Making the Most of Your Space for Fruit and Vegetable Production


Agriculture can come in all sizes. Having a small space in which to work doesn’t have to limit you in terms of the diversity of what you produce, nor does it mean you won’t be able to satisfy your needs handsomely; it simply means you need to know how to go about it. There are several different approaches to getting the most you can out of your land.

(An important strategy for achieving top-level production that I won’t be covering in this article is to make your soil as healthy as possible, which leads to healthy, productive plants. Not to worry! I will be covering this subject in another issue.)

Plant Variety Selection

If you have had any experience with vegetable varieties, you will know that they are not created equal. Plants thrive in different growing conditions, even if they are the same species. There are also different things that they will or will not be able to do for you. Can they be staked? Will they produce a heavy crop? The required nutrient level and drainage of soil, required sunlight level, and ability to compete with weeds are further characteristics that will continue to separate plants. It is useful to think about potential members of your garden in a variety of ways to determine which are the plants for you.

One approach to variety selection to make the most of a small space is choosing varieties that are noted for heavy production. If you thumb through seed catalogs, you are sure to find a variety or two of most every vegetable or fruit that will be worthy of this description. For example:

  • Irish Potato—Red Maria, Elba, German Butterball
  • Snap Pea—Super Sugar Snap
  • Pickling Cucumber—Double Yield
  • Bush Bean—Provider
  • Mini-Hubbard Winter Squash—Gold Nugget (doubly useful as it is a compact plant)

And almost every variety of acorn winter squash is noted for both enthusiastic production and compact growth. Pole beans are also famous for high yields, and note that they come in flat and round regular, Romano, and French/filet varieties (there are even some dry shelling varieties, such as Bingo). On the other hand, there are many varieties of fingerling potatoes and heirloom tomatoes, which are much more judicious when bearing fruit and should possibly not be considered.

Some produce varieties should be selected because they make great use of the space given to them. Long salad radishes like Dragon and French Breakfast will give you more radish flesh with their one inch-square of ground than, for example, Cherry Belle and Easter Egg, because they simply keep on growing down. Cylindrical beets, as opposed to the more familiar round roots, repeat this technique. Pole beans, as well as being productive plants, are also very large plants (8 to 10 feet tall) that produce very large yet tender beans (pods range from 6 to 11 inches long depending on the variety). Yard long and runner beans also boast enthusiastically tall plants, and a correspondingly greater harvest potential.

Then there are the “keep on picking” plants, those with a larger harvest over time. Kale, Swiss chard, and collards are the sorts of greens that will keep on giving as long as you keep on taking. As long as eggplant and pepper plants have time to produce more flowers, and as long as you keep on picking, they also will produce more fruits. Broccolis can be different; some varieties produce only a strong central head, and the harvest is over. Instead, select one that produces a central head and then a good harvest of side shoots (De Ciccio and Umpqua are two nice open-pollinated varieties); or pick a sprouting broccoli.

You could also select plants that have a compact growth habit. There are varieties of summer and winter squash, melons and peas that produce very large or long plants. And there are cabbages and carrots that require ample space because they produce a generally large plant. But there are also varieties of all of these that stay small. Sometimes it is because the produce you harvest is of a diminutive size as well, and sometimes because they just don’t need to grow as large vegetatively to produce their crop. See Table 1 for a listing of plant varieties that are especially suited to small areas. Note that varieties listed in the “container” column can readily be grown in a “tight” planting scenario, but that the converse switch should not be assumed to be true.

Table 1: Plant Varieties for Container or "Tight" Plantings

Tomatoes offer different options for the small garden; the key is to remember what is what. They can be indeterminate, which in the scenarios above would mean “keep on picking.” Indeterminate plants continue to grow and produce tomatoes until there is a killing frost. On the other hand, a determinate tomato plant will only grow to a certain size and fruit count, which ripen all at once. Compared to indeterminate plants, determinate ones are compact and bushy, better for spaces where you don’t want them trailing all over. So as you can see, you can choose to grow either kind of tomato plant as long as you remember what it will do and where/how to plant/culture it accordingly.

There are plants that can do double duty for you, giving you greater opportunities to harvest. Squash like Tromboncino (zucchini rampicante) can be harvested when smaller and immature as a nice summer squash, or allowed to mature and be used as a winter squash. There are many heirloom squash varieties that can bridge the summer/winter gap, such as Kamo Kamo, Mongogo du Guatemala, and Table King Bush. A favorite cucumber of ours is the Silver Slicer. It is from the “slicing” section of the seed catalogue and it is a great slicer, but there have been years when pickling cucumbers became scarce before the canning was done and we found that when picked small they were perfect pickling stand-ins. Depending on your corn proclivities, you could raise Hopi Blue or Painted Mountain and pick ears at the immature, sweet corn stage for fresh eating (provided you are not afraid of exotic colors and real corn flavor), and allow the rest to mature to be harvested and ground into corn meal. When maximizing the edible is an important consideration, you might want to confine yourself to hardneck (stiffneck) varieties of garlic. This is the class of garlic that produces a hardened flowering stalk, which is the garlic scape. Garlic scapes are a harvest unto themselves, and with this one simple guideline you are now producing more food.

And there are still other interesting crops to explore. Celtuce is one. A type of lettuce, you harvest the lettuce leaves from the plant at any stage of its growth, as it is the 12- to 14-inch stem on which they are produced that is your primary objective; it is crunchy and tasty. Cracoviensis, or Asparagus Lettuce, is similar. A lettuce that grows fast in cool weather, there is again no bitterness in the leaves on the thick, fleshy, “bolted stem” it sends up, which is to be peeled and eaten like asparagus.

So far I have focused on vegetables, but fruits have a place in this discussion as well. Strawberries in particular offer a wealth of options. A standard variety like Honeoye is known for being highly productive and for producing fruits over a longer period of the year than other June-bearing varieties. Several varieties are everbearing strawberries, which produce all summer (smaller quantities measuring by-the-week, but for many more weeks). Some varieties have a compact growth habit, so that one can easily find room for them in a small garden or a container, even a hanging basket. Alpines are a strawberry type that have varieties of this sort.

The list goes on. Huckleberries can easily be grown in containers. Top Hat is a blueberry variety that grows on a miniature bush, measuring 2 feet tall and 12 inches in diameter, and will fit in a container or anywhere at all. There are other blueberry varieties that have compact growth, and some that offer two separate harvest periods (such as Bushel and Berry Perpetua). There are many fruits that grow on vines and so have a small “footprint” in the garden, including grapes, goji berries (goji berries are a double duty crop, as they have edible leaves), and kiwi. The kiwi Prolific is self-fertile, compact in growth, and produces fuzzless, bite-size fruits in hardiness zones 4-8. And there is a plant called a dwarf flowering cherry or sand cherry, which is a 5-foot bush and not a tree like other sweet cherries, and so much easier to fit into a limited space.

Many available fruit trees (apple, pear, peach, and plum) have been grafted so that they bear five different varieties of one fruit, offering selection in the space of one tree. And many of these are dwarf trees, meaning that they only grow 8 to 10 feet in height and so won’t overwhelm the area where they are planted. Additionally, there are also single-variety fruit trees that are dwarf and/or self-fertile, cutting down on the height of your trees and the number required for fruit.

Cultural Techniques

It is not only what you grow but how you grow it. There are various culturing techniques that will help you maximize land use.

Time to Grow Up: As referenced earlier, one option it to make crops go up. Whether it is tomatoes, pole beans, or cucumbers in cages, on trellises, on a tripod, or on cattle panels, it is important to keep efficiency when harvesting (or at least convenience) in mind when setting up your “aerial” system. Some varieties of crops are more suitable to growing up than others. Many varieties of slicing cucumbers have sufficiently strong vine growth. Melons that also have strong vines and/or come as dainty fruits (such as the honeydew Orange Silverware and the speciality melon Tigger) are exceptionally well suited. And caging all manner of small-sized tomatoes makes harvesting them so much easier (as well as being a good way to save space), they should not be grown any other way.

A Little Training: Simply sending plants up into the air saves space. Further manipulation and training of plants to grow in a specific way can be of even greater use. Techniques that come to mind are espalier pruning and cordon trellising of fruits, which are most often used to orient plants to grow flat against a wall or straight up within a small circumference. Once the basic objectives of pruning are understood (once you know how not to cut off next year’s fruit), almost any shape can be achieved or, rather, almost any space can be filled. And filled by many different kinds of fruits, from apple or pear trees to currant or gooseberry bushes.

Close Quarters: Container production opens up other options as well, both indoors and outdoors. Whether it is fresh herbs or microgreens in the kitchen itself, cucumbers in a window box, or strawberries in a hanging basket, the more plants that are happy to grow in a container of any sort, the more ground area you will be left with for others. Again, refer to Table 1.

Space it Out: Plants need to be given sufficient space to produce their crop, but required spacing can be investigated. Take the onion family. Always plant scallions in bunches of 4-6, and pull them out of the ground in a bunch. Instead of planting bulbing onions individually in a row, plant them 2-4 in a group. They will simply push each other aside as they each size up. And a leek variety like Zermatt can be planted densely and used for a first picking of (alternating) baby leeks, leaving the remainder with space to produce full-sized leeks. What other space modifications are out there?

The Best of Friends: Companion planting is planting different crops in close proximity for a variety of reasons, all of which are intended to lead to increased production. Improved pollination and pest control are a couple, as is “plant partnerships” that use nutrient cycling and associated soil microbes of plants to help one another. Research companion planting for the specifics.

A Shapely Approach: Yet another practice for filling up a garden space efficiently involves the basic planning of the garden so that you can practice intensive crop production. Raised-beds (typically rectangular) and the further specialized keyhole and pyramid gardens are some on the layouts on which most intensive gardening takes place; the garden areas are more contained and more controlled, with the objective of being more productive. Square foot gardening is about as precise as it can get, with plots marked at each foot to closely monitor plant density. Raised-beds can be of even greater benefit if they are used along contour lines on slopes, creating garden space where there otherwise couldn’t be due to erosion.

The Element of Time

We have been discussing ways in which plants don’t take up a lot of room spatially. There are also ways to work with how they take up room temporally.

A Winter Garden: An excellent production booster is the planting of an off-season garden that will continue to yield in the dead of winter and into spring of the next year. You can find varieties of many different crops to serve this purpose. The Giants of Colmar carrot, Tadorna leek, purple sprouting broccoli, and many other crops can withstand the cold months of winter. A successful winter garden is simply achieved by planting the correct varieties and possibly using a bit of mulch for extra protection. Imagine the possibilities if you were to use cold frames or other means of season extension as well! Be sure to plant these long-term crops with ones that grow rapidly so that the ground for your winter garden isn’t out of production for a time; rather, you can still get a fall harvest and then have the winter planting as a bonus.

Space Holders: Which brings us to the point that cool-season crops that grow in the spring (and do so rapidly) should be thought of as space holders in the garden. This refers to arugula, lettuces, mesclun, radishes and spinach, for example. Summer transplants can be put into the ground as soon as the spring crop comes out, or they can be planted at the same time (see interplanting below).

In Rapid Succession: Successional planting is keeping your ground in fairly constant production by having seeds or transplants ready to go into the ground as soon as the previous crop is removed. Be mindful of varieties, as succession planting depends upon crops’ time-to-harvest, which varies from crop to crop and even variety to variety. For example, some carrot varieties may take 50 to 60 days to reach maturity, while others take 80 to 90; you must decide which is appropriate where. Even crops like tomatoes and potatoes that require a lot of time in the soil can be thought of for succession plantings. They can go into ground that was used for an early spring crop, or move right in when the winter garden plantings come out. Various short-season crops like scallions and cress, as well as the rapid growth, cool-season “space holders,” are certainly great for hopping in and out of the garden in rapid succession.

Profitable Partnerships: The growth of plants can complement one another in many different ways, leading to numerous combinations to keep your ground packed for production. Interplanting is planting different species in close proximity to make the fullest use of a given resource. For example:

Sunlight: Some crops require full sun, while others can grow in (or prefer) partial shade. See Table 2 for a sample of crops that fall into the “light” and “shade” categories, and so can be planted together.

Rooting Depth: You can interplant species that make use of different zones of the rhizosphere, as plants do have characteristic rooting depths. See Table 3 for information on the rooting depths of various crops.

Time to Maturity: It is considered when you plant successionally, and also when you interplant crops with different dates to reach maturity. In a sense, interplanting based on time to maturity is successional harvesting as opposed to successional planting.

The combinations are endless, though you will find some work better than others. Obviously, the well-known “Three Sisters” combination of corn, vining beans, and vining squash makes use of complementary rooting depths perfectly, and they clearly work together in terms of sunlight, moisture and nutrition, as well as by the corn providing a natural trellis for the beans. Onion, carrot, and lettuce is another good combination that works for rooting depth, sunlight, and time-to-harvest. And there are other ways in which crops can fit together well and be synergistic in a close arrangement. People use “prickly,” vining cucurbits as a physical barrier to help keep furry garden pests from the succulent crops they desire. Or they use crops like peppers or dry beans as markers to help locate the “base” of melon plants for soil drenching at the roots, which can be hard to find in a sea of vines. And why not use sunflowers or broom corn as natural trellises, too?

Table 2: Light and Shade Partners

Edible Landscaping

A final thought is to remember you might have access to more land than you think you do. Creating an edible landscape allows you to go beyond a conventional garden and employ plants that can offer you food as well as provide for other practical needs. If you are in need of a hedge, why not an eight-foot-tall blueberry (or serviceberry or Nanking cherry plum) for a hedge you can also harvest from? Or if you are in need of a ground cover, try putting in lingonberries or strawberries. From small trees (like aronia berry, sea buckthorn, or crab apple) to vines (hardy kiwi or vine peach), there are numerous options of plants to choose from which are attractive and practical.

Not to mention that there are many typical garden plants that are attractive enough to be used in landscaping, too. Jerusalem Artichoke or Red Veined Sorrel, or any of those really intriguing eggplant or okra varieties, especially those with arresting colors. What is more beautiful than an okra flower? I saw a quinoa variety in a catalogue recently called Brightest Brilliant Rainbow. With vivid pink flowers, it is absolutely gorgeous. As it has calcium and iron-rich leaves, and seeds that provide a plant-based complete protein, it is a plant worth growing for a variety of reasons. Also bear in mind that having the full expanse of your lawn at your disposal (with occasional buildings interspersed) should make plant isolation easier in case you wish to save seed.

Table 3: Characteristic Rooting Depths

Anything Is Possible

Don’t stop here; there are yet other ways to produce your own food without using a great deal of space. Why not grow grain? Grain crops don’t have to be planted in large fields and harvested with a combine. I think buckwheat is fun. Flowers for the honeybees, seeds for the chickens, and more seeds for you. Why not the Otaheite Orange, a dwarf plant that does well in indoor container gardening? Or the Moringa, a complete protein superfood full of vitamins and minerals with leaves, seed pods, and seeds to offer? And there is absolutely no reason that the list of shallow-rooted, shade loving “plants” that you consider for your garden shouldn’t include mushrooms (with the correct mulch, of course).

The potential benefits of urban and small-space agriculture are many. From more land being used to perform carbon and nitrogen sequestration to providing food and habit for beneficial insects to helping to reduce storm runoff in urban areas to energy conservation for society in general, as well as the energy and food savings and personal satisfaction provided to the growers themselves, the challenge of gaining the knowledge, skill, and technique needed to make urban agriculture work really well is more than worth the returns.

Leah Smith works on her family’s organic farm in mid-Michigan, called Nodding Thistle. She is a home and market gardener, avid reader and writer, and editor of the Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance (MOFFA) quarterly newsletter.

This article was originally published in the April 2020 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Growing Hemp: Farmers Convert to Cannabis


The rich soil of the Connecticut River Valley, some of the best growing land in New England, is home to one of the country’s most lucrative crops: tobacco. The valley’s soil, weather and single-purpose tobacco drying sheds make this region a perfect place to grow tobacco, the leaves of which are used to wrap some of the world’s finest cigars. In recent years, international competition has driven down the price for shade-grown tobacco, and most tobacco farmers have stopped growing it. They are now looking for ways to diversify their farms to make ends meet. There is one crop with the potential to take the place of shade-grown tobacco, which has held firm for years. Cannabis.

The group of farmers best poised to take advantage of legalization of hemp are the ones with an existing adaptable infrastructure, the ability to repurpose equipment and a ready labor force. In the Connecticut River Valley, that group includes tobacco farmers — farmers who once produced the country’s most lucrative crop: cigar-wrapping leaves.

Not too long ago, shade-grown tobacco, grown along the Connecticut River in Massachusetts and Connecticut, was one of the most expensive agricultural products in the world. As recently as 2007, 1000 acres of shade tobacco brought in $30 million. Broadleaf, shade-grown’s heartier cousin, while less popular, also dominated the cigar-wrapping leaf market. That is no longer true. Competition from Dominican, Honduran and Ecuadorian tobacco farmers has almost eliminated shade-grown tobacco in New England. This season, only 100 acres were planted. That is a far cry from the 30,000 acres of shade-grown tobacco grown in New England in the early 1900s.

A field of cannabis in the Connecticut River Valley. Photo by Dale Cahill

Given this dramatic economic crisis, it is not surprising that a group of Connecticut tobacco farmers have chosen to participate in the state’s 2019 hemp growing pilot program to see if hemp will be their newest cash crop.

Bryan Hurlburt, the commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, sees a promising future in farming hemp and is thrilled with the number of farmers who joined the 2018 pilot program. Just days after the bill passed on May 24, his office received 83 license applications, resulting in a total of 317 acres of hemp. He didn’t expect that many farmers to join the program and attributes its popularity to the department’s decision to make licensing inexpensive and free of legal roadblocks. One of his goals is to make sure that Connecticut farmers are poised to take advantage of this new commodity.

“Having a high-value crop would keep farmers on the land, be an incentive for farmers to put more land into production, attract new farmers to the industry, stabilize farm incomes, add business opportunities for agricultural support businesses, employ more people, support the opportunity for value-added production and generate more revenue for the state,” Hurlburt said.

One reason tobacco farmers have a distinct economic advantage in transitioning tobacco acres to hemp is that the crops both demand intense manual labor. Kathi Brown, now a retired Connecticut tobacco grower, said that one of her shade-grown plants gets handled at least fifteen times over the course of its growing cycle. Because of that, she and other tobacco farmers have long been in the business of hiring farm workers from Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Mexico to plant, tend and harvest their shade-grown tobacco. Over the years, large-scale tobacco farms like Brown’s built housing and small cafeterias for their employees. This ensured a reliable work force right there on the farms from year to year. With this infrastructure already in place, tobacco farmers are able to make a less expensive and easier transition to growing hemp.

Recognizing this advantage, Steve Jarmoc, a fourth-generation tobacco farmer in Enfield, and his son Owen have decided to try their hands at farming hemp. When asked why, Steve replied, “Who knows what is going to happen with this crop. Why not give it a try!” While most farmers in the program are growing a half an acre, the Jarmocs have committed to growing 50 acres — 125,000 seeds — of CBD hemp; with the goal of processing the plants themselves for CBD oil.

The Jarmoc farm includes over 300 acres, and both Steve and his son are just as much business managers as they are farmers. Before they plant, they want to know not only how to help their crops thrive but how to process it, who will buy it and for how much. Hemp is no different for them. It is a field crop that needs to be cared for and sold profitably.

In partnership with South Windsor tobacco farmer Ed Kasheta, the Jarmocs have committed twenty of their hemp acres to a research project in partnership with Tariq Farid, the founder of Edible Arrangements, and the University of Connecticut. The goal is to grow, test and process 20 acres of hemp for Farid’s newest company, Incredible Edibles. The end product will be a CBD powder that Farid will purchase as an additive to Incredible Edibles drinks and baked goods. So before even planting that twenty acres, the Jarmocs and Kasheta had it sold.

The Jarmocs have also invested in processing equipment that will allow them to process their plants for CBD oil right there on the farm. This lowers transportation costs and eliminates the risk of finding themselves at the end of a season with no one to process their hemp, something that is causing trouble for other hemp farmers this season.

Becky Goetsch, site manager of Running Brook Farms in Killingsworth, Connecticut also joined the pilot program this spring. She was the fourth farmer in Connecticut to receive her license and is excited about the new revenue possibilities. Though not a tobacco farmer, as a greenhouse grower with a garden center, she too sees potential for a low-cost conversion.

“The synergy with our independent garden center is phenomenal as far as growing cycles,” she said.

Just as her annuals leave the greenhouses, she plants her hemp seedlings. Double use and repurposing guide many of her decisions as she adds hemp to her crops. Running Brook Farms’ two acres of hemp will be harvested and sold to produce CBD oil. Goetsch says she also foresees a time when Running Brook Farms can supply other farmers with dependable and field-tested hemp seeds and seedlings.

For Goetsch, the trickiest part of entering the hemp market is not so much the agricultural challenges but negotiating the complexities of the hemp industry. While the pilot program offered her a huge leg up, with site visits, educational seminars and affordable licensing, it did not prepare her for finding reliable genetics, processing her plants or, ultimately, determining who she can rely on for legitimate advice. Despite these challenges, she has every intention of growing more hemp next year. She particularly likes growing a crop that does not have to compete with big box stores. At least not yet!

As with being a good business manager, hemp farmers who can determine what the next hemp-driven market will be are ahead of the game. Hemp’s behind-the-scene ancillary markets are booming, and new ones emerge every day. The ancillary cannabis market includes a long list of ways to profit from hemp, including packaging, security, software, legal assistance and more.

Until their hemp crop is harvested, processed and sold, the Jarmocs cannot yet predict the outcome of their hemp pilot program, but they think that it looks pretty good. Unfortunately, they will not be able to repurpose their valuable tobacco sheds, scattered through their fields, to dry their hemp. With the help of consultant Joe Veldon and a Colorado-based hemp consultancy, they learned that their tobacco sheds are not considered “clean” enough for drying hemp that will be used for medicinal purposes. Instead they will dry their hemp in a huge warehouse and are working with Carrier, a national air conditioning, heating and refrigeration company, to build a humidifier specifically for drying hemp. Owen says that the humidifier will be the size of a tractor trailer.

The other reason the Jarmocs are unable to use their tobacco sheds to dry hemp is that, thanks to an unexpected ancillary CBD market, they need the sheds to dry their broadleaf tobacco. This time, however, their tobacco leaves will be bought to wrap CBD cigars, one of the new smokable ways to ingest CBD hemp. This unexpected and welcome boon for Connecticut’s tobacco farmers will buoy bottom lines across the tobacco and hemp industries. Hemp looks like it may well be a cash crop worth considering.

Darcy and Dale Cahill live in Connecticut.

Connect Soil Health and Hemp

Join Acres USA for our 2nd annual Advancing Hemp event on May 20, 2021. This virtual event is designed to prepare farmers for successful hemp production through practical, applicable advice from industry-leading experts and growers. Learn more here.

Tools of the Trade — Using Refractometers & Penetrometers

By Gary Digiuseppe

Forage producers can measure the percentage of sucrose and other soluble content of their grasses with the use of a refractometer, although the accuracy of the reading can be dependent on the cost of the instrument.

Martin Capewell, owner of Agriculture Solutions LLC in Strong, Maine, says an analog refractometer costs around $50-$200, while a digital model can run anywhere from $190- $10,000. A “simple, hand held, decent” digital refractometer, Capewell says, costs about $350 and will last a long time provided it’s properly cleaned and maintained and protected from extreme temperatures.

All refractometers work by passing light through sap or juice extracted from a crop, and then measuring the angle of the light as refracted by a prism. The readout, a percentage of soluble content, is called Brix, named for one of the originators of the method, Adolf Brix. The Brix reading is determined by where the line produced by the light refraction crosses the scale on the device. Technically, Brix is the percentage by weight of sucrose in a solution, but the refractometer can’t differentiate between sucrose and other dissolved solids.

The scale is calibrated relative to a temperature of 20°C, and Capewell says refractometers are either temperature compensated or non-temperature compensated. “The great thing about one with automatic temperature compensation is that it gives you the correct Brix reading, and you don’t have to do that formula yourself,” he says.

pentrometer in use in field

An analog refractometer has to be held up to a light source to be read; digital models use an internal light source. “When you click the ‘measure’ button, within about 3 seconds you can get an exact reading to one decimal place,” said Capewell. “It’s much more accurate, quicker and easier to use.”

In order to extract a sample for measurement by the refractometer, the farmer crushes several blades of grass in a vice grip or garlic press that should have a filter so the crusher will not push the solid material through the holes.

Cheryl Pike of Pike Agri-Lab Supplies in Jay, Maine, says there are devices specially designed to squeeze juices out of plants or fruit for sampling purposes. If a garlic press is used, it should be sturdy and made from stainless steel. “Most of the cheaper garlic presses won’t stand up to it, especially if you’re talking about pasture and trying to get the juice from grasses.”

Pike says most recommendations for an acceptable Brix reading are at 12 or higher. “The higher you have that number, it’s going to be a higher quality grass,” she said. “There have been studies showing the feed quality values matching the Brix reading. They are positively correlated — as one goes up, the other goes up.” Some studies indicate higher sucrose levels in pasture grass increase a ruminant animal’s conversion rate of feed to milk.

Temperature is just one of four variables that affect the reading. Concentration of dissolved solids, the atomic weight of the substances in the liquid and the number of covalent bonds, which are higher when components like amino acids and proteins are present also play a part. However, the farmer just needs to know if the meter is temperature compensated and to adjust for temperature if it’s not.

“If you have a very watery substance, it would read lower than something that has a lot of solids dissolved in the liquid,” said Pike.

In short, says Pike, “The more nutrition you have in your juice, the higher the reading will be … the more complex, and the more desirable things that are in our vegetables, fruits and grasses are the things that make the reading go higher.”

To ensure an accurate readout, Pike cautions that some inexpensive instruments they tested from overseas suppliers were not very accurate. “You get what you pay for.”


Another popular tool for farmers is the penetrometer, which measures resistance in soils. In addition to providing farmers with an idea of the tilth and oxygen content of soil, Capewell says it can also be used to determine the depth of the hardpan layer, so the producer can tell how much room a plant’s roots will have to grow.

He says in order to operate the penetrometer, push it into the soil at a constant rate while keeping an eye on the dial that shows how much resistance it is facing. “It might go up to 200 pounds per square inch (psi),” he said. “You’ll know that you’ve got oxygenation as you’re pushing it in, and you’ll certainly hear it go ‘thud’ as you’re hitting a harder layer. You can continue to push it past that point to see how hard it is to push through that, too, but when you hear it go ‘thud’ you can mark on the penetrometer where it met the harder layer, and you can see how deep your topsoil is and how good the tilth is.”

Penetrometers start at $250 with digital models being more expensive. They’re made of stainless steel and should last a number of years, but the tips may need replacing if they’re used very frequently. Capewell explains, “If you’re pushing into something all the time, you may hit rocks, and it may get blunted over time” which would affect the measurement. Luckily, the tips are inexpensive to replace.

Pike adds that plants do not perform well on ground where 300 psi or higher is required to push through the soil. The penetrometer produced by her company has marks along the length of the probe every 3 inches so the operator can record the depth at which the 200 psi, 300 psi mark, or hardpan is reached.

Finding the hardpan would be useful in a situation where the ground has been plowed. She says when that layer has been detected, “People are using different treatments, not necessarily just the plowing, that are supposed to either lighten up the soil or alleviate hardpans.” The penetrometer can be used before and after to gauge the efficacy of those treatments.

Editor’s Note: This article appears in the August 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Dealing With Herbicide Drift

By John Peragine

Nature can be unforgiving to farmers. Honest people trying in earnest to make a living growing crops regularly face storms, drought, hail and many other types of natural disasters. Today, unfortunately, these people’s neighbors sometimes add to the problem by introducing one more difficulty: herbicide drift.

All farmers face pressure from weeds. These pesky plants can consume resources — sunlight, water and nutrients — necessary for optimum plant growth. There are three primary ways to deal with the dilemma: pull, cut or use some other physical mechanism to kill the weeds; ignore them and take a loss of production; or use a substance to kill them.

Hand weeding is not typically cost-effective beyond a small acreage farm, forcing larger farms to either accept a decrease in yield or use a chemical to kill the plants. Some herbicides have little negative impact on the environment or the plants they are sprayed on. Unfortunately, though, most large-scale crops are sprayed with volatile chemicals.

Grape Vine damage caused by herbicide drift
Damage to grape vines caused by 2,4-D drift. Photos by Michael L. White, ISU Extension & Outreach Viticulture Specialist

Agricultural technology over the past century has allowed farmers to deal with weeds in a very direct and definitive manner with the use of chemical herbicides. A common herbicide is the phenoxy type (2,4-D and dicamba). This is sprayed over crops like corn around the periphery of fields and is quite effective in killing broad-leaf weeds; it is equally effective in killing similar plants such as grape vines, and dicamba is currently the topic of much discussion through-out the Midwest and beyond where it has been linked to non-target crop plant damage.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines drift as “The physical movement of pesticide droplets or particles through the air at the time of pesticide application or soon thereafter from the target site to any non- or off-target site. Spray drift shall not include movement of pesticides to non-or off-target sites caused by erosion, migration, volatility, or windblown soil particles that occurs after application or application of fumigants unless specifically addressed on the product label with respect to drift control requirements.”

There are two types of pesticide/ herbicide drift: particle and vapor. Particle drift occurs when small droplets of pesticides or herbicides travel via the wind from the field they were being applied to onto other crops.

Vapor drift occurs when temperatures in the upper 80s and 90s cause already-applied pesticides/herbicides to volatize into a vapor. These vapors then drift over great distances and destroy crops that are not immune to its destructive compounds.

The good news is that many states have laws to protect farmers from the damages caused by herbicide drift. In Iowa, laws were enacted around grape-producing regions in the western part of the state to stop the use of highly volatile herbicides in the late 1970s. The damage was done, though, and it took almost 30 years for the grape industry to bounce back. Spray drift causes a reduction in yield, poor fruit quality and even grapevine death. Problems can continue years after the drift exposure, reducing the life of a vineyard.

The degree to which crops are damaged from drift depends on the level of the susceptibility of the crop, its growth stage, environmental conditions, herbicide formulation, droplet size and the spray height above the target.

Emotions Run High

Because livelihoods are on the line, frustration and anger over herbicide drift often arises, and conflicts can ensue. Neighbors, farmers and companies will often apologize and promise they will not allow drift to occur again, but this is not always honored. Included on page 34 is a sample letter template that can be used to attempt to start a more positive conversation about drift.

If your neighbor does not respond in a positive way, you could seek assistance from your state department of agriculture.

Sample Letter

ABC Farm 123
Any Street
Anywhere, USA

XYZ Neighbor 124 Any Street Anywhere, USA

Re: Herbicide drift concerns
Dear Neighbor, I hope this finds you well and that you are having a good growing season.
I am writing to remind you that we have grape vines on two sides of the Old Grain Mill field in Hamlet township. We have registered on Driftwatch, which has a good map that shows where the vines are in case you have any questions. Here’s a link if you would like to see the online map:
I’ve also included a map that shows the location of the vineyards. Grape vines are especially sensitive to glyphosate, dicamba and 2,4-D.
We have appreciated the care you have taken over the years to avoid any problems. Unfortunately, we have had friends in the grape community who’ve had severe damage, so it seemed like a good idea to bring this up again.
Thanks for your attention to this. We’ve also spoken with your landlord about our concerns. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call.
Yours truly,
Friendly Farmer

Organic Solutions

There are a number of organic herbicides on the market, but they should be given the same attention as their synthetic counterparts. Organic herbicides do not offer a residual effect, which means they break down quickly after their application. This is good in that it reduces toxicity, but it also means that they have to be used more often.

Organic herbicides are not selective and can kill basil as easily as a weed, so application should be done carefully. They should be applied directly onto weeds on warm, sunny, non-windy days. They often contain fatty acids, vinegar or acetic acid, or essential oils like citrus, eugenol or clove.

Corn gluten meal can be used on larger farms, as it is a natural pre-emergence weed control for broad-leaf and grass weeds.


Sometimes the damage due to drift is so severe that compensation is necessary to replace lost crops. Michael White, Iowa State University Extension & Outreach Viticulture Specialist, says that over 95 percent of drift damage cases are settled out of court.

White suggests waiting before accepting payments from an insurance company. Some damage does not become evident until after the winter. Even though insurance companies do not like to carry claims over into another year, it is best to try to delay and not settle too soon. Once damage is suspected, White recommends taking pictures of healthy plants and damaged plants every week or two to demonstrate the progression of the damage.


Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the March 2019 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Branching Out: Fruit Tree Grafting

By Cary Rideout

Long ago I witnessed magic. There were no cauldrons or potions, yet it was magic to my young, farmboy mind. It was magic in the form of fruit tree grafting, and though decades have passed it is still just as magical to me.

An old veteran owned a large apple orchard two farms over and I often walked through it as a shortcut to the county road. One sharp April day when I was passing by, Harold Bualmer was on a ladder cutting limbs. Noticing me, he waved me over. He always had apples in his pockets and offered me what he called a “winter apple,” which to me looked like, well, an apple. He said he was pruning back the limbs and ground suckers to keep everyone behaving themselves and would use the fresh cuttings for grafts.

Being a bold child, I asked what a graft was. The old gent laughed and asked if anyone had ever shown me the orchardist’s secret. He climbed down from the ladder and told me to gather a bundle of cuttings and follow him.

Harold selected a sturdy tree with several low wrist-thick limbs. He produced the knife he had sliced up our snack of apples with, wiped it on his sleeve, and then began to work. First he trimmed off a few tiny suckers—“nuisance twigs” he gruffly called them—then, on a fairly flat area, he made a tiny, shallow triangle-shaped notch in the limb.

example of using tape for fruit tree grafting
Example of using tape for fruit tree grafting

He gently pried up the sliver of bark, carefully not cutting it free. He explained it was the spot where the cuttings would be placed, and then he turned away to the bundle of fresh cut limbs. Each limb was carefully examined, and once a selection was made he used the knife to cut an angled slash on it. The completed piece was about six inches long. Then he worked the cutting into the triangle-shaped notch. At this point he turned the cutting so it was tight and explained that the “inner barks had to touch just so” in order for the graft to work. Once satisfied, he produced a roll of black friction tape that he wound around the whole operation until no bare cuts were visible. This, he told me, was to bandage up the wound, sort of like a doctor. The friction or electrical tape would protect the pieces and would eventually fall away to let the successful graft flourish.

We performed that same simple graft several times that raw spring day. The old country gentleman selected various low limbs and applied a single graft to each. He then showed me a number of trees in various stages of development. “Someday these will bear two or three kinds of apples,” he proudly told me. I couldn’t believe a single tree could be coaxed to behave so, but Harold insisted it would happen in a decade or so.

Fruit Tree Grafting: An Old & Noble Calling

Fruit tree grafting has a long, noble history, and rightfully so. Both the ancient Egyptians and Chinese employed grafting methods thousands of years ago. The ability to take a preferred fruit and meld it onto a living tree that in turn produces the fruit has been extremely beneficial to farmers everywhere. It has also been useful in the development of the many wonderful fruit varieties we enjoy today and enables the continuation of many old-time varieties that could have disappeared. Grafting allows the exact fruit to be grown as its parent tree. This is unlike fruit grown from seed, which can yield disappointing results.

Here in Atlantic Canada, grafting was an April job, done before the spring sap moved up from the roots. It was over long before the first leaves appeared. A favorite apple tree was periodically pruned and the newest growth, generally four to six inches, was saved.

Around most farms there are plenty of wild apple trees that seem to pop up from nowhere. Most are some sort of tiny crab variety, and these hardy pioneers often provide the perfect rootstock.

The correct term for a short, pruned cutting is a “scion,” but farmers around my place always called them “slips” since you slip them into place. Scions, or slips, are attached to an existing root system, which is called rootstock. An existing apple tree trunk is cut off and used to provide a root system for the graft. The type of grafting dictates how the pruned slip is attached, but the method most commonly used is called “top grafting” or “cleft grafting.”

A three- to five-inch diameter tree trunk provides room for a couple slips to be grafted. I have seen nursery workers insert as many as six scions, but old-time farmers around here felt two was enough. One bit of folklore I remember was that the best rootstock was that which faced south—the belief being that it would get more sun and warm breezes.

fruit tree grafting on scion wood
Seating slips.

Like many old-time country methods, grafting is governed by a myriad of superstitions that all have a smidge of truth. Your pruned cuttings should be no bigger than a lead pencil and must have several buds. These will be very tiny in the spring since they are dormant, so look carefully— without them your graft won’t be successful.

Grandfather’s Method

My grandfather, William Rideout, used a simple top-grafting method. Once he selected his rootstock he would gather enough slips or scions for his grafts. Grandfather believed a scion from the middle of a pruned tree was best. He would use half new growth and half older wood. His scions were generally six inches, and unlike many folks he wasn’t too concerned with diameter. By using slips bigger than the usual pencil size, he felt the graft had a better chance of success because it was more mature.

Once he sawed off the rootstock, at around twelve inches above the ground, he used a wide chisel blade to split open the very center of the heartwood. Then he would remove the chisel and tap in a wooden peg made from the discarded upper rootstock. This would hold open the rootstock so he could easily insert the scion. Grandfather would set two scions opposite each other, and was very careful to get good contact with both cambiums.

He also liked to have both scions straight—not leaning—and at the same height. The wooden peg was then carefully removed so as not to disturb the scions. Then came the one part that would send modern orchardists into a real tizzy: Grandfather used roof tar to seal up his work! This sounds like a crazy notion, but the roof tar actually was quite smart. It allowed the graft to be safely sealed up, and at the same time it could expand as the tree grew since the tar never hardened too much.

Probably the most important point of any grafting operation is to get proper contact between the cambium of the rootstock and scion. Cambium is the inner bark that carries nutrients and water throughout the tree, analogous to the circulation system in our own bodies. We all know what happens when a circulation system doesn’t work. Old-time farmers all stressed the importance of getting a good smooth contact between the rootstock’s cambium and the slip’s—make sure as much is touching as possible. When gathering your prunings, don’t cut them into scions until you need them, and use a clean knife blade without rust or old rubbish stuck to it.

Once you cut your rootstock and scion, work quickly because both are exposed to airborne infections. And once you complete the job don’t wander off—use tape, grafting compound, or a homemade product to seal the graft up tight. No bare wood, cut bark, or—worse yet—delicate cambium should be exposed for long to the open air. Bandage up the operation and keep a close eye on the patient.

Once the spring leaves appeared, Grandfather watched his new slips very closely for healthy buds. If all went well, the buds would burst out along with the rest of the orchard. Sometimes the slips didn’t connect, though, and this is why Grandfather would set two per rootstock. If both were successful he would let them live and would have a mature tree with a crotch. Of course, a professional orchardist would probably not agree, and most nurseries remove the less vigorous slip to only allow one to grow. But, crotch or not, Grandfather’s trees lived well, produced well, and gave decades of good fruit. Grafts generally took six years to grow to the point where the first apples appeared, and sometimes a decade could pass. The apples were generally close copies of the parent tree or sometimes a blend of both trees.

Protecting the Graft

A graft is like an open wound, and the rootstock’s circulatory system is laid open by your cuts. Use graft tape or a similar product to seal the connection and protect the graft. For centuries, orchardists employed homemade products (including roofing tar!), many of which are still being used today. The earliest orchardists used clay to plaster up the graft, which of course had mixed results, infections and failures being common.

Protect fresh fruit tree grafts with protective tape
Fresh cleft grafts with protective tape

By the 1800s, our great-grandparents were mixing up beeswax, beef tallow and rosin to make a very effective sealing wax. Ordinary melted candle or paraffin wax can be used to seal out the elements. Whatever product is used, it must be pliable so the tree can develop new bark to cover the open cut. Modern grafting compound is very malleable and is easy to work into and around the graft. Along with commercial grafting compound, tree wound dressing or Parifilm grafting tape is also available.

Fruit Tree Grafting: Superstar of its Day

Grafting was once one of the most popular and enjoyable farming methods. Apples were king of the fruit world in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries in North America.

Apples were a reliable cash crop and regional varieties were grown in a dizzying array of local styles. With typical pioneering spirit, farmers labored long at grafting, pruning, and pollinating, and still enjoyed just talking about apples. A great-aunt of mine recalls folks talking about apple varieties like the music superstars of today; everyone had a favorite and wanted to grow more of it.

One of the fathers of modern apple growing in my home of Carlton County was Francis Peabody Sharp. Sharp worked tirelessly during the latter half of the 1800s to develop varieties of fruit trees that could stand the wide variety of conditions in the North Country and produce excellent eating qualities. He was even able to raise pears in our harsh New Brunswick climate.

Sharp won awards in North America as well as abroad, and his name was as well known as today’s movie stars. Grafting was only one of Sharp’s many orchard tools, and I suspect his influence was felt by both of my grafting mentors.

My grandfather was a fan of two old-time varieties: Alexander and Wealthy. I wish I knew the number of trees he grafted these two wonderful fruits onto. Both varieties stored well and improved over the winter in both taste and cooking quality. Grandfather used the more traditional top-graft method. His generation was extremely aware of the importance of good storable fruit, since the root cellar was the only way to keep garden or orchard produce.

In today’s world fruit, tree grafting is mostly the tool of nursery workers and professional orchardists. But with care and a sharp knife, even the small acreage owner can bring new life to old trees. Like so many things from my youth, I have forgotten most of what Harold told me that day. But one thing that was burned into my memory was the way a fruit tree could be coaxed into producing more than one kind of apple. It seemed like magic then and still does today.

This article appeared in the January 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Crop Rotation: 7 Steps to Enhance Your Soil Life

By Chad King

Crop rotation has been used since Roman times to improve plant nutrition and to control the spread of disease. A study published in Nature’s The ISME Journal reveals the profound effect crop rotation has on enriching soil with bacteria, fungi and protozoa.

Crop rotation simply means changing the type of crop grown on a particular piece of land from year to year which includes cyclical and non-cyclical rotations. Good crop rotation includes planning ahead two or more years. A lack of planning can lead to problems including the buildup of soil-borne diseases or imbalances in soil nutrients and an increase in pests.

“Changing the crop species massively changes the content of microbes in the soil, which in turn helps the plant to acquire nutrients, regulate growth and protect itself against pests and diseases, boosting yield,” said Professor Philip Poole from the John Innes Centre.

Soil was collected from a field near Norwich and planted with wheat, oats and peas. After growing wheat, it remained largely unchanged and the microbes in it were mostly bacteria. Crop rotation by growing oat and pea in the same sample caused a huge shift toward protozoa and nematode worms.

rotational advice 2

Seven Crop Rotation Steps

A good crop rotation plan should include the following steps:

Step 1. Identify and prioritize your goals. Your goals may to be build better, healthier soils, control pests, minimize soil-borne diseases, reduce weed pressure and to produce the most nutritious foods possible.

Step 2. Write down the mix of fruits, vegetables and cover crops that you plan to grow next season along with each crop’s planting and harvesting dates.

Step 3. Write the plant’s family name next to each crop and then add up the amount of garden space in square feet that will be allocated for each family. If one family will be grown on more than 25 percent of your garden, then consider increasing the diversity of your crop mix. Having a high proportion of your garden in one family might mean that a location will rotate back to that family too soon, which can lead to soil-borne diseases.

Step 4. Make a crop rotation planning map. Think about how you will divide your garden into small units of somewhat equal sizes. These units could be long rows or individual beds of any shape. Making this map and having your garden divided into these units allows you to keep track of what you planted on a piece of ground years later. The map of your garden will show every unit. The map should be large enough so that information can be written inside each unit. For this mapmaking, 12 x 16 sketch paper or a computer works well. When you are done making your map and before you start filling in each unit’s information, make at least six to eight copies. Next, assign a color for each plant family, cover crop, mulch and fallow periods.

Step 5. On another copy of your map, designate each crop to as many units as you need to meet the area of your specific crop mix. If a unit will be double or triple cropped, separate their names with dashes such as May lettuce-buckwheat cover-fall spinach. If you plan on growing two or more of the same crop family on a unit, use slashes to indicate this (tomato/peppers/potato). When placing a crop onto a unit, try to pair crop families together on a given unit, but avoid placing a family onto a unit that has had that same family on the unit in the previous few years. At this time you may match the colors you’ve chosen for families and color them onto the appropriate units.

Step 6. Once you have your maps finished with the crops written inside each unit, numbered and colored, along with any other usable information, then take your maps and walk your garden. Imagine how it will look and consider the tillage, planting, care and harvesting of your crops and if the proposed crop sequence makes sense for a given location. At this time also take into consideration equipment, irrigation and labor needs.

Step 7. Develop a backup plan by thinking ahead to any problems that may arise with growing a crop within a unit, such as if a spring may be too wet for early planted crops or certain transplants are unavailable at a critical time or who will take over your labor duties if something happens to you and you have to be away for an extended period of time. Write down your backup plans for coping with various problems and make provisions for these possible problems.

Every garden is unique and each gardener will have their own specific needs, but there are principals and general rules of thumb that should be followed when thinking about a new rotation.

  • Follow legume cover crops such as clover with high-N demanding crops.
  • Grow winter-killed cover crops before early-season crops.
  • Never grow any crop after itself.
  • Use crop sequences that promote healthier crops such as cabbage family crops following onions or potatoes following corn.
  • Avoid growing one heavy feeder after another heavy feeder.
  • Grow tomatoes after peas, lettuce or spinach, because tomatoes take a lot out of the soil.
  • Grow beans after sweet corn to rebuild nitrogen levels.
  • Use a cover crop’s residue to help build organic matter levels.
  • When growing a wide mix of crops, try grouping into units according to plant family, timing of crops planting dates and harvesting dates.
  • A minimum return time of a crop should be in the four-to-five year range, which often prevents most soil-borne diseases.
  • Attempt to keep something growing throughout the year, which keeps the ground covered, protecting the soil and at the same time will supply organic material for earthworms and beneficial organisms living within the soils. Incorporating cover crops into a rotation makes this possible.

Rotations are an important part of any gardening system. Yields of crops grown in rotations are typically 10 percent higher than those of crops grown in monoculture in normal growing seasons and as much as 25 percent higher in droughty growing seasons.

Adding cover crops to a rotation can add organic matter, enhance mycorrhizal numbers, add nitrogen, suppress weeds and nematodes, reduce soil erosion, increases infiltration of water, decreases nutrient loss and attracts beneficial insects.

Planning Crop Rotation in Vegetable Gardens

There is a growing consciousness around growing one’s own food and the reasons for doing so vary from person to person. Tough economic times, high unemployment, rising food costs and a desire to provide one’s family with fresh, super nutritious food are just a few examples.

One fact that remains the same is that gardener’s put a great amount of care, hard work and time into their gardens only to sometimes achieve mediocre results.

The one factor that we have no control over is Mother Nature. Gardening is inherently risky and pests, drought, flooding and wind along with other weather extremes can all destroy a year’s work. A good example of an extreme weather event would be the severe drought of 2012 that stretched across more than half of the United States and the record number of 90-plus days. With many of those days reaching up into the triple digits. The result was scorched crop fields, pastures and gardens. The drought was so extensive that it also created problems concerning producers’ water supplies. Creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes and aquifers had dangerously low water levels, while others completely dried up.

The number of farmers, livestock producers and gardeners who experienced crop and animal losses in 2012 will not only be felt by them, but will be felt by most American consumers. A large portion of our economy depends on agriculture.

Irrigation was a lifesaver in 2012 for those who had systems in place, but even then some farmers and gardeners were still unable to keep up with demand and eventually had to give up in the face of low water supplies and high fuel bills.

Many gardeners who utilized drip irrigation with mulch or a plastic layer had good results and were able to produce an abundant crop within their gardens.

There are many tools and techniques that growers use to grow their food, somethings they have control over, and others not, but one technique often misunderstood and under valued is crop rotations within a garden.

The smaller a garden is and when a gardener is only growing two or three different crops, it then becomes more difficult for a crop rotation to be effective. There are ways in which a gardener can increase his success rates and be extremely efficient and they include using mulch, compost, manure and short-term cover crops.

Name Game

In the world of gardening there are so many names that it can be confusing and intimidating, but a new gardener who does not understand those horticulture names could make the wrong choice of plants for their garden and the crop rotation plan. To become more knowledgeable with these horticulture names stop by your local library and check out a few books on vegetable gardening, use the Internet, ask your local garden center staff or an experienced gardener. Understanding the vocabulary that comes along with gardening and a crop rotation can make the planning easier and gardening in general a lot more enjoyable, productive and successful.

How to Reduce Transplant Shock on Your Farm

BY ALLEN PHILO for Acres U.S.A. magazine

Avoiding transplant shock when transplanting starters from the greenhouse to the field is a key sustainable farming method.

The time of year has once again arrived when we will be taking plants out of the greenhouse and transplanting them into the field. This can be one of the most stressful experiences plants undergo as they are taken from the warm and sheltered environment of the greenhouse and placed into a field where they are at the mercy of the elements. Plants will almost always incur some amount of damage to their roots as well as their leaves during this process. All of these various stresses are grouped under the general name of “transplant shock.” If plants undergo too much transplant shock, it can leave them open to disease, pest pressure, and lower yield potential. But what can we do to help our plants through this period of increased stress?

Transplant shock is really the sum of all the stresses plants experience during the move from flat to field. In order to look at how we can help the plant through this time, we’ll divide these stresses into three different categories: environmental changes, physical damage, and nutritional deficiencies.

avoid transplant shock
Avoiding transplant shock: An open show transplanter in use as the crew sets out cabbage in the field.

Most farmers help their plants acclimatize to these moisture and temperature changes by putting them through a period of  “hardening  off,”  especially in the spring. This is done by taking the crop out of the greenhouse and placing it in a new location where the plant is exposed to air movement and greater temperature changes, but is still sheltered from weather extremes. This can be accomplished by locating the plants in an area where they are open to moderate breezes and lower daytime temperatures, but can be covered to shelter them from strong winds or nighttime frosts. This limited exposure signals them to strengthen their main growing stalks to cope with wind and change the  chemistry of their leaves in order to withstand the lower temperatures.

To help transplants acclimatize to changes in soil temperature and biology and avoid transplant shock, there are several things we can do. The use of black plastic mulch in the field will warm the soil and is especially useful when it comes to cucurbits and solanaceous crops as it assists with weed control. Putting molasses into the transplant water can help too, as this will stimulate soil biology which in turn will raise the soil temperature.

The second and third categories of transplant stress, physical damage and nutrient deficiencies, are closely linked. Physical damage is unavoidable to a certain degree when transplanting. Care should be taken to avoid breaking any leaves or causing bruising as these injuries can become vectors for disease. The roots, however, not the upper part of the plant, often sustain the most damage during transplantation. Roots uptake nutrients mainly through their delicate root hairs and their growing tips, both of which are very susceptible to damage. This can lead to the plant experiencing a nutrient deficiency shortly after transplant due to its decreased uptake ability. This nutrient deficiency occurs at the same time the plant is trying to regenerate its root system and adjust to its new environment. This type of root damage can also happen easily with bare root transplants because in the process of removing the soil from the roots, more of the fragile root hairs can be damaged than when the transplants are in plug form.

Aiding Plants To Avoid Transplant Shock

Helping the plant through the transplant stress is essential and can be accomplished a number of different ways. One way is to stimulate the plant to grow with natural growth hormones. Another is to provide the plant with a supply of easily absorbable macro- and micronutrients. Kelp is an excellent source of natural growth hormones and micronutrients. During transplantation a liquid kelp extract works best as it can easily  be added to water. It is also important to address macronutrients including phosphorus, calcium, potassium and nitrogen. All of these nutrients are involved in the formation of new tissue, and giving your plant an available supply of these nutrients will help it repair damage at a faster pace.

broccoli leaves
A broccoli plant in the greenhouse. This plant shows no signs of nutrient deficiency

It is important to make sure that your plant is not already deficient in these nutrients before they go into the field.   It is surprising how many plants have some phosphorus deficiency, noticeable by a purpling of the leaves, or a nitrogen deficiency, noticeable by yellowing or chlorotic growth, before going into the field. Plants deficient at transplant are at a further disadvantage since they are already struggling to make up for these nutrients as well as trying to repair damage. Make sure that you are using high quality potting mix for  your seedlings to avoid this problem. Even with a good potting mix plants can become stressed, and it may be necessary to top dress the flats with a compost mix or fertilizer or you can inject liquid fertilizers into the for their needs. Special attention should be paid to plants that are past their ideal transplant date. Look for the noticeable signs of deficiency, and keep your plants well supplied with nutrition.

One of the best ways to decrease transplant shock is to supply extra nutrients and biostimulants at the time of transplant.  There are several ways to accomplish this. One is to drench the plants while they are still in their flats. This can be done by mixing a large dose of nutrients into the final watering, or by mixing up a batch of “transplant soup” in a bin and submerging the flats in the solution until the soil is saturated. It is okay to have some of the “soup” get on the foliage of the plant as this will simply act as a foliar feeding. When dealing with bare-root transplants soaking the roots of the plants in a weak solution can be done instead. Another way to deliver this “soup” is to mix it into the transplant water. This works well, but depending on the transplanter, it can leave a lot  of  the solution in between the plants where it is not as effective. However it will help to stimulate soil biology, especially if molasses is used in the solution. Using the two systems of drenching flats and adding products to the transplant water works well, as it both provides the nutrition your plants need and stimulates soil life.

Transplanting is a very stressful time for the plants.  They are put into conditions very different than what they are used to and are exposed to a wide range of stresses they have not encountered previously. The plants can also suffer damage during transplantation, especially to the root system, and this can lead to a period of nutrient deficiency as the plant tries to repair itself and as its ability to find nutrients has been decreased. All of these setbacks can weaken the plant and open it to disease and pest pressures, as well as decrease overall yield potential. By using conscientious cultural practices, stimulating root growth and soil life and giving the plant easily available forms of nutrients, we can help our plants pull through transplant shock faster. This in turn can lead to an increase in our plants’ ability to fend off disease and pests and result in improved yields.

Allen Philo has worked as the field  operations manager on a large organic vegetable farm, and is  currently the specialty  crop  consultant  for Midwestern Bio-Ag. He can be reached at

This article appeared in the April 2012 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Mole Control: DIY Trap Construction

Mole control methods range the gamut from simple and non-toxic to chemical-based and complex. My simple mole trap was founded on the basis of field trials and personal convictions I hold regarding the environment and its inhabitants. Prior research had been done early on in the search for a humane and sustainable method for dealing with the mole problem here at Highland Hill Farm.

Highland Hill Farm is a 22-acre parcel located in the steep, rocky foothills of Mt. Sunapee. Agriculturally speaking, this area of New Hampshire is better suited for grazing pasture and forestry than for large-scale horticulture. A milestone in sustainability and independence here on the farm has been reached with the addition of a fully functioning, off-grid solar powered electrical system. Photovoltaic solar panels supply clean renewable power to maintain three farmstead dwellings as well as the two large chest freezers used to keep the summer produce fresh. This system was designed, constructed and fully funded by myself as a personal goal to act responsibly in support of the convictions I maintain toward environmental stewardship.

This article was written on a computer powered by the sun. I developed and experimented with various types of mole traps. The soil of my growing beds is rich and teeming with life, especially earthworms, the favorite food of the common northern mole (Talpa europaea ). Over the years I’ve been using a thick layer of mulch hay between the rows and around the spring plantings. This layer of hay provides cover for the moles, and as it decomposes it provides food for the earthworms. Plenty of worms create an environment conducive to plenty of moles. It’s not uncommon for me to step on a mole tunnel every third or fourth step, even around the grassy area near the trout pond. The infestation had gotten to the point where action had to be taken.

Moles undermine the root systems of plants, damaging the plants and making irrigation and nutrient up-take much more difficult. I believe the live trapping methods I’ve been developing have merit in helping farmers eradicate moles in an environmentally sound way, without toxic poisons or mechanical traps. I will continue to develop inexpensive, effective live mole traps through field trials at various farm locations throughout the area. The opportunity to develop new methods and designs may have crossover potential for other rodent pests.

mole trap
This trap is made from a common five-gallon bucket with about 70 quarter-inch holes drilled through the bottom.

Poisonous Bait

The main thrust of the commercial market relating to rodent eradication is focused on poisonous bait. Motomco Mole Killer claims, “one worm contains a lethal dose.” Unfortunately, the poisoned mole may become the prey of another unintended victim of the poisoned bait. This product is “not to be sold in AK, HI, NC and NY.” Another poison-based product, Moletox claims, “This exclusive formula pelleted bait has a unique cracked corn base, making it more palatable.” The problem here is that moles are exclusively carnivores/insectivores and would have no interest in cracked corn. This product is “not to be sold in CA, IN, NC, NH and Washington D.C.”

Clearly poisons should be an absolute last resort rather than a first choice.

Mechanical Traps

Mechanical traps offer a considerable advantage over poisons as far as environmental impacts are concerned. Most mechanical mole traps are designed to either impale or squeeze a mole, one at a time rendering the trap ineffective until it gets reset.

These traps are spring-loaded and come with their own warnings. The “innovative new scissor trap” is not to be sold in Alaska, Hawaii or North Carolina. These traps must be set over an active mole tunnel (of which there are many to choose from) and require a lot of vigilance on the part of the trapper. Here the trapper is going to spend a considerable amount of time chasing the moles, hit or miss, around the field in order to eradicate but a few.

Mole Control: Organic Mole Eradication

I had been on the search for a natural or organic method of mole eradication and have viewed many websites in a quest for a somewhat humane mole trap. The “sticky” trap seemed the best, consisting of a wide tape-like sheet that the moles were supposed to get stuck to. I made one but caught none. I’ve discovered moles are quite clever — they will test something and if they don’t like it after trying it once, they’ll stay away from it. Besides, there was no incentive for the moles to cut across the sticky sheet, no food, no reward, just a shortcut.

The mulch hay I lay over the bare soil each spring protects the microbial life-forms on the soil surface from solar UV rays that would otherwise sterilize the soil surface, killing that rich, vibrant biomass. Nature does her best to cover over bare soil with biomass in order to protect soil life-forms to keep them alive, protected from UV and erosion-proof.

I like using the mulch hay method because it is constantly building soil. The hay method also prevents compaction because the weight of man or equipment is distributed over the wider surface area of a thick hay mat. The mulch also holds in a lot of otherwise evaporated water and prevents erosion during a downpour.

During midday if I pull back some of the hay, earthworms will be on the surface of the soil. Earthworm castings and the soil-enriching properties of their activity are beneficial to soil conditions and therefore beneficial to the crops that the soil supports.

Star-nosed and common Eastern moles.

If a farmer has a lot of earthworms and some loose hay on the ground chances are that he/she will also have a host of moles tunneling about. The benefits of using mulch hay far outweigh discontinuing the practice due to the mole problem, but they are a problem nonetheless. I was transplanting small lettuce plants from an outside raised bed into the winter greenhouse. The raised bed lettuce was riddled with sub-surface tunnels to the extent that I was able to remove large swaths of young plants simply by running my hands through the soil 2 to 3 inches under the surface, nearly unobstructed, plowing from one tunnel into the next.

This was an advantage in transplanting, but in my other greenhouse where spinach was planted in raised beds the plants were stunted and sparse because of mole activity. Mole activity necessitates more frequent watering due to the fact that sub-surface tunneling dries the soil much faster. Safely trapping and removing the moles from the greenhouses and growing beds will increase production of both crop plants and earthworm populations.

The trapping methods I’ve employed so far have consisted of several trap designs and various baits. One design in particular has shown promise over previous ideas. The primarily successful live trap now in place on my farm has trapped as many as four moles in the same trap over a three-day cycle, indicating that this method could potentially serve to trap many more live moles over a longer period, therefore alleviating the tedious chore of checking multiple mechanical traps every day or even every three or four days.

Moles consume nearly their own weight in food each day. Moles are from a group of mammals called insectivores. This live-capture study may also prove useful in that moles could possibly be used in areas of insect infestation to remove problem insects, then recaptured live and relocated for use at other sites.

Moles have several other distinct features that may prove useful in further studies. Moles produce a toxin in their saliva that incapacitates earthworms, and moles have a high blood oxygen content. I believe these two features of the anatomy of moles are worthy of a great deal of study. Live capture could possibly be a very positive offshoot of this live trapping method in order to supply research labs.

At this time live moles are released into the wild a fair distance from the trap locations. The experience of dealing with an infestation of destructive mole activity on my farm led to the search for a nonpoisonous, non-violent, inexpensive and effective method of eradicating moles.

Through my own experimentation and expressions of ideas I’ve come up with a mole trap that works reasonably well, has no environmentally harmful side effects and is economically viable for just about anyone, anywhere. The trapping method described has been put to use here over the last few months of this past growing season and I have documented its simplicity and effectiveness.

Mole Control: Preparing the Trap

This study was a comparison between the various trap designs that resulted from my experiment and used in combinations of live baits. No commercial traps or poisons were used. The best bait was local — earthworms on the farm were dug up and refrigerated for future use. The traps are simple to construct using a common 5-gallon pail that is clean and odor-free. A pail that has been open and set outside for a while or one used for garden water and soil will work well. Drill about 70 quarter-inch holes through the bottom to allow water to move through and to give the mole a sense of openness below.

Locate the area most heavily infested for installation. Dig a hole that will loosely accommodate the bucket with plenty of room around the sides to be backfilled with loose soil. Set the bucket in about 3 inches deeper than the bucket open top so that the fill soil slopes downward around the open rim. Now fill about 25 to 30 percent of the bucket with rich, loose soil. Get a separate container for your live worms and place just enough soil in to keep the worms alive but not allow escape. Six to eight worms are plenty and should last three to four days. Depress the worm container into the rich bucket soil to keep it at ground temperature and the worms alive. While installing your trap it is helpful to stand on top of boards in order to prevent compaction. Moles commonly reuse the same tunnels so try to leave them undisturbed. Place a generous layer of mulch hay around your trap and cover with a piece of board that has been outside for a while. Your trap is set.

If you leave the trap unchecked for three days you may have a better success rate than if you check more often. There will be less human presence sensed by the moles, and if there are some moles already in the trap, more are likely to join the festive party. Always wear gloves to prevent human odors around the trap and to protect your skin from wily moles.

The design intent for these trapping materials and methods involves materials that are available and common to most every area of the world. The design is simple to build and install at a very low cost to the farmer, involving no special tooling or hard-to-find materials. The design does not require the purchase of mechanical devices or commercial poisons.

The intent is to produce a replicable trap for mole control that can be constructed and installed by the average farmer using materials commonly found on any farm. Aspects of agricultural sustainability are addressed by the ability of the farmer to be able to build his own traps from simple materials and bait them with worms or insects that are found on the farm.

This study focused primarily on star-nosed moles and the European mole, also known as the common mole or northern mole, common to this Northeast region. Northeastern farmers who have mole infestation problems will most likely be dealing with these species, and the trapping methods should work equally well throughout the region and beyond. The simple trap designed and used here has proven to be successful in trapping moles. This method is easily transferable — the most successful design/bait combination is available to farmers everywhere. It seems likely this simple trap could work successfully for mole control most anywhere in the world.

By David Brown. This article was originally published in the September 2013 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Aphid Control: Lady Beetle as Beneficial Insect

By Dr. Ayanava Majumdar

When searching for aphid control measures, turn to nature first. Numerous vendors sell beneficial insects via their websites along with offering plenty of useful information. For example, ARBICO Organics (Arizona), Orcon (California), Gardens Alive (Indiana), and Nature’s Control (Oregon) sell insect predators in large numbers and at least one vendor sells it as a “beneficial insect program” with weekly shipments adjusted to your pest control needs. Note that beneficial insects are slow acting in pest outbreak situations, so use beneficial insects preventively when pests are in low populations and have not overwhelmed the crops you are trying to protect. Follow the release instructions that come with the products, and modify your spray schedule to adjust for the presence of beneficial insects.

Aphid Control: Convergent Lady Beetle

The convergent lady beetle is a very common species of lady beetle among the numerous others present in any crop field. The convergent beetle is common in Alabama and also a very popular beneficial insect sold by companies. The insect name comes from the two white lines seen on the thorax of adult beetles that seem to merge together on the top.

The convergent lady beetle is a common species of lady beetle.

The number of dots can vary from none up to 13, so counting the dots alone is not a good identifier for this beetle. Larvae are black with rows of orange spots. Note that the lady beetle larva have chewing mouthparts and do not have the sickle shaped mandibles of the green lacewing larva. Eggs are elliptical and bright yellow in color; eggs are laid in clusters on plants with over 10 eggs per cluster. Eggs can also be laid in soil or plant debris. Pupae are immobile (non-feeding stage) and may be seen stuck to plant parts.

Adults and larvae feed on aphids. Adult beetles also feed on nectar and pollen. According to industry sources, each adult lady beetle can destroy about 5,000 aphids while the larvae can consume nearly 400 aphids in a week. In the absence of aphids, convergent beetles can also feed on moth eggs and small caterpillars. Female convergent beetles lay up to 1,000 eggs in ideal conditions and have a lifespan of one to three months. Larvae feed for three weeks and adults emerge two to five days after pupation.

Adults do not fly if air temperatures are below 55°F. There can be many generations of this insect every year.

lady bugs beneficial insects

The presence of a large number of lady beetles can indicate the presence of aphids. This insect can be the most abundant predator in cotton fields.

Many suppliers sell lady beetles in the adult stage when they are ready for field release (as shown in photo). The adult beetles can also be stored in their original package for some duration; provide some moisture to the lady beetles by sprinkling water on the packaging before release. Release lady beetles preferably during a cool evening. Lady beetles should be released when pest pressures are low and the beetles have something to feed on. Several weekly releases may be necessary to sustain a high predator pressure in an area. Industry sources recommend the release rate of 4,500 beetles for 2,500 square feet and much larger numbers for large areas. Out migration of adults once prey numbers dwindle is a major cause of loss of these powerful natural control agents.

Routine inundative release of beetles in large numbers can be effective in enclosed structures for aphid control. Remember that parasitoids and pathogens also act in conjunction with predators to provide natural control of pests. Do your own research before purchasing large batches of predators and carefully plan the release for the best effect. Follow the instructions that come with your purchase of beneficial insects.

Providing cover crops or shelter plants during the fall season is a good way to facilitate continuity of predators in an area.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the November 2012 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Dr. Ayanava Majumdar (Dr. A) is extension entomologist and state sustainable agricultural research coordinator at Auburn University, Alabama. Join him on the Alabama Vegetable IPM Facebook page for more information on sustainable crop production systems. 

Methods for Weathering Drought

By Ed Brotak

With the arrival of spring, farmers and gardeners look forward to the start of the growing season. As temperatures warm, spring planting can begin. Fruit trees will break winter dormancy. Pastures will start to green up. Livestock become more active. But as spring turns into summer, the weather can also provide challenges — the greatest of which are heat waves and droughts.

In the summer, temperatures may soar past levels where plants and animals begin to be affected and can reach a point where production is negatively impacted. At worst, damage or even death can occur. Drought is an even greater threat to crops. A lack of water causes even more immediate production losses and a total loss is certainly possible.

For many locations, heat and drought go hand in hand during the summer, and just about every year somewhere in the country heat waves and drought occur. Every farmer is bound to find themselves dealing with drought at some point. What constitutes hot temperatures depends on where you live. For Fairbanks, Alaska, 90°F is rare but has occurred.

In Columbia, South Carolina, where it can top 90°F many times in the course of a summer, even 100 degrees is not that unusual. This is important since to a large degree agricultural operations are geared for normal conditions; the type of temperatures normally experienced and expected. With the relatively cool waters of the Pacific just offshore, the West Coast has only brief hot spells when an offshore flow develops in summer. From the Rockies eastward, abnormally hot conditions become more of a periodic threat.

corn field drought
For farmers, the decision to put in an irrigation system is often dictated by economics. One must consider the cost of the system versus the possible crop losses due to drought.

Livestock and poultry can be directly affected by heat. For cattle, temperatures of 80°F to 85°F will start to have an impact. Temperatures above 90 degrees can pose serious health risks. The same is true for sheep and goats. Swine are even more susceptible to the heat. With poultry, egg production will start to fall off with temperatures above 80°F.

When temperatures get above 85°F, significant physical effects are noted. Temperatures above 90°F can lead to heat stress, illness and even death.

For plants, heat can also cause problems, but it’s a lack of water that is most critical. As soon as the water needs of a plant aren’t being met, you start having problems. You can have reduced yield for edible plants or crops even without visible damage. Temporary wilting can occur and even if the plant recovers, growth can be stunted. Plants may shed their leaves to conserve water.

Permanent wilting means death for annual plants and an end to the growing season for perennials. Water is more critical in certain life stages such as germination and initial development when roots are small. The reproductive phase also requires more water. Water usage varies with plant type with some plants being more or less susceptible to the effects of drought. Whereas other types of drought take weeks or months to develop, plants can begin to feel the effects of reduced water within days of even a good soaking rain.

Like heat, drought is a problem even when it occurs only periodically. In the Southwest, you know it’s going to be dry and you can allow for that. Along the West Coast, you can expect dry summers, increasingly long and dry as you head further south. But for much of the country, rainfall during the growing season is common. It’s the unusual lack of rain that causes problems.

In terms of weather patterns, drought and heat in summer have the same source. An upper-level ridge of high pressure is the culprit. A ridge is a large mound of warm air that extends miles up into the atmosphere.

Under the ridge and to its east, the air is sinking. Air warms as it sinks, so any clouds would dissipate in the sinking air. Besides being warm to start with, the air is heated even further by the strong summer sun shining through cloudless skies. What moisture there is in the ground is quickly evaporated. The dry ground heats up even more, warming the air above it and further strengthening the upper ridge. With upper-level weather systems covering hundreds if not 1,000 miles or more, it’s certain that some place in the country will suffer through a heat wave and drought during any given summer.

Predicting Drought

Can meteorologists predict heat waves and droughts in advance? To a certain extent, yes. The complex computer models that are the basis of weather forecasting today are actually pretty good out to two weeks, especially in terms of upper-level features. Just go to the National Weather Service website, and click on Climatic Outlooks or check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

You can see if your region is headed for hot, dry conditions. The Climate Prediction Center also issues the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook. This is a prediction based on long-range mathematical and statistical models. The Outlook is issued on the third Thursday of each month (it’s tied to the running of those models) and updated on the first Thursday.

Starting with areas already designated as drought stricken, the Outlook predicts whether things will persist or get worse, improve somewhat, or will improve dramatically. It also highlights areas where drought is expected to develop. The Outlook covers the next three months. Always keep in mind that such long-range forecasts can be off considerably. The science of weather forecasting has not yet developed to the point of making highly accurate long-range forecasts.

So, what can we do to combat these summertime weather extremes?

How to Care for Crops in Excessive Heat and Prolonged Drought

Mulching can reduce direct evaporation of moisture from the soil. This can be especially helpful for seed germination. For plants, water is critical. Plants evaporate water through the process of evapotranspiration. They transpire water through their leaves and as it evaporates, it helps cool the leaf. But water is also critical since it is the food/nutrient transport system in plants (similar to blood in an animal). And the water vital for plant existence is taken from the soil by the root system.

One caveat of this is the importance of soil type. Sandy soils drain quickly, not retaining much water for plants. Pure clay soils are often too wet for good root development.

Loam soils (a mixture of sand and clay) are best. Mixing in organic matter also helps retain moisture.

drought-stricken soil
Sandy soils drain quickly, not retaining much water for plants. Pure clay soils are often too wet for good root development.

Mainly, we have to provide water — watering gardens and irrigating crops. For farmers, the decision to put in an irrigation system is often dictated by economics. One must consider the cost of the system versus the possible crop losses due to drought. The statistical probability of a drought in your area would be a major factor.

How much water do we need to provide? The actual amount of water you should supply depends on the remaining moisture content of the soil. This is often difficult to measure precisely. Certainly you can get an idea of how dry a soil is by just feeling it.

Some of the state ag stations actually keep track of soil moisture, but keep in mind this can vary a great deal regionally. The soil moisture supply is a function of rainfall and evaporation.

Rainfall can be measured by simple rain gauges, which are inexpensive and available at many stores featuring outdoor goods. Evaporation from the soil and evapotranspiration from plants is almost impossible to measure in the real world. Various agricultural weather sites measure “pan evaporation,” evaporation from an open water surface. This gives at least an idea of how much water is being lost. Amounts can be significant. On a hot, dry summer day, one-quarter to one-third of an inch of water can evaporate in one day.

Livestock Considerations in Extreme Heat and Drought

For animals, tolerance to heat is directly related to water supply. Cattle and horses cool themselves by sweating like people do. Chickens and pigs pant like dogs do. In both cases, internal water is evaporated causing a cooling effect. With an adequate water supply, animals can deal with a certain amount of excessive heat. Dehydration is much more of a concern.

In terms of livestock and poultry, we must consider the humidity as well as the temperature in judging heat effects.

The Temperature-Humidity Index, now more commonly called the Heat Index, was developed to ascertain the effects of heat on humans but also works for animals. The rate of evaporation and thus the ability of a body to cool itself is a function of the relative humidity of the air. Dry air allows more evaporative cooling. So at the same air temperature, moist air feels warmer to people and animals and puts more heat stress on them.

Cow drinking water to combat heat
With an adequate water supply, animals can deal with a certain amount of excessive heat.

How can we combat heat stress in livestock and poultry? Basically, we can use the same methods we use for humans (although air conditioning would be a bit extreme). Provide sufficient clean and cool water to alleviate the threat of dehydration. Provide shade. Temperatures in the sun can be 10 to 15 degrees warmer than in the shade. In enclosures, ventilation helps. It will keep the heat from building up and aid evaporative cooling.

This can be as simple as having open sides on a shelter or installing ventilation fans. Foggers or misters can also be used.

Editor’s Note: This article appears in the April 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.