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  • Author or Editor: John A. Biernbaum x
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Important components of water management for transplant production include water quality, the frequency and volume of water application, and the method of application. Water quality factors of concern are alkalinity, soluble salts including sodium absorption ratio (SAR), and ions at potentially toxic concentrations including boron and fluoride. The available water in individual transplant cells is influence by container size and geometry, medium particle size, medium moisture release characteristics, and wetting agents but is primarily determined by irrigation frequency and the amount of water applied at each irrigation. Irrigation scheduling can be done using several methods but is influenced by the crop stage, the water volume applied, and the frequency of drying desired. Transplants can be watered by hose and breaker, stationary sprinklers, traveling boom sprinklers, fog nozzles, or subirrigation. The outcome of experiments testing effects of transplant size, transplant age and fertilizer rates are all influenced by water management.

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How do you teach community supported agriculture (CSA) principles, small-scale organic farming, and local food issues at a major land grant university and develop related small-scale farming research and outreach? You create a place and opportunities for students, staff, and faculty to work together with the soil and plants to raise food in a non-classroom farm setting. After several years of discussion and obtaining funding, the Michigan State University (MSU) Student Organic Farm (SOF) CSA started in May 2003 with 25 memberships and increased to 50 after 1 year. The farm allows experiential learning of CSA management, crop selection, scheduling, maintenance, harvest, and organic farming methods. The CSA helps many MSU students and faculty see the value of supporting local organic food systems. With more than 3 years of experience working with students to run the SOF and the CSA, we are in the process of developing an organic farming certificate program. A total of 40 credits will include 12 months on campus plus a 16-week on-farm internship. The program has three major components: 1) organic farming courses with seven one-credit courses; 2) horticultural crop production courses with eight courses for a total of 15 credits; and 3) approximately 20 credits of experiential course work combined with classroom and independent learning.

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Chemical analyses of 4306 randomly selected greenhouse water samples for 1995 from the United States and Canada were obtained from four analytical laboratories and graphically characterized using a distribution analysis. For pH, electro-conductivity (EC), and nutrient concentrations, a mean and median value and the percentage of samples with concentrations above or below those generally considered acceptable are presented for all samples and the 10 leading states in floricultural production. The median nutrient concentrations were more representative of the type of water found throughout the United States and Canada than that of the mean values because of the unequal distribution of the data. The overall median water source had a pH of 7.1; an EC of 0.4 dS·m−1; an alkalinity of CaCO3 at 130 mg·L−1; (in mg·L−1) 40 Ca, 11 Mg, 8 SO4−S, 13 Na, 14 Cl, 0.02 B, and <0.01 F; a Ca: Mg ratio of 3.2, and a sodium adsorption ratio (SAR) of 0.7. The information presented characterizes irrigation water and may assist in developing more refined fertilizer recommendations for greenhouse crop production.

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Three separate marketing studies were conducted during 2000 to determine consumer purchase behavior, use, and potential for purchasing edible flowers. First, a telephone survey was administered to 423 randomly selected residences in the Metro-Detroit area. Participants with some college education were more likely to have eaten edible flowers, would be more likely to eat them, and would be more likely to buy them. A second survey conducted with 25 Michigan Master Gardeners collected more detailed responses about edible flower purchase and use. Females were more likely to purchase edible flowers than males. Single-person households were less likely to have grown edible flowers than larger households. Participants with an annual income ≤$39,999 were half as likely to have purchased edible flowers as the higher income group. A third consumer survey was conducted over a 6-week period with three Metro-Detroit area grocery stores where consumers purchased containers of edible flowers with an attached survey form. A total of 243 of 360 containers of edible flowers were sold, and we received a 27% response rate. All respondents (100%) with an annual income ≥$30,001 were likely to like the flavor of the flowers. Across all three studies, there were few significant differences between demographic characteristics, which indicates that a homogeneous marketing strategy may effectively reach consumers. Based on these results, there appears to be is consumer interest in edible flowers, some consumers have had experience using and serving them, and will purchase them in grocery stores if marketed to attract the consumers interest.

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Quantitative and qualitative data from a group of 12 novice hoophouse farmers over a 3-year period in Michigan were analyzed to better understand factors associated with profitable use of these structures. There was wide variation in labor inputs and effective wages. We used regression analysis and semistructured interviews to better understand the variation in performance. Not all farmers were making use of the hoophouse between outdoor seasons when supply is low and prices are high, as economic theory would predict. However, high wage earners were more likely to push production into the extended season months, hire labor at higher wages, and spend less time in maintaining crops and appeared to harvest more efficiently. Markets played a role in farmers’ success as some farmers were able to make significant profits by organizing community-supported agriculture (CSA)/direct sales or by finding new markets.

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The rhizon soil solution sampler (RSSS) currently is being used for in situ extraction of the soil solution for nutrient analysis of mineral soils used to produce field-grown crops. In this study, laboratory and greenhouse experiments were conducted to test the effectiveness of the RSSS for in situ solution extraction from soilless container root media and to compare an RSSS extraction method for measuring root-medium pH, electrical conductivity (EC), and NO3-N and K concentrations with that measured with the saturated media extract (SME) method. A near 1:1 correlation was found between the pH, EC, and NO3-N and K concentrations measured in the extracted solution of the RSSS and SME method in media without plants and in media from ten species grown using three water-soluble fertilizer concentrations applied by subirrigation. More testing is needed with the RSSS, perhaps using composite samples form several pots for analysis. The RSSS shows promise for nutrient extraction in container-grown crops because it is fast, nondestructive, simple, economical, and has minimal effect on the nutritional status of the medium in the pot.

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Two identical surveys were conducted with separate samples to determine consumer perceptions of the quality of five edible flower species. Participants were either members of a class that reviewed the history and uses of edible flowers at an annual, 1-day event (Garden Days) or Michigan Master Gardeners who attended a similar class. Participants were shown a randomized series of projected photographic slides of five edible flower species and asked to indicate whether they found the flower quality acceptable. The slides depicted a range of ratings of mechanical damage, insect damage, or flower senescence on a Likert reference scale (1 through 5) developed by the researchers. A flower rated 5 was flawless, while a flower rated 1 had substantial damage. Nearly one-half of all participants had eaten edible flowers before the study, and 57% to 59% had grown them for their own consumption, indicating many individuals had previous experience. Both samples rated flower quality equally and found pansy (Viola ×wittrockiana `Accord Banner Clear Mixture'), tuberous begonia (Begonia ×tuberhybrida `Ornament Pink'), and viola (Viola tricolor `Helen Mount') acceptable from stage 5 to 3. Both groups found the nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus `Jewel Mix') flowers acceptable at only rating 5. Garden Days participants rated borage (Borago officinalis) acceptable from ratings 5 to 3, while the Master Gardeners rated their acceptability from only 5 to 4. Participants also rated flower color (yellow, orange, and blue) as equally acceptable.

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Relatively low-cost season extension structures have the potential to contribute to farm economic viability in temperate climates by providing a means to continue sales beyond the limits of outdoor-only field production. These structures, commonly called hoophouses, high tunnels, passive solar greenhouses, or unheated greenhouses, allow for the extension of heat-tolerant (warm season) crops on both ends of the production time frame and at winter harvesting of cold-tolerant (cool season) crops. In this study, results are presented from a multiyear investigation into the economic impacts of year-round production and harvesting, with a focus on profitability of the structure and crop production as a whole. The results of case studies from nine Michigan farms reveal a very broad range of outcomes across farms in construction time, labor allocation and returns, and gross and net revenue. The economic implications of farmer use, including projected investment payback time, are discussed.

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