vegetable production

No-till Vegetable Production

No-till vegetable production: soil health, weed control, and crop yields

Article by Shuresh Ghimire, Extension Vegetable Specialist, UConn Extension

Building healthy soils, integrating cover crops, and managing weeds are key elements of vegetable farms. The use of no-till and cover crops provide a wealth of soil benefits thereby improving the productivity of the farming systems. However, due to limited agricultural land, farmers often have increasing pressure to keep greater portions of their land in cash crops. Cover-crop based no-till practices allow farms to gain the benefits of cover crop rotations while still earning a financial return from the land.

No-tillage cropping systems are known to provide many benefits to soils that can improve crop productivity. Those benefits include better soil aggregate size and strength which means better soil structure, better infiltration, lower bulk density, better water holding capacity, decrease in erosion, and improved water quality. Other benefits include higher cation exchange capacity, which results in higher soil nutrient holding capacity and greater potential mineralizable nitrogen (increased soil nitrogen bank). Additionally, no-till contribute to increased organic matter (carbon) which serves as a food source for soil microbes. Soil microbes are responsible for the decay of organic matter and cycling of both macro-and micro-nutrients back into forms that plants can use.

Though no-till systems offer a multitude of soil building as well as weed control benefits, implementation is limited, particularly in cooler climates like New England with shorter growing seasons. Correct management of cover crops used in no-till practices is critical because mismanagement can lead to undesired consequences, including serious weed issues rather than effective weed control.

No-till and cover crop acres were increased significantly in Connecticut from 2012 to 2017. No-till acres was 18,153 acres (487 farms) according to 2017 Census of Agriculture, which was 54% increase from 2012. The cover crops acre was ~22,000 acres in 2017, which was 7.6% greater than 2012 (Soil Health Institute, 2019).

In this article, I present farmers’ experience and some research evidence that show the use of no-till and cover cropping can provide a wealth of soil benefits thereby improving the farm profitability.

Bryan O’Hara and Anita Johnson have been growing vegetables for a livelihood since 1990 at Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, Connecticut. Over the last twenty plus years of intensive vegetable growing at the farm, they constantly sought ways to improve the health and vitality of crops and soils.

no till vegetable production“We slowly moved into no-till over the course of many years with experimentation. So, I do like to caution people to make sure it works for you before you put your whole farm into a new system because there are a lot of details.” Bryan says “We switched into no-till because we saw very strong improvement in crop health, less disease pressure, quite stunning results in plant disease and insect resistances, and very reduced need for weed control. We also saw the improvement in soil structure that resulted in much less irrigation needs. All of which resulted into greater profitability because crops were more vigorous, easier to harvest, stored better, and needed less labor.”

An experiment in Blacksburg, VA, tested the effects of three cultivation techniques (conventional-till, strip-till, and no-till) on ‘Gladiator’ pumpkin production, weed pressure, soil moisture, and soil erosion in 2014 and 2015 (O’Rourke and Petersen, 2016). Overall yields were higher in 2015, averaging 20 tons/acre, compared with 17 tons/acre in 2014. In 2014, pumpkin yields were similar across tillage treatments. In 2015, the average fruit weight of no-till pumpkins was significantly greater than strip-till (13%) and conventional-till (22%) pumpkins. Weed control was variable between years, especially in the strip-till treatment. Soil moisture was consistently highest in the no-till treatment in both years of study. Conventional-till pumpkin plots lost ~9 times more soil than the two conservation tilled treatments during simulated storm events. The 2015 yield advantage of no-till pumpkins seems related to both high soil moisture retention and weed control. Research results suggest that no-till and strip-till pumpkin production systems yield at least as well as conventional-till systems with the advantage of reducing soil erosion during extreme rains.

Jamie Jones of Jones Family Farm in Shelton, CT practices no-till pumpkin production.

no till vegetable productionFigure 2 taken in mid-April shows winter rye with an herbicide strip where the pumpkins will be planted in June.  “We will roll the rye with a roller crimper when the rye starts shedding pollen, averaging sometime late in May”.  Jamie says “We planted this winter rye late September or early October in the last fall. It followed a cover crop of sorghum sudangrass that was planted after the strawberry field was turned under in early July”.

Another research was conducted at University of Massachusetts Amherst to evaluate the nutrient cycling and weed suppressive benefits of forage radish (Raphanus sativus L. longipinnatus) cover crop mixtures to develop an integrated system for no-till sweet corn production (Fine, 2018). Treatments included forage radish (FR); oats (Avena sativa L.) and forage radish (OFR); a mixture of peas (Pisum sativum subsp arvense L.), oats and forage radish (POFR); and no cover crop control (NCC). Fall-planted forage radish cover crops showed successful weed suppression and recycling of fall-captured nutrients. Results indicated that POFR and OFR provided improved N cycling and sweet corn yield compared with FR and NCC. Early season N from decomposing cover crop residue was sufficient to eliminate the need for N fertilizer at sweet corn planting, thereby reducing input costs and risks of environmental pollution.

Steve Munno, the Farm Manager at Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge, CT, also uses cover crops and no-till to improve the soil health for organic vegetable production. “The combination of peas, vetch and oats works great in the no-till system”. Steve Munno says “With a single sowing of this cover crop mix in late summer we see significant accumulation of biomass throughout the fall from the peas and oats, an excellent winter cover protecting the soil, vigorous spring growth of vetch which produces more biomass and provides flowers for pollinators, plus nitrogen fixation (peas and vetch) and organic matter build up for the following crop”.

no till vegetables at massaro community farmLounsbury et al. (2018) tested whether reusable plastic tarps, an increasingly popular tool for small-scale vegetable farmers, could be used to augment organic no-till cover crop termination and weed suppression in New Hampshire. The authors no-till transplanted cabbage into a winter rye (Secale cereale L.)-hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) cover crop mulch that was terminated with either a roller-crimper alone or a roller-crimper plus black or clear tarps. Tarps were applied for durations of 2, 4 and 5 weeks. Across tarp durations, black tarps increased the mean cabbage head weight by 58% compared with the no tarp treatment. This was likely due to a combination of improved weed suppression and nutrient availability. Plastic tarps effectively killed the vetch cover crop, whereas it readily regrew in the crimped but uncovered plots. However, emergence of large and smooth crabgrass (Digitaria spp.) appeared to be enhanced in the clear tarp treatment. Although this experiment was limited to a single site-year in New Hampshire, it showed that use of black tarps can overcome some of the obstacles to implementing cover crop-based no-till vegetable productions in northern climates.

Bryan also shares his experience using tarps “Black and clear tarps are often superior to tillage events as some weeds can survive the tillage events, but tarps are really effective at giving us weed free surface to begin planting or seeding into”.

Download a PDF of this article.

References

Fine, J.S. 2018. Integrating cover crop mixtures and no-till for sustainable sweet corn production in the Northeast. Masters Theses. 637. https://scholarworks.umass.edu/masters_theses_2/637

Lounsbury, N., N. Warren, S. Wolfe, and R. Smith. 2018. Investigating tarps to facilitate organic no-till cabbage production with high-residue cover crops. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems:1-7. doi:10.1017/S1742170518000509

O’Hara, B. 2020. No-till intensive vegetable culture: pesticide-free methods for restoring soil and growing nutrient-rich, high-yielding crops. Chelsea Green Publishing, U.S.

O’Rourke, M.E. and J. Petersen. 2016. Reduced tillage impacts on pumpkin yield, weed pressure, soil moisture, and soil erosion. HortScience 51:1524–1528.

Soil Health Institute. 2019. Progress report: Adoption of soil health systems based on data from 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture. Soil Health Institute, Morrisville, NC.

Join us for a Farmer Focus Group Tomorrow

vegetables in a wheelbarrow in a greenhouse
Photo: USDA
Invite to Farmer Focus Group

Do you struggle with getting all the work done on your farm?  Do you have challenges attracting and retaining employees?  Are you interested in working with other farmers to design solutions to labor challenges?  If so, consider attending the farmer focus group, Exploring Novel Approaches to Farm Labor, at the CT NOFA Winter Conference in Middletown on March 7th from 12:30—1:45.  [A vegetarian box lunch will be provided]  We will discuss three potential farm labor models and the opportunities, challenges, and interests of each one.  Be prepared to provide your input and feedback! Register now by clicking here We are seeking small to mid-scale diversified fruit and vegetable farmers in Connecticut (and New England + New York) who practice sustainable growing methods and market products directly to consumers or engage in wholesale/institutional markets.  We are particularly interested in producers who hire full-time, part-time seasonal workers, and/or family members.  An electronic gift card of $50 will be provided. 

FYI – A second opportunity to participate will be in the evening of March 30th at CT Farm Bureau Association, time tbd.

This project is funded by a Northeast SARE Novel Approaches grant, LNE19-386R. 

Growing Food and Health with the Mashantucket Tribe

“The mission statement of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation (MPTN) states they will ‘…establish a social, cultural and economic foundation that can never be undermined or destroyed…,’” says Tribal Councilor Daniel Menihan, Jr. MPTN was facing challenges growing their fruits and vegetables at a scale to meet the tribe’s needs on their land in Ledyard, and some members were struggling with diabetes.

UConn has enjoyed a long history of engagement with members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal community. Many members have graduated from UConn and served on the UConn Foundation Board, among others. Despite the fact that there is an Extension office only 10 miles from the reservation, MPTN has rarely participated in any educational outreach or training offered by UConn Extension.

UConn Extension received the four-year Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP) grant from USDA-NIFA with the goal of having the tribe share their ideas for growing food and health, and help them learn about the Extension resources that are available. As a result of the grant, the relationship between MPTN and UConn is strengthening, and there is growth in agricultural production, food security, and health for the tribal people.

heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes grown by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. Photo: Noah Cudd

“MPTN is still learning, but they are now able to grow their own food, in what looks like a commercial setting,” states Shuresh Ghimire, PhD, Vegetable Crops Extension educator and principal investigator on the grant. “They have high tunnels, a rototiller, a plastic mulch layer, and cold storage, which are common tools for a commercial farm.”

Extension provides expertise through one-on-one consultation, and classroom and hands-on training on-site in a collaborative setting. Educational outreach addresses the following critical areas identified by the MPTN Council:

  1. Improve food security
  2. Improve economic viability
  3. Improve youth engagement and communications
  4. Improve nutrition and diabetes awareness through collaborative education

An Extension program involving several specialists in fruit and vegetable production, farm business management, marketing, 4-H youth development, health and nutrition, communications, evaluation and assessment is working with the MPTN on their goals. Tribal members are participating in other Extension programs, beyond the scope of the grant. A 4-H club is being established at MPTN to increase opportunities for youth.

“Once this grant came, we started working with UConn Extension Educators. There has been a substantial gain in the knowledge and skills regarding growing food, writing a business plan, nutrition, and health,” says Jeremy Whipple, a MPTN member.

Growing with MPTN

Extension provides education for MPTN in state-of-the-art sustainable vegetable and fruit production techniques, and through

people in the greenhouse at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation
UConn Extension educators work with members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in a high tunnel. Photo: Shuresh Ghimire

collaboration with MPTN, is melded with traditional and historical tribal farming methods. This provides MPTN with a means to continue the richness of their history while moving into modern sustainable farming economically.

Tribal youth are included in all aspects of the agricultural venture with the tribe’s expectation that several youth will develop major roles in the business venture. Two tribal youth are being paid by the grant to work in vegetable production at MPTN.

“Learning how to grow tomatoes, including pest management, is one of the many things I enjoy working with on this grant” Ernest Pompey, one of the tribal youths working on this grant says. “I am excited to share what I learned about growing and eating healthy food to other youth in my community.”

“The tribe also established a community garden where they bring other youth from the community to teach them about growing. The knowledge is expanding within their own community, and they are teaching each other now,” Shuresh says.

making the three sisters recipe with members of the Mashantucket tribe
Extension educators make the Three Sisters recipe with members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

UConn Extension’s nutrition team is working with the tribal community health providers to deliver educational programming in healthy eating and diabetes prevention using classroom education, and hands-on learning in the selection and preparing of healthy food, and exercise through gardening. The goal is to reduce the risk and incidence of diabetes in the tribal community.

“The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) utilizes a hands-on approach to nutrition education, combining nutrition knowledge with enhancement of skills to apply this knowledge to prepare healthy foods that are convenient, affordable and culturally appropriate,” says Mike Puglisi PhD, RD, state EFNEP director. “Erica Benvenuti, New London County nutrition educator, taught children in the MPTN High 5 Program the importance of food safety and increasing vegetable intake, and enhanced learning through getting the children involved in preparation of a traditional recipe prepared by the MPTN, the Three Sisters Rice recipe.”

The grant is starting its third year, and another Extension educator is working with tribal youth and adults in developing a business plan for the agricultural venture to increase their success rate. Youth and adults are also learning about their agricultural history and how it can successfully be integrated into today’s modern sustainable agriculture by combining classes with in-field learning experience.

“Ultimately, after the grant ends, MPTN’s farm will operate as a commercial vegetable farm would in terms of production and reaching out to Extension when they do need help. They will be independent, and continue growing their operation to support the goals of the tribal nation,” Shuresh states.

Article by Stacey Stearns and Shuresh Ghimire

Urban Agriculture Graduation

2018 Urban Agriculture graduates from the UConn Extension program
Standing (left-right): Dr. German Cutz, Ecuadorian Consulate Representative, Franzel Ansah, Farron Harvey, Dr. Michael O’Neil (Associate Dean UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources), Angela Cusicanqui, Christopher Cane, Chef Mona Jackson (Cook and Grow), Diana Chacon, Olga Peralta, Cristina Sandolo (Executive Director of Green Village Initiate), Cornelia Olsen, Zonia Menendez, Marcial Menendez. Front (left-right): Richard Brana, Jane Jacobus, Renita Crawford, Fidelina Linares, I Messiah

UConn Extension in collaboration with Green Village Initiative offered the Urban Agriculture Program in Bridgeport, Connecticut from November 2017 to November 2018. A new group of urban farmers graduated on December 7, 2018. The UConn Extension urban agriculture program consists of three components: classroom instruction, hands-on vegetable production, and entrepreneurship. To complete the program students need to pass five modules including botany, soils, entomology, vegetable production, and Integrated Pest Management, with 70% or higher grade. Congratulations to the new Urban Farmers!!!

 

The urban agriculture program will be offered as follows:

Bridgeport: Starts on January 10, 2019

Bethel: Starts on January 8, 2019.

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La Extensión de la Universidad de Connecticut en colaboración con Green Village Initiative ofrecieron el programa de Agricultura Urbana en Bridgeport, Connecticut de Noviembre 2017 a Noviembre 2018. Un nuevo grupo de agricultores urbanos se graduaron el 7 de Diciembre, 2018. El programa de agricultura urbana de la Extensión de UConn consiste de tres componentes: clases teóricas, producción de vegetales, y negocios. Para completar el programa los estudiantes necesitan pasar cada modulo, que incluye botánica, suelos, entomología, producción de vegetales, y Manejo Integrado de Plagas con 70 puntos o más. Felicitaciones a los nuevos Agricultores Urbanos!!!

 

El programa de Agricultura Urbana se ofrece como sigue:

Bridgeport: Inicia el 10 de Enero, 2019

Bethel: Inicia el 8 de Enero, 2019

IPM at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford

Through its offices located throughout Connecticut, UConn Extension connects the power of UConn research to local issues by creating practical, science-based answers to complex problems. Extension provides scientific knowledge and expertise to the public in areas such as: economic viability, business and industry, community development, agriculture and natural resources. This post, written by Mary Concklin explores how UConn Extension programs impact an agricultural business.

tomatoesIntegrated pest management (IPM) takes many forms at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford. Dr. Jude Boucher, UConn Vegetable Production & IPM extension specialist, has been working with Bishop’s in season long vegetable IPM training aimed at increasing the production of high quality produce while avoiding unnecessary pesticide applications. Boucher has worked with Bishop’s field manager, Michaele Williams, scouting tomatoes on a weekly basis and teaching how to install preventative practices that help lower the incidence of disease and raise the yield and quality of their tomatoes. Preventative practices include plastic and living mulches for weed control, which also serve as a mechanical barrier for spores that might otherwise splash up from the soil. Timely irrigations through trickle lines under the plastic, trellis systems, plant pruning, and proper site selection help keep the plants healthy and growing, lift the plants off the ground, thin the leaf canopy and allow the leaves to dry quicker so that they are less prone to diseases problems. Fungicides can be used only when needed and applied when computer models call for an application or when a disease is actually found during weekly scouting. Insects on tomatoes, Brussel sprouts, onions and other crops are controlled with microbial insecticides that are not toxic to humans and spare natural enemies to help prevent future pest outbreaks. Working with Extension also helps Michaele learn to recognize pests and natural enemies and design management systems on a host of new crops that the farm is now growing, from squash blossoms to beets.

hcrs-rainwise-newa-qb85976-20140225
NEWA weather station. Photo: Mary Concklin

Mary Concklin, UConn Fruit Production & IPM extension specialist, works with Bishop’s Orchards with fruit crop IPM. Bishop’s Orchard has been the site of in-field workshops conducted by Concklin for the fruit industry including blueberry pruning and apple tree grafting. Blueberry pruning is important for maintaining plant health, improving berry production, and reducing pest problems, while grafting is an important tool used to top work fruit trees to varieties that are more productive, more marketable or resistant to particular diseases. Through a USDA Specialty Crop grant, Concklin installed a solar powered weather station whose data feeds directly into the Network for Environment and Weather Applications (NEWA) at Cornell University. The data, run through pest models and accessible at www.newa.cornell.edu, is used by growers to help with pest management, irrigation and fruit thinning decisions. Concklin, in cooperation with Bishop’s Orchards and the USDA, has also been using pheromone traps to monitor for the presence of the new invasive insect pest, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. In addition she has monitored the bramble crops for the presence of the Spotted Wing Drosophila, another new invasive insect pest. Information garnered from these activities has been useful to the Bishop’s in determining management strategies.

Urban Agriculture Program

UrbanAg_studentscopy
A group of 13 Hispanic adults from Danbury and Bridgeport are participating in an Urban Agriculture program. This UConn Extension program has been designed in a way that students learn the science behind agriculture (botany, soils, vegetable production, integrated pest management, etc.), apply their knowledge by producing vegetables, and promotes entrepreneurship by allowing students sell their produce at a local Farmer’s Market.
(Back row left-rigth back): Juan Guallpa, Saul Morocho, Vicente Garcia, Simon Sucuz, Jose Rivera, Leonardo Cordova, Rolando Davila
Front row left-right: Patricia Morocho, Laura Rivera, Partha Loor, Rosa Panza, Maria Lojano.
Farmers_Market_pic1  Farmers_Market_pic2
At left: Danbury’s Mayor Mark Boughton visiting UConn Extension Urban Agriculture students at Danbury Farmer’s Market on June 27th.
At right: Connecticut State Representative David Arconti Jr. visiting UConn Extension Urban Agriculture students at Danbury Farmer’s Market on June 27th.