by Pat Malin
SYRACUSE, NY — At this year’s annual Empire State Producers Expo, experts from Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Department of Environmental Conservation among others, presented many hours of practical advice to fruit, vegetable and flower growers.
No significant results from grafting tomatoes in high tunnels
Peter Nitzsche, an agricultural and resource management agent with Rutgers (NJ) Cooperative Extension, presented a lecture on growing grafted tomatoes in high tunnels. He presented results from a study conducted over the last two years, but admitted there was no significant impact on the percentage of marketable fruit, so Rutgers is still studying the outcomes.
Grafting is useful for combining the best qualities of one variety of plant, for example, resistance to soilborne diseases, with the qualities of another, fruit size or taste, into one plant.
In 2011, Rutgers saw four varieties of tomatoes increase in yield as a result of growing in high tunnels, but there were many inconsistencies among the varieties, including Red Device, Scarlet Red and Pinto Red. Nitzsche considered the grafting unsuccessful in 2011 since there was no increase in fruit size. In 2012, however, there was an increase in fruit size from grafting.
There is an obvious economic cost associated with grafting and high tunnels, said Nitzche, and producers need to determine if it’s worth it. In 2011, there was an average yield of 6.32 pounds per grafted tomato. The additional cost of using high tunnels was estimated to range from 46 cents to $1.12 per plant.
“Start small and experiment,” he recommended. Grafting tomatoes works best “if your plot is so limited that you can’t rotate crops; you have known disease problems; you are not using wilt-resistant varieties, and you are selling to the direct market or at a premium price for heirloom varieties.”
Nitzsche referred to two farms in New Jersey that successfully employ the grafted tomato-high tunnel technique, the Peter Melick Town Farm in Oldwick and the Muth Family Farm in Williamstown. Bob and Leda Muth’s CSA farm grows certified organic produce, many of them heirlooms.
Nitzsche said the Muths feel the high tunnels extend the growing season for tomatoes and in 2012, the season extended until nearly Thanksgiving. In 2007, the Muth Family Farm was one of five growers to win the Mid-Atlantic Master Farmer Award. It was the first organic grower in New Jersey to win the award.
Is it worth supplementing pumpkin fields with bees?
Jessica Petersen and Brian Nault of the Entomology Department at Cornell University led a discussion on supplementing pumpkin fields with bees. Thanks to a grant provided by New York Agriculture and Markets Specialty Crops, the researchers were able to determine where honeybees and bumblebees forage by sampling the pollen on their legs when they return to the beehive.
Cornell has been concerned about decreases in bee populations and is developing experiments to increase the density of bumblebees. It turns out that bumblebees are better than honeybees at pollinating pumpkins.
“Pumpkins are a big crop in New York State, especially in the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley. It’s about a $30 million business,” Petersen explained following the lecture. “Even if you grow pumpkins, you don’t necessarily need more bees. Bumblebees are expensive.”
Approximately 150 honeybees and 150 bumblebees were tested. A diverse landscape that includes grasslands and forests, not just crops, is “a significant positive predictability of honeybee visits to pumpkin flowers,” said Petersen.
She noted that pollination of pumpkins did not improve by bringing in outside bees and placing them in the field, but it was more productive to attract wild bees instead with a varied landscape.
“A high density of natural areas alongside pumpkins, including logs, provides nesting habitats for bees,” Petersen said.
Nitrogen utilization for pumpkins, transplants and plastic mulch
Cornell University’s Geneva station was the proving ground for a June 2011 trial on nitrogen utilization in pumpkin patches. Researcher Sarah Hulick discussed the amount of nitrogen needed for a 7-by 4-foot spacing of the gladiator variety.
Generally, 80 to 100 pounds of nitrogen is recommended. An average pumpkin getting up to 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre will weigh 18 pounds. A 20-pounder needs between 100 and 150 pounds of nitrogen. But when Cornell added 150 pounds of nitrogen, there was no increase in pumpkin yields, said Hulick. Therefore, the researchers said it’s best to add 100 pounds of nitrogen twice during the season.
In June and July 2011, Cornell tested the yields of gladiator pumpkins growing on black plastic versus bare ground. Hulick said they produced 340 pounds per acre from transplants on bare ground and a total of 322 pounds from transplants using plastic.
“In summary, bare ground planting increases yields by at least 35 percent by increasing the size of the yield, but not increasing the size of the fruit,” she explained. “Plastic mulch will increase the yield only by direct seeding.”
Hulick reminded producers to weigh the economic costs of purchasing transplants and using plastic mulch. If a transplant costs 20 cents apiece, it amounts to $311 per acre. Adding trickle irrigation raises the costs of production to $536 an acre. Combining plastic mulch, irrigation and the cost of seed is approximately $690 an acre.
“A 35 percent increase in yield should double or triple your increased costs, even at low crop yields,” she added. If a farmer was getting a yield of 10,000 pounds per acre previously, using plastic mulch, transplants and trickle irrigation should ideally produce 13,500 pounds of pumpkins.
by Pat Malin