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"Industrial agriculture and the assumptions on which it rests are wrong, root and branch."
- Wendell Berry
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MOF&G Cover Winter 1999-2000

 


  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerWinter 1999-2000Tips   
 Tips – Winter 1999 Minimize


Create a Downspout-Fed Marsh
New Strawberry Varieties
New Blueberry and Cranberry Harvesters Developed
Energy Efficient Landscaping
Most Maine Soils Need Lime, Organic Matter
White Asparagus Production
Web Resource on Farm Animal Health
Radio Spots for Farmers’ Markets
Good Grounding Makes Good Electric Fences
A Snap Crop?
Mesh Bags for Washing Greens
Farm Labor Service Proposed
Storing Water for Emergencies
Hemp for Victory, Victory for Hemp


Create a Downspout-Fed Marsh

The summer 1998 issue of Habitats, a publication of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), outlined a method of creating a marsh in your yard by using water running off of a roof, as Craig Tufts has done in Virginia. The NWF recommends checking with local governing bodies before undertaking the project.

The method involves choosing a site that is flat enough to hold water and is close to a roof that can supply water via a downspout disconnect. Unlike most good gardening soils, the soil for a marsh should not be well-drained, but should have enough clay in it to hold water.

After sod is removed from the designated area, subsoil and rock should be removed to about 14 inches deep, keeping the excavated area even. An area of turf at the lower end of the marsh should provide an emergency spillway.

Flexible plastic pipe is connected to a downspout from the roof, angled away from the house, and buried underground and into the marsh. The angle of the pipe should prevent water from backing up during a major storm.

Add a good soil to the excavated area, varying the depth to mimic a marsh. Establish plants that thrive in wet conditions, such as Joe-Pye weed, cardinal flowers, swamp milkweed, and more. These will provide food and cover for wildlife, as well.

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New Strawberry Varieties

The following varieties were described by David Handley, Vegetable and Small Fruit Specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension:

Evangeline (Honeoye x Veestar): From Nova Scotia. Early ripening, medium-sized fruit on upright stalks, firm, dark red, no resistance to red stele root rot.

Sable: From Nova Scotia. Early ripening, with medium to large fruit. Flavor is very good, but fruit are soft. Plants are vigorous with some resistance to red stele.

Brunswick (Cavendish x Honeoye): From Nova Scotia. Midseason ripening, large fruit, similar to Honeoye, some resistance to red stele root rot.

Mira: From Nova Scotia. Midseason ripening with large fruit and high yield potential. Plants are vigorous and have some resistance to red stele root rot and leaf diseases.

Mesabe (Glooscap x MNUS 99): From Minnesota. Mid- to late-season, medium-large fruit, firm, orange-red, high yield potential, resistant to red stele root rot. Performance and fruit quality at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, Maine, have been very good.

Cabot: From Nova Scotia. Mid- to late-season ripening, very large fruit, bright red, firm, but with tender skin. Plants need high fertility to maintain high vigor. Plants have some resistance to red stele, but the fruit are susceptible to gray mold unless an effective management plan is followed.

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New Blueberry and Cranberry Harvesters Developed

An 82-year-old inventor from Nashua, N.H., has designed a new blueberry rake. Lester Gidge, a mechanical engineer who holds more than 100 patents, was in Down East Maine a couple of years ago when he happened to watch workers raking blueberries in a barren. They were using the traditional dustpan-shaped tool that is swept through the plants, gathering berries as well as leaves and twigs.

Gidge resolved to alleviate the backbreaking nature of the work by designing a no-bending, human-powered machine to do the job faster, cleaner and easier. He came up with a rig that looks from a distance like a reel-type push lawnmower. The key part of the contraption is a row of fingers shaped like miniature canoes that slither through the blueberry plants and cause the fruit to drop into the recesses of the fingers. Once full, these fingers are tipped up and the berries tumble into a pan that can be lifted and dumped into containers that are moved to the packing shed.

In a test at the Andrew Morse blueberry fields in Alton in August, Gidge’s machine harvested three crates worth of berries every 20 minutes, compared with the average production of a crate an hour with a rake.

Fifty of these rigs were used on barrens of the Jasper Wyman Co. in Washington County this summer. Gidge is putting finishing touches on a prototype of an engine-powered blueberry harvester as well, and he’s developing a cranberry harvester that would eliminate the need to flood bogs to facilitate harvest.

This fiddling with agricultural machinery takes place in the lower reaches of Ultima Nashua Industrial Corp., a machine shop that specializes in contract milling and fabrication of metals for diverse applications in aerospace, electric generation and other heavy industries. Lester Gidge and an engineering draftsman assigned to help him form the agricultural products division of Ultima – a small team, but with the potential to radically change soon the way wild blueberries and domesticated cranberries are harvested.

Source: “Nashuan’s Idea to Doom Wild Blueberry Raking?” by Steve Taylor, N.H. Commissioner of Agriculture Weekly Market Bulletin, N.H. Dept. of Agriculture, Aug. 18, 1999.

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Energy Efficient Landscaping

The right kind of landscaping can shade a home or block the wind enough to lower heating and cooling costs by up to 30%, according to the Solar Energy Research and Education Foundation. To keep energy bills low in summer, plant shrubbery and trees to shade the east and west walls and to provide some cover for an outdoor air-conditioning unit. A study by the American Refrigeration Institute shows that shading of this type can reduce the temperature inside the home as much as 3 degrees F. Fences and shrubbery can also direct breezes inside the home to improve natural ventilation.

To keep a home more comfortable in winter, plant windbreaks across areas of your yard where the wind might otherwise blow directly onto your home and make it colder outdoors. A dense planting of shrubs right outside of your home will help provide some insulation from the wind. Plant deciduous trees where you don’t want the winter sun blocked from warming your home.

To reduce summer temperatures inside a one-story home, consider shading-the roof or wall with trees that will reach a medium to large size, and place them 15 to 20 feet from the side or 12 to 15 feet from the corner of the house.

Source: “Energy Efficient Landscapes with Year-Round Colors,” Lawn & Garden Marketing and Distribution Association, Philadelphia.

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Most Maine Soils Need Lime, Organic Matter

In 1998, the University of Maine Analytical Lab tested 233 soil samples for commercial vegetable growers (not including potatoes). Thirty-three percent of the soils in which vegetables were to be grown had pH values in the 6.1 to 6.5 range; 29% were within the 5.6 to 6.0 range. The optimum pH range for most vegetable crops is 6.5 to 6.8. Over 80% of the samples were at pH 6.5 or lower, suggesting that vegetable farmers should be applying more lime to their soils. Bringing the soil pH to the appropriate level with lime will improve the availability of nutrients in the soil, which will increase yield and quality. Also, most of the soil samples had levels of organic matter that were below optimum, but had optimum levels of phosphorus and excessive levels of potassium. Soil testing can save you money on fertilizer by showing what your soil does or doesn’t need to produce a good crop.

Source: “Maine Soil Testing Summary,” by David Handley, Vegetable & Berry News, Feb. 26,1999, Univ. of Maine Cooperative Extension, Highmoor Farm, PO Box 179, Monmouth ME 04259.

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White Asparagus Production

According to Scott Walker of Walker Brothers/Jersey Asparagus Farms in New Jersey, white asparagus has traditionally been grown by mounding soil up 10 inches over the row just before spears start to grow in the spring. When the spear cracks the surface, it is harvested before being exposed to light, all of which is very labor intensive. Now, however, white asparagus is being produced using low tunnels made of wire hoops and burlap or black plastic. Fresh white asparagus is grown extensively in Europe and Asia, but is rare even in major U.S. produce markets. It supports a price two to three times that of green asparagus.

Source: “From Your Commissioner,” by Steve Taylor, Weekly Market Bulletin, N.H. Dept. of Agriculture, Feb. 3, 1999.

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Web Resource on Farm Animal Health

“Healthy Animals” is an online compilation of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) news and expert resources on the health and well-being of agricultural animals and fish. Its web site is: www.ars.usda.gov/is/np/ha. Updated quarterly, the site provides links to recent ARS research involving cattle, chickens, turkeys, swine, sheep, goats, horses, catfish and other aquaculture fish, deer and other wildlife. The site also provides complete contact information for more than 25 ARS research groups studying farm animal health. An index lists ARS research locations covering about 70 animal health topics, such as Lyme disease, nutrition, parasites and vaccines.

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Radio Spots for Farmers’ Markets

Marcia Halligan of Viroqua, Wisconsin, reports in Growing for Market (July 1997) that Saturday morning radio spots that list items for sale at the local farmers’ market have been the most important promotion for the group. The market’s most successful event is a children’s market in October, in which children get free booth space to sell what they’ve grown or crafted. When a band plays at the market over Labor Day weekend, each vendor gives an item to the band and storyteller, and the band then camps and uses the food.

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Good Grounding Makes Good Electric Fences

When utilizing electric fencing, you cannot have too many ground rods. When an animal touches the fence, the electricity must travel through the animal into the soil, then through the soil to a ground rod. The current then travels from the ground rod to the fence charger, where the circuit is completed. Only then does the animal feel the shock. Therefore, the more ground rods, the more electricity gets back to the fence charger. The best ground system consists of three galvanized ground rods, at least 6 feet deep and spaced 10 feet apart. For best results, install your ground rods where soil moisture is constant. Always use clamps to attach the ground wire to the ground rods.

Source: Weekly Market Bulletin, Univ. of N.H. Dept. of Ag., June 2,1999; originally in Extension News.

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A Snap Crop?

Snapdragons are a potential crop for Northeast growers, says N.H. Dept. of Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor. As alternatives to roses, mums and carnations, where competition from Ecuador, Colombia, California and Europe has become brutal, snapdragon blooms may fill a niche here since they don’t ship well, so buyers are hungry for nearby supplies.

Source: Weekly Market Bulletin, N.H. Dept. of Ag., May 12, 1999

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Mesh Bags for Washing Greens

Electric washing machines, with their agitators and spin-dry cycles, were a great improvement for homemakers – and they can work wonders for farmers selling greens as well, especially when combined with mesh bags.

Woven polyester or nylon mesh bags can line harvest containers, then greens or other produce can be picked into the bags and the bags dunked into vats of water, then placed in washing machines set on the spin cycle. Alternatively, greens can be dumped loose into tans of water, where the water is agitated, then the greens are put into laundry baskets lined with mesh bags and the bags are set in washers where they go through a spin-dry cycle. Using nylon bags to hold greens cuts the amount of time hands spend in cold water, moves greens into cold water faster, saves time and reduces crushing that comes with repeated handling.

Mesh laundry bags are available in hardware and discount stores in the laundry supply sections and can be ordered from Cady Industries (PO Box 2087, Memphis TN 38101, 1-800-622-3695 – 32" x 27" McKnit bags with 1/8" mesh or custom-sewn bags) or The Nylon Net Co. (845 N. Maine St., Memphis TN 38107; 1-800-238-7529 22" x 22" bag with 1/4" mesh).

Source: Growing for Market, Dec. 1998.

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Farm Labor Service Proposed

Can a farm labor service fill the short-term needs of dairy, livestock and crops producers throughout New England? Rick LeVitre of the Univ. of Vermont Cooperative Extension System at Rutland is coordinating surveys to determine whether farmers will support the idea of developing a pool of workers who can be called upon to handle chores, field work and other duties so that farm families can take a vacation, attend a wedding or deal with an emergency. It would also provide hands to cover short seasonal stints, such as spring tillage or fall apple harvest.

This proposed farm labor service will be a farmerowned cooperative providing a wide range of skills and services for all types of farming, LeVitre says. The workers would undergo training, be fully insured and have all payroll and worker comp withholding handled by the coop. The project is being underwritten with federal grant funds plus support from New England agribusinesses and cooperatives.

Source: Steve Taylor, Weekly Market Bulletin, N.H. Dept of Agriculture, Aug. 18,1999.

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Storing Water for Emergencies

Every household should have emergency resources on hand in case of a power outage. These should include food, flashlights and batteries, and enough water to last for a few days for drinking, brushing teeth, cooking and washing dishes. To store water:

1. Sterilize containers and lids with boiling water. Drain.

2. Bring water to a rolling boil for 10 minutes to kill pathogens.

3. Date the containers. Store water for up to 12 months.

If you do not have boiled water on hand, you can treat fresh water for safe use by adding chlorine bleach to it:

1. Look at the label on a jug of household bleach. Be sure that the only active ingredient is hypochlorite.

2. Check to percentage of chlorine in the bleach (1% to 10%), then add bleach according to the following table:

1% chlorine 40 drops of bleach per gallon of water

2% to 6% chlorine 8 drops

7% to 10% chlorine 4 drops

3. Let the water stand for 30 minutes. If the water does not have a slight chlorine smell, repeat the amount of bleach and let it stand for another 15 minutes.

Source: Extension Perspectives, Waldo County Cooperative Extension, May 1999.

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Hemp for Victory, Victory for Hemp

Three states have legalized the growing of industrial hemp: North Dakota, Hawaii and Minnesota. Nearly 12 other states are drafting legislation to study or legalize the crop. Canada has been growing industrial hemp commercially and legally for a year.

The crop, which can be grown without pesticides for its strong fibers or for its oil-rich seeds, is attracting farmers who no longer want to grow tobacco or other chemical-intensive crops. Markets are available: Ford and Mercedes Benz use hemp products in their cars.

Source: Co-op America Quarterly, Fall 1999, 1612 K Street N.W., #600, Washington DC 20006; for a list of hemp companies and products, refer to Co-op America’s National Green Pages™ or www.greenpages.org.

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