Fungi and Bacteria and Viruses, Oh My!

Maryellen Sheehan, NOFA-NY’s Fruit and Vegetable Coordinator and co-owner of Hartwood Farm in Fenner, NY, shares with us some of her experiences growing organically in 2014, plus invites the organic producer community to learn together on October 21st.

After moving to NY from a high-elevation frost pocket in NH (average 95 days frost-free), I belatedly realized the sole advantage of a super short growing season—frost kills your plants before disease has time to off them!  Switching to farm in the lower Hudson Valley’s vaguely tropical 160 frost-free day season was both amazing (so many new crops to grow!) and educational (twice the warm weather hosts exponentially more insects and disease to kill plants!).

While my inner scientist remains fascinated by finding and identifying all the new plagues offing our plants at Hartwood Farm in Fenner, NY (new this year: Swede midge, bacterial spot, and the undetermined soil funk that melted 3 plantings of lettuce), the market farmer part of me does not enjoy these new discoveries.  The NOFA-NY technical assistance part of me dreads hearing about the challenges faced by some of our members this season, but that part of me is able to take action by planning educational events for growers who, like me, face all sorts of unexpected challenges each year.  At the end of each season, and throughout the winter, we have the opportunity to reflect on the diseases that impacted our community and learn what practices and controls are proving most effective.IMG_5721

We have dedicated researchers and educators committed to helping organic and IPM growers identify their problems and find effective control options.  On Tuesday, October 21st, Cornell’s Chris Smart, Abby Seaman, Meg McGrath, and Sarah Pethybridge will join up to teach organic management for bacterial and fungal pathogens, soil borne disease, and late blight.  It will be a full and informative day with plenty of time to ask questions—we hope to see you there!  There is no other way to get this small-group access to these great (and busy) researchers; at $25 for the full day, including lunch, it’s worth the day off the farm.  Register HERE or read the full workshop description HERE!

Why think about diseases now?  Since organic control options are based on prevention, now is really the best time to plan for potential problems!  In the heat of the summer, most of us won’t have the time to research and shop around frantically for last minute insect and disease controls.  In the mid-winter, a lot of the daily challenges have faded (and some of us even attempt to go on vacation, leaving less time to learn and plan).  During the late winter and spring, growers are busy enough going to conferences and conventions, seeding, planting, and doing a thousand other things, so it can be difficult to think about preventative sprays and staying on top of a disease control program.  It’s easier when you pre-program that into your schedule by planning for it before any of next season’s action.  Variety selection, field layout, and soil amendments all affect your crops as well, and you certainly need to account for all of that before you open those gorgeous seed catalogs in the winter.  Our instructors at both October events are planning to give great information about these strategies, from organically-approved sprays to soil-building for robust plants at our October events.

004For a little teaser about organic disease management concepts, UVM’s Vern Grubinger has a short article that really hits on the key points here: http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/factsheets/diseasemanagement.html.  There are often multiple pest, disease and climate-related concerns that confuse and confound farmers.  While a great resource to help learn disease identification is the Vegetable MD website: http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/, I’d still recommend you come to our workshops with any photos, data, or questions about what you experienced this past season.  With many farmers and plant pathologists in one room, we’re bound to learn what’s trending in terms of organic production problems.

Hopefully these resources help you as you get started thinking about next year’s potential crop health challenges, and we hope to see you in Geneva on October 21st!

On October 30th, we’ll tackle many of the same issues, but hone in on some marketing and variety research as well, all related to the diverse and appealing Brassica plant family.

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