research On Our Farm
We’ve performed several on-farm research projects to develop better organic farming techniques. This page is for other farmers who would like to learn about what we have done.
Trellising Currants and Gooseberries
We are currently evaluating the cordon trellis method for growing currants and gooseberries. We are comparing this trellising method, which is popular in Europe, with the standard North American method of growing freestanding, untrellised bushes. Cordon trellising is said to speed harvest, improve fruit size, and reduce disease. We are measuring material costs, labor time, yield, and fruit size for trellised and untrellised plants and we will report final results here.
View a preliminary report of our results from the first growing season. In 2020, we established trellised and untrellised plantings. The trellised plantings had substantial additional costs for trellis construction, plants (trellised plots are planted at a higher density), and training the young plants. On a per acre basis, trellised plantings required 428-500 hours of labor in the first growing season, whereas the untrellised plantings needed only 244-247 hours. Costs for plants and materials (e.g., trellis, mulch, and irrigation) ranged from $9,263-$11,399 per acre in our untrellised plots, but were $23,014-$27,285 pre acre in trellised plots.
Organic Apple Production In High Tunnels
With funding from a USDA-SARE Farmer Rancher grant, we are evaluating organic apples grown in high tunnels as a new farm enterprise. We planted over two hundred trees in three high tunnels in spring 2019 and we will measure yields, costs, and pest and disease incidence in the next two growing seasons. View current progress of this project on the SARE website.
Control of Canada Thistle in Mulched Organic Orchards
With funding from a USDA-SARE Farmer Rancher grant, we compared several methods of eliminating dense Canada thistle patches growing in bark mulch in our organic apple orchard. Any method of repeatedly killing the thistle shoots on three week intervals eliminated the weed within two growing seasons. Of the four methods we applied, cutting shoots with a gas powered string trimmer and cutting them with a diamond hoe were least costly; spraying an organic herbicide was expensive because of the cost of spray, and hand-pulling shoots was expensive because of the labor time required. Applying a layer of cardboard mulch underneath the bark mulch reduced subsequent weeding time and hastened the decline in thistle populations, but was not cost effective because the time required to apply the mulch outweighed the subsequent time savings.
Read a full report of the results.
Branching In Nursery Apple Trees
With funding from a USDA-SARE Farmer Rancher grant, we compared organic methods of promoting branching in nursery apple trees raised in a high tunnel. Manually removing young leaves near the growing point of the tree increased branching slightly, and spraying trees with a seaweed extract high in cytokinins reduced branching slightly. In addition, there were strong differences between varieties in branching and there was much variation among individual trees in both height and branching. The cost in materials and labor for raising a tree in this system was approximately $11.95-$12.08, excluding overhead costs and costs of facilities and equipment; the different treatments to promote branching had minor effects on the overall cost of raising a tree.
Maypops, A New Fruit Crop?
With funding from a USDA-SARE Farmer Rancher grant, we evaluated maypops (a species of passionflower) as a new fruit crop for hoophouses in the upper Midwest. The vines gew vigorously. There were differences between plant sources in flavor, yield, and growth pattern, suggesting that breeding and selection might develop improved varieties. Inadequate insect pollination appeared to limit fruitset. Juice yield was extremely low (about 2.5 quarts of juice from 120 plants) and a much higher yield is needed to justify the costs of growing the plants: about $1400 of supplies and labor was needed to grow these plants. Maypop juice caused stomach sickness to several people, and we could not recommend the fruit.