goods offered for sale, keeping some hens to fill that need should not add a great deal to the everyday farm routine. Those tending the stand should not be using cell phones, they are working to meet the needs of customers, not for their own entertainment. Money transactions should be done in as quick a manner as possible and without a lot of flair.
This may well be the year of the bee and to present some ideas about issues facing that busy and essential insect came Richard Cowles of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Nicotinoides are synthetic insecticides closely related to nicotine and are widely used to kill a variety of harmful and harmless insects. Now scientists are wondering about its role in colony collapse disorder. At this point in time it is Dr. Cowles contention that they have little role in the development of this serious condition.
The Jones Family Farm in Shelton, CT, raises a wide variety of crops to meet the needs of its diverse customer base, one these being blueberries. Any blueberry grower will usually put birds and bird control near the top of their management priorities. Jamie Jones stated that when he was a student at Cornell, the instructor teaching blueberry culture put three things at the top of the list regarding their needs and they were pH, pH and pH. The Jones Farm uses three marketing tools to sell their berries: pick your own, farmers market and farm stand, and wholesale.
In what may have been his final presentation to this meeting as Vegetable Extension Specialist Jude Boucher announced his pending retirement and was given a standing ovation by the attendees who have benefited from his guidance and direction for so many years. Jude reviewed the natural enemies of vegetable and fruit pests. First on the list were lady beetles, of which there are several varieties that feed on a variety of pests thus classifying them as one of many general predators. It would pay all of those involved in crop production to become familiar with those bugs that are in this group. To the untrained eye they may all appear to be on the bad guy list. Among those Jude mentioned were the ground beetle, the praying mantis, the anchor stink bug and toads.
A group called parasitoids do their work by laying their eggs on the larvae and other developmental stages of destructive pests on which they feed. Again, it pays to know who your friends are. In addition to this group of helpers there are various viruses and fungi that are helpful in any control program.
This program is a must go for any Connecticut vegetable or small fruit grower in order to stay abreast of what is going on at the cutting edge in their businesses.