GET READY FOR THE SEASON!
1) WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT
They might be “cute as a button” or beautiful and fun to watch but wildlife, specifically deer, birds, and rodents can do significant harm to small fruit crops.
Deer cause damage throughout the year but the most severe damage occurs on strawberry plants in the fall before mulch is applied and on any small fruit planting in winter months when availability of natural food is limited. Feeding on canes and dormant buds may lead to stunted or distorted growth and lower fruit production. When severe, it can reduce plant vigor and even cause death. During the spring and summer, deer may feed on new growth and eat ripening fruit. There are a variety of options that can be considered for damage control including hunting/shooting, repellents, and fencing. Repellents should be applied at the first sign of damage and are most effective when integrated into a damage control program that includes fencing, hunting, and several types of repellents. Milorganite, a slow release organic fertilizer (6-2-0) produced from human sewage has worked as a repellent for some growers. Fencing deer out of the field is the most effective way to reduce damage when deer density is high. A conventional 8-foot woven wire fence, an electric fence, or a combination of the two effectively keeps deer out by forming a barrier around the field. The addition of a line of blue baling twine at the top of the 8-foot fence has increased success. Though not inexpensive, fencing is effective, long-lasting, and requires little maintenance.
Rodents are a big concern for growers, particularly those with drip irrigation systems. Pests like gophers, moles, squirrels, and voles will feed on the plants and fruit. In addition to crop damage, rodents can also attack drip tape – expensive and time consuming to replace. The first line of defense begins in the early stages of the growing season. Some growers can fumigate fields for overall pest control. This can assist in eliminating moles who feed on earthworms. Given that rodents are drawn to areas around the field, it’s advised to create a buffer zone surrounding the field to eliminate weeds and ground cover growth. Consider applying rodenticides in the buffer zone if rodent pressure is high. During the growing season, techniques like baiting/trapping and system defenses like flooding or destroying mounds/ hills, combined with the targeted use of rodenticides can be very effective.
Ramik Green AG is a good rodenticide for control of mice, rats, and voles around strawberry production. It can easily be applied into bait stations around the perimeters of the field or nearby structures to keep pest levels to a minimum. With no baits that can be used directly in a strawberry field, it is important to control the pests before they have a chance to enter. For more information on baiting needs, please contact your local Helena Agri-Enterprises LLC location.
Birds eat fruit to help meet their water requirement in addition to their energy requirements. Bird damage may be more intense in dry years as birds turn to fruit to meet their nutrition and hydration needs. Fruit growers can employ one or more bird deterrent strategies including auditory and/or visual scare devices as well as physical barriers like netting. Here at Nourse Farms, we are in an active nesting area that makes netting an important economical alternative for us.
2) DRIP IRRIGATION START UP TIPS
Drip irrigation use is a key cultural component when raising strawberries in the plasticulture system as well as bramble and blueberry production.
The best success with drip irrigation comes with setting up a plan and working closely with your drip tape supplier. Our supplier does a farm visit reviewing the layout of field and our needs with us. Tips on items to review with your supplier:
• Crops to be planted and what specific fields.
• Will the drip be used with or without plastic mulch?
• What is the water source and volume available – this can determine how much area you can water or how much you can apply at one time.
• What is the water quality and filtration needed?
• Any treatment needed for algae, iron or other problems?
• Is the field flat or is there more than 6 – 8 feet elevation change? This impacts uniformity and may require a pressure compensating or moderating drip tape.
• What mil. is most appropriate?
Our supplier recommends a 15 mil. for strawberries. Having a plan and working closely with your supplier can save you money and headaches down the line. These recommendations are based in part on conference presentations by Bill Wolfram, District Sales Manager, Toro Ag Irrigation. For a copy of these presentations, email Anne Kowaleck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3) COVER CROPS TO CONSIDER
There are many great reasons for growing cover crops.
• Improving soil structure. Cover crops add organic matter when they are incorporated into the soil.
• Adding nitrogen to soil. Through relationships with symbiotic soil bacteria, many cover crops, particularly legumes, can add nitrogen credits to the soil.
• Suppressing weeds and disease. Cover crops compete with weeds for light, water, and nutrients. Hairy vetch as a cover crop has shown to suppress some anthracnose species.
• Erosion control. Cover crops reduce water and wind erosion on all types of soil.
Choice of a cover crop should be based on what the priorities are for the cover crop benefits. If the goal is to increase nitrogen contribution to the soil, legumes are your best option. If weed control and increasing organic matter is what you want, consider the non-legumes.
Hairy Vetch – becoming increasingly popular due to its ability to fix large amounts of nitrogen as well potential disease suppression. Is seeded in mid-August – mid-September, often with winter rye or oats to ensure ground cover for erosion control.
Alfalfa – long lived perennial that requires deep, well-drained soil and neutral. Not suited for short-term rotation but will fix large amounts of nitrogen if maintained for several years. Seed early spring or late summer.
Sunn Hemp – easy to grow and productive. Plant when soils reach above 50°F and at least four to five weeks before frost. Plants will be killed when temperatures dip below 28°F. Optimal soil conditions include a pH between 5 and 7.5 and good drainage. Seed can be treated with cowpea inoculant to increase nitrogen fixation. Sunn hemp possesses many soilbuilding traits, including high rates of biomass production — over 20 percent greater than crimson clover and hairy vetch in research trials. It is not only resistant to plant root nematodes but actively suppresses them. In as little as 60 to 90 days, it can produce 120 pounds of nitrogen per acre and can suppress weeds up to 90 percent.
Annual Ryegrass – direct seeded in spring or late summer, this low growing cover crop produces an extensive root system good at capturing leftover nitrogen from previous crops. Good for erosion control as it forms a dense sod. This can also be a downside as it can be difficult to kill overwintering ryegrass with only cultivation or disking.
Winter Rye – often seeded from late August through October, often following field or vegetable crops. Very hardy and adapted to a wide range of conditions, can produce significant root and top mass for increasing organic matter. A rye cover crop suppresses winter annual weeds effectively. Due to the mass it creates, allow at least two weeks from killing to crop planting to ensure adequate residue breakdown.
Sorghum-Sudan grass – Sorghum-Sudan grass is one of the most common cover crops. A fast-growing cover crop, it has an extensive root system that thrives in the heat of summer and excels at suppressing weeds. For growth, the soil temperature must reach 65°F to 70°F for two months before frost. The crop is extremely drought-tolerant once established, but it does need rain or irrigation during early growth. Seed Sorghum-Sudan grass at a rate of 40 to 50 pounds per acre, after the threat of frost has passed in spring. However, for maximum growth potential, don’t wait too long to plant, depending on your climate. In the Northeast, for example, it’s best to plant before July 15. Soil temperatures of at least 60°F are required for this cover crop to germinate. Repeated mowing can increase the root system, leading to greater penetration in compacted soil. In fact, this cover crop should be mowed several times in the season to prevent it from setting seed. Maintain your Sorghum-Sudan crop by mowing several times during the season before the crop seeds. Just prior to a killing frost, mow the grass to finely chop it, and then immediately till into the ground while it is still green. Due to the presence of weed-suppressing compounds in the freshly mowed crop, wait several weeks before planting new crops. Sorghum-Sudan grass is a great cover crop for revitalizing worn-out, “farmed-out” soils because it adds a lot of organic matter and bulk to the soil.
4) SPRING FERTILIZATION FOR STRAWBERRIES
Spring fertilization should be considered in a variety of situations. If young plantings went into the fall in a weakened condition, or with heavy leaching fall rains, a spring application of 20 pounds per acre of actual nitrogen would be appropriate. When you suspect signs of winter injury, spring fertilization is a must. Depending on the degree of damage, a range of 15–30 pounds of actual nitrogen would be effective by “spoon feeding” small amounts over several applications either by light ground application or foliar with your fungicide applications. Many growers have acknowledged the benefits of the following recommendations. Add these micronutrients in moderation for the benefit of all varieties. Special needs of the Cabot variety: Many growers like Cabot for its excellent size and good flavor, but under certain conditions, the early fruit are rough and misshapen. Looking at the surface of the fruit, the seeds appear to be uneven or have varying levels of development, caused at pollination. Boron is an important element in the pollination process. A spring application using Solubar (soluble Boron) applied at five pounds per acre, one pound actual, can avoid this initial fruit roughness. We suggest making the application just before blossoms open. Special needs of the Darselect variety: Apply five pounds of Epsom salt per acre in two to three sprays during the bloom period and green fruit development stage. The small amounts of magnesium in Epson salt should improve the appearance of the fruit and foliage.
5) ARE BLACKBERRIES FOR YOU?
As growers look to expand their small fruit offerings, we are often asked about the feasibility of growing blackberries in northern locations.
Historically options were somewhat limited as floricane/summer bearing thornless varieties had limited winter hardiness. Thorny varieties that had better hardiness were difficult for growers to work with and had challenges with customer acceptance in a pick-your-own situation. Two new advances in the blackberry industry have made the possibility of growing blackberries in northern locations a real possibility. At Nourse Farms, we use a rotating cross arm trellis in our floricane blackberry production. This type of trellis allows us to bring canes to a position close to the ground where they can be covered with a thick row cover for winter protection. The second advance has been the introduction of the Prime-Ark series of primocane bearing blackberries – Prime-Ark 45, Prime-Ark Freedom, and Prime-Ark Traveler. Like primocane bearing raspberries, they can produce two crops. For fall production only, which we recommend in northern locations, prune or mow all canes to the ground in early spring. The Prime-Ark series has unique tipping requirements, please contact us for details.