Farm Calls:
Troubleshooting Stunting in a Strawberry Field

This week a grower called to report an area of stunted strawberry plants, first noticed after removal of the row covers in April. There may have been overwatering on occasion.

If you read the 2016 Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations, you’ve seen the page, Diagnosing Vegetable Crop Problems (A27). Stepping through the diagnostic process with a grower is mutually satisfying – there’s nothing better than getting to the root of a problem so it can be minimized or avoided altogether in the future. The process involves tracing the history of the field and the development of the problem, then closely examining the soil and plants.

Field and Crop History

Our grower said that the field previously had summer cover crop, which was tilled under while green. A couple of weeks later, raised beds were made with plastic mulch applied. The strawberry plugs were set into the beds in late summer. The growth differences that caused him to call weren’t noticed until after the row covers were removed in April.

Plant growth differences in a strawberry field.

Our grower’s strawberry field.

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Fast Tracking Soil Organic Matter

Leaf-Windrow
Leaves. We like using un-composted municipal collected leaf mulch to improve soil organic matter. There are different ways to get it done. You can soil incorporate them, and then fallow the field in long rotations. It’s economically challenging. You can surface apply leaves between rows of some standing row crops like potato and pumpkin cash crops. At the end of the season, incorporation of the decomposing leaves improves soil over years. It’s labor intensive. But this is Jersey, where everything has to be done faster and fields have to pay their way. Last fall a grower from South Jersey asked,

Can I speed up the process of increasing my soil organic matter using incorporated un-composted leaves, yet avoid the crop deficiencies that result from nutrient tie-up?

He’s talking about the temporary (one or two seasons) soil carbon:nitrogen ratio imbalance that occurs after adding 10-20 tons/acre of leaves that have a carbon:nitrogen ratio of 50:1 to a production field where the ideal ratio would be 10 or 12:1. What he doesn’t say is that he’s got enough to do as a grower without having to become an on-farm compost manager, too.
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Farm Calls:
A Hasty Decision in the Transplant Greenhouse

Spring weather is finally breaking and vegetable transplants are being readied for field planting. We received a grower’s call about a leaf abnormality in some greenhouse grown tomato plants.

“The transplant tomatoes I’ve got hardened off, ready to go in the field have dead spots on the leaves.
What’s going on?”

We looked the plants over…

salt injured plantsSalt injury on leaves

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Farm Calls: A Greenhouse “Walk of Doom”

Tomato transplants. Photo: P.Nitzsche
Last month at a growers meeting, a farmer remarked how calling his county agent out to the farm, more often than not, turned out to be a “walk of doom” because the agent always found problems he didn’t even know he had. The farmer is actually happy about this – it means he gets the jump on problems before they get out of control. This week’s farm call from a south Jersey grower reminds us why there’s no substitute for agents in the field.

Can you come take a look at my tomatoes?
They’re still in the greenhouse due to the cold temperatures and I’m seeing some wilt. The roots are turning light brown with the outer sheath sliding off.

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