Farming Magazine - May, 2008

GROWING

New and Improved N.E. Vegetable Guide

By Vern Grubinger

The New England Vegetable Management Guide has been around for a while. The oldest copy in my office is dated 1990, the year I started with the extension. It’s all of 73 pages long, cost $4 and was written by 25 people, of whom only a handful are still working for the extension.

The most recent version of the guide is a whole new beast. The brand-new 2008-2009 edition is much more comprehensive with a wide range of information on production and pest management techniques, including cultural practices and organic techniques, as well as a thorough listing with more advice on the pros and cons of chemicals registered for various crops and pests.

The guide is now 260 pages, weighs almost 2 pounds, and in inflation-adjusted dollars is a better deal than ever at $15. Like the olden days, it was produced through the collaborative effort of two dozen of your humble public servants working for extension vegetable programs of the Universities of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

This edition has many new features, including information on new crops like basil, mesclun, sweet potato and okra. The irrigation section has been updated and expanded. Many new pest management products have been added, including biorational, or least-toxic, insect and disease control materials. There’s a table listing biorationals and their properties, as well as information on these kinds of pesticides listed for each crop.

Because pesticide resistance management is a serious concern, information has been added on the resistance group designations for insecticides, herbicides and fungicides/bactericides. This will help growers select products from different resistance groups and slow development of resistance to certain products or groups.

To assist organic growers in selecting approved pesticides, all materials that are approved for use in organic production are identified as OMRI listed.

A great new addition this year is the Pest Identification Supplement, with hundreds of color photographs of all the weeds, insects, diseases and disorders that are mentioned in this guide.

The entire Vegetable Management Guide is available online at www.nevegetable.org. The Pest Identification Supplement is available online as a downloadable file, or separate files for those with slower Internet connections.

This is one publication that many farmers will want to have in hard copy at the office, in the pickup truck or both. To purchase copies of the guide and photo supplement, contact your state’s extension vegetable specialist, or call the University of Massachusetts Outreach Bookstore at 413-545-2717.

There are six main sections in the 2008-2009 Vegetable Guide: Cultural Practices, Pest Management, Management for Vegetable Bedding Plants, Crops, Risk Management and References. Here is a listing of the specific topics covered in each section.

The Cultural Practices Section contains information on: crop budgets; varieties; soil tests; plant nutrients; compost use and soil fertility; organic certification; guidelines for organic fertilization; crop rotation; cover crops and green manures; irrigation; raised beds; plastic mulch; row covers and high tunnels; estimating vegetable yields; postharvest handling; and food safety.

The Pest Management Section has information on: diagnostics; pesticide safety and use; water protection; sprayer calibration; adjuvants; biorational pesticides; weed management; insect management; and disease management.

Management of Vegetable Bedding Plants covers the following topics: managing plant height; disease management; resistant cultivars; treatment of soils for greenhouses; sanitation; techniques to reduce high humidity; seed treatments; fungicides; biofungicides; specific diseases; general pest management; specific insects and mites; and bedding plant fertility program.

The Crops Section includes specific production and pest management recommendations for: asparagus; basil; snap, dry and lima beans; beet and Swiss chard; cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and other brassica crops; carrot and parsnip; celery; corn (sweet, ornamental and popcorn); cucumber, muskmelon and watermelon; eggplant; garlic; leeks; lettuce, endive and escarole; mesclun; okra; onion; parsley; pea; pepper; potato; pumpkin, squash and gourds; radish; rutabaga and turnip; spinach; sweet potato; and tomato (outdoor and greenhouse).

Risk Management covers the five types of agricultural risk, crop insurance, commodity insurance for sweet corn, and insurance coverage for organic crops.

The References include a listing and contact information for 39 publications that commercial growers should consider purchasing for their personal library.

The Pest Identification Supplement was previously available as a separate publication for an additional $5, but now it’s merged into the guide at no extra cost (thanks to funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Integrated Pest Management Working Group and the USDA). If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this supplement is probably worth millions. There are 63 color photos of weeds commonly found on vegetable farms in the Northeast; 108 color photos of vegetable insect pests (and a few beneficials); and 162 images of vegetables with diseases and disorders. For strawberry growers, there are also 22 pictures of berry insect pests and 18 berry diseases.

Managing plant height—an example

To give you a taste of the kind of concise, useful information packed into the guide, here’s an excerpt from page 57, in the Vegetable Bedding Plant Section—the information on managing plant height:

“Since growth regulators are not registered for vegetable bedding plants, plant height is managed by adjusting water, temperature and fertilizer levels, or by physically brushing the plants. Research has shown that mechanical stress reduces stem elongation and maintains plant height. For example, brushing transplants twice daily for 18 days using about 40 strokes back and forth with a cardboard tube suspended from an irrigation boom can result in as much as a 30 percent reduction in stem elongation. Growers have also successfully used a wand made of plastic plumbing pipe or a flat piece of polystyrene foam. Vegetable plants such as tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers have responded to this method of height control. Note that this technique has damaged some tender plant species such as peppers and could also enhance the spread of disease.

“Water stress is another tool growers can use to manage plant height. Maintaining plants on the dry side limits cell expansion and plant growth. This method requires close attention to avoid permanent damage such as leaf burn or even plant death. One technique is to irrigate the growing mix thoroughly and then allow it to dry to the point where plants wilt before irrigating thoroughly again. Growth is restricted during the period when the growing medium is very dry. Once watered, the plants rapidly resume growth. Experienced tomato growers have successfully used this technique.

“Withholding nutrients can also be used to prevent stretching. Low phosphorus fertilization is especially effective for tomatoes. If carefully managed, a mild to moderate phosphorus (P) deficiency may result in a desirable reduction in growth with no foliar symptoms of P deficiency.”

The author is Vegetable and Berry Specialist with University of Vermont Extension based at the Brattleboro office.