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MOF&G Cover Winter 1997
 

 


  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerWinter 1997-1998Tips   
 Tips – Winter 1997-1998 Minimize


Phytoestrogens Fight Cancer
Deciding What to Grow
Edible Pea Tendrils
Specialty Crops
Any Lamb’s Quarters Breeders Out There?
A Bean with Beauty
Listen to Your Customers
Packaging for the Environment
Compost Activators Inactive
Smaller Honeycomb Helps Bees Fight Mites
Applied Cotton Tufts Harbor Beneficial Insects
Diversified Apple Orchards Harbor More Beneficials
Squash Plants as Trap Crops for Cucumber Beetles
Beetles Love Burgess
Catch Beetles at Bedtime
Value Added Dairy Farm
Chainsaw Safety 101: Leave the Necktie at Home


Phytoestrogens Fight Cancer

When David Ingram and his coworkers at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre in Perth compared lignans and isoflavonoids (two types of plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens) in the urine of 144 women with breast cancer versus 144 without, they found that the latter had higher median excretion rates of the phytoestrogens. Most of the healthy women excreted 50% more of one lignan than the cancer patients, and those who excreted the least of that particular lignan (enterolactone) were three times as likely to have cancer as those who excreted the most.

The study “is consistent with the idea that diets high in phytoestrogens decrease breast cancer risk,” said Stephen Barnes of the Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham, although which phytoestrogens were inhibitory was not clear. Foods that are rich in phytoestrogens include whole-grain foods, berries, certain root crops and legumes, especially soybeans. Science News reporter Janet Raloff put together this phytoestrogen-rich menu: hummus on rye bread, tomato-soybean casserole laced with hot sauce, shredded carrots with lemon juice, cumin and mint, and blueberry pie.

Source: “Plant estrogens may ward off breast cancer,” by Janet Raloff, Science News, Oct. 11, 1997. The original report by Ingram et al. was in Lancet, Oct. 4, 1997.

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Deciding What to Grow

No longer satisfied with standard varieties that boast of uniformity and extended shelf life, consumers are seeking the unusual – from ‘Hopi Blue’ corn to nasturtiums and lavender borage. Rosaline Creasey, author of Cooking from the Garden, compares this period of exploration to “the time in Europe when explorers were returning from the New World with ships full of potatoes, peppers, chocolate and tomatoes.”

The name of the game is niche marketing. Identify target markets, determine special needs, and position yourself to serve the markets you select. Find out what the large suppliers aren’t supplying, e.g., what is too small for them to bother with; then develop products to fill those needs.

Look for ways to differentiate your product not only by what you grow, but how you grow it (i.e., organic); what you do with it (i.e., “added value,” or processed products); or how you package or market the product. Ordinary spinach, for example, triple-rinsed, cut and packaged as ready-to-eat salad, becomes a specialty item!

Pettigrew Fruit Company, located near Sacramento, began marketing Buerre-Hardy pears (French Butter Pears), an old standard that had fallen out of fashion. When the grandchildren took over the farm, the family had been selling them for juice. By picking them vine-ripe and wrapping them individually in a fancy box, the grandchildren turned them into a specialty item. By the second year they were selling thousands of boxes, as customers thought it was some kind of exotic French pear!

Most successful specialty growers find that their “specialty” comes naturally to them, out of their love of growing and marketing. Rather than looking for the wonder crop, they grow what they like to grow, do it well, and do a great job marketing.

Excerpted with permission from Sell What You Sow! The Grower’s Guide to Successful Produce Marketing, by Eric Gibson. Free brochure on request or send $25 postpaid to New World Publishing, 3085 Sheridan St., Placerville, CA 95667. Tel. (916)622-2248.

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Edible Pea Tendrils

Nesenkeag Farm of Litchfield, N.H., had Boston chefs excited last summer by – pea tendrils! As N.H. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor reports, “Most of the field crew at Nesenkeag were born in Southeast Asia, and they bring a very different set of ideas on how to harvest and prepare vegetables. Farm operator Eero Ruuttila noticed that as they harvested pea pods they also broke off tendrils, which they cooked for lunch.

Souphan Khao, a Cambodian native who prepares Nesenkeag produce for shipment, says that in her country peas are grown expressly for the tendrils, which are used in soups and stir fries. At first Ruuttila harvested the pea tendrils, or tips, for sale to the large Asian community in nearby Lowell, Massachusetts. Soon he was offering pea tendrils to Boston produce brokers, and this grew into shipments of several hundred pounds a week after Hub restaurant chefs got into the idea. A pea plant takes 60 or more days to develop pods, but tendrils can be picked in thirty-five.

Source: “Asian Farmhands Start Pea Tendril Craze,” by Steve Taylor, Weekly Market Bulletin, N.H. Dept. of Ag., Sept. 24, 1997.

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Specialty Crops

Several years ago, Stuart Dickson’s 15-acre Stone Free Farm in the Sacramento Valley of California grossed over a quarter-million dollars selling organic vegetables to restaurants, farmers’ markets, several produce wholesalers and a small supermarket chain. Dickson claims a large part of his success is due to growing and selling vegetables that are not available from other growers. For example, he sells a mixed tomato pack, including many heirloom varieties, for as much as $25 per 20-pound box. This assortment is such a favorite that he can hold his prices even in summer, when ordinary tomatoes are selling for 30 cents a pound.

Excerpted with permission from Sell What You Sow! The Grower’s Guide to Successful Produce Marketing, by Eric Gibson. Free brochure on request or send $25 postpaid to New World Publishing, 3085 Sheridan St., Placerville, CA 95667. Tel. (916) 622-2248.

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Any Lamb’s Quarters Breeders Out There?

Keith Goldfarb says that the nutty/buttery flavor of lamb’s quarters is one of his favorite tastes among wild edibles, being “far superior to any of the other so-called ‘hot weather spinach substitutes’ listed in catalogs.” How about selecting it for large and abundant leaves? “The variation which forms the basis of such improvement through selection is definitely already out there,” he says. “I have noticed different plants with significantly different habits – some more leafy, some more seedy. All that’s needed are some dedicated gardeners/explorers and we could have a major ‘new’ garden crop.” Another ‘new’ crop could be had by selecting for seed production, he adds.

Source: The Seedbed, Summer 1997, a publication of the Maine Seed Saving Network, P.O. Box 126, Penobscot ME 04476.

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A Bean with Beauty

Looking for a new (old) bean to plant in your garden? Roberta Bailey writes enthusiastically about 'Mitla Black' tepary beans – an heirloom from Mexico – in an article in The Seedbed (Summer 1997). These “beautiful, small, shiny black beans” have about 30% protein, she says, make an excellent dry bean, and they thrive in her poorest soil where nothing else will grow. “They have become part of my soil building program,” says Roberta, as they “spread … to cover the ground, deterring weeds and slowing moisture loss.”

The Seedbed is a publication of the Maine Seed Saving Network, P.O. Box 126, Penobscot ME 04476.

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Listen to Your Customers

It pays to listen to your customers. A satisfied customer will tell five others about you; an unhappy customer will tell 10 or more other people. Sixty-eight percent of customers who quit patronizing a store do so because of poor employee attitude.

A key indicator of a business’s customer service level is its return policy. Do you offer prompt replacements or refunds to dissatisfied customers? Another way to keep customers is through prompt and efficient handling of customer complaints. Ninety-five percent of customers who are dissatisfied will buy from you again if their complaints are answered quickly.

Make it easy for your customers to communicate with you. Provide postcards or evaluation pads (with pens or pencils available), similar to those offered on the back of restaurant checks, for constant evaluation of your services. Place a large suggestion box near the checkout stand for customers to place them in. Use phrases like: “How can we serve you better?” Find out what customers like about you, don’t like about you, and what they wish you would offer them.

Train employees who work at the checkouts to make a practice of asking customers for their comments and suggestions and then writing them down. Finally, act on customer suggestions. This really shows customers that you care about what they want. Serious consideration of customers’ comments leads to higher customer satisfaction and higher average sales per customer.

Excerpted with permission from Sell what You Sow! The Grower’s Guide to Successful Produce Marketing, by Eric Gibson. Free brochure on request or send $25 postpaid to New World Publishing, 3085 Sheridan St., Placerville, CA 95667. Tel. (916) 622-2248.

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Packaging for the Environment

It makes economic as well as environmental sense to use environmentally sound packaging. If you are shipping to most traditional wholesale markets, however, you will be required to follow industry packaging standards for your commodity. If possible, use recyclable material, such as unwaxed cardboard. If you are marketing directly to local markets, such as to restaurant or retail outlets, or to nontraditional markets where industry packaging standards may not apply, pack in reusable boxes, such as wooden crates or hard plastic, which can be sanitized and reused. Ask your buyers or distributors to cooperate with you in your recycling efforts by saving your boxes for you to pick up for reuse.

Generally, products made of a single material are easier to recycle than packages made with different types of materials. Waxed cardboard can’t be recycled, so if your products need to be hydrocooled or iced, it may be hard to use environmentally conscious packaging. Most waxed cardboard boxes are used one time, then sent to the dumpster. Let’s hope the industry comes up with a solution soon!

One alternative to waxed cardboard boxes is a wooden crate lined with butcher paper or moisture absorbent, nonbleached newsprint paper. This works with such products as chard which are dunked in water before packing. Glue rather than staple your labels onto boxes; staples cut produce workers’ hands as they reach into the box to take out your produce.

Ron Mansfield, owner of Goldbud Farms near Placerville, California, sells his tree-ripened stone fruit to specialty distributors, shipping his fruit in old-fashioned wood crates with plastic panapack cups. Ron feels this combination offers the advantages of strong protection for the product and recyclability. The wood boxes are used at least three or four times over the season; each time they are used, a new peel-off sticker is placed on them, with product information, bar code and count.

Fortunately, the natural country look of roadside markets is “in,” and some grocery stores and supermarkets often market products right out of the containers. Colora Orchards, near Colora, Maryland, ships its peaches to local stores in fresh, clean wooden boxes with hand cut-outs on the box sides for easy handling and with their farm name stenciled on the sides of the boxes. When customers began asking for the boxes to take home, the chain store owners offered to purchase the boxes for resale to customers.

For products that can take some amount of stacking, such as apples, melons or winter squash, use bulk bins whenever possible. For items that can’t withstand stacking, use wooden lug crates with plastic liners that can be reused.

If you use recycled products, let people know – this creates a positive image for your farm! For a series of reports on recycling topics, as well as for their newsletter Wastelines, write to: Solid Waste Alternatives Project, 1525 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036; (202) 745-4870.

Another resource for information on ecological packaging is the Preferred Packaging Manual, available for $50 from the Coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG), 400 N. Capitol Street, NW, Suite 382, Washington, DC 20001; (202) 624-8450. In a nutshell, the “preferred packaging” guidelines they recommend are: 1) Whenever possible, eliminate the package altogether; 2) Minimize the packaging; 3) Design packages that are either consumable, returnable, or refillable/reusable; and 4) Use produce packages that are recyclable.

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Compost Activators Inactive

Seven commercial compost “activators” – Envirotec Plus Compost Maker, Ringer Compost Maker, Humus Maker, Compost Bioactivator, Bonide Compost Maker, Roebic Bacterial Composter and Hi-Yield Composter – did not improve the quality of the final compost over that of untreated compost, according to a Univ. of Wisconsin researcher. Some did speed microbial activity for two weeks after their application to a compost of grass clippings and wood chips, probably due to the soluble nitrogen they contain.

Source: “A Big Zero,” by Greg & Pat Williams, in Plants & Gardens News, Fall, 1997. Original reference: C. Starbuck, “In Search of the Perfect Compost Activator?” Branching Out, January, 1997 (Coop. Extension Service, Univ. of Missouri, Clark Hall, Columbia, MO 65211).

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Smaller Honeycomb Helps Bees Fight Mites

Eric H. Erickson of the USDA-ARS Carl Hayden Bee Research Laboratory (200 E. Allen Rd., Tucson, AZ 85719; phone (520)670-6481; fax (520)670-6493; e-mail ehejr@ccit.arizona.edu) has found that if bees rear their young and store honey in smaller than usual cells, more bees survive the ravages of mites. Erickson and his coworkers installed hive sheets of starter cells that are smaller than those typically used by beekeepers. Commercially managed honey bees use these starter cells as a blueprint for building their honeycomb, making their own honeycomb from wax they manufacture.

“We’ve seen a 40% survival rate in varroa mite-infected hives equipped with honeycombs that have the smaller, more natural-sized cells that bees would create on their own,” says Erickson in Agricultural Research (May 1997). “Hives with the larger commercial starter cells died out.

“Through experiments, we’ve learned that honey bees survive a varroa mite infestation better if they have combs with a diameter 22% smaller than what we’ve used in the past.”

In nature, bees build honeycombs that appear helter skelter, but at the turn of this century, beekeepers learned how to harvest more honey by providing bees with a frame containing a wax base. Bees build onto this base to form a tidy honeycomb that beekeepers easily remove to harvest the honey.

These researchers are looking for resistant bees, as well, hoping that their queens could form a genetic base for developing mite-resistant strains; and they are studying bees’ immune responses to mite attacks.

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Applied Cotton Tufts Harbor Beneficial Insects

Researchers Anurag A. Agrawal and Richard Karban of the Univ. of California at Davis knew that small tufts of hairs or pockets of leaf tissue – called domatia – found on the undersides of leaves of about 2,000 plant species harbor insects. Agrawal and Karban decided to mimic nature by applying a small tuft of cotton fibers to the leaves of 120 cotton plants with Elmer’s School Glue. By the end of the growing season, the tufted plants held five times as many big-eyed bugs (Geocoris sp.), which prey on spider mites, as the untufted plants. Two other predators, a pirate bug and the western flower thrips, were also more numerous, and treated plants produced 30% more cotton. The researchers suggest that crops such as cotton and avocados, which have wild relatives that have domatia, could be bred (or engineered …) to have domatia.

Source: Science News, July 26, 1997; Originally in Nature, June 5, 1997.

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Diversified Apple Orchards Harbor More Beneficials

Trials in West Virginia, Romania, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have shown that growing buckwheat, dill, rape and sorghum between apple tree rows reduces the need for chemical sprays. Buckwheat provides food for beneficial insects; dill attracts parasites; rape reduces nematode damage; and sorghum attracts aphids, which feed beneficial insects. A few peach trees planted in the orchard can provide even more food for beneficials.

Source: “Good Neighbors,” by Greg & Pat Williams, in Plants & Gardens News, Fall 1997. Original reference: “Plant to Cut Chemical Use,” American Fruit Grower, March 1997; work done by Mark Brown, USDA Appalachian Fruit Research Station, Kearneysville, W. Virginia; Tel. (304)725-3451.

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Squash Plants as Trap Crops for Cucumber Beetles

Once warmed by the arrival of spring, cucumber beetles and squash bugs move around looking for tender seedlings of watermelons, cantaloupes or other cucurbits. Agricultural Research Service entomologist Sam D. Pair advises that growers line the edge of their melon fields with a few rows of squash – the favorite crop of these insects. The squash lures hungry insects away from melon seedlings. Once they congregate on squash plants, they can be killed by an insecticide (or by organic methods), eliminating the need to spray the entire field.

“If we can concentrate insect pests early in the season in a preferred host crop and control them there,” Pair explains, “then we can also reduce the late-season buildup of insect offspring in the primary crop at its fruiting stage.”

The precise attractant in squash, whether scent, size, color or nutrients, hasn’t been established. However, in field studies with melon, the squash lured more than 66% of cucumber beetles and 90% of squash bugs. A single application of insecticide doomed those drawn to the treated squash plants. “Normally the squash attracts enough of the population that what’s left in the melon crop is not a problem,” Pair notes.

In addition to reducing acreage that requires chemical protection, a squash trap crop can offer another benefit: predatory insects, such as lacewings and ladybugs, can prowl crop fields for secondary pests such as aphids, which can flourish in the absence of bug or beetle competitors. When whole fields are treated with insecticides, predators often are killed. Melon plants receive yet another benefit when cucumber beetles are lured away: they are less apt to be infected with Erwinia tracheiphila, the organism that causes bacterial wilt and is spread by the beetles.

Growers who are using squash as trap crops find another benefit: by keeping the squash well watered and fertilized, they often end up with another crop to sell and another source of income.

Source: Agricultural Research, Sept. 1997. For more information, contact Sam D. Pair and Benny D. Bruton, USDA-ARS South Central Agricultural Research Laboratory, P.O. Box 159A, Lane, OK 74555; Tel. (405)889-7395; fax (405) 889-5783; e-mail sdpair@ag.gov

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Beetles Love Burgess

Cucumber beetles seem much more attracted to 'Burgess Buttercup' squash than to 'Delicata.' Other varieties seem to fall between these two.

Source: Anonymous, “Gleanings,” The Seedbed, Summer 1997, Maine Seed Saving Network, P.O. Box 126, Penobscot ME 04476.

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Catch Beetles at Bedtime

Asparagus beetles and cucumber beetles are much easier to catch at dusk, when they become lethargic. They can then be “effectively squelched.” Also, cucumber beetles like to congregate in the large squash blossoms overnight – so be sure to check inside them when on patrol.

Source: Anonymous, “Gleanings,” The Seedbed, Summer 1997, Maine Seed Saving Network, P.O. Box 126, Penobscot ME 04476.

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Value Added Dairy Farm

Anson Tebbetts of Cabot, Vermont, has had a crop of golfers mingling with his cows since he opened a 5-acre course on his family’s 110-year-old dairy farm last year. The “secret to success with cow pasture golf,” said one golfer, “is make sure you stare down the cows before you swing.” “I guess instead of water hazards there are biohazards,” said another. Tebbetts puts young heifers on the golf pasture because they aren’t being milked, so their production won’t be put off by the excitement of the game. The cows are proving their worth by keeping the grass down, and have only been problematic when they ate the flags at the holes.

Source: “Vermont golfers have a cow,” AP report, Bangor Daily News, Aug. 12, 1997.

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Chainsaw Safety 101: Leave the Necktie at Home

Before you cut:

1. Read the owner’s/operator’s manual.

2. Keep the chain sharp and at the proper tension.

3. Be sure the oil hole is clear.

4. Check for loose bolts or nuts.

5. Inspect the condition of sprockets and filters before each use.

6. Use the proper gas and oil mixture.

7. Wear clothing that is close fitting and comfortable, not loose and so baggy that it might get caught in the saw. Wear heavy workpants without cuffs, safety-toe shoes, and a hard hat with an attached visor or safety glasses. Wear ear plugs or earmuffs. Don’t wear scarves, jewelry or neckties (!) that could be drawn into the engine or catch on the chain or underbrush.

8. Look for potential hazards on the ground, overhead, and within the tree.

9. Keep people and pets away from the work area.

10. Do not cut trees on windy days; wind can change the direction of fall.

11. Prepare the work area around each tree by removing obstacles, such as brush or a fence.

12. Don’t work alone in an isolated area; be sure someone knows where you are working.

13. Plan an escape route that extends back and diagonally to the rear of the expected felling line when cutting, and have a plan in case of emergency.

14. When using an electric chainsaw, use extension cords marked for outside use. To keep the extension cord from becoming undone from the power cord, make a bow knot with the two cords and then plug them together.

15. Don’t use the chainsaw when fatigued, ill or when your reactions are slow, as when taking medications or after drinking alcohol.

When ready to cut:

16. Be sure that the chain stops moving when the throttle control trigger is released.

17. Bring the saw up to speed before letting the chain touch the wood. Once contact is made, keep cutting at a steady speed to avoid being pulled off balance by changing speeds.

18. Kickback occurs when the chain coming around the tip of the saw bar meets a solid object, such as a rock, another log or the ground. Avoid kickback by keeping the saw bar tip clear of other objects. Avoid dangerous and awkward positions when cutting. Keep your body away from the line of cut and always cut with your left arm straight and use a firm grip, with thumbs and fingers encircling the chain saw handles. An anti-kickback device can be mounted on the tip of the guidebar of most models of chainsaws.

19. While in a tree or on a ladder, don’t cut above shoulder height with a chainsaw.

20. When cutting a limb that is under tension, be alert for springback to avoid being struck when the tension in the wood fibers is released.

Sources: “Respect for Awesome Power of the Chainsaw,” George Hamilton, Weekly Market Bulletin, Dec. 4, 1996, N.H. Dept. of Agriculture; SafetyScope Yard and Garden Safety Tips by Homelite, PO Box 7047, Charlotte, NC 28241.

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