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 establishing our trial planting in spring 2020. We will measure material costs, labor time, yield, and fruit size for trellised and untrellised plants.
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.
Control of Canada Thistle in Mulched Organic Orchards
With funding from a USDA-SARE Farmer Rancher grant, we are comparing several methods of killing Canada thistle shoots in our organic orchard: hand-pulling, spraying an organic herbicide, mowing with a string trimmer, and hoeing. We applied each treatment every three weeks during the growing season. We evaluated each technique in plots mulched with bark only and in plots mulched with bark and an underlying layer of cardboard. After the first season of this two-year research project, our observations and recommendations are:
- All methods of repeatedly killing thistle shoots reduced thistle density by approximately 200-fold in one season.
- Mulching with cardboard resulted in a much quicker reduction in thistle density in May and June. By the end of the season, however, thistle density was similar in all treatments. Cardboard mulch was time-consuming to apply, with a cost of $2.28 per tree.
- String-trimming and hoeing without using cardboard mulch were the least expensive treatments to apply ($1.44-$2.04 per tree for one season).
A preliminary research report is on the SARE website. Further results will be posted here.
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.