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  • Author or Editor: Elsa S. Sánchez x
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Organic growers have indicated a need for help with the challenge of nutrient management. To address this challenge, an intensive training program for agricultural educators was convened to study this issue. Through the program, existing soil and compost analysis recommendations were modified to make them more relevant for organic growers; computer-based whole farm nutrient planning tools were evaluated using situations common to organic farms; and educational materials on using organic nutrient sources were developed for grower audiences. Educational workshops, presentations, and farm visits reached 714 growers and publications reached over 2575 people. Survey respondents of the intensive training program rated their ability to help organic growers with nutrient management as 3.50 before and 5.50 (7-point scale, with 7 = excellent) after the sessions. About 1 year later, all survey respondents rated their ability to help growers using organic nutrient sources as excellent or above average. Grower knowledge of using organic nutrient sources improved to 5.92 from 3.92 as a result of a workshop and to 5.62 from 3.89 (7-point scale, with 7 = excellent) after a 1-day class developed by intensive training participants. Methodology used allowed for expansion of individual and collective knowledge of a complicated topic and development of high impact, relevant, and effective educational programming for clientele.

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Plasticulture systems, the use of polyethylene mulch on raised beds with drip irrigation, are commonly used for the production of many cucurbit (Cucurbitaceae) crops. Although the use of plasticulture systems has many benefits, disadvantages include plastic disposal issues and costs and the intensive tillage required for installation. Strip tillage systems have been shown to decrease soil erosion, increase soil moisture retention, and increase soil microbial communities. Spunbonded polyethylene rowcover use has been shown to decrease early season striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma vittatum) and spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata ) populations and the incidence of bacterial wilt (Erwinia tracheiphila) while increasing yields. Plasticulture and strip tillage systems were compared with and without rowcovers at The Pennsylvania State University’s Russell E. Larson Research and Education Center in Rock Springs, PA. Two separate organically managed experiments were conducted, one being on ‘Lioness’ summer squash (SS; Cucurbita pepo), the other on ‘Athena’ muskmelon (MM; Cucumis melo). Both two-season experiments occurred during the 2013 and 2014 growing seasons. Yields, soil nitrate levels, soil and air temperatures, striped cucumber beetle populations, and incidence of bacterial wilt were measured. Plants grown in the strip tillage system generally had lower yields than in the plasticulture system in both years. Yield reductions observed in the strip tillage system in both years of the muskmelon experiment and in the first year of the summer squash experiment were beyond acceptable levels. The need for specialized tillage equipment, delayed planting, and high weed pressure were all obstacles to the successful use of strip tillage in these experiments. Rowcovers resulted in larger plants; however, yields were comparable to not using rowcovers within the strip tillage and plasticulture systems. There was low incidence of bacterial wilt in both years of the experiments despite observed striped cucumber beetle populations above the set threshold throughout all experiments.

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To provide growers with regional and statewide recommendations, 23 cultivars of bicolor and white synergistic sweet corn (Zea mays) were evaluated in southwestern, central, and southeastern Pennsylvania. ‘Temptation’ was the standard. Despite differing production practices used in all locations, all cultivars were not different or produced more marketable primary ears compared with Temptation. Paydirt was the only cultivar to produce lower marketable yields by weight than Temptation in 2 site years or more. However, ‘Paydirt’ has an early maturity, which improves its acceptability. Very few ears were unmarketable. In terms of ear size, measured as diameter and length, overall all cultivars were not different from Temptation. ‘Temptation’ is early maturing and ear size was expected to be smaller than later maturing cultivars. This was not observed. Ease of hand harvesting was determined by measuring two factors: distance from the base of the primary ear to the soil line and ease of picking (1–5 rating scale where 1 = difficult and 5 = easy). The closer the primary ear was to the soil line was thought to be more difficult to harvest. ‘Synergy’, ‘Espresso’, ‘Kristine’, and ‘Paydirt’ ears were lower than ‘Temptation’ on the culm in 2 site years or more. ‘Whiteout’, ‘Synergy’, and ‘Mattapoisett’ were rated as more difficult to pick than ‘Temptation’ in 2 site years or more. Distance from the soil line to the primary ear and picking ease ratings were not observed to be closely related to each other and a combination of these and other factors may more accurately reflect the ease of hand harvesting. Overall, growers in our region have access to a lot of synergistic sweet corn cultivars with acceptable yield, quality, and ease of hand harvesting characteristics giving them a wide range of options.

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The goal of this study was to develop a systems-based strategy for organic muskmelon (Cucumis melo var. reticulatus) in Pennsylvania (PA), Iowa (IA), and Kentucky (KY) to manage bacterial wilt (Erwinia tracheiphila) and nutrients while safeguarding yield and enhancing early harvest. Spunbond polypropylene rowcovers deployed for different timings during the growing season were evaluated for suppressing bacterial wilt and locally available compost was applied based on two different estimated rates of mineralization of organic nitrogen (N) to manage nutrients. In KY only, the use of rowcovers suppressed bacterial wilt incidence compared with not using rowcovers. However, the timing of rowcover removal did not impact wilt incidence. Under lower cucumber beetle [striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma vittatum) and spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi)] pressure in PA and IA, rowcovers did not consistently suppress season-long incidence of bacterial wilt. In four of five site-years in PA and IA, more marketable fruit were produced when rowcovers were removed 10 days after an action threshold (the date the first flower opened in PA; the date when ≥50% of plants in a subplot had developed perfect flowers in IA and KY) than when no 10-day delay was made or when no rowcovers were used. In addition, the no-rowcover treatment consistently had lower weight per marketable fruit. In KY, the same action threshold without the 10-day delay, followed by insecticide applications, resulted in the largest number of marketable fruit, but did not affect marketable fruit weight. In PA, marketable yield was higher using compost compared with the organic fertilizer in 1 year. No yield differences were observed by nutrient treatments in 2 years. In IA, marketable yield was lower with the low amount of compost compared with the organic fertilizer and yields with the high amount of compost were not different from the low amount or the organic fertilizer in the year it was evaluated. In KY, marketable yield was unaffected by the nutrient treatments in the year it was evaluated. Given these results, muskmelon growers in PA, IA, and KY who use compost may choose the lower compost rate to minimize production costs. Overall, these findings suggest that rowcover-based strategies for organic management of bacterial wilt need to be optimized on a regional basis, and that fertilization with compost is compatible with these strategies.

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Sixteen cultivars of green bell peppers (Capsicum annuum) were evaluated on the basis of yield in three locations across Pennsylvania during the growing seasons of 2008–09. Cultivars were evaluated in comparison with the cultivar Paladin. In central Pennsylvania, all the cultivars trialed had marketable yields (based on weight) not different than ‘Paladin’ except ‘Lynx’, ‘Socrates’, and ‘Escape’. In terms of fruit number, all cultivars were not different than ‘Paladin’ except ‘Socrates’. For large-sized fruit, all the cultivars trialed are recommended. In southeastern Pennsylvania, all the cultivars trialed except SP-05–47 had marketable yields not different than ‘Paladin’. For large-sized fruit, ‘Revolution’ outperformed all other cultivars, including ‘Paladin’. In southwestern Pennsylvania, all the cultivars trialed except Lynx and SP-05–47 produced comparable marketable yields to ‘Paladin’. None of the cultivars evaluated, including Paladin, consistently outperformed Revolution in terms of large fruit. Statewide, all the cultivars, except Lynx and SP-05–47, are recommended on the basis of marketable yields. For growers looking for large-sized fruit to meet market demand the cultivar Revolution is recommended over ‘Paladin’.

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Butternut, acorn, and buttercup/kabocha winter squash (Cucurbita sp.) cultivars were evaluated in a conventional system in central, southeastern, and southwestern Pennsylvania in 2010–11. Results from individual locations were used to create statewide recommendations, which are also relevant for the mid-Atlantic U.S. region. Additionally, butternut and acorn cultivars were evaluated in an organic system in central Pennsylvania. In a conventional system, butternut cultivars JWS6823, Betternut 401, Quantum, and Metro are recommended based on equal or higher marketable yield than the standard Waltham Butternut. Acorn squash cultivars that performed equally to or better than the standard, Tay Belle, were Table Star, Harlequin, and Autumn Delight. In the kabocha/buttercup category, ‘Sweet Mama’ and ‘Red Kuri’ had marketable yields not different from the standard ‘Sunshine’ in central and southeastern Pennsylvania. In the organic system, butternut cultivars JWS6823, Betternut 401, and Metro all had marketable yields not different from the standard Waltham Butternut. For acorn cultivars, Celebration yield did not differ from the standard Table Queen.

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